Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 38, September 1994
By J A T Terry
The railway to Te Aroha was opened on 1 March 1886 and a survey between Hikutaia and Te Aroha to prepare working plans for a continuation of the line, (despite some obstruction from Maoris) was completed in July 1886. (Waikato Times 10/7/1886) Financial problems saw no work done on the Paeroa - Te Aroha section and it was not until 1891 that work commenced. By railway standards of the day the going was easy, the only major engineering item being the bridge over the Ohinemuri River at Paeroa.
The Waikato Times (3/10/1891) reported that work on surveying the line previous to calling tenders had commenced. However the new Government decided that a trial would he given to railway work being undertaken on the cooperative principle rather than the calling of tenders. The work began on 18 January 1892.
Earlier rumblings of discontent had been reported in both the New Zealand Herald and Waikato Times, the latter reporting (24/10/1891): "The talk of the week has been the proposition made on the quiet to shift the railway station site to a point about 1½ miles out of the township. The thing was rumoured some time ago but it was not taken as serious it being considered absurd that the site should be altered from the centre of the township where it was most convenient to a swampy piece of land a long distance off and no road to it .... However it was well the matter was discovered in time, the whole populationofthe township immediately setting upon it."
No doubt the proposed change resulted from siting the railway bridge over the Ohinemuri at a point which would result in disrupting shipping navigation of the river, the wharf being above the bridge site. In 1873 David Simpson carried out a flying survey of the proposed line from Hamilton to Thames and in his report (AJHR E2A 1873) he mentioned that the Thames (Waihou) River would require a bridge (at Te Aroha) as it would be some miles below where navigation by steamers could he carried and the banks too low to allow craft to pass under it, it would require a swinging span. No such observation in respect of the Ohinemuri crossing was made for at that time there was no wharf at Paeroa and would not be until 1875. (C W Morgan [Malcolm - E] Journal 28 [see Journal 28: Thames Paeroa Railway - E]). No doubt had a wharf been in place at the time of his survey Simpson would also have recommended a swing span.
On 3/2/1887 the Waikato Times reported that the line was so laid as to cross the river about 1½ miles below the township of Paeroa and unless the Public Works Department was remonstrated with the whole of the traffic on the river would be stopped and fourteen days later (Waikato Times 17/2/1887) remarked that the action of the P.W .D. in stopping navigation of the river by the proposed line was much commented on.
Certainly the P.W.D. appreciated the need not to impede river navigation. On 13/4/1887 it drew up a plan which diverted the line away from the town to cross the river above the wharf. The plan, P.W.D. 14834, as shown on the previous page, was endorsed, "Part plan of Ohinemuri township showing the proposed deviation of the railway line so as to place the site of the railway bridge above the steamers landing". Presumably this 1887 plan had been resurrected by the P.W.D. thus causing the 1891 comment in both the New Zealand Herald and Waikato Times.
The proposal to change the station site was dropped but having satisfied the residents on that matter the P.W.D. still ran into trouble over the bridge. The New Zealand Herald (14/10/1892) reported that residents were objecting to the proposed fixed bridge across the river which would impede navigation to the town. The owners of land above the site were to demand a swing span and the Maoris of the district stated they would sooner not have the railway than the navigation be blocked.
Any hopes for a swing span would have been dashed by the Minister for Public Works in his report for the year ended 31 March 1894 (AJHR D 1 1894) in which he stated plans for the bridge had been completed and the ironwork ordered from England. There was no mention of a swing span as there had been when he had reported on the Te Aroha bridge. The bridge was to be built on the co-operative principle.
As late as July 1894 complaints were still being reported. The New Zealand Herald (7/7/1894), reporting on the Ohinemuri County Council meeting of 6/7/1894, stated the Council had passed an emphatic resolution regarding the proposed stoppage of navigation by the erection of a fixed bridge. A committee of residents had been formed and there was a great deal of indignation evinced at the action of the Government in the matter. To remedy the situation it was decided to erect a wharf immediately below the bridge and plans were prepared by the P.W.D. on 29/12/1894. In January 1895 preparatory work on the bridge started, the Te Aroha and Ohinemuri Gazette (10/1/1895) reported that a site was being made to make room for the bridge timber and 18/1/1895 the New Zealand Herald stated work on the bridge had started.
On Saturday 19/1/1895 the scow "Shamrock" arrived from Whangarei bringing over 40,000 feet of totara and kauri for the bridge. Messrs Albert Moore and P Mannix were to be in charge of the bridge work under the supervision of Mr Thomas Shaw, engineer in charge. (TeAroha and Ohinemuri Gazette 20/1/1895).
