Railway dream ends after 55 years

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 09:00 07/01/2014
Southland Times photo
HANNAH McLEOD/Fairfax NZ

Invercargill man Brian 'Zeke' Wilson is retiring from KiwiRail after working on southern railways for 55 years.

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After 55 years working on southern railways, Invercargill man Brian "Zeke" Wilson says he would not do a thing differently.

''It's been a dream, my dream job,'' Mr Wilson said.

He began his working life at the woollen wills in Balclutha at age 15, but only because you couldn't work at New Zealand Railways before you were 16.

''I always loved steam as a kid, and always knew I wanted to work on the railways,'' he said.

At 16, he got a job at the Balclutha station as a junior porter.

Mr Wilson met his wife of 50 years, Joan, who worked in the parcels and booking office in Balclutha.

''If I was ever sick, the stationmaster's wife would cook soup, give it to him to give to Joan, who would bring it to me,'' Mr Wilson said.

They had five children, the eldest of whom works for KiwiRail in Invercargill as a radio controller.

Mr Wilson has held nine different job titles in his 55 year career, starting out as a junior porter handling luggage in Balclutha, and finishing up as operations team leader in Invercargill.

His favourite job, however, was being a guard on passenger trains, including the Southern Express and Kingston Flyer.

''I met people from all over the world, and I loved it that you had to be dressed to the nines,'' Mr Wilson said.

He often had to help passengers who lost their tickets.

''I remember an American fella who had lost his stack of tickets that would take him north from Dunedin, he explained the whole story to me so I called ahead and made sure it was all clear for him to travel on.

''Mr Wilson later received a letter from the man, thanking him for his time, and inviting him to stay if he visited the United States.

''To me that was just a part of your job,'' he said.

Mr Wilson has kept record of every journey he has taken on a train and which colleagues he worked with, all meticulously noted in logbooks.

There had been difficult times during his career too.

Mr Wilson has lost colleagues who died working on southern railways, and has been on trains when they have crashed, including a couple of stock trains derailing.

''The workmates are the most amazing thing, we're really like a family,'' Mr Wilson said.

''No two days were really the same, I've got a heap of good memories.''

In his retirement, Mr Wilson plans to have a new kitchen installed, and take his wife on a cruise.

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- The Southland Times

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