Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 14, October 1970
By C.W. MALCOLM
When Paeroa's original (1895) railway station was, in 1925, removed from the main street and repositioned, ha1f-a-mile nearer Thames, something was lost to the town which nothing in the whole course of time and progress could ever again make good. Neatly and precisely fitting between Belmont Road on the one hand and Railway Street on the other, it was an integral part of the town and an intimate "built-in" feature of its social and commercial life. When the river steamers no longer ended their journey from Auckland at the end of Wharf Street in the heart of the township, the railway station became the doorway to Paeroa.
Paeroa is fortunate in its situation and beautiful in its setting, but its approaches by road generally do not give the traveller the best impression. Rail and river, too, traversed bleak and desolate countryside, but Paeroa's railway station always provided a pleasant terminal to the dreariest journey and an impressive welcome to the town. It was so very convenient. It was so much a part of the town. It blended so naturally with its surroundings. Near-by hotels and buildings seemed part of it. The passenger stepped from the train to the street. So much was it a central hub that on Sunday evenings the large and accomplished Salvation Army Band provided lively and tuneful music in the large open space between the station and the Paeroa Hotel. People strolled the station platform as an evening exercise and looked across the shining rails that ran the length of the smoothly sanded yards.
On week days the cheerful noises of steam and steel and the homely sound of the locomotive whistle stirred the town with their lively tempo. The regular coming and going of trains, the shunting of wagons, the loading and unloading of horse-drawn vehicles in the convenient area entered from Railway Street, were part of the life and purposeful bustle of the young town. It was a unifying town-centre in sharp contrast with what today stands in its place the unsightly railway embankment which effectively divides the town, obstructs the once level landscape, and obscures once pleasant views. It was necessary, of course, to provide added shunting space, to raise the rail bridge and the line above the stopbanks built to prevent flooding, and the station had to go. And with it went a social and civic centre of town life.
What welcomes and farewells the old station saw! There should be some record of important visitors - Governors, Premiers, Ministers of the Crown - being met here and conveyed by spick-and-span horse carriage up the main street where palm-frond decorations, and military guard-of-honour, and civic reception awaited (See picture JOURNAL 13 facing page 27 ). Paeroa's famous six - volunteers for the First Contingent to the Boer War in South Africa - commenced their long and historic journey here, one of them never to return. As a small boy one remembers the public farewell from the platform seen in the accompanying photograph, of the first soldiers to leave for the 1914 War and their journey into history at Anzac! Colonel E.W. Porrit, standing out on the rail tracks to face the crowd on the platform was making a speech of farewell. "Haurakis", he said, "will stand separate on the field". The Salvation Army Band on that bleak early morning was there playing a mournful dirge entitled "Alas! those chimes!" when a khaki-clad officer hastened up to the Bandmaster with a sharp, imploring request to "for God's sake play something lively!" There were already tears enough without the stirring of emotions by the musical lament of the band!
Our photograph [see below - E]was taken, I believe, in 1913. Certain it is, however, that the view captures a Paeroa summer afternoon - before the long winters of World War. The shadows are falling from the west. They are short which indicates that the sun is still high in the sky though the hour is round 3.30 p.m., for the Thames express is waiting at the upper left-hand edge of the picture to start on the last stage of its journey. It left Auckland somewhere about ten in the morning. It has brought with it the daily N.Z. HERALD, the morning paper which Paeroa readers will have delivered by their newsboys late in the afternoon. On the far side of the platform, backed in on its own line, stands the short Waihi train with its diminutive but efficient tank engine and its three carriages. Its passengers include pupils who came daily from Mackaytown, Karangahake, and Waikino to attend the Paeroa District High School in Wood Street. The largest building standing prominently above the Waihi train is, of course, the Paeroa Hotel, and it is of historic note that it was moved bodily (or in large sections) from the original site on which it had been built at the corner of Belmont Road and William Street where it had been known as Delaney's Hotel; doubtless the great shift was made to take advantage of nearness to the railway station, the new hub of the town. To its right - and running off the right-band edge of the picture is the two-storey "Montrose Boarding House" of 23 rooms, owned by Mr. A. Cassrels. Its front verandah may be partly seen above and to the left of the balloon funnel of the Waihi engine. The rest of the verandah is obscured by another building on the opposite side of Belmont Road nearer the railway station. Montrose House was destroyed in a fierce fire at 2 a.m. on 15th October 1923, its kahikatea timbers burning like matchwood and, in a south westerly breeze, threatening the Paeroa Hotel.
To the left of the Paeroa Hotel, and on the other side of Station Road from it, may be seen a stable which in later years was used by the late Mr. Ernie Moore as a car paintshop attached to his Caltex business on the Station Road corner. Station Road was, of course, originally so named because it led to the railway station. Further to the left (just to the right of the large white post supporting the signal gantry) stands a large building with towers and turrets and chimneys; this, often referred to by residents as "The Castle" was the imposing home of the Edwards family (including the late Mr. Edwin Edwards, First World War veteran and for many years Mayor of Paeroa). It stood in Rye Lane. The gable-ended building rising above the first carriage of the Waihi train, its back towards the railway, its front to Belmont Road, is one of a number of main street shops possibly that of Mrs. Swinburne who sold periodicals and sweets.
