The very first special train for railway enthusiasts, the “South Auckland Rail Tour”, ran on 27 February 1954 hauled by AB 660, and travelled on both the Onehunga and Waiuku branch lines. The train was run by the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society, Auckland branch, which later became the Railway Enthusiasts’ Society Inc. (RES) in 1958. The Society operated picnic trains each summer to Waiuku. One of the largest picnic specials carried over 400 passengers and was hauled by North British-built Ja 1285, in 1962. Other picnic specials were hauled by AB 834 in 1961, JB 1229 in 1964 and JA 1284 in 1965. The 1965 special consisted of AA and A wooden carriages that today form the GVR fleet. The last revenue train on the branch was run by the Railway Enthusiasts’ Society on 31 December 1967 as the last train to Waiuku and was hauled by two DB’s. 

In the Spring 1967 issue 113 of the “New Zealand Railway Observer” an article on the ‘Farewell to Rural Branch Lines’ reported on the Waiuku Branch.

“The section of the Waiuku branch railway between Glenbrook and Waiuku is to be closed from 1 January 1968, as goods traffic to and from Fernleigh and Waiuku stations has steadily decreased in recent years. The annual tonnage of goods carried, for example, has fallen from more than 12,000 tons to about 8,500 tons in the past three years. 
Track renewals required on this section of the line, 4 miles 67 chains, during the next five years would cost upwards of $26,000. Accordingly, retention of this section was no longer warranted, and Glenbrook Station could become the railhead for traffic to and from Fernleigh and Waiuku. 
The remaining section of the line, between Glenbrook and Paerata, the junction with the main line north of Pukekohe, is being upgraded and extended by three miles to serve the new steel mill now under construction.
It has been reported that the Railway Enthusiast’s Society is exploring the possibility of maintaining and developing the Glenbrook – Waiuku section as a working steam railway museum.”

This possibility was explored and the Railway Enthusiasts’ Society began negotiations to take over the four and three quarter mile (7.6km) section of the branch line once it was closed. As is usually the situation when new ideas such as a preserved steam railway are mooted, the local support in the area at the time was not great. It was not until 1971 that the Society was granted the right to buy or lease the land on which the railway stood.  By this time the line had been cut back to three and one quarter miles (5.2km) at Cornwall Road just short of the Fernleigh station site. By 1971 some of those who did not offer support in 1968 when the idea was first mooted, now wanted the line to run into Waiuku. Thirty years later the extension to Waiuku was underway but the financial requirements discussed in setting up the railway back in 1968 have increased considerably and fund raising to complete the project is currently underway. The project was well supported by the then Waiuku Borough Council and Franklin District Council, and was, and still is, by the Waiuku community 

The late John L Stichbury, commonly known as ‘father’ of the Railway Enthusiasts’ Society, wrote an article in “Steel Roads of New Zealand”  (A. H. & A. W. Reed Ltd 1973) edited by Gordon Troup, about the Glenbrook Vintage Railway (GVR). Gordon Troup in his opening statement to John’s article stated “The following story deals with a closely allied project (the railway at the Museum of Transport and Technology) in the Auckland neighbourhood. Here, as Mr John L. Stichbury shows, there is plenty of challenge and exertion, heavy demands on time and money, but, in contrast with the Western Springs situation, there is plenty of space, and the prospect of eventual operation on a line some miles in length to cheer the workers on their way.”

John predicted that the railway would open in late 1974 and wrote; “When that great day comes, a train of four carriages and a WW locomotive will operate in the special GVR livery from a terminus at Glenbrook along the 1 in 50 grades and twelve chain curves of the line to Fernleigh and back. The fifty minute trip will include photo stops and pass through attractive rural scenery and by the Waitangi Stream. It will also pass the GVR workshops at Pukeoware, a $15,000 complex where all rolling stock will be stored and maintained. On occasions the GVR train will run beside the 1,100 ton express goods trains en route to the Mission Bush steel mill.”

The first steam locomotive purchased for the GVR was WW 480. This locomotive was steamed from Greymouth to Auckland in May 1969, on an RES-organised odyssey hauling a train of fare-paying passengers. Four days were spent travelling from Greymouth to Picton. The train was assisted by electric locomotives twice on its journey to Auckland, three Ea electrics hauled the train through the Otira tunnel & an Ew hauled the train from Wellington to Porirua. In the North Island a mix-up with the water supply saw the tanker at Hihitahi while the train waited at Mataroa. A rarely used hydrant was used to supply the water but this was muddy. This resulted in blocked injectors, and north of Ongarue the decision was made to drop the fire and a Da from Taumarunui was called out to tow the train to Te Kuiti. The injectors were changed overnight and the special proceeded to Auckland after picking up two more carriages with passengers who had come from Auckland on a special train for the occasion. The National Film Unit filmed WW 480’s progress, producing the short film ‘The Ride of 480’. The film unit used a light engine running “wrong line” to obtain shots of 480 north of Frankton. Preceding the train from Frankton was a three total special for railfans, hauled by Db 1007, who were taken on ahead to various photographic locations.

Easter 1970 saw the running of the RES Railfans Reunion and Operation WW 644. John Stichbury was the principal organiser with Paul Heighton being in charge of preparing WW 644 for its trip from Greymouth to Auckland. The Reunion was centred on Invercargill before travelling to Greymouth to join WW 644 on the start of its delivery trip over the Midland Line to Christchurch. The majority of the Reunion participants flew back to Auckland on Easter Monday but a band of 60 keen enthusiasts stayed with WW 644 as she steamed to Auckland, arriving on the Sunday. At Frankton, WW 644 and train were joined by an excursion from Auckland and WW 644 then hauled a 320 ton train, now expanded to 300 passengers, to Auckland.

In 1970 the first work party arrived at Pukeoware to commence track work. Their first task was to clear the large stands of gorse that had taken over the track since the line closed. At the Papakura engine shed work had commenced on WW 480. Also during 1970 the Planning Committee had recommended that the passenger terminal be sited at Glenbrook, with the locomotive depot and operating headquarters at Pukeoware. Yard plans and preliminary building plans had been drawn up. For the year ended 30 June 1970 the Railway Enthusiasts Society had spent $1,507.28 on the GVR with the biggest purchase being $775.00 for WW 644.

In 1970 there were no plans to bring the Society-owned ex Taupo Totara Timber Co. No. 7, the ALCO built 2-4-4-2 Mallet (pronounced “mallay”), to the GVR but the Committee was concerned about the deterioration of the locomotive on static display at Putaruru. Negotiations were underway with local Putaruru interests for a new agreement as to the maintenance and housing of this locomotive. 

To further develop the vision of an operating steam railway it was considered appropriate for the Society to incorporate the railway as a Charitable Trust and the execution of the Trust Deed occurred in November 1970. The Glenbrook Vintage Railway was officially born.
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