Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 42, September 1998
REFRESHMENT SERVICES FOR PAEROA STATION TRAVELLERS
By J A T Terry
Early train travellers probably differed little from those of today in respect of their refreshment needs. While today's travellers are well catered for with on train service, until that was introduced the hungry traveller relied on the station refreshment room.
There was no facility at Paeroa when the line opened on 20 December 1895 but, no doubt considering there was a need, on 10 February 1897 Edwin Edwards called tenders for the erection of a refreshment room next to the station. On 3 March he was seeking a first class tenant for the room which was expected to be completed in about three weeks. The Ohinemuri Gazette stated it was adjoining the Paeroa railway station. Under the management of Miss Morrin such was the success of the venture that the Ohinemuri Gazette (13/4/1898) stated that a circulating library was to be added to the refreshment room and fruit store.
Just where was this room? At varying times when advertising for a tenant Mr Edwards described it as a 'railway refreshment room', 'on the station', 'on station ground' and railway station refreshment room'. Advertisements by Edwards for a tenant last appeared in the Gazette of 7 May 1906. In November 1905 an application was made to the N.Z.R. for the lease of a small site on the station for a 20' x 10' refreshment room. It was considered that there was no call for such and it would have encroached on the platform. Had there been a current lease for a site at the station on which there was a refreshment room there would have been no necessity for the application and its existence would certainly have been mentioned. N.Z.R. Lease Registers between 1895 - 1905 (1) contain no lease for a refreshment room site to Edwin Edwards or to any other person. Presumably the site was close to the station but despite the advertised description in the Gazette not on railway land.
In May 1906 the question of a site for a room was again raised and this time it was considered a need existed. The proposed site would not encroach on the station platform and tenders were called. (Gazette 6/6/1906). The successful tenderer was Miss M A McCarthy who offered £10.10.0 p.a. for the site. The room was opened for business on 5 September, rental running from 1 September, a year to year lease terminable at three months notice.
In 1911, before the expiry of the lease, railways had received two enquiries concerning the site and no doubt sensing a higher rental from competition, Miss McCarthy was given three months notice from 31 August of termination of the lease. Four tenders ranging from £35 to £60 were received, the highest being from Miss McCarthy who must have been anxious to retain the site to offer nearly six times the original sum. The decision may have been regretted for in July 1912 she was seeking a reduction. The Waihi miner's strike was cited as the reason for poor business and Miss McCarthy suggested the rental be reduced to £30. The District Traffic Manager was not sympathetic. While conceding the strike had resulted in a loss of trade, that Miss McCarthy was not in a position to pay the rental and if not reduced would give up the lease, he was not satisfied with her conduct of the business. He did not recommend a reduction.
In May 1913 Miss McCarthy advised she had a buyer and on 21 June 1913 the lease was transferred to Mrs Annie Elizabeth Shaw of Paeroa. Three months later Mrs Shaw, being unable to make a profit, sought a rent reduction. The Traffic Supt. admitted the room was properly controlled but poorly patronised. He recommended a reduction to £45 pa and this was agreed to from 1 December 1913.
When the lease expired on 31 March 1915 it was decided to call tenders. Only Mrs Shaw submitted a tender offering £25. On being asked why it was not possible to pay the current rate of £45 Mrs Shaw stated it was not possible to make a profit because (1) cost of provisions, bread and butter had risen in price, (2) since the war begun the number of people travelling had decreased, (3) the journey was so short that people preferred having tea at Te Aroha or Morrinsville and (4) the only times a profit could be made were Easter, Christmas and St. Patrick's Day. During the winter months there was little or no trade.
Fresh tenders were called with an upset rental of £25. Again Mrs Shaw was the only one to tender, her offer being accepted, the lease to run for three years. On expiry it was extended for another year, the Controller of the Refreshment Branch stating the service did not effect Branch business. When the lease expired on 31 March 1919, Mrs Shaw was offered a further extension of one year at the same rate. To this she replied: "There is very little in it. They are such short runs and when you take into consideration all the losses with cups and saucers etc., and the few trains we have a day, I think £18 is plenty for it and none of the trains stop in front of the tea room and people are afraid to get out and during the epidemic we were closed for a month".
