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Kapiti railway veteran was on the tracks for 40 years

Aug 21st, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article

KAPITI’S oldest retired railway worker remembers the good old days when steam was hard yakka.

Seventy years ago, a young Ken Shaw started out as a cleaner, stacking wood, pre-lighting the steam boiler and sweeping out the depot.

This month, memories of a long railways career have been reawakened for 87-year-old Mr Shaw, with the recent centenary celebration in Paekakariki of the 1908 Parliament Special Train journey.

Watching JA 1271 locomotive, built at Hillside workshops, Dunedin, in 1956, approaching the station, and the reopening of the restored local signal box, got Mr Shaw reminiscing about his 40-year career.

He started in Wanganui in 1938, as a young lad aboard the steam trains. “I shifted to a couple of places in the North Island before finally ending my career in Paekakariki in 1978,” Mr Shaw says. 

His stint in the Paekakariki depot was supposed to be for 12 months but: “I met my wife in Paekakariki and decided to stay.”

Mr Shaw progressed through the ranks to become a fireman then engine driver for steam and diesel.

Those days were hard yakka, remembers Mr Shaw, who drove 12 to 13-hour days up the North Island main trunk line over a seven-day period before having a day off.
Paekakariki was a busy depot, working a 24-hour operation, because it was the key link between north and south.

Prior to Wellington getting an airport in 1959, New Zealand Railways ran a rail-air freight service between the North and South Islands from Paraparaumu, with goods trucked there from Paekakariki.

Mr Shaw remembers the community had strong ties with the railways. Whole families were employed by NZR and lived in railway houses.

“Fathers would start their shift changing over from their sons who had just finished nightshift,” he says.

“With the family being on different shifts, the mother would be up day and night cooking, cleaning and some even had time to work in the cafeteria.”

Mr Shaw remembers the food in the cafeteria was good, too, including ham sandwiches, fruit cake and a hot brew.

If a worker got hurt or sick, everybody knew about it and would offer their help.
“There was a real traditional value that other jobs didn’t have,” he says.

“If you worked on the railway for six months or 40 years, you would always be a railwayman.

“That’s the difference between yesteryear and today.”

PICTURE: Retired railwayman Ken Shaw outside the restored Paekakariki signal box.

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