he International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Back on the West Coast & Riding the Rails Part 1, 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.


Day 1: 8th April 1969

Any excuse was a good excuse to get back to the steam engines on New Zealand's West Coast! There was still an amazing variety of steam being used on a daily basis in April 1969 but everyone knew it wasn't going to last much longer. This was a solo trip with the objective being to ride the rails by cadging rides on goods trains: either up front on the loco or tucked away in the van at the rear.

Once again it was the early morning railcar from Christchurch to Greymouth with that early morning Stillwater refreshment stop, just before six o'clock, for a pie and a cup of tea. Not the best of breakfasts but at least I'd had something and was all ready for action on arrival at Greymouth a short time later. The railcar usually arrived about quarter of an hour before the Rewanui passenger left so there was just enough time to cross to the Riverside station for a time exposure. 

Ww480 sits at the head of its two cars plus van consist waiting for departure time at 06.35. Lined up behind the Rewanui train is a goods headed for another line which will leave soon after.

The day's plan though was to ride the Ab hauled goods south from Greymouth to Ross and back: thirty-eight miles there and thirty-eight back and, all going well, that would keep me entertained until after dark that night. With typical West Coast hospitality I was welcomed onto the footplate by the Greymouth crew for the first twenty-four miles down to Hokitika. Dire lighting, rain and a lack of station shunts meant the camera didn't come out until the train was stopped outside Hokitika by a signal.

The new crew were already waiting at Hokitika and again were more than happy for me to ride on the footplate down to Ross and back. It was typical Coast weather (rain) for most of the day so I didn't use the camera again until early afternoon when Ab778 was shunting the Ross yard making up its train for the return journey. The wagons are typical of those needed for the traffic originating from Ross: sheep, cattle and timber.

Running repairs to the loco and shunting at Ross meant the train was late away and only just made it to Hokitika in time for the crew to catch the railcar back home. This didn't impress the new crew who now had to perform a lengthy shunt themselves and were accordingly in no mood to entertain a railfan on their footplate! My luck had run out so I retired to the warmth of the van for the remainder of the journey. Once away from Hokitika though there was only one more shunt to do and Greymouth was reached, practically on time, just after six. 

Day 2: 9th April 1969

Ww480 was again rostered on the early morning passenger to Rewanui on what looked like another cold and wet day. I decided to ride the train to Rewanui and back hoping that the weather would improve by the time Greymouth was reached again. One of the cars was left at Rewanui so the return service consisted of only a van and a car. At Dunollie the train pulled up at the platform for the convenience of any passengers and then, with a shunter now hanging off the loco, steamed back up the main in order to access the crossing loop.

Minutes later Ww678 was entering Dunollie on the main with the second Rewanui train of the day, 863 Mixed. The light and/or exposure are not the best on this and the next shot but they're an interesting look at what was then a daily happening at Dunollie.

Train 863 has completed its passenger stop and is getting underway again.....the guard is heading for the warmth of his coal fire in the van and a passenger standing on the open verandah is watching the loco as picks up speed. Not to be outdone in visual effects the fireman on Ww480 has his blower on full blast and building the fire up prior to his trains departure. A lot of exhaust for such a light load! 

After arrival back in Greymouth it was time for breakfast and then a stroll down to the loco shed. Being a weekday mid morning there wasn't much happening as most of the locos were out at work but J1232 made an attractive sight at the coaling stage. I assumed it had arrived on a goods and was being serviced prior to being put away.....not quite true as I was about to find out but then that can be the next  tale..........

Locomotive Details:

The two Ww class 4-6-4T featured were both built by New Zealand Railways at their Hillside Workshops. 480 was originally built as a Wg in 1910 while 678 was a Ww from 1919. Extensive modifications and rebuilds over the years meant the remaining class members, now all called Ww, were still extremely useful locomotives on the West Coast in the 1960s. Both were written off in 1969 but 480 lives on and today can be found at the Glenbrook Vintage Railway outside of Auckland.

Ab778 was Addington built in 1925. It too was written off in 1969 but returned to service in 1971 as one of the two locos for the Kingston Flyer Vintage Steam Train. 

North British J1232 was built in 1939, entered service the following year, and was written off in July 1969.

Locomotive details are taken from Register of New Zealand Steam Locomotives 1862 - 1971 by WG Lloyd and The New Zealand Railway Observer Magazines of the period.


Rob Dickinson

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