The first pile, the centre one, was driven on 11 March 1895. The proceedings were fully covered in the Te Aroha paper (16/3/1895). Mr James McAndrew, railway engineer, with many local dignitaries were present. Mr Crosby of the Royal Mail Hotel supplied the champagne. Once the pile, on which were printed in large letters "The Royal Mail Pile" was in position, Mr C F Mitchell of the Hauraki Tribune and Mr Edwin Edwards of the Ohinemuri Gazette took charge of the winch and hauled the monkey into position. Pakerei Te Putu operated the trigger and the first blow was given among loud cheers.
The Paeroa correspondent of the Te Aroha paper reported that as the monkey weighed about 16-17cwt the process of driving poles with a winch would be slow and it was intended to work it by the quicker method of horse power.
The contract for the bridge timber had been let on 1/11/1894 to F&WG Foote for £459.5.5, the ironbark timber to Leyland and O'Brien on 5/11/1894 for £45.18.6 and manufacturing the ironwork to A & G Price on 30/1/1895 for £304.15.7. (AJHR D 1 1895)
Although the work was proceeding at a steady pace the Ohinemuri County Council was far from happy with the arrangement for the new wharf and resolved that unless certain listed requirements were met the Government be required to make the centre span a swing one. (New Zealand Herald 11/6/1895) However the work went on and by September one of the 40 foot trusses was in place and the other two were ready. The centre 60 foot truss was left till last so that steamer traffic would not be interfered with (New Zealand Herald 30/9/1895) and on Saturday 9 November it was taken across the river to be placed in position. (New Zealand Herald 11/11/1895). On Friday 29 November a ballast engine with 15 trucks crossed the bridge. (New Zealand Herald 2/12/1895)
As built the bridge consisted of 1 x 11 foot and 1 x 20 foot spans (Paeroa end), timber truss spans of 40, 60 and 40 feet and 2 x 20 foot spans (Te Aroha end). It was allocated number 25, Thames Branch. In February 1910 the 11 and 20 foot spans at each end were filled in with stone from the Waikino quarry. The bridge was strengthened in 1919.(1)
In the May 1969 Journal Mr Ray Turner wrote of barges laden with silt being towed to the Extraction works. These barges were to give the railway engineer at Auckland much trouble. In March 1910 one of the barges which were being towed ran into the side of pier number 3 and cost the Company £20.18.0. During a high flood in October 1916 a barge broke from its moorings and bumped into the 60 foot span. Cost to the Company £1.8.6 and in February 1917 a barge collided with the bridge, cost £4.16.10. (1)
On 25 June 1917, following reports from his Inspector at Paeroa, the District Engineer at Auckland wrote to the Company at Auckland:
"My Inspector reports- 'I beg to draw your attention to the dangerous practice the Waihi Gold Coy's [Waihi-Paeroa Gold Extraction Company – E] employees resort to when dealing with barges loaded with silt on the up side of bridge Number 25 at Paeroa. When the barges are filled they simply cut off the lines and allow these heavy barges to float or drift down stream with the current through the bridge and have no person in charge to guide the barges clear of the sets of piles. The consequence is they hit the bridge fairly heavily, at limes breaking the sheathing and it is quite possible for these loaded barges to severely damage the bridge.' I shall be glad if you will instruct your employees to discontinue the practice complained of." (1)
The manager was quick to assure the District Engineer that the practice would cease.
Work on the creation of stop banks in connection with improvements to the Waihou and Ohinemuri rivers was to have a major effect on the bridge. The P.W.D. proposed that it be raised 3'9" with a gradient of 1:66 from the end of the station platform to the bridge. As early as September 1920 the District Engineer P.W.D. at Auckland wrote to his railway counterpart at Auckland suggesting the Paeroa yard be shifted to the junction of the proposed Paeroa - Pokeno railway as it would be an expensive matter to raise the bridge. (2)
The raising proposal was not favoured by the railway engineer at Auckland who was of the opinion that to cover the debris carried by the Ohinemuri when in flood, the bridge should be raised at least 7'9", this being the minimum to allow logs to pass under it. (On 26/2/1923 the P.W.D. engineer in a memo to the N.Z.R. engineer drew his attention to the fact that in the floods of January -February 1922, the flood level reached half way up the lower chord of the bridge so the bridge stood in some risk) (2) He was concerned with the proposed gradient of 1:66 and recommended to the Chief Engineer at Wellington on 26/7/1923: (2)
1 The Paeroa yard be shifted early to a new position.
2 A new bridge to carry two tracks be built 45 feet down stream of the existing structure with rail level at 7'9" above the rail level of the existing bridge.
