By Shea Jefferson
A local man's enduring hobby is changing track, having been diverted from the dump by an underground network known colloquially as the "train mafia".
The New Zealand Timber Museum in Putāruru will become home to the railroad models of Napier's Train World this week, saving one man's treasure from the trash.
The museum discovered the Napier models thanks to train buff Pierre Vuilleumier, who is leading the railroad's deconstruction, transportation and resurrection.
"The train mafia sent me an article about John Burt and the fate of his railroad. I then heard that there was space at the Putāruru Museum and of its intention to install something similar. It just spiralled from there," Vuilleumier said.
The models have been stationed on Dickens Street in Napier for 21 years and have been a long-standing "labour of love" for Train World owner John Burt.
"Over the last two years I was broken into three nights in a row, and then with the emergence of Covid-19 we had no international visitors and not a lot of local custom.
"I have been keeping the doors open out of my own pocket," Burt said.
With the health of the store declining, Burt was then dealt a second blow, this time to his physical health.
"In the past year I've been diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer and I've got 18 to 24 months to live if I receive chemotherapy treatment. But I know I can fight it, I will beat it."
Burt's firmly positive mindset regarding his health was not, however, mirrored in his optimism for the train models.
"I was slowly accepting the fact that I was going to have to take it all to the dump. Then, when the National Timber Museum said it was going through an expansion and was keen to take the model railroad to Putāruru, it was a relief," he said.
The models are currently under deconstruction in Train World and, depending on volunteer support and funding, Vuilleumier hopes the railroad will be up and chugging in Putāruru by April 2022.
The pleasures of this laborious and cost-heavy hobby, according to Burt and Vuilleumier, are the multiple elements involved in railroad construction.
Railroad modellers dabble as amateur architects, electricians, landscapers and artists throughout the creative process.
Burt said the Train World hobby shop will remain open for connoisseurs of all things railroad for the foreseeable future.
"I indulge my interests. I'm not interested in being the richest man on the block, I just love being able to do what I do."