In 1967, New Zealand Government Railways announced the Fairlie branch line was to close. The line had been losing $43,000 a year and like many other lines around the country, could not compete against road transport.
It was to be a great loss to the region and to the many small communities, which were formed - and would die - because of it.
After 93 years of service to Pleasant Point and 84 years of service to the Mackenzie Country, the Fairlie Flyer was no more.
Once the line was shut, Bill Timmings approached the businessman's association in Pleasant Point with an idea of having a memorial to the much-loved line.
Fairlie had already turned down the idea of a memorial in their centre and Pleasant Point took the chance. A decision was made to secure the former railway station and find money to purchase a locomotive.
The closure of the line co-incided with the demise of steam. Locomotives were being sold for scrap, and after raising $600 from an extravaganza at Sutherlands, two members brought a 46-year-old locomotive – Ab 699.
While an attempt was made to secure one of the two locomotives which pulled the final train, New Zealand Railways would not release them and stated one of them was still used for steam heating and the other had bad bearings. Ab 718 and 798 were later scrapped.
On November 28, 1970, '699 was pushed by a diesel locomotive into its final resting place in front of the vandalised Pleasant Point railway station. As soon as the locomotive was uncoupled, contractors lifting the tracks of the Fairlie branch line moved in swiftly before the speeches were over. This left a sour taste in the mouths of many of the 700 who turned up to see the event.
The locomotive stood proud in the centre of the town, with a new veranda over it to protect it from the weather. At this time, no-one ever believed it would be steamed again. To prevent the locomotive from becoming a rusting hulk, as some people had feared, members brought out barrels of used oil to put into the boiler to try and preserve it.
It was a day to be remembered when a small team put the first fire in – something that may never have happened had a plan to put concrete in the boiler gone ahead.
As years progressed, and its popularity grew, the small society started relaying track. As the new line snaked its way along the old formation, more and more people came to see it.
The line may only be a shadow of its former self – one and a half miles relaid from the original 38 – but each year it draws 10,000 people to the small rural town.
The society now owns a fleet of wagons, several carriages and guards vans, two diesel shunting locomotives and one of the world's only operational Model T Ford railcar replicas.
Members of the society agree, without the volunteers and the kind donations from local businesses and members of the district, there would be no railway, nothing to link a new generation to the magic that surrounded the iron horse known as the Fairlie Flyer.
Fairlie Branch Timeline
Fairlie branch line, 39 miles of rail history
- 1884 -1968
- December 24. Opening of the 8 mile 71 chains of railway between Washdyke and Pleasant Point
- January 1. Line from Pleasant Point to Albury opened. 16 miles 63 chains
- Albury to Winscombe completed. 7 miles 19 chains
- January 9. Rails laid from Winscombe to Eversley, 3 miles 20 chains.
- 1884, January 28.
- Timaru to Fairlie Creek line opened to general traffic.
- 1884, January 30.
- A special excursion train was run from Timaru to Fairlie to mark the opening of the branch line.
- The name of Fairlie Creek was shortened to the present "Fairlie".
- August 9. Fairlie Railway Station and several carriages destroyed by fire.
- Line from Eversley to Fairlie closed
- October 22. Fairlie Flyer ex-pupils held a reunion and ran a special train
- March 2. The official closing of the Fairlie line and the running of a special 18-carriage train pulled by Ab locos 718 and 798. One thousand people ride the last train.
- November 28. Ab 699 the "Fairlie Flyer" reached her last resting place. On the outskirts of Pleasant Point she was greeted by a crowd of more than 700.