Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995
THE GAS COMPANY AT PAEROA AND ITS ASSOCIATION WITH THE RAILWAY
By J A T Terry
Some years ago at Hamilton while going through some old railway files, I came on an invoice (reproduced below) from The Ohinemuri Light and Power Co. Ltd., for installing gas in the original Paeroa station building.
A little more than a year after the Company commenced operation the Manager, no doubt desirous of increasing business, wrote to the Railway's District Traffic Manager at Auckland: "Being desirous to see Paeroa railway station lit up by gas we are prepared to supply and fit up all necessary fittings and pipings as follows:
"Three draft (his spelling) proof outside lamps for platform complete with incandescent burner. One two arm pendent with incandescent burners for public office, three brackets for urinals and other rooms for the sum of £11."
The manager was also prepared to fit up the dwellings occupied by the stationmaster and ganger for £6.15.0 a dwelling. At that time lighting of the station lamps was by way of kerosene. The District Engineer at Auckland was in favour, considering the cost very reasonable and the use of gas less a fire risk as compared with kerosene.
The General Manager (Railways) granted approval for the platform and station but the supply to the dwellings was held over. Strangely the stationmaster was not in favour of gas in his dwelling. The work was completed at the end of October 1899 and was a great improvement upon the kerosene lamps. Over the years additional lamps were placed in buildings and the station yard.
In 1912, when the platform lights were not operating satisfactorily, at a cost of £14.15.0 the supply was improved by the replacement of the incandescent burners by inverted mantle lamps. That same year the yard was mechanically interlocked and the two signal cabins and the twenty seven signal lamps were lit by gas. Because of their distance (nearly 5/8 of a mile) from the main signal cabin, the three distant signals were kerosene lit.
In July 1920 the Company offered to overhaul the entire service for £8.10.0 and for an annual fee of £1.10.0 undertook to maintain all the gas lamps. The offer was accepted but within a year, notwithstanding the overhaul, the supply was still unsatisfactory.
In February 1921 the Paeroa Borough Council advised that the Thames Valley Hydro Electric Power Board had nearly finished the work of preparation for the installation of electric power and it would shortly be available for use. The Chief Engineer at Wellington sought local opinion as to the need for electric lighting, pointing out that the present supply was stated to be unsatisfactory and furthermore there was the possibility of the gas works being abandoned when electricity became available.
The reply, 5 July 1921, was not encouraging. The supply was very bad, there was very little gas pressure in the station and the signal lights were very poor, some of them hardly showing. Nearly all of the lighting in the town was by electricity and the writer, no doubt comparing the dull station lights with those of the town, reported the town was brilliantly lit and the one or two cases where gas was burning showed up very badly. It was also stated that on account of the gales which at times raged in the district the gas lamps were often blown out and then very hard to relight. Enquiries of the Manager of the Gas Company revealed that there was no proposal for the gas works to be abandoned.
Despite the unfavourable report the General Manager decided that any improvements would havetostand over in the meantime.
However the Gas Company was not winning the battle with electric light. In December 1924 a referendum of ratepayers refused to sanction a loan for the purpose of acquiring the gas plant resulting in the Company closing down on 31 January 1925.
For the railways it meant going back to kerosene lamps. The gas burners were removed from the signal lamps and replaced by kerosene containers. Electric power had been laid on in the Matamata station and on the platform in February 1924 and sufficient kerosene lamps were available from there for Paeroa. The inconvenience to the office staff and public was of short duration for on Monday 31 August 1925 the new station in Moore Street, lit by electricity was brought into use. However some signals and the main signal cabin were to remain in use at the old station for another eight months and be dependent upon kerosene for lighting.
As a final note to this story the following appeared in the Ohinemuri Gazette of 27 September 1907: "For some time past there have been complaints about the gas lamps at the railway station being turned on in the early hours of the morning with the consequent waste of gas and loss to the Railway Department. Efforts were made to find out the guilty person but the problem remained unsolved until the other morning when a sparrow was seen to stand on one of the gas lamps and the gas was turned on and ignited (the burner being fitted with a pilot light). It is these apparently unexplained happenings that are due at times to simple causes"
Source: District Engineer NZR Hamilton closed file 204/12, Paeroa lighting.