memories  1960’s . . . . .  page  5

There were fifty staff on the NZR payrolls. Sorry, but I can’t remember all their names, it was a long time ago. Those I do remember were:

Jim Beamsley / Ian Petrie, Stationmaster

Gerald Bray and Stuart Pugh, Section Officers

Malcolm Campbell, Michael Eklund, Alan Hunt (myself), Clerical Cadets

John Lawrie, Shunter

Fred Foster and Harry Read, Traffic Assistants

Neil Annas, Porter then Traffic Assistant

Harry Norton-Taylor, Brian Nepier, Junior Porters

Max Rollerson, Freight Assistant

wally Bissett, General Labourer

Arthur (AJ) Little, Norm Gibbs, Guards

Len McGuigan, Train Examiner

“Crash” Reid, Mick Blackadder, Signal Maintainers

Bill Douglas, Junior Porter then Trainee Signal Maintainer

Six Engine drivers, including Ted Palmer, Danny Stewart, Trevor Chapman, Geoff Butcher

Six Firemen including Russell Bain, Colin Baumber

Bridge Gang including Vic Graham, George Murcott, Joe Hunt

Two Track Gangs including Buster Campbell & George Hunt, Gangers and ‘the Pirate” (AJ Something or other).

Reefton Railway Station 1965-1967

To my parent’s dismay, I left school and on 14th April, 1965, started work as a clerical cadet in the Reefton railway station for the princely sum of $12 a week. I filled the vacancy left by my cousin, Garth, when he transferred to Blenheim where I later followed him to in 1967.

The Station is still there, but it is empty now. Most trains don’t even slow on their way through, but in the mid 1960’s it was a hive of activity and one of the busiest and most social areas in the district. The huge open coal-fires in the offices and the passenger’s waiting room were a huge drawcard in the wintertime.

There were then five full-time office staff—the Stationmaster, two Section Officers (shift clerks), these were Stuart Pugh and Gerald Bray, and two Clerical Cadets, Malcolm Campbell and - me.

After about a year, Malcolm transferred away to Dunsandel and was replace by Michael Eklund, a former classmate from school. So I became the second lowest in the chain and lorded it over my junior. We weren’t, of course, but we, the office staff, always considered ourselves a cut above the outside workers, (and there were a lot of them), because - well, we worked in the office and didn’t get our hands dirty (usually).

The Stationmaster always wore a full-dress uniform—navy blue trousers and jacket and, when appearing out on the station platform, a gold-braided cap. The Section Officers operated the small signal-panel, (Cadets were not allowed to touch it), and they were supplied with a uniform jacket and an un-braided cap. All the General, or outside staff, were supplied with uniforms and wet-weather clothing right down to their boots.

The cadets supplied their own clothing at their own expense. Leather shoes, dress trousers, and wearing a collar and tie were mandatory.

In 1965, the Stationmaster in Reefton was (Mr) Jim Beamsley. To a sixteen year-old he seemed old, but he was probably aged about forty. He was a quietly spoken intelligent man with bright blue eyes and busy eyebrows. He always wore his uniform and he “ smoked like a train”.

Once, on a summers afternoon, really hot as it only gets in Reefton, a large lady arrived huffing and puffing at the ticket window, having just walked out there from Wilson’s Hotel about one mile away. She dropped her suitcases on the floor and complained, “Why did they have to put the railway station away out here?”

Mr Beamsley looked up from his desk behind me and answered, “They like to keep it close to the railway lines.”

Mr Beamsley transferred away t o Tauranga in 1966 and was replaced by Ian Petrie. If Mr B was old, Mr Petrie was positively ancient. He later transferred to the Wagon Supply Office in Greymouth and retired from there. As most staff in those days retired after forty years service, aged about fifty-five or fifty-six, he wasn't that old really, but he seemed like it.

Nevertheless, Mr Petrie was a bit of a rebel at heart. He only wore his uniform jacket when “the Boss” was coming. The Chief Stationmaster from Westport made regular “surprise” inspections, but, as he always travelled on the railcar, we were warned of his coming by Tom Southon, the Stationmaster at Inangahua Junction. Stationmasters in Reefton were always expected to join the local branch of Rotary, but Ian Petrie refused to. He defined Rotary as a group of self-made men gathered in praise of their makers.

Mr Petrie smoked a pipe and was forever leaving it at home, so I was often sent to retrieve it. Also, it was his custom to have forty winks, or a short nap at lunchtime. As there was no telephone in the Stationmaster's house and he tended to oversleep, I was sometimes sent uptown to wake him up after lunch so that he’d come back to work.

Everyone in Reefton knew about Dorothy Haldanes’s being shot and killed in the station in about 1953. As children, we used to bike out to Burkes Creek cemetery, making pilgrimages to her ornate grave. Railway staff were still talking about the incident in the 1960’s and older staff members, particularly John Lawrie, who was an eyewitness, used to re-enact the shooting, showing exactly where and how it happened.

