Smile marks 32 years on steam trains

By Kawe Roes
  • Auckland

Today marks 40 years of the Glenbrook Vintage Railway operating near Auckland’s suburb of Waiuku. Celebrating 32 years volunteering at the railway is train driver George Ngātai.

Known as the screamer of the rail, you can hear George before you see him coming along the line.

George grew up on the railway at the Glenbrook station site with his dad George Ngātai Sr from the age of six.

He admits most boys grow out of their big toys but as he says, "The toys don’t get smaller, they just get bigger."

George is a truck driver by day and loves to volunteer as a train driver at the weekends.

But what keeps him there? It's the "big boys toys". He says "it's pretty important but bloody marvellous."

Not all of the old hands are around who helped get George to where he is now but some do remember him as a boy. 

Two brothers, who are founding members of the GVR, Alan and Don Carline remember George as a boy.

"Oh, he was a little bit of a ratbag, but he come right," says Alan.

While brother Don said, "Through thick and thin and I mean he's not adverse to climbing into fireboxes and smokeboxes and getting covered from head to foot in soot and all that sort of stuff."

The GVR's workshop manager, John St Julian, says, "[Since] the early 80s, he was just running around, just a little fella. So he sort of grew up on the railway, lived in the house up the top there."

George has a love and respect for both the railway and his Māoritanga and hopes his girl sees how important it is too. 

"I reckon it's pretty important. I'm not going to push it upon her. If she wants to learn it, by all means, I'll teach it to her. But if she doesn't want to learn, then I'll accept it. As for her coming down here, the same thing."

George has loved his time at the railway and can't wait where the next 40 years will take the railway next with the hope the trains are running for centuries to come.