When the Puffing Billy Preservation Society was formed in 1955, the line was still under the control and ownership of the Victorian Railways (VR). The Society arranged for the VR to run the train on weekends and holidays, with the Society guaranteeing the VR against losses from insufficient ticket sales. Society volunteers took the role of conductors, checking tickets on the train, and fund-raising. This arrangement continued until the Upper Ferntree Gully to Belgrave section was closed in 1958.
When the line reopened in 1962 (between Belgrave and Menzies Creek), Society volunteers took a larger role, manning stations, selling and checking tickets, and doing non-safety-critical maintenance on the train, and track maintenance under the supervision of a VR ganger. Ticket revenue went into an account on which the VR drew to pay for their staff involved in running the line.