27 January 2016

Makatote Viaduct

Further to my post on 3 Oct 2012 I have recently found further information on Charles Schade, my paternal grandfather.

I did know previously that he had been a Boilermaker, what I didn’t know was that he had been working on the North Island Railway Main Trunk Line before 1910, at least on one part of it, the Makatote Viaduct, 219 miles south of Auckland on the Horopito railway line, not far from Mt Ruapehu.

The Main Trunk Unites the North Island

The South Island main trunk line linked Christchurch & Dunedin by 1878 & was extended to Invercargill the next year, but another three decades would pass before engineers & politicians could overcome the opposition of King Country Māori & the forbidding central North Island terrain to complete the northern equivalent. Until then anyone wanting to travel from Auckland to Wellington either took a steamer down the east coast or sailed from Onehunga to catch the Wellington train at New Plymouth.

Christchurch firm J & A Anderson won the Makatote construction tender in 1905. The site was forbidding, 792 m above sea level amid thickly forested hills. Storms, floods & shortages of cement & skilled labour made things worse. Anderson set up a fully equipped workshop & brought in 1238 tonnes of cement & 1016 tonnes of steel by wagon from the railhead. Using a cableway stretched across the gorge between timber gantries, they had the viaduct ready by July 1908. Soon trains began rolling uninterrupted between Auckland & Wellington, transforming travel in the North Island & turning the government railway into a modern main-line system.

The Makatote Viaduct is not our longest railway viaduct, but still offers some impressive statistics: it is 2262 m long & 79 m high. There are six concrete & five steel piers. Twenty-three major viaducts & 26 bridges made the North Island main trunk an impressive project by any standards. When the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the line its 27th International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Award in 1997, it joined the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower & the Panama Canal on a very select list. Just south of the viaduct, the Last Spike Monument marks the spot where Sir Joseph Ward drove the final spike into the line on 6 Nov 1908.

My paternal grandfather Charles Schade, is listed as living in Makatote in the 1910 NZ Post Office Directory, it was obviously a little out of date as by 1910 he was already living in Arch Hill in Auckland where my father was born that same year. As a boiler maker he was probably signed on to work on the construction of this viaduct/railway line by the Christchurch firm J & A Anderson who won the Makatote tender in 1905, it was finished in 1908. In the bottom postcard it shows the view of Ruapehu from the top of Makatote Road, it looks like the men lived in tents, no mod cons in those days, it was an extremely hard life to eke out a living.


From 1905 to 1908 he is listed in the electoral rolls as living in Christchurch, working as a boilermaker, so the years he was at Makatote are a bit hazy, nevertheless I feel sure he would have been working on the viaduct at some stage. What interests me personally is that he was amongst the NZers who worked so hard to make NZ what it is today, and he wasn’t even a kiwi!

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