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Train Guard Van Offered New Lease of Life

Media Release

9 August 2005

Train Guard Van Offered New Lease of Life

An unusual rail wagon restoration project by Gisborne furniture restorer Jason Akuhata-Brown has a train enthusiast intrigued.

“I’d love to see this old van done up and I am going to watch his progress with interest,” says New Zealand train aficionado David Hall.

Akuhata-Brown is restoring a module of a New Zealand Rail FM Guard Van estimated to be around 35 years old. The restoration project coincides with a premises shift for Akuhata-Brown’s English Cottage furniture restoration business from Derby Street to Awapuni Road.

Guard Vans were decommissioned in the 1980s and according to Mr Hall many were destroyed for scrap metal meaning any vans remaining are relatively rare.

Akuhata-Brown says he was unaware of its history when he first saw the derelict segment of train at Gisborne’s old railway station.

“I drove past a couple of times and thought, wow, what a neat shape. I kept seeing it and noticed it was sitting there, possibly derelict. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it but I knew that I wanted it.”

This is not unusual for Akuhata-Brown who has a passion for restoring things historic. He drives an immaculately restored A55 Mark II Austin truck and collects old suitcases. In 2001 Akuhata-Brown was commissioned to restore the wheelhouse and galley of the Takitimu tug moored at Gisborne Wharf.

But train restoration is something completely new.

“I often drive past old bits and pieces and see potential in things that perhaps other people wouldn’t. I like things with histories and I also like a challenge. Moving from woodwork to metal work will certainly provide that.”

Akuhata-Brown says he will restore the four tonne Guard Van as close as he can to its former glory. At the same time he wants to incorporate modern fittings to make it a unique accommodation option for visitors to his new home and English Cottage premises, on Awapuni Road.

“Visitors to my team’s new workshop will be able to watch progress on the restoration project which begins with a tidy-up on the outside of the Guard Van by Gisborne Abrasive Blast and Coatings.” Photographic updates will also be available on

David Hall thinks the renovation is vital for retaining a piece of history. “Collectors value the old Guard Vans but to others they are nothing more than scrap metal.”

Mr Hall said Akuhata-Brown’s FM Guard Van is just one segment of a three-part rail wagon.

Guards working in the Guard Van monitored freight as it was on- and off-loaded onto trains. The guards wore braided uniforms and were considered important men. Many of them would have worked their way up from station sweeper, to shunter, to guard, Mr Hall said.

The guard’s old writing desk is still visible in Akuhata-Brown’s Guard Van, as is the frame of the apex window where the guard leaned out to check the movement of goods and wagons.

Sadly, according the Mr Hall, guards were made redundant 20-25 years ago when it became possible for computers to keep track of livestock, parcels, foodstuffs and other freight.

“I applaud Jason for what he is doing and I’m sure he can nurture this one back to shape.”

Akuhata-Brown says restoration of Guard Van FM 261 will be a weekend job and he expects it to take at least a year.


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