Harry’s brilliant track record

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Harry Henderson once marvelled at the wonderful people who worked on the railways back in its heyday in Waipara. Photo: Supplied
Harry Henderson once marvelled at the wonderful people who worked on the railways back in its heyday in Waipara. Photo: Supplied
Waipara identity Harry Henderson, a railway man through and through, has died, aged 96.

Mr Henderson arrived in Waipara in 1942 for a three-month placement on the local railway. He never left.

Even today, his name often pops up when talk turns to the Weka Pass or the Waiau branch line. He also supported many Waipara volunteer groups.

Coming from a South Canterbury farming background, Mr Henderson joined the Railways in 1940, beginning an eight-year apprenticeship to become a locomotive driver.

His secondment to Waipara was as a fireman, mainly on the Waiau branch line.

About that time, he gained his engine driver’s ticket.

Harry met his wife-to-be, Mary (nee Black), at a dance in Waikari. By 1952 they had bought a half-acre section and built a house for £2500.

It was Mr Henderson’s home until August last year, when he moved to Ryman’s Charles Upham Home Retirement Village in Rangiora.

The couple had two daughters, two sons, and, of course, his railway family.

When spoken to by the North Canterbury News in October 2013, Mr Henderson fondly recalled Waipara in its railways heyday, when at its peak there were 40-odd permanent railways staff, five steam crews, a cleaner boy, station master, three clerks, refreshment room staff, a carpentry gang, bridge gang, surface men and an auto electrician.

‘‘The place really hummed.

‘‘They were marvellous days, wonderful people.

‘‘Steam crews drove picnic trains to the likes of Spotswood and Oaro and it seemed the whole town went along.’’

This was the era when four passenger trains passed through Waipara each day, and it was common for drivers, and others to do 13 to 14-hour shifts, and work 13 days on, one day off.

Without giving specifics, Harry admitted to ‘‘a few adventures and couple of blisters (official warnings) over the years’’.

There were occasions when farm machinery, stuck in creeks, was towed free by a locomotive.

There was an incident when Harry was undertaking running repairs to a cylinder cog while his firemen picked a sack of apples from a trackside tree, neither of them aware a senior department officer was looking on.

Harry was later able to produce the official repair log, showing he was doing as he said, not just picking fruit.

A more serious incident occurred on August 23, 1955, when Harry drove a train on to the Hurunui bridge, not realising flooding had washed out a wooden pier at the southern end, leaving piles swinging clear of foundations. As the locomotive crossed the damaged section it dropped about 35cm, but momentum kept it on the track.

Harry and his fireman left their locomotive at Culverden and caught the Road Services bus home.

Among his memories back in 2013 was driving the last diesel train to Waiau in 1978, having 10 years earlier driven the last steam engine off the Waiau line.

He retired officially in 1980, having served his last 18 months with the bridging gang.

‘‘I was the highest paid ‘bridgey’ in the country,’’ he told the North Canterbury News with a laugh.

In 40 years of service, he had only one day off sick.

Retirement soon saw him turn his attention to the Weka Pass Railway, driving steam locomotive A428 on the opening of the line in September 1999, and again on its 100th birthday on November 7, 2009.

He then stood down from driving for the last time, 61 years after starting.

While driving trains he still found plenty of time to help many organisations, quietly helping to ensure they ticked along and always volunteering when asked.

His contribution to the Glenmark Lions Club was recognised in July last year with a life membership.

Aside from Lions, he has been involved in the Waipara Fire Brigade, the Weka Pass Railway Society, Scouts and the Waipara Residents’ Association.

He helped build the local tennis courts, the first fire station, the memorial hall and the scout den.

He was greenkeeper at the local golf course and looked after the domain for 26 years.

Mr Henderson was a charter member of the Lions Club, formed in 1981, and, along with his four-gallon kerosene tin, was a familiar figure at the club’s annual potato-picking fixture. Just three years ago he was still keen to help plant the club’s fundraising pumpkins.

 

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