The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
A Fourth Look at New Zealand's Last Great Steam Train, May 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:


Here's another selection of photos taken over a five day period when myself and three friends based ourselves in Dunedin to chase the South Island Limited Express using a two door Hillman Imp. In May New Zealand weather could be very ordinary but that really didn't matter as on the hill section between Dunedin and Oamaru, when trains 143 and 144 were on the move, you could be guaranteed an exhilarating performance.

In both directions a fresh engine would take over the express at Dunedin. Northbound on train 144 J1236 is about a mile out from the station and still getting into its stride as it crosses the grubby little stream called Water of Leith. The North British built J will run the train through to Oamaru: seventy eight miles away and taking three hours. During that time it should only stop at three stations for passengers and another to cross the southbound express. Not fast by any standards but a journey with some long grades and tight curves meant the loco needed to be worked hard. By comparison, even then, a family car could do the journey in just over half the time the train took.

It would take slightly under an hour to cover the twenty miles to this spot and 1236 is working hard as it comes round the curve at Church Rd. This was the second major climb since leaving Dunedin but the journey would get a little easier once Seacliff, just ahead, was reached.

For a short time that afternoon the sun came out. I reckon we must have found this spot and were hopeful of getting a reflection shot of the south bound express but by the time it came along the sun had again disappeared. Still this shot of Dj1214 is full of things to interest those afficionados of the old NZR plus it gives some variation to an otherwise constant diet of 4-8-2s in this mailing!

Another North British J, this time 1234, was in charge of train 143: the southbound express seen on one of the climbs out of Palmerston. A fellow Kiwi may recognise where this spot is but I'm afraid forty three years later I no longer can.

The following day was again murky as the northbound express waits at Dunedin prior to departure. J1234 was rostered as train engine to be assisted by New Zealand built Ja1256 over the two major grades as far as Seacliff.

Another angle at the Church Road curve with even a touch of sun to highlight the two locos as they work hard on the upgrade.

Later that afternoon and J1234 is in sole charge of the train. It's an easier job now for the loco as it races along the coast between Shag Point and Katiki

A suitable subtitle for this mailing could have been 'Four Blokes in a two door Hillman Imp'! I decided against that as I didn't have a photo of the four blokes to include but the Hillman Imp just about manages an appearance in this shot. There was a speed restriction at Maheno and the fireman had taken the opportunity to ply his trade while speed was low and it was relatively easy to shovel coal. By now though he's back in his seat on the left hand side of the loco.......

.........and watching the track ahead.

The New Zealand Railways 4-8-2s were a good looking engine equally capable on either express, goods or local shunt duties.....they worked them all. It's just a pity that at this stage of my railfan career I was 'into' Agfa and the result is not as pleasing as I would have liked. 


Rob Dickinson

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