The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
South Canterbury Capers
On the Canterbury Plains between Timaru & Pukeuri, August 1968

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.


It was varsity holiday time and I was off to stay with relatives in Timaru for a few days and do a bit of train photography. I didn't own a car then so getting around was by train, bus, hitchhike or walk......whatever means was available at the time. The weather didn't treat me particularly well this trip and for five days away it looks as if I lost two to rain, two were heavy overcast and on only one did the sun make an appearance.....but what a magnificent day that turned out to be.

A night time visit to the Timaru loco shed and I got my first look at Wab794 with X442 tucked away behind. These two engines were to become long term Timaru residents spending just over five years in storage before being moved elsewhere.

On 13 August the weather was vile! I went out for a short time in the morning, retreated very quickly and didn't head out again until late in the afternoon. When I did go out that afternoon I scored well.....recognise the silhouette? It's a Kb, in this instance 968, and believed to be the first time a Kb had run a train south of Timaru since the Second World War. Regretably this is the only shot I have of the event. 

The following day was again murky but at least it wasn't raining so I caught a bus south to the Waitaki Farmers Freezing Works at Pukeuri. The first sight that greeted me as I walked through the gates was D16, their spare engine. It had been built by Neilson (No 2306 of 1878) for the NZR and sold into industrial service in 1918. D16 worked at Pukeuri until 1973 before being placed on static display. It was then donated to the Pleasant Point Museum & Railway in 1986, restored to working order, and since then has been a regular performer on their railway.

It didn't take me long to find working loco B10 and a pleasant couple of hours were spent as it pottered around the complex. Built by Hudswell Clarke (No 1542 in 1924) B10 had two previous owners before arriving at Pukeuri in 1967. Preservation group Oamaru Steam and Rail acquired the loco in 1989 and operated it for a number of years. Presently B10 is close to having her ten year overhaul completed. In this shot a 'train' has been made up and is ready to leave for the NZR station at Pukeuri......... (By June 2013, the locomotive was back in service. RD)

And at last, on day 3, the sun decided to make an appearance! In a glorious spring morning Ja1247 gets underway from Timaru with northbound goods 294.

It was such a lovely day that, when I saw J1227 hooking up to a south bound goods, I couldn't resist the temptation to ask the guard if I could tag along. I ended up back at Pukeuri, the previous day's destination, where the crew changed onto a north bound service. At an earlier stop the guard had talked to the driver and arranged for me to ride on the footplate for journey back to Timaru. 
I took this shot whilst walking up to reach the cab of Ja1244: the loco for the homeward run. On the slide I've written that 1244 was sitting on the Kurow branch and certainly the track looks of a lesser standard than the main. If this was the case she must have had to reverse back off the branch in order to regain the main: plus it means I'm able to say I've travelled on the Kurow branch even if only for a very short distance!

I was now going to discover just how slow goods train travel could be on single track, tablet worked lines especially when shunts and crossings were required. I regret now that I didn't take a note then how long it took to get back to Timaru but reckon it was around four to five hours for the forty six miles. Three miles away from Pukeuri and we stopped at Hilderthorpe to drop wagons off........

From Hilderthorpe to Studholme, where the next shunt occurred, was another nineteen miles but somewhere between the two we were put into a loop to allow the northbound express to overtake. 
Studholme still generated a fair amount of traffic in 1978 and we were there for some time.

Away again we managed the fourteen miles to St Andrews before being looped again to allow J1217 to pass through unchecked on a southbound goods. After St Andrews it was three miles to Pareora and another shunt. I offered to go back to the van for the final seven mile run into Timaru but was told not to worry as "everyone will have gone home by the time we get there"!

Next morning I walked a short distance south of Timaru to get a shot of Ja1240 heading away with 241 goods.

And later scored J1217 being serviced at the Timaru Loco Shed.

Details of D16 and B12 are above but non New Zealand readers may be interested in a few of the finer points of the larger NZR classes featured: Wab, J and Ja. I'll ignore the X and Kb....after all they're only very minor players in this tale. Information is taken from my usual two sources: 'Register of New Zealand Steam Locomotives 1862 - 1971' by WG Lloyd and 'The New Zealand Railway Observer' magazines of the period. I've also consulted that recently published masterpiece 'The NZR Steam Locomotive' by Sean Millar.

The Wab 4-6-4T were a tank version of the Ab class and intended mainly for express train haulage on the steep grades of the North and South Island Main Trunk lines. Wab 794 was built at the Hillside Workshops of the NZR in 1927 and sold to the Wairio Railway Board in 1955. In 1968 it was donated to the NZR&LS for preservation, stored at Timaru Loco for five years, then another five at Linwood Loco in Christchurch before being moved to the Ferrymead Railway for eighteen years. After almost thirty years in storage it was leased to the Fielding & District Steam Railway, restored, and today is a regular runner on New Zealand main lines. 

The J class 4-8-2 were a forty strong class built by North British in 1939 and used in both islands. At the time I was chasing steam two were based in Christchurch: 1217(NB24540) and 1227(NB24550). Both had recently been transferred from the North Island but were not popular with local crews being regarded as 'not having what it takes'. I understand they were tried on the expresses but were quickly relegated to goods train service. Both were written off in March 1969.

The Ja 4-8-2 were a more modern, Hillside built, version of the J and were excellent all-round engines. Unfortunately, due to dieselisation, they only had a very short life span.
Ja1240 was built in 1946 and written off in 1971; one of the last twelve steam engines to be written off by the NZR. It was then privately purchased and moved to a farm near Blenheim. Twenty years later it was acquired by Mainline Steam and is presently nearing completion of restoration prior to becoming main line certified.
Ja1244 was built in 1946 and written off in March 1969 after a mere twenty three years of use.
Ja1247 was built in 1947 and written off in November 1969 after only twenty two years in service. 


Rob Dickinson

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