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For three or four decades, the mad dash into railway refreshment rooms, meat filled pies with sauce and the clatter of cup on saucer were all part of our enduring and iconic love affair with train travel. Dining cars had featured on the main trunk line from 1909, but from 1917 suited men and hat wearing ladies were forced to jostle side by side for the dubious culinary offerings of our famous station refreshment rooms. Lisa McLean tells us more...

 

People lining up for a cuppa and a pie at one of the many refreshment rooms along the main trunk line.

ABOVE: People lining up for a cuppa and a pie at one of the many refreshment rooms along the main trunk line.

New Zealand Farmer magazine in 1947 advised hesitant travellers to 'Use your King Country elbows' when navigating the scrum of hungry crowds at the station. So legendary was the scheduled stop that songs such as the “Wellington Express” were written.

No battlefield is grimmer, where battered heroes die 

Than the bloody railway battle for a cuppa and a pie. 

In a scrum All Blacks would envy 

Only hardy souls remain 

To grab a bun and sandwich is the saviour of the train

“Wellington Express” Barry Lineham

Complaints about the food and drink were par for the course, one mid-century visitor describing the tea as 'a mixture between a bad disinfectant or a mouth-wash that had deteriorated'; another complained of 'half-hot pie crusts, surrounding the appendages of sundry animals, named and unnamed'. 

Any memories of the Kiwi rail refreshment stop would not be complete without  Crown Lynn and the New Zealand Railways cup and saucer. Crown Lynn crockery was known in the 1940s and '50s for being sturdy and reliable, a no-nonsense brand. Rumour has it that many train sidings have been littered over the years with Crown Lynn crockery thrown casually from train windows. 

By the 1950s and 1960s, with reduced rail services and newer, faster trains requiring fewer stops, many refreshment rooms were forced to shut up shop. The King Country’s legendary Taumarunui rooms served its last cuppa on 21 February 1975, bringing to an end one of New Zealand's most distinctive and memorable dining experiences.

Source: 'Refreshments', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/main-trunk-line/refreshments, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2016