(By Joe T. Terry, Hamilton)
THE HIKUTATA Railway Station was on the now closed Thames branch line 5 mile 60 chain (9.25kms.) from the first Paeroa Railway Station, situated opposite the Paeroa Hotel.
On opening the line from Paeroa to Thames on December 19, 1898, there was a sixth class station building (no more than shelter shed), a platform 200ft (61m) by 13ft (4m), a 30ft (9m) by 20ft (6m) goods shed with a verandah, a loading bank and cattle and sheep yards. A gents privy and urinal was later added. There was a loop siding 14 chains (281m) long holding 50 wagons with a second loop of 8 chains (170m) holding 27 wagons. The station was not staffed.
In 1906 the siding holding 27 wagons was extended 132ft (42m) at the southern end and now held 40 wagons. The lack of staff at the station was a cause of concern. In its issue of September 9, 1906, the Ohinemuri Gazette reported that goods were being stolen.
There was no locked shed and freight was thrown onto the platform at the mercy of all comers. The paper stated that with such a rapidly rising district if there could not be a stationmaster there should at least be a caretaker.
Relief would come in December, 1914, when a tablet system of train control was installed on the branch. Hikutaia was made a tablet station and a tablet porter appointed. However, as a start had not been made in building a house for him, a single man could only be appointed in the meantime.
To accommodate the porter and the tablet machines a 16ft (5m) by 12ft (4m) addition was made to the station at a cost of 75 pounds ($150). As a tablet station a lamp was provided at the station, Later the tablet exchanger was also supplied. At some stage a house was also provided for the local surfaceman.
In 1916 Up and Down home signals were installed and in 1919 Up and Down Distant signals were added. In 1922 there was a proposal to add a ladiesí waiting room but this did not proceed.
As an economy measure, as the August 18, 1930, tablet was withdrawn from the Thames branch line. The Ohinemuri Gazette of August 25, 1930, announced the removal of the tablet porter stated: "This means that the Paeroa-Thames line is now being operated without the tablet system so that strict observance to the timetable is essential". At the time there were three mixed trains daily each way between Paeroa and Thames and all in daylight hours.
The tablets were removed from the tablet machines and the semaphore arms from the signal posts. In the event of it being brought back into use again the remaining signal gear was not removed.
However, this was not to happen and in May, 1934, what equipment was left was removed. The tablet machines and the 4-lever signal frame had been removed earlier. The tablet porter was transferred to the Auckland goods shed.
In 1934 with a proposal to make Mangapeehi a tablet station the 1914 addition at Hikutaia to house the equipment was removed to and place at that station on the Main Truck Line, south of Te Kuiti.
The passenger service on the Paeroa-Thames branch line were withdrawn on March 28, 1951, and the Hikutaia station platform removed in September, 1959.
A November, 1957, report on the facilities mentioned the station building was not required and could be removed as could also the loop. The gentís privy and urinal were dismantled by railway staff in November, 1959.
In October, 1957, the Resident Engineer at Hamilton recommended that some parts of the stockyards could be removed. The pig pen and the sheep-loading races had not been used for a long while. Cattle were being unloaded by lorries backing into the cattle races. He suggested the facilities be reduced to a cattle crush pen and holding race. This was not agreed to. Very different from 1939 when over a six month period forwarded from the station were 257 cattle, 318 calves, 278 sheep, 23 horses and 60 pigs.
On November 27, 1958, the crossing loop was reduced to 37 wagons, and the goods shed loop held 36 wagons.
A further review was carried out based on returns for the year ended June 22, 1963. Inwards goods consisted of 26 wagons of which seven were of coal and six of manure while outwards there were 48 of cheese. The review panel recommended the station building, goods shed, loading bank and stock yards be removed as the existing facilities would not justify the expenditure involved in up-keep. No decision was made.
A return of traffic from March 5, 1964 to 30 April, 1965, showed that inwards the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company (NZDC) received 24 wagons of coal, 12 of shooks and crates and four of salt. For other consignees, 60 wagons were used of which 32 were for livestock. Outwards, the dairy company used 70 wagons and one by a sole consignee.
In August, 1965, it was proposed to close the station. The NZDC had no objection. On November 24, 1965, a public meeting was held at Hikutaia of the farming community and dairy factory representatives. A unanimous proposal was passed, of which stated: "That Hikutaia remain open with such modifications as are needed for the amount and type of traffic using this siding".
At a board meeting on December 7, 1965, the NZDC rescinded its decision on closing the station and asked the Railways Department to provide better loading facilities. This was not to the Departmentís liking and it was decided to dispense with some of the facilities.
From and including July 17, 1966, the station would remain open for traffic in wagon lots only. The crossing loop would be removed and wagon accommodation reduced to 20. The station building and goods shed would be sold for removal.
The stock yards remained and in July, 1966, the Foreman of Works at Frankton Junction, Hamilton, was instructed to carry out the necessary repairs and continue to maintain them in good order.
Train Number 338, the 4 p.m. mixed from Thames to Paeroa at Hikutaia. The engine is shunting at the goods shed, the guard supervising the operations. December 22, 1947. (J. W. Sutherland photo).
The station building and goods shed were sold in April, 1967. In 1969 the two railway houses were sold. For a 12-month period ending March 31, 1971, no stock was handled in or out of the stock yards. They were closed in March, 1972, and sold for removal the next month.
The crossing loop, which was to have been removed following the 1966 review and which had been closed to traffic since, April 9, 1974, was removed in January, 1976, leaving only the main line and the outside (goods shed line) loop. Traffic continued to decline and for the year ending March, 1980, only 982 tonnes were carried, all of it lime and fertiliser traffic. The station was closed to all traffic effective from April 26, 1981. However, in July, 1982, it was re-opened for a short period as a service siding for Way and Works needs.
June 28, 1991, was the last day of commercial traffic on the Thames branch and the line from Waitoa to Thames was officially closed on March 29, 1995.
District Engineer, Hamilton files:
166 series Hikutaia: 1, station building; 2, sidings; 3, platform; 4, stock yards; 7, goods shed.
177/1 Station building Mangapeehi
135/5 Closing stations.
Signals Branch, Hamilton:
100/1 Signalling Thames Branch.
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