Invercargill trams a lifelong passion

Graham Haase, 76, has a working model of part of the Invercargill tram system in the basement of his Dunedin home. It is testament to a lifelong enthusiasm that began when he shifted with his family from Blenheim to Invercargill during World War 2.

Mr Haase lived in George St and attended North School just over the road from the Windsor St terminus of the North Invercargill line. Graham's involvement with the Invercargill trams began as a teenager.

Invercargill was one of eight New Zealand cities to operate an electric tram service. Trams served the suburbs of Waikiwi, North Invercargill, Georgetown and South Invercargill.

The system began in 1912 with 10 trams manufactured by Boon and Co of Christchurch. Another six, technically advanced Birney trams were purchased from the United States. They began operating in Invercargill in 1922.

Despite proposals for tramway extensions to East Rd and to Kew Rd when Kew Hospital opened in 1935, no further tram routes were opened.

The Invercargill trams had been under sentence of death since 1937 when the tram system was losing 5000 a year. Patronage jumped during World War 2 when the 16 Boon and Birney trams that made up the Invercargill tram fleet often faced crush loadings of 100 or more passengers each.

On the down side, replacement rails were unobtainable and the permanent way which had been cheaply laid in 1912 needed more and more maintenance.

In 1947 the Waikiwi line, one of the four lines that served Invercargill, had been cut back to Gladstone to provide rails to tide the system until the conversion to diesel buses could be completed.

Graham Haase's mathematical mind allowed him to calculate the working timetables of the Invercargill trams in his head. He could tell where the trams should be at any minute on the four-line system. In the central city area between the Yarrow St and Dee St corner and the Conon St and Tweed St corner double tracks were used.

The system was single tracked with many passing loops past the Yarrow St junction in the the central business district and the Tweed St junction about a mile from the Post Office towards South Invercargill.

The tram operators had to follow a working timetable that told them to the minute when they would pass another tram on one of the passing loops.

Young Mr Haase knew the working timetable by heart. His mates at high school regarded his skills with some amazement.

Yet he did more for the trams than provide timetables for his friends. On Friday nights he biked from his North Invercargill home to the junction of the South Invercargill and Georgetown lines at Tweed St to act as an unofficial pointsman.

Automatic points had been installed at the other major junction at Yarrow St but not at Tweed St.

Passenger loadings were heavy on the Friday late shopping nights with two trams running on each of the four routes plus special short workings between Mary St on the North Invercargill line and Earn St on the South Invercargill line.

There were no automatic points at this junction. Trams passed the junction in both directions and some trams turned on to the Georgetown line every eight to 10 minutes.

The hard-working tram operators who drove the trams and took fares with the aid of the famous Denver fare box had to jump out and manually change the points to travel to Georgetown or South Invercargill.

Graham Haase got there first. He appointed himself junction points man on Friday nights.

The tram operators appreciated his services. Some even threw money at him as their trams passed through the junction.

Other tram operators showed their appreciation by letting Graham have a drive in a Boon tram on two occasions on the North Invercargill line.

The time of the conversion of the Invercargill City Tramways to buses drew closer. A bus route up Kelvin St was operated by the City Tramways from 1948. New Daimler buses began to arrive from 1950 and the tram routes were closed as the buses arrived and were prepared for service.

The remainder of the Waikiwi line and the Georgetown line were closed in mid-1951. There was concern that the buses could not cope with the rugby crowds. Up to six trams at a time were used for rugby specials operated over the Georgetown line during the 1951 rugby season between the Chief Post Office and Rugby Park at the corner of Tweed St and Elles Rd after the remainder of the tram line between Rugby Park and the Georgetown terminus had been converted to bus operation.

A Boon tram made a final journey along the Georgetown line in late 1951. The overhead line had already been removed. It was towed almost to the terminus to be used as an election booth for the 1951 snap election.

Invercargill people appreciated their trams. Hundreds more people than expected by the election returning officer made the trip to Georgetown to vote in the tram.

The South Invercargill tram line closed in early 1952. Scenes of considerable disorder led to the trashing and disablement of the last tram, which had to be towed by another tram along Conon St back to the depot, much to Mr Haase's displeasure.

The North Invercargill tram route operated for several more months. Trams ran only from North Invercargill to the Chief Post Office and ran over the crossover to return to North Invercargill. The three last trams to North Invercargill received similar rough treatment. Birney tram No 14 was vandalised on the North Invercargill line to such an extent that it had to be towed back to the tram shed.

Sufficient Daimler buses were now on hand to operate all the city routes. The new north and south city circular routes and the East Rd and Kew services purchased from the private operators began operation later.

Graham's enthusiasm for trams continued despite a busy career as a maths teacher.

Nowadays, as well as being spokesman for the Dunedin Project cable car-tramway ginger group and being a notable chess player, he has a model Invercargill tramway, based on part of the Dee St line in the Invercargill city centre set up in the basement of his Mornington, Dunedin home.

The three 1:30 scale models of two of the original 1912 Boon trams and one of the 1922 Birney trams were made by Dunedin model maker Lester Hopkins.

The Southland Times