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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)


A Railway transport record was established during the recent severe floods in the North Island, when the Taumarunui railway staff, at very short notice, transported in one day nearly 4,000 passengers and their luggage by road, a distance of ten miles. Connection between Auckland and Wellington express trains was thus maintained and the traffic kept open between the two terminal cities.

When news of the unfortunate flood and the slip on the Main Trunk Line was received by the railway officials at Taumarunui every man in the service, from the stationmaster downward, put energy into the huge task that confronted them and worked like Trojans without thought of how the clock went around. At least two of the head officials were on their feet for a period of sixty hours continuously and, with a smile at the finish, said they were still fit. The same remarks apply to the refreshment room staff. As soon as the manageress heard there was a slip on the line she called the local bakers and pastrycooks from their beds to get busy among the dough; and a local milkman had to be co-opted to see that milk came to hand in ample quantity. Had they not to cater for hungry men and women in numbers greater than ever before? What a job of work it was! But the girls—like the men—gave of their best to render satisfactory service. Before the job was over some of the girls were nodding their heads over their work, but the manageress, good general that she was, urged them on with the words, “only one more train.”

And what wonderful service was rendered by the passengers themselves! Men, women and children, how philosophic they were, treating the temporary delays and inconveniences as a great adventure for, after all, they were not so badly off as the poor refugees in Europe. There was, perhaps, a chronic grumbler, but that kind of person is to be found in all walks of life. However, the great majority of the passengers expected to rough it a little and they sat on their handbags cheering themselves with the thought that they were having an extra bus ride for their money and would have some exciting things to talk about when they reached home.

Moreover, there were the taxi drivers, motor truck owners and the bus proprietors, to say nothing of the many owners of private cars who offered their services to the department.

The only food that the taxi drivers had time for was an odd cup of tea and a biscuit handed to them while on the job. It was the taxi men's job to pay particular attention to the elderly women. If these helpers had been doing service for the Allies in the effort to win the war they could not have been more enthused with their work.

On the day after the flood no fewer than fourteen express trains arrived, and five of them from Auckland were in the yards at one time. It meant that upwards of 2,000 persons from the five trains had to be fed and transported as quickly as possible by road for ten miles and then transferred to trains that were arriving from the south. But this was not all. There were the luggage vans to empty from five expresses and the luggage transported by road in like manner and transferred to the luggage vans down the line. What a job! At one
Transhipping passengers at Taumaranui station.

Transhipping passengers at Taumaranui station.

time the thousands of bags and parcels, when piled up, nearly reached the roof of the station. Yet everything went off without a hitch. It simply shows what trained officers can do when it comes to special organisation for a great emergency such as this.

One aspect of the flood is that it has been responsible for bringing Taumarunui into prominence as a railway centre. Few outside of the railway service would dream of the remarkable development that has taken place in this fern and tea-tree swamp of a few years ago. Who knows, for instance, that it is at Taumarunui where thirty to forty engines of all types come for a Sunday rest. It is here, too, where the big express engines are changed while passengers are resting their heads on pillows oblivious of the safety-first work that is being done on their behalf. All they know of it is the music of the tapper as he goes his round tapping the wheels, and the steaming of the engines past their windows before the gentle bump tells them the train is ready once more to carry them into the dark of the night like passengers in the Ghost Train!

Mr. E. C. Brown was the first station-master appointed at Taumarunui, and he is still alive. In June, 1904, he was page 15 appointed both stationmaster and postmaster. It is a coincidence that when he was on his way from Auckland to take up his duties at Taumarunui he was himself delayed by a washout on the line! When Mr. Brown was appointed, the railway staff comprised a stationmaster, clerk, guard, porter, enginedriver, fireman, a cleaner and a ganger. And there was only one train daily (except Sunday) to and from Frankton Junction. This train left Taumarunui at 6.50 a.m. and arrived back at 8.10 p.m. The arrival of the one and only train was the event of the day. The whole township turned out to meet it and the habit of meeting trains grew to such an extent that one business man, who always met every train throughout the years, was eventually nicknamed “Pelorus Jack.”

A scene outside the Taumarunui station.

A scene outside the Taumarunui station.

What an extraordinary change in thirty-six years! Contrasting yesterday with to-day we find now that Taumarunui boasts of a stationmaster (Mr. M. L. Bracefield), a chief clerk, a clerical staff of twenty, two foremen, twenty-two guards, nine shunters, thirty-one porters, three signalmen, and one store-man, while in the locomotive department, under the charge of Mr. T. A. Edwards, there is a running staff of ninety-seven and a fitting staff of ten. There are in all 43 engines in the district and, normally, no fewer than 44 trains come and go every day in Taumarunui, and from eight to ten specials may be added to that number in busy times. For the three days following the recent flood no less than 14,500 tons of goods traffic was handled in Taumarunui yards. To-day there are 67 railway houses in Taumarunui and there is a population of railway servants and their families numbering between 500 and 600. Taking in the maintenance branch of the service the population of railway servants and their familes in the district would total round about 1,000. The Taumarunui railway station is open day and night for the whole twenty-four hours, and the refreshment room, with a staff of fourteen, gives almost continuous service.

The extraordinary growth of the railway service and business at the chief town of the Central King Country is strangely marked by the growth of the historic totara tree near the old Maori pa. This tree should be preserved as a land-mark. The notice board on the tree at one time read: “This tree was planted by Puia, the father of Manuaute, as a token of the promise of safe
Passengers awaiting transhipping buses at Taumarunui.

Passengers awaiting transhipping buses at Taumarunui.

custody to Mr. H. Rochfort and his party of surveyors who were blazing the track of the Main Trunk Railway.” Puia little thought when the tree was planted that its growth would coincide with the rapid development of railway business in a centre which then was but a rough-clad pumice flat among the hills.