The ticket window (counter for customers) was in a different place in the 1950’s, it was in the General Office and opened into the General Waiting Room. The window and wooden slide-shutter were still there in the 1960’s, but they were unused. Customers were then served at the window between the Stationmaster’s Office and the Parcels and Luggage Lobby at the opposite end of the station offices.

The junior cadet’s job was actually in the Goods Office—a small box with two windows, two desks, a pot-belly stove and three telephones. This was situated in the north end of the Goods Shed, a large (ish) shed in front of the station and on the opposite side of the tracks.

Max Rollerson was the Freight Assistant, or labourer, and he did the bulk of the work in and around the Goods shed, loading and unloading wagons of general goods. Max was sometimes assisted by the General Labourer, Wally Bissett, and sometimes, begrudgingly, by the Clerical Cadet, who hated getting his hands dirty. The definite un-favourite job was helping Max to fold up the large, heavy, dirty, tar-coated canvas tarpaulins off the open-topped La and Lc wagons. This had to be done daily and while wearing one’s best clothes and white shirts.

Because it was illegal for road transport operators to cart against rail for more than 40 miles (about 65km), practically all goods coming into town were carried by rail. That is all goods—food, furnishings, books, clothes, etc, etc. Basically, everything sold in every shop in the town. There were no courier services then and everything brought from out of town came either by railway services or by Post Office mail—and the mail came by rail as well, sacks and sacks of it. Sam Carter drove the Post Office van and he spent a lot of time at the station collecting and delivering mail bags, (and standing around chatting by the fire in the station).

The only buses through Reefton were also railway-owned, NZ Railways Road Services operated the largest passenger coach fleet in the country. The buses didn’t actually stop at the station, they called at Taylors Broadway Bookshop, which was also an agency for the railway. They sold Road Service’ and Railways’ tickets on 5% commission and also arranged booking or reserving of seats on the rail ferries, buses and trains all over the country.

Actually, all they did was to telephone the Cadet at the railway station who then made the reservations by ringing offices in Westport, Greymouth, Christchurch or further afield.

One of the Section Officers spent several hours each week at the agency, balancing the books and collecting the takings for ticket sales. Gerald Bray always seemed to take a long time to do this, a long time for him—he was a very efficient clerk. He finished up marrying the bookshop assistant, Val Taylor. Their first home was a railway house in Hattie Street. In later years Gerald was promoted to Stationmaster Reefton—I think he was the last one.

All outwards goods also went by rail—farm products including livestock and bales of wool, timber by the wagon load from the several sawmills, dairy produce from the dairy factory over the road, and—primarily—coal.

There were two “State” coal mines at Burkes Creek and Garvey Creek, and they had their own loading facility, including screens. There were six privately owned coal mines in the Cronadun area and twenty-four around Reefton, some busier than others.

Coal was loaded into 12 ton capacity La wagons or 15 ton Lc wagons by trucks backing up to and tipping over the high-level coal loading ramps in the Reefton and Cronadun yards. For this the mining parties were charged 1 penny per ton “ramp charges” for loading in Reefton and 3 pennies per ton at Cronadun.

These accounts were prepared by the Cadet in the station each week and it was a pig of a job in the days before computers or calculators even. There wasn’t even decimalization - tons, hundredweight's and quarters had to be totalled and translated into pounds, shillings and pence. Mental arithmetic was a valued skill and was soon acquired if it was lacking.

The day in the goods shed office was 7.30am to 4.30am, (Max started at 7.00am). After the inwards goods from the night before were unloaded—usually one wagon load from Westport, one or two from Greymouth and several from Christchurch—they were tallied, sorted and checked against the accompanying documentation—G1a waybills.

About one half of the freight was taken uptown and delivered by Harold Lamas, driver for Reids Transport Ltd (depots in Reefton & Maruia). Consignees for the remainder of the goods had to be advised of their arrival, either by G70 postcard or by telephone if they had one.

It was still a manual telephone exchange—crank the handle, lift the handset and tell the operator which number you wanted to be connected to. The operator at the post Office telephone exchange then was my cousin Colleen (Garth’s sister). Being a small town, she knew everyone’s telephone number anyway so all you had to do was tell her who you wanted to talk to. Often if people weren’t at home she knew where they were and when they’d be back. When long lists of numbers had to be rung each morning, one call to the operator sufficed. After the other party hung up, she’d come back on line and ask who to connect to next. No-one gives service like that anymore.

After the morning rush the rest of the day was spent delivering goods, accepting outward consignments and calculating the charges—mostly cash transactions—trying to trace missing or delayed goods, keeping the office fire going and avoiding helping Max. There was also studying to be done, three correspondence courses and the Stationmaster expected at least one lesson of each to be completed every week.

