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When Neil MacKenzie first began building miniature locomotives in the 1980s, he says he wanted to see if he could win a trophy.
The now 90-year-old won his first award in 1985 for a Queensland Railways A12 steam train he built from scratch and a second shortly after for a model of a B12.
More than 30 years later, Mr MacKenzie has today received his third award — a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the community through his passion for steam trains.
"I was getting a bit tired, a bit lax, but now you've recharged my batteries," Mr MacKenzie said when he discovered he had made the Queen's Birthday honours list.
"It's fantastic, it's got the steam up again, I'm ready to go."
Griffith University Vice Chancellor Professor David O'Connor was the highest awarded Queenslander this year with a Companion of the Order of Australia for his service to tertiary education.
Other Queensland recipients of birthday honours include: immunologist Professor Rajiv Khanna, Ipswich singer Desree Crawford — who has worked with Roy Orbison and Slim Dusty — for services to country music, former Goss Labor government minister Anne Warner, Justice Michelle May, and fashion designer Keri Craig-Lee.
Early childhood encounter sparked train love affair
A native of Brisbane's northern suburbs, Mr MacKenzie has been recognised for his aptitude for constructing Queensland railway steam locomotives from the 1800s and for sharing his craft with the local community.
The retired fitter and turner's interest in the trains was sparked by an early childhood encounter with an A12 and later developed as he completed a diploma in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at the University of Queensland in 1947.
"In those days when I made my mind up to build an A12, I chased around the historical society who helped me get a drawing, which I transferred to a drawing board and used to create the loco," he said.
After spending some time building the machines, Mr MacKenzie went on to establish the Bracken Ridge Central Lions Club Model Steam Railway in 1991 where he was able to run his models on a five-inch gauge track at McPherson Park.
Every month for the past 22 years, the Lions Club runs steam train days where children can hitch a ride on any of Mr McKenzie's three locos for $2 a pop.
All proceeds from the events are donated to community causes such as the Premier's Relief Fund, Childhood Cancer Institute and school chaplaincy programs.
'An arduous task'
But there are "low days" in the business, Mr MacKenzie said, referring to the time he accidently destroyed two of his locos on separate occasions.
Though satisfying to create, Mr MacKenzie said building the trains could be an arduous task, sometimes taking up to five years for a single model.
"You've got to have staying power," he said.
"This actually is what kills a lot of people — they buy the drawing, then go to build a loco, but haven't got enough steam — you've got to have that desire and it's got to last for that five, six years.
"There is an awful lot in this business if you go through the process, you build a model, put water in it, light a fire, pull the regulator, and the bloody thing moves — it's a great sensation."
No plans to retire soonThese days, the desire to work on his machines was less motivated by awards, Mr MacKenzie said.
"Originally I was doing it to see if I could get a trophy for what I had done — I won two trophies, so that part doesn't worry me any more," he said.
"Today it's not a case of showing off, it's a case of taking kids for rides, seeing the smile on their faces, and satisfaction that you've achieved something."
The rail enthusiast said he had no plans of retiring his service any time soon.
"You'll have to pick me up off the floor — I won't be complaining," he said.
[color=#000000][font=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][size=1]PHOTO:[/size][/font][/color] Mr MacKenzie established the Bracken Ridge Central Lions Club Model Steam Railway in 1991. (ABC News: Meghna Bali)
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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