The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Steam Heat on Lyttleton Wharf, Winter 1969

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


I suppose the Lyttleton Wharf steam heat 'job' had been there for years but until the almost total demise of steam in New Zealand it had been of very little interest. As it was I only ever visited Lyttleton three times to photograph the steam action and it was a mere twenty kilometres from my Christchurch home.

To the story in hand though and in the winter of 1969 a steam engine was needed on the wharf at Lyttleton three mornings a week to heat the passenger cars that waited the arrival of the overnight ferry service from Wellington. It must have been a boring job for the loco crew.....run their engine from Lyttleton Loco to the wharf in the wee small hours, heat the train whilst waiting for the ferry to arrive and then draw the train off the wharf so an electric loco could hook onto the other end for the run onto Christchurch. All up I doubt if the loco was running more than two to three kilometres each shift!

These pictures are not in chronological order but in an order that reflects the train's route.

The ferry was due in at 07.00 and the best vantage point for the first photographs was from the overhead bridge leading to the wharf.

Then time for a photo down at ground level before the action started.

With passengers all aboard, usually by 07.30 if I remember correctly, it was time for the slow shuffle through the Lyttleton yard.

Nearing journeys end and the driver is putting on a steamy display! Once the train has passed by the Ec waiting on the right will become train engine for the ten kilometre run to Christchurch. Ab798 will then retire back to its standard position between the Lyttleton turntable and platform.

Mid afternoon any day would find the loco, with lighting up wood stacked in the cab, waiting for her next call to duty.

Although written off in March 1969 Ab754 & 798 spent the winter months working alternate fortnights at Lyttleton on the steam heat duty. I understand both locos were cut up soon after the heating season finished. In the winter of 1970 another two Ab's, this time 778 and 795, were used for heating purposes and after that it was all over: the train continued to run until September 1976 but was no longer heated.

In trying to find out more on the steam heat job I queried a good friend and whether he ever worked it. His answer was not overly illuminating: 'Loved it as I went to the Watersider's Café for brekky afterwards.' I suppose it's all a matter of priorities and back then breakfast was his priority!


Rob Dickinson

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