Grand old lady makes her return
The grand old lady of the Timaru to Fairlie line Ab699 has turned 90 years old and is still going strong thanks to the Pleasant Point Railway and Historical Society.
The engine entered service in 1922 and worked throughout the North Island before being shipped to the South Island in 1958. It worked for many years in South Canterbury and was one of the Fairlie Flyers, working between Timaru and Fairlie.
While the line to Fairlie has now long gone and the trip only takes about 45 minutes by car, the first excursion train to Fairlie 128 years ago took more than two hours to make the journey.
The first Excursion Train to Fairlie
The Timaru Herald
January 31, 1884
The extension of the Albury branch railway from Albury to Fairlie Creek was opened for general traffic on Monday last and this event was celebrated yesterday by the running of an excursion train from Timaru to the new terminus of the line.
The importance to Timaru of increased facilities of communication with the interior was practically acknowledged by the townspeople, a requisition being handed to the mayor asking him to proclaim a public holiday in Timaru, in order to allow business people and others to honour the occasion by joining in the excursion. The proclamation was made and the holiday was well kept, nearly all the shops being closed.
Special arrangements were made by the railway authorities for the excursion, a number of carriages being brought down from Christchurch on Tuesday night. Yesterday morning a train was made up consisting of fourteen carriages and brakes van and two engines, - an American, the Washington, and one of the P class - and, seeing the numbers of people who were crowding the platform as the hour of starting drew nigh a couple more carriages were put on. The total number of passengers disembarking at Fairlie Creek being estimated at about 600 - a nice little crowd, however, to turn loose in that unsophisticated little country township. Mr F Bank, district traffic manager, Mr A Smith, superintendent of the locomotive department, Mr J Jones stationmaster at Timaru, and Mr Dickenson, locomotive foreman, accompanied the train, and among the excursionists were the Mayor of Timaru, Mr Sutter MHB for Gladstone, a large number of businessmen of Timaru and a good many "old identities", who had been familiar with Fairlie Creek in the old days and desired a pleasant "shock" from seeing the iron horse careering over ground where they had been accustomed to canter their horses of bone and sinew, without a thought of railways or excursion trains.
The train started punctually at the time appointed and as the long string of carriages wound around the curves near town, allowing its length to be seen by the passengers, many were the jokes made. The two engines laboured heavily in taking the train, with cold and stiff wheels, through the cutting round the bay, belching forth steam and dust and ashes like miniature Krakatoas.
On arriving at Fairlie Creek, each was left to his own devices. Three or four coaches were in readiness to convey to Burkes Pass those who desired to make the trip. About dozen persons procured vehicles and visited the Gorge (Opihi); a number drove as far as Silverstream; the rest contented themselves with strolling about the township and in the riverbed, where a fresh in the river obliged them to observe that the Upper Opihi resembles other Canterbury rivers in having a decided aversion to bridges.
Mr JG Allen's new mill came in for a good share of attention, a large number taking advantage of the permission given to inspect it. Unfortunately, it could not be sung: "Merrily goes the mill wheel", because the stock of grain was exhausted, and it does not pay to grind millstones for exhibition or for any other purpose.
A large marquee had been erected near Mr Winter's hotel, and various conjecture were hazarded as to its purpose, "luncheon booth" being the most favoured. About half an hour after the arrival of the train this was thrown open, and its purpose was then more surely guessed. Along the middle was erected a table on which were displayed bottles of "fizz" provided by the residents and champagne glasses.
Mr FW Marchant, engineer and clerk to the Mackenzie County Council, within whose territory Fairlie Creek lies, addressed the visitors.
He had been be requested by the inhabitants to bid them welcome to Fairlie Creek, and he did so with very great pleasure. The Fairlie Creek line, if he might take the liberty of a quotation, had been a case of "linked ironwork long drawn out". It was now nearly finished, however, and he trusted that it would be of great service both to the district and to Timaru. He ventured to predict that the district opened up by the extension of the line had a great future before it, and that with the important means of communication now provided, time alone was needed to render it a source of great commercial benefit to the town and port of Timaru.
He had much pleasure therefore in bidding a hearty welcome to His Worship the Mayor of Timaru, to Mr Sutter, Member for Gladstone, and to the other visitors from Timaru.
Mr J Jackson, Mayor of Timaru, returned the thanks for the welcome given them. He quite appreciated the remark of Mr Marchant that the line would be of great benefit to Timaru for if were not for the trade of the country districts, he for one would not be able to live. The town, he had always felt, was dependent on the country; it was through the prosperity of the country people that the townspeople must look for theirs. He believed with Mr Marchant that this district had a great future before it, and the opening of the railway would bring that future nearer.
Mention must not be neglected of the preparation made by Mr Winter, of the Fairlie Creek Hotel, to meet the demand for refreshments for a large influx of visitors. On the way up it was remarked that he could not have expected so many and would be ill prepared for them. Suffice to say that the table in his dining room was laid and relaid time after time, and the last man got a capital luncheon as well as the first, while the ladies, of whom there were a good many among the excursionists, were well attended to and supplied with a good cup of tea in a separate room.
The return journey was made without mishap and in good time, scarcely two hours being consumed.
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