The Traffic Inspector interviewed Mrs Shaw who was not anxious to continue the service and would sell if she could get anyone to purchase. She told him her profits had decreased and despite an increase in the price of provisions was not permitted to increase prices to the public. (All private refreshment room lessees were forbidden to charge a price greater than that stipulated in the lease. Presumably this was to ensure they did not undercut the Department.) The Inspector reported that only two trains stopped near the room, all others being dealt with at the opposite end of the platform. When the traffic was heavy the room was too small to deal with the large crowds but it was well controlled and he recommended a rent reduction. The lease was extended for one year at £18 pa and in 1920 extended for three years.
Mrs Shaw was in luck for on 3 May 1921 the lease was transferred to Wilfred Alp of Paeroa who quickly applied for the lease of an additional piece of land at the rear of the room for the purpose of installing heating appliances for boiling water. Presumably the heating was done in the open for there was no record of any addition being made to the building. An extra £5 pa was added to the lease.
On 7 February 1923 Mr Alp was informed that tenders would be called and it was intended to load the lease with the value of his improvements. (The lease provided protection of the lessee's improvements as against an incoming lessee if a stranger.) The Department had assessed the value of the improvements at £14.15.0 for the building and £9 for the gas, making a total of £23.15.0. Mr Alp quickly replied with a valuation of £100 and this resulted in the department increasing the protection to £52. Three days later the offer to load the lease was withdrawn. This followed an inspection by the local bridge inspector who found most of the white pine timber to be badly infested by borer and worth only about £40. This was indeed a set back for Mr Alp who recognised he had paid too much for the building. If he was granted a new lease he was prepared to provide a new building. The Chief Engineer did not agree as there was likely to be competition for the lease. On 5 April 1923 Mr Alp was informed the lease would be extended for one month to allow for the calling of tenders. His building was to be removed and it would be a condition that the new lessee erect a new building.
Only one tender was received, that of Mr Alp who offered £30 pa. He had found that for £25 the building could be repaired and on the understanding that the repairs would be carried out he was granted a three year lease at £30. The work was completed in August 1923.
On Monday 31 August 1925 the new station in Moore Road was opened for business. Over the weekend the refreshment room had been moved to its new site north of the proposed Waihi dock line. (Gazette 31/8/25)
On 15 January 1926 with the lease due to expire on 31 May the District Traffic Manager wrote to the Railway Board stating that Mr Alp had recently died and the business was being run by his widow, Olive. He pointed out that as business had decreased considerably since removal to the new station (the shift had been carried out at the owners expense) the isolated position of the new station meant little local trade and the only possible chance of gaining an appreciable increase in business was the linking up of the extension to Tauranga in about two years he recommended that the lease be extended for a three year period at the same rental of £30. It would not have been easy for Mrs Alp who in addition to running the room had the sole responsibility of caring for her five children, one of whom was an invalid.
In June 1928 the Assistant Controller of the Refreshment Branch visited Paeroa to ascertain if the requirements of passengers were being adequately met by the private room. He considered the services and variety offered were inadequate. The building was in poor condition, very old and worm infested. It was his recommendation that the Department provide new rooms at Paeroa and that Mrs Alp be approached concerning the surrender of her lease which was due to expire on 31 May 1929.
When a Branch officer called on Mrs Alp to discuss the lease surrender she suggested the new rooms be leased to her but the officer considered this was most unlikely. Naturally Mrs Alp was not impressed at the prospect of losing her business. She wrote to her local Member of Parliament, as did a local businessman on her behalf both explaining her circumstances in most pathetic terms. The letters were referred to the Prime Minister. Mrs Alp also wrote to the Refreshment Branch Controller stating she was willing to have her building moved to allow construction of the new rooms, requesting a lease of them for 1-2 years and mentioning recompense for the unexpired lease. However as it was now realised that the new rooms would not be completed before the lease expired, the Controller wrote to the General Manager on 17 August 1928 suggesting Mrs Alp carry on until the lease expired and her building be shifted to allow construction. Nothing further was to be mentioned concerning compensation for surrender of the lease. He emphasised the new rooms should be under the control of the Refreshment Branch.
