Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 22, June 1978
By Dave Grubb
At the end of the school year I announced to my mother that I had had enough of school and despite her entreaties for me to begin at the District High the following year she finally agreed that I go and see my uncle, Bill Maiden, at the Battery. Uncle Willy sent me to see Sammy Frazer, the Battery Superintendent, who in turn sent me to see Archie Dixon. Archie asked me if I could swing a five pound hammer, to which I replied I could swing anything if it meant I didn't have to return to school. I got the job of heating rivets for repairing the rake trucks. From this I graduated to holding the dolly while the rivets were snapped. After a couple of years I was moved into the fitting shop, where I was on a drilling machine for 'trueing up' axle boxes that went onto the trucks. Next a spell on the threading machine threading bolts. I liked the work and was happy for the 5 or so years I was there, however I was shifted to a cleaners job in the locomotive shed that stood just over the railway bridge at Waikino and this ended my career as a potential fitter. As cleaners, the tools of our trade were kerosene and cotton waste and our job was illuminated by lights attached to our peaked caps, as of course our work was at night when the locomotives were idle. One night, after seeing the coal unloaders working by actelyne [acetylene – E] light I decided to borrow their gear and make our job a little easier. The fact that I knew only the theory of how it worked didn't sap my confidence. As a result I put too much water onto the carbide and when I lit the gas formed, there was too much and it blew up in my face, but fortunately without any real damage. When I was about nineteen I became a relief fireman and intended to sit for my engine drivers ticket when I had served enough time and finished the schoolwork by correspondence. However because of the strike and the outbreak of War this was not to be.
Our day began at 6 a.m. when with the enginedriver the locomotive would be checked for oil in the oilboxes, and egcentric [eccentric – E], and to see the sandboxes and boiler filled. The cleaner would have unbanked the fires in the fire box, raked them out, and have them going. A square mouth shovel of coal (not as big as metal square mouth) to the left of the firebox, one to the right and a light shovelful spread at the back, so the boiler tubes wouldn't get blocked by unburnt coal, and the day began. We did 8 double trips a day and if the crusher had broken down we were sometimes not finished till 8 or 9 at night, but this was not too often. As well as shovelling coal I had my "tablet" to look after - a triangular one going to Waihi and a circular one to Waikino - the driver had one as well, and I also had to change the points. This meant I jumped off the train while it slowed down, raced ahead and changed the points and then jumped back on the engine before it lost too much speed. Between shovelling and running I must have been one of the fittest young men around! Four engines were kept at Waikino and one was left in Waihi and if my roster was on the Waihi one it meant getting up at 5 a.m. and a bike ride to get to Waihi at 6 a.m. All of this for 9/6d a day!
There were 5 engines - the "Ohinemuri", the "Victoria", the "Albert", the "Waikino", and the "Dominion", all made in England I think, by Manning Wardles [Manning Wardle – E], or a name very similar. I preferred working on the "Dominion" because to me it seemed to sway less and "track" better, but each fireman and driver had their own favourites and discussions on the virtues of each engine were both endless and futile.
In my time the "Dominion" and the "Waikino" were used mainly for bringing the quartz from Waihi, and the others were "goods" trains. They carted machinery, timber, coal, and other mining supplies from Waikino to the mines in Waihi. About half way along the approximately 5 mile journey to Waihi, there was a loop line. This was where the tablet system was used and where the boilers were filled with water for the rest of the trip. The water tower was similar to the ones that were common at nearly every New Zealand station at one time but which have now all disappeared. Another watering place was near where Tom Gordon's Lily Gardens now are.
The boilers were fired with Newcastle coal brought to Waikino originally by Clarkins 8 horse wagons from Paeroa, and later by Government railway. Tom Best and Addison had the contract to empty the coal trucks into the hoppers and the unloading and loading of the other goods as well, and employed men to help. The man in overall charge of the engines was Archie Dixon (or Dickson) but on the track the driver was responsible for his own "rake" and could, in consultation with Archie and the Battery Superintendent, make a decision to have fewer trucks if the weather was wet and he considered the railway lines to be "greasy". Other names I associate with the locomotives and firing are, Harry Hartlands, Jimmy Whitehouse, Charlie Millen, Charlie Stewart, Alf Doidge, Alby Daniel, Harold Taylor, Mick Lynch, Dave Grubb.
To keep the rake line in good condition there was a team of six fettlers the foreman of which was Jater with Hugh Murray his second in charge. Mick Rowan and his brother, and another man who had a "full set" of whiskers and who lived in Waihi made up the sixth. The ballast for the line came from a small quarry just across the river at Murray's Bridge close to where Jesney's lived, and the metal was crushed on the site of the quarry.
There was quite a gradient between Waihi and Waikino but because of a well planned line we had little trouble especially when coupled with skilful drivers who could "feel" the trucks weight being taken up by each other and then would apply sand to the rails and thus give grip for the brakes to hold on and slow the rake down. Despite this, wheels did skid and ended up eventually flat on one side thus necessitating a trip to the fitters shop to be fixed up. One dramatic event happened when a rake of trucks, loaded with goods and even with three sets of wheels spragged, got away when the tail rope came off from the locomotive that was shifting it. Away through the town went the rake of trucks followed by the engine, continually blowing a warning whistle until it was caught down by the railway station, luckily still on the rails and without having hit anything.
Every Monday morning what we called the "Panniken Push" i.e. six men from the refinery would come down in a covered-in steel sided truck to pick up the concentrates to take back to the Refinery. The concentrates were in big tin boxes that took at least two men to shift into the truck. Generally speaking the engines gave little trouble and were under the care of Adam Crab who was responsible over the Christmas fortnight break for the checking of them and the cleaning of the "coke" out of the boiler tubes which made them partially ineffective. Jack Fyfe, a very good blacksmith indeed, kept the ore trucks, some of which came from England, but the rest were made in Waikino, in good working order, and it was for him I heated the rivets when I first began work.
My working life on the Rake came to an end along with many others because of the Strike.
When I began firing on the Rake all workers were in the Miners Union and when the miners began working on a co-operative basis they ended up being much better paid than our 9/6d per day. As a result a splinter union, the Ohinemuri Drivers and Firemen's Union, was formed and incorporated all workers who were driving or firing engines, both stationary and mobile, because we considered that the miners had not pushed our case enough. The new Union was declared a "scab" union by the miners who refused to be lowered to work by the new unionists, and so work stopped. After a week or two of idleness I found myself a new job firing in a bush train at Mokai and from there it was four years at the War and the end of my connections with the Waihi - Waikino Rake.