3 The grades running off the new bridgetobe 1:100.
The recommendations were adopted in principle and tenders for the manufacture of steel plate girders closed 8/9/1924. The contract (£6674) was won by Andersons of Christchurch, delivery to be before July 1925. The twin bridges were each to be of 3 x 60 foot and 1 x 22 foot steel girder spans.
Work commenced on 4 March 1925 andonMonday 19 April 1926 the bridge carrying the Paeroa - Frankton traffic was opened. It had been tested on Friday 16th by two class 'Q' 70 ton locomotives. The bridge retained the number 25. On Monday 14 June the Waihi bridge was tested and allocated number OB. The old bridge was demolished.
With the opening of the new link to Paeroa South station on 19/7/1959 and closing of the Paeroa station to passenger traffic, there was now no need for the Waihi bridge. It was not removed until the weekend of 4/5 November 1967. (3)
Before work started on the new bridges, on 3 March 1925 the clerk of the Ohinemuri County Council wrote to the Minister for Railways and the Chief Engineer requesting a foot bridge be attached to the new bridge stating that ever since the original bridge was built in 1895 residents had been in the habit of using the footway at the side of the rails to cross the river. The Chief Engineer pointed out in reply (23/5/25) that use of the footway was never allowed, notices being displayed at each end of the bridge warning the public against trespass. He pointed out that between 1910 and 1913 several persons were prosecuted for trespass and efforts made to suppress the growing tendency to use the bridge as a means of access to the west side of the river. However he did concede that in recent years the trespass had been allowed to continue unchecked but it could not be allowed to continue. If Council wanted a footway on the new bridge it would be erected at an approximate cost of £260 provided the Council paid all costs and undertook the maintenance. (1)
Provision for pedestrians on the bridge had long been a contentious matter. That the bridge was used by pedestrians soon after its completion was evidenced by a paragraph in the Ohinemuri Gazette (25/1/1896) following a correspondent's suggestion that the railway authorities put a few planks on one side of the rails as at present stepping from girder to girder required a cool head. Taking up the matter the Gazette (1/2/1896) suggested that an approach be made at once to the P.W.D. (the line had not yet been handed over to the Railways Department) to get something done. Again in the issue of 29 February the suggestion was repeated pointing out that after the line had passed to railway control it would be very difficult to get the work done. Prophetic Words. When an approach was finally made by the Ohinemuri County Council in July 1896 the Manager of the Auckland section, N.Z.R., stated that a footbridge would be provided if Council paid the cost, estimated at £105 and £10 annual maintenance. Council received the letter. (Gazette 8/8/1896).
In October 1902 when Sir Joseph Ward visited the town he was presented with a petition containing 297 signatures praying that planks be laid on the bridge or a footway be provided adjoining the bridge. Sir Joseph definitely ruled out the plank proposal but was in favour of a footbridge being attached to the railway bridge. As reported in the Ohinemuri Gazette (24/10/1902) there was no mention as to who would pay but from later correspondence in the paper it would seem that the residents thought the Government would.
Following that visit a petition was presented to the Railways Department but the reply (Gazette 10/12/1902) stated that an out rigged footway to the bridge would be provided if the Local Authority bore the cost estimated at £135.
Further approaches were equally unsuccessful, the reply being the same, if Council met the costs a footbridge would be built.
At 11pm on 26 June 1905 a Paeroa resident, while crossing the bridge, fell into the river and was drowned. At the inquest the Coroner said it would be better not to say anything about the bridge as if anything was said about the Government being to blame they would possibly prosecute the first person going to cross it.
The residents still persisted in their request for planks to be laid in the centre of the bridge but naturally the Railways Department would not consider such a proposal. In October 1911 (Gazette 3/11/1911) the Railway Department enquired of the Ohinemuri County Council if Council was likely to ask the Department to provide a footbridge. Following a negative reply and the refusal of the Department to allow pedestrians to use the bridge footplanks, the Department informed Council it would have no option but to prosecute persons reported as trespassing. (Gazette 1/12/1911).
Shortly after the original bridge was built the Council tried to get the bridge converted into a combined road and rail bridge (apparently in accordance with a Government promise) but it failed as did a subsequent approach.
As the Ohinemuri County Council was at no time prepared to pay the cost of a foot bridgetheresidents never did get their footway.
As I write this (February 1994) there has beenno traffic on the Thames Branch for some time but the line has not been officially closed. Should that happen the last railway bridge over the Ohinemuri at Paeroa will he only a memory.
1 District Engineer N.Z.R. Hamilton, closed file 26/104 Bridge number 25.
2 District Engineer N.Z.R. Hamilton, closed file 10/3 Stopbanks Ohinemuri River.
3 District Engineer N.Z.R. Hamilton, current file 26/104 Bridge number 25.