The Minister of Railways informed Mrs Alp on 30 August 1928 that it was not intended to take any action concerning her lease and the matter would be fully investigated before the lease expired.
On 20 January 1929 a Refreshment Branch officer travelled on an excursion train to Tauranga to observe the lessee and her three attendants at work. He was not impressed. In his opinion the room was inadequate to cope with the crowd and on the return journey Mrs Alp became bustled and lost her temper with a section of the crowd. A stick of chocolate bought was not fresh as it should have been and the tea on the return journey was 'stewed'. On 17 February two large excursion trains ran to Tauranga and the officer again observed the service. His report was more unfavourable than the previous one.
The Controller sent both reports to the General Manager having already stated (8 February) that in his opinion Mrs Alp was unable to give satisfactory service from the room.
Probably it was unfair to judge the service on two such busy days when even Department refreshment room staff would have been under pressure. There was no doubt the smallness of the Room (20' x 10') contributed to the problem but as the Refreshment Branch was already building rooms at Tauranga and seeing the potential for rooms at Paeroa it was in its interest to have rooms of its own. As early as May 1928 the Branch had been looking into taking over the Paeroa room.
Mrs Alp was informed on 18 March 1929 by the Land Officer that it was not intended to renew her lease. The Controller called on her and stated that it was the intention of the Department to control the catering as from 1 June. She was informed her building and stock would be purchased. Mrs Alp wrote to the General Manager on 16 May 1929 outlining her position but the reply was unhelpful only restating the Department's view. On 1 June the Department assumed control. Mrs Alp was paid £55. (2)
Both the local M.P. and Paeroa businessman saw the Minister and asked if Mrs Alp could be placed in charge of the new rooms when built. After seeking the opinion of the General Manager the M.P. was informed that even having regard to her unfortunate position he could not accede to the request. She had been offered the position of waitress at £2.2.0 per week but had refused the offer. There was no other avenue of employment available at that time.
The new rooms were opened for business on Friday 10 October 1929. The Gazette (14/10/29) reported on them in glowing terms. The total cost of construction and fitting out was £3141.2.7 (2) Compared to the pokey private room, the facilities were indeed impressive. There was 40 feet of counter space, a separate kitchen, store room and dressing room with separate storage for milk, ham, boxes and coal.
Mrs Alp's old room was moved to the north end of the station building and at a cost of £77.14.9 converted into a porters room. (2)
Consequent upon the bringing into use of the deviation and the opening of Paeroa South station on 20 July 1959, Paeroa station was closed for passenger traffic and with it the Refreshment room. (3) As there were no refreshment facilities at Paeroa South so ended railway refreshment service at Paeroa.
The old rooms were taken over by the Paeroa Railway Social Club and demolished in 1983. (4)
I have not been able to locate revenue figures for the early years of the rooms but for the last nine full years between 1 April 1950 and 31 March 1959 there was an accumulated loss of £9336. The lowest loss was £558 for the year ended 31 March 1950 and the highest of £1217 for year ended 31 March 1954. (5) However Paeroa was not alone in recording a loss during those years, nearly all rooms throughout the country doing likewise.
Has any reader examples of the crockery used by the private room during the period 1906 - 1929?
1 New Zealand Railways Property Division Lease Registers, ABMO, W 3659/573-74 N.Z.R. Lease Registers Volume 3-5. (National Archives of New Zealand, Head Office, Wellington.)
2 District Engineer, N.Z.R. Hamilton, Assets written off.
3 District Engineer, N.Z.R. Auckland C/M 1959/47 of 17/6/1959.
4 Ways and Works N.Z.R. Frankton File 204/1 Paeroa Station Buildings.
5 N.Z.R. Chief Accountants Review of Operation 1950 - 1959.
All other material not identified is from:
New Zealand Railways General Manager's Office Registered Files R3, W 2278, 05/3601 Part 1, Paeroa Refreshment rooms 1905-23 and Part 2 1925-59. (National Archives of New Zealand. Head Office, Wellington.)