NZ Railways’ internal telephone system was light-years ahed of the Post Office system. Railway phones had dials, and users could direct-dial anywhere on the West Coast railways from Seddonville to Ross and Arthurs Pass. For calls further afield, dialling ‘0’ got the operator in Greymouth or Westport, who then placed the call, if there was a line available—there were only three lines from the coast to the rest of New Zealand.

At least these calls were free. Toll calls on the Post Office system were discouraged and could only be made with the Stationmaster’s permission. Even Cronadun and Mai Mai were a toll call away and calls were expensive—three pence minimum charge for three minutes.

The main disadvantage of the Railways’ telephones was that there was only one line, a party line shared by all users from Reefton to Greymouth and one from Reefton to Westport. Reefton station’s code ring was short-long-short, the goods office was short-long-long. Hours of entertainment were provided to other users listening in to the Cadets in the  station chatting up the girls working in Greymouth and Westport. I remember once being told off by George Murcott of the Bridge maintenance staff for tying up the phone lines. Apparently he didn’t find it so entertaining.

All trains, apart from the diesel powered railcars, were powered by We or Wf steam engines, the bridges on the Stillwater—Westport line could not handle any larger engines. It was a favourite prank of the locomotive crews to “rev up” the engine while on the track through the length of the goods shed, thus filling the shed with dirty black coal smoke and soot, while the disgusted Cadet frantically tried to block all the gaps into the office in the corner.

One engine was permanently stationed in Reefton, stabled in the shed by the Buller Road corner. Apart from shunting duties, this engine was needed to assist every southbound train, pushing it from the rear, over the Reefton Saddle (the biggest hill on the Stillwater—Westport line), through the tunnel and as far as Tawhai where it was detached and returned to Reefton as a “light engine”. The return trip was fast, especially if Trevor Chapman was driving.

Another favourite joke was to take the new boys at the station for a ride on the engine to Tawhai and back. The funny part came when the Enginedriver and Fireman both  suddenly sat down on the floor of the open cab, holding wet handkerchiefs over their mouths, while the Cadet stood wondering what was going on. The engine then plunged into the blackness of the Saddle Tunnel and the cab filled up with smoke and soot. I, for one, was not sorry to see the end of the age of steam when diesel locomotives came to the Coast in 1968/69. Then, with care, clothes could be worn for a second day before needing washing.

The senior Cadet in the railway station worked from 8am to 5pm, and attended the public counter, selling tickets and delivering parcels traffic as well as making seat reservations for trains and buses all over the country as well as booking passengers and cars on the inter-island ferries from Picton and from Lyttleton to Wellington.

Ticket fares (which increased regularly), were about 3 pence to Waitahu, 7p to Cronadun, 2 shillings to Inangahua and about 5 shillings to Westport and Greymouth, 19s/6p. to Christchurch. Return fares were cheaper than two singles and railway staff travelled at “privilege” rates, ie quarter fares.

Most tickets sold were card tickets, but if one was required to a destination not held in stock in the ticket cabinet a P.35 paper ticket was prepared which took longer. There was also a family fare concession for the price of two and one half adult fares, parents and unlimited numbers of children could travel on the one return ticket. These were large forms to prepare and all the accompanying children’s names and birth dates had to be recorded. Staff shuddered when they saw Mrs Win or Mrs Campbell coming with their large broods.

Luggage could be “checked” for a small fee per item which insured them. Otherwise, they were carried free at owner’s risk. There was, of course, a limit to the amount of luggage allowed per passenger. Anything in excess was paid for and sent at parcels’ rates.

The first railcar of the day, service no.810 en route from Greymouth to Westport, arrived at 9am (in theory), then proceeded to Cronadun where it met service no.811 Westport to Greymouth. The Drivers and Guards swapped railcars, and 811 carried on to Reefton arriving at 9.30am.

Similarly in the afternoon, no 812 arrived at 4pm, and crossed no 813 at Cronadun. No 813 arrived in Reefton at 4.30pm. On Friday nights there was an extra shoppers’ car which left Greymouth at 8.50pm, arrived Reefton 10.20pm and then returned to Greymouth, usually empty at 10.30pm.

The railcars connected at Stillwater with Greymouth—Christchurch services which were 88 seater Fiat railcars, sometimes run as double units.

The Greymouth—Westport railcars were forty-eight seater Vulcan railcars. NZR’s total fleet of Vulcans was six railcars and they were built in England in the early 1940’s. Legend had it that there were originally eight Vulcans purchased, but two of them were somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, their ship having been torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the war.

Passenger services had priority over everything else even though they were notoriously money-losers. Freight services and work trains were always diverted and all other activity ceased when there was a passenger train to attend to.

