Sound clip: the 'Parliament Special' train

Railway guard Mr Field talks of the connection of the North Island main trunk line and the 'Parliament Special' train that ran north to Auckland in August 1908 to greet the American navy's 'Great White Fleet'.

Transcript

'… and I was guard on the parliamentary train that went from Wellington to Auckland for the American fleet week, but there was two units. There was the north and south that was from Auckland to Taumarunui was run by the Railway Department. The southern end, from Taihape to Wellington, was run by the Railway Department. The middle section, from Taumarunui to approximately Waiora, was run by the Public Works Department, you see.

Well, when word came through that the American fleet was coming – they had notice from about four months before – the government thought it would be a grand thing if they could have had the railway opened when the American fleet arrived. So the prime minister then, Joseph Ward, the best man ever we had, he asked Hall-Jones who was present minister of public works, could he hurry on the line. Of course Hall-Jones come up, and he got onto the engineers. One was Fred Furkert, he was engineer in the southern end; Mr Louch was engineer in the northern end. But the northern end was well in hand, and Furkert said, 'Oh, well, it will only just have to be a temporary job. We can't make it permanent.' So they made it permanent just by slashing through.

They got all the men and the horses, the drays and everything to hurry the line through from Ohakune to Makatote. That was the distance that had to be completed. So they done so by making a rough job of it, only half doing the cutting, half doing the fillings and putting light rails on, temporary, to take this parliamentary train.

Oh, and they had a slight hitch at Raurimu; they run out of water. The refreshment carriage could only accommodate about 16 to 20; well, of course there were 200 on the train, so they were making plenty of tea, plenty of tea, and the refreshment room ran out of water, and when we got to Raurimu, which was very good water indeed, mountain water you know, the man in charge, the head from Wellington, he asked us if we'd mind stopping until they filled the refreshment room with water again, got plenty of water. Sir Joseph Ward put his head out while they were doing it and says to me – I happened to be opposite the carriage – he says, 'Oh, shouldn't you be moving on?' Well, I says, 'Yes,' but I says 'You've run out of water, but there's plenty of whisky!'

Photo of crowd beside Parliamentary train

Members of Parliament and guests are assembled in front of the 'Parliament Special' in 1908.

MPs travelling by rail received free gold medallion railway passes. Dangled from their watch-chains or hung around their necks on a chain, these passes were symbolic and instantly recognisable badges of office. Rail travel in the North Island remained difficult before the completion of the main trunk in 1908. The government offered the engineer in charge £1000 to finish it in time for the parliamentary party to travel to Auckland by rail in August 1908 to greet the American 'Great White Fleet', which was on a world tour. The Public Works Department laboured desperately, taking many short cuts, and joined the lines from north and south just in time.

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