The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Timaru Happenings.....
November & December 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.


Timaru was always an interesting place to spend time as in the days of steam all trains, apart from the Express, would change engines there. This meant there was a fair sized loco shed and servicing area plus with trains continually coming and going there was always something to keep you entertained.

15 November 1968 was a Friday and Paul and I travelled south from Christchurch on 143 Express which arrived in Timaru just after 11.00am. Our plan was to photograph during daylight hours and then at night tape train sounds through 'til about 4.00am the next morning when we would catch another express home. Things didn't quite work out that way though.........

It's a long walk from Timaru station down to the loco shed but we were well rewarded by finding Kb970 being coaled and readied to go out on the road. More usual motive power on the South Island Main Trunk, between Christchurch and Oamaru, were the 4-8-2 Ja class and it was only recently that two of the larger 4-8-4 Kb had started running trains in this section. The large quantity of loco coal in the stockpile gives an indication of how important a servicing point Timaru was.

Servicing complete and 970 headed off with a shunting service to the fertiliser works at Seadown seven miles away. The size of the train is almost an insult to the engines ability: north from Timaru a Kb was rated to haul 1000 tons compared to 750 for a Ja.

Kb970 returned tender first then, soon after, the other Kb remaining in service, 968, drifted into town with 147 goods. Paul and I were on a roll with both Kb's seen working on the same day!

Next train away was 136 with 970 providing the motive power. This time the load was much more commensurate with the ability of a Kb.

Back at the station and 147 goods was about to continue its southbound journey. Ja1265 has taken over from 968 and was getting the train underway. The semaphore shows the road ahead is clear and the fireman has just taken the section tablet from the signalman at the South Signal Box.

Next movement was Ab813 arriving with a northbound goods. The Ab cut off its train, moved up past the North Signal Box and then headed off to loco. At this late stage of South Island steam it was totally unexpected to find an Ab out on a main line train.....this was a real bonus!

As night fell 813 made for a pleasing study down at the loco shed.

It was after the last photo that the days plans changed dramatically. Ab813 came off loco and took its place at the head of a north bound goods. It was too good an opportunity to miss....this was possibly and most probably the last time an Ab would be running a long distance (100 miles) main line goods in Canterbury....so I asked the driver for a ride! He was quite happy to oblige so the ride of a lifetime commenced. The train was heavy and the loco was worked hard that night as it struggled north. I rode the cab to Orari (20 miles), then Paul had a turn for the next thirty miles whilst I slept in the guards van. We changed over again at Ashburton and I rode up front as far as Dunsandel, another thirty miles. There the Timaru crew changed trains and it was all aboard a Dg back to Ashburton. There an unscheduled stop allowed Paul and I to alight and await the northbound express due through at around 5.30am. Again our plans didn't quite work out........Kb968 arrived with a northbound goods just prior to the Express. Paul knew the driver so the two of us bundled into the cab for the fifty miles north to Christchurch. Exhilarating would best describe that journey and it was two very tired lads that eventually arrived in Christchurch later that morning!

A month later I was back in Timaru and visited the loco depot on a Sunday afternoon. Until I scanned these slides I'd never really considered just how important a depot Timaru was......here were five Ja parked outside the shed waiting to be lit up for work the following day. Two were at the north end of the shed and three at the south. I wonder were any more inside?

Scenes like this weren't going to last much longer though.......the days of steam running goods trains in Canterbury were numbered and soon it would all be over. All eight engines pictured in this segment were written off the following year and shortly after seven were cut up for scrap. The exception was Kb968 which today, forty five years later, is being restored to main line running condition by the Mainline Steam Heritage Trust in Christchurch.


Rob Dickinson

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