Four trucks lie on the siding in the foreground. The one farthest from the viewer, used for carrying general merchandise, was also the type on occasions converted into temporary passenger conveyances by the addition of a frame supporting a canvas canopy and provided with hard wooden seats. As Mr. Robert Lowry mentions in his article (THE OHINEMURI RAILWAY ERA, page 25, JOURNAL 10) these were always referred to as "cattle trucks" though the only cattle ever carried in them were human! On race days or school excursions to greet the Prince of Wales at Hamilton, they were used to relieve the shortage of passenger carriages. Their canvas flapped and billowed and slapped about like a sail at sea, the wind whistled through like a blast from Boreas, god of the polar winds. The regular passenger cars, seen in the illustration, especially the second class were frequently not much more comfortable. First class had arm-chair seats but 2nd class had one long padded leather seat along each side of the carriage.
The station played a considerable part in the life of the children of the town. Before Paeroa possessed a school Manual Centre pupils travelled by train to Thames for woodwork and cookery classes once a fortnight. At one stage it was Te Aroha to which they travelled, and at another time Waihi, with a far more exciting journey, became the Centre to be visited. On their way home from daily school, too, children found the station a place of interest and wonder. Somewhere round half-past-three the Thames Express from Auckland, drawn by its large "Q" locomotive built by Baldwin of Philadelphia was a sight not to be missed as it halted at the water-tank near the level crossing towards Puke Road. Locomotives in those days were spotless, with shining paintwork and bright brass bands encircling the boiler, and the driver in uniform cap and clean overalls walking round his panting, steaming engine with long oil-can in hand was an object of boyish admiration.
First daily train out of the old station was the familiar "twenty-to-seven" departing at 6.40 a.m. on its long and weary run to Auckland and stopping at every station on the way. Another train left daily about 8 a.m. for Thames. It carried Paeroa pupils who preferred the Thames High School to Paeroa D.H.S. To show how the transport pattern of the district has changed it is interesting to note that Paeroa people would sometimes take this train to Thames where they would join the well-known paddle-steamer "Wakatere" for a quick sea passage to Auckland. The alternative was the express train from Thames to Auckland which left Paeroa daily somewhere near 11 o'clock and took about seven hours to reach Auckland. The evening train from Thames, returning the High School pupils and the Paeroa boys and girls from their woodwork and cookery classes, arrived with a fine dash of speed along the Hikutaia - Paeroa straight, at about 5 o'clock. On Saturdays in Paeroa's "No License" years this train carried the regular customers whose pilgrimage from "dry" Paeroa to the popular Hikutaia Hotel has been so well described by Mr. Les Morgan in his article THE DRY YEARS (Journal No. 12, Page 16).
Last train to arrive each day at the old station was the "mixed" passenger-and-goods from Frankton, stopping and shunting interminably at every station, taking between three and four hours to do the 40 odd miles, and arriving between 7 and 8 o'clock. For some reason it was always known as the "Wild Cat" which was frequently shortened to "The Cat" – "I arrived on 'The Cat' last night". Many were the stories about its unpunctuality, the best possibly being the one in which a local citizen - one of those who frequently took an evening stroll along the platform to see the train arrive cried out excitedly to the engine driver as the train drew in, "You've made history! You're dead on time!"
"On time be blowed!" shouted back the driver "this is last night's train!"
It must be recorded, however, that the elegant and spacious station of our illustration was not entirely Paeroa's original station. In W.W. Stewart's recent book WHEN STEAM WAS KING there appears a picture of Paeroa railway station in 1906, just after it became a Junction; the long sunlit platform in our 1913 photo is not there in 1906. There is only a short sump of a platform ending about where the guard's van of the Thames express casts its shadow. The broad, high, sheltering verandah is not there, only a short, low, lean-to projects briefly from the front of the building giving the appearance of a small wayside station. There is no Waihi siding on the town side of the platform. The Waihi train stands on the second line of rails effectively barred from the platform by a goods train occupying the main line. Passengers looking wistfully from the Waihi carriages are no doubt wondering how they will reach the platform across the intervening barrier. Immediately opposite the station building stands the large goods shed with access from Railway Street. Above the carriages may be seen the large two-storey McAndrews homestead, long ago reduced by the removal of the upper storey to two separate dwellings. I heard somewhere that Mrs. McAndrew cut the ribbon to let the first train through when the line was extended to Thames. How much of our early history has yet to be gathered before it is forgotten! Perhaps it is hidden somewhere, maybe in old newspaper files!
But the old railway station has gone and with it has closed an important chapter in the story of Paeroa. The accompanying Sketch Plan, drawn from memory, not to scale, and doubtless containing minor inaccuracies records its convenient central position and recalls the fact that where now an embankment defaces the town there once lay the attractively maintained, sanded yards, the shining rails, and the neat buildings which welcomed the travelling public to Paeroa.
Dates: Paeroa station opened December 1895. Thames line completed 1898. Waihi station officially opened 1905 (November). Waihi remained the terminus for 21 years. Paeroa station moved to new site 1925.