he International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Yet another look at New Zealand's Last Great Steam Train, 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. There are a series of pages on this train:


May 20 1969 was cold and overcast and things didn't improve all day as four of us chased 143 south from Christchurch by car. Ja1253 was in charge, with a schedule of around four hours, for the 150 miles over the Canterbury Plains to Oamaru. Now that might not seem particularly fast but it did include seven intermediate stops and the trains speed was such the only way to get photos was by getting ahead of it during those stops. You certainly weren't able to overtake it between stops! That day we managed seven photo stops by Oamaru. Some great steam effects were had but a bit of sun would have improved the situation greatly.............. 

Ja1253 blasts out of Rakaia after its second passenger and first water stop of the day. With six passenger cars, a guards van and two roadsider wagons in tow it was an easy load for a Ja over the plains. The semaphore on the left is for the Methven branch line which can just be seen on the far left.

Drawing to a stop at Ashburton 1253 will again have its water supply replenished and the loco crew will most likely have time for a quick cuppa as the passengers head for the Refreshment Rooms. There was no such thing as on train catering in 1969 so during its twelve hour journey five stops were made giving passengers time to purchase light refreshments. These would be eaten on board as the train sped south. In the background are two water tanks and a two road engine shed. It was less than two years ago that Ashburton had been home to two Ab class steamers: one to work the nearby Methven and Mt Somers branches whilst the other shunted the yard and tripped out to the local freezing works. Mt Somers had closed and with dieselisation Methven was now worked from Christchurch: the shed's only occupant would now have been a diesel shunter.

Another stop and another spirited departure this time from Orari. Rods down look good but certainly it wasn't planned that way......purely good luck.

For a few miles south of Timaru the train ran along the coast............. 

At Oamaru J1236 took over for the three hour and eighty mile run over the hills to Dunedin and car chasing now became a little easier. I've previously covered the Oamaru to Palmerston section of the trip in earlier tale. South of Palmerston though I got another couple of shots that are worth sharing. The loco may only be a faraway black blob but the white exhaust trailing off behind the train catches, to my mind, the speed and urgency that was always associated with trains 143 and 144.

We spent the night at Dunedin and next morning headed south to meet up with 144 on its northbound rush. The day started off even murkier than the previous one and there was heavy mist at Milton. Seen here waiting for the off is Ja1274: the last steam locomotive ever built for the NZR. Built at the Hillside Railway Workshops in Dunedin 1274 entered service in 1956 and was donated to the City of Dunedin after being withdrawn from service in 1971. Today she is preserved undercover near the Dunedin Railway Station.

What a marvellous performance 1274 gave getting underway from Milton!

The sun did eventually make an appearance as the train passed through the Dunedin suburban station of Burnside. A double track main line, an island platform and a number of wagons in the station yard all point to Burnsides importance in the 1960s railway network. Ahead lies Dunedin where 1274 will be replaced by another engine, serviced, and then most likely head back to Invercargill later that afternoon with the south bound express.


As contributors to my website know, I am a very light touch editor. However, I confess that the marvellous picture leaving Milton has been 'Photoshopped' by me from the original below.... RD


Rob Dickinson

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