When the railcar arrived the Cadet stood waiting with the key to the luggage compartment, and as soon as it stopped there was a flurry of activity as the Junior Porter climbed inside and passed out the luggage, mail bags and parcels including the heavy canisters of movies for the Criterion Theatre and cans of cream from Mai Mai, outward luggage, mail and parcels were then loaded and the door locked again. The Section Officer put up a green light signal and rang the hand-bell to warn passengers. The Guard signalled “all clear” to the Driver who acknowledged with a toot, and the railcar went on its way.

One memorable day, the Guard, Bill McClausland, was in the station warming himself by the fire. The Section Officer rang the bell, the Driver tooted and the railcar departed while Bill stood watching it go without him. A quick call to Train Control stopped the railcar at Tawhai and Wally Bissett took Bill in his car to rejoin his train there.

The scheduled stop in Reefton was two or three minutes and the Train Controller in Greymouth frowned over the telephone if it took any longer. Delays of over five minutes resulted in a “blister”—a please explain yourself letter from the Train Running Office.

No-one wanted a blister. They had to be answered in writing and could result in a fine or even, in extreme cases, in suspension from duty. Nobody was ever sacked from the railways, except for the occasional idiot who tried to steal the tightly-controlled and minutely accounted for money, usually petty-cash. Being drunk on duty was officially a dismissible offence but in practice it was generally covered up and ignored.

Freight Services (Goods Trains). The shunting service, with a Reefton Enginedriver, Fireman and Guard, and sometimes the Jnr Porter, departed north at about 7am daily and returned attached to no.819 Westport—Greymouth. Goods which met and crossed with no.818 Greymouth—Westport, in the early afternoon. The Westport and Greymouth crews swapped trains and had a meal break in the lunchroom while the shunters serviced the trains and took off and added wagons. They were then on their way in about half an hour.

The morning shunting service arrived from Greymouth and returned sometime in the early afternoon. Some days another train went to Stillwater, with a Reefton crew, in the late afternoon and returned in the evening.

The night trains, which brought in the majority of goods and parcels, were no.804 Greymouth—Westport and no.805 Westport—Greymouth. They met and crossed in Reefton around 2am to 3am, and were serviced by the Traffic Assistant on night shift. (One staff member, who shall remain nameless, lived near the station in Hattie Street and he stayed asleep in bed until the arriving Enginedrivers whistled to wake him up.)

All trains in the daytime were checked for faults by the Train Examiner, Len McGuigan. Len was another pipe smoker, when walking around in the rain he would turn his pipe upside down to stop the rain from extinguishing it. To a teenage boy, Len seemed very strong. On several occasions when he came into the station office out of the cold and the wet and the Cadets standing in front of the fire refused to get out of the way, he simply lifted them up, one in each hand, and sat them up on the high mantel piece while he stood warming himself.

However, there was one job that he couldn’t do on his own. When he found broken coil springs on the wagons loaded with bagged cement, they had to be replaced. The wagons were detached from the train and taken to the crane where they could be lifted up and the springs replaced. The crane was a large wooden tripod with one moveable beam, and it was hand-operated. All staff in the vicinity, usually the office staff, were commandeered to wind the long steel handle to lift the defective wagons. I never saw it happen, but was often told that if any of the helpers let go of the handle, it could result in broken bones.

The only accident I ever suffered there was when I was “helping” the Junior porter up at the coal loading ramp. Actually, we were fooling around and running races along the tops of the open wagons. I slipped and fell and cracked my skull on the trucks’ safety rail on the way down. Apparently, I rode my motorbike back to the station but didn’t really wake up until I found myself in the hospital with eight stitches in the back of my scalp.

I’m not sure how the Stationmaster explained it in the accident report, but he must have done a good job, because I was never reprimanded for being there in the first place.

I could go on reminiscing forever, but won’t. We’re not writing a book here. One final note—the Cadet working in the station took the previous day’s takings to the bank, in a padlocked leather bag, at lunchtime each day. One day each week, probably Tuesdays, he also called into businesses on Buller Road and Broadway to collect payments for their railway accounts.

One of the account holders was a greengrocer, On Lee. “Jimmy the Chinaman” as he was known to generations of Reefton kids, was a popular figure, he sold the coolest fireworks in town. His right-hand shop window was a pyromaniac’s delight in the lead up to Guy Fawkes night. Jimmy was a true gentleman, a small man always pleasant, quiet and smiling. He was the only person of asian descent that I’d ever seen and I think that he was responsible for my favourable impression of Chinese people and Asians generally that still remains to this day. Jimmy the Chinaman was a nice guy (that didn’t stop us little sods from shoplifting from him though.)

I transferred out of Reefton in 1967, shortly before the demise of the passenger services, and the excellent training received there set me up for a twenty-six year career in the Railways.

BY Alan hunt
reefton railway station 1965-67

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