The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
A Fifth Look at New Zealandís Last Great Steam Train, 24 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:


A lifetime later I still reckon the South Island Limited Express was a winner. By May 1969 it was the only steam hauled daylight train left to photograph in New Zealand unless you considered a couple of locos being used for heating duties as worthy of consideration. Trains 143 & 144 were New Zealand's last great steam trains and could produce some great photo opportunities providing your car could keep up with them.

It was time for the four likely lads, and Ken's trusty Hillman Imp, to head home to Christchurch after five days based in Dunedin. It was a school holiday Saturday and 144 was a larger train than usual which meant double heading over the hills between Dunedin and Oamaru.

On yet another murky and, by the look of it, wet day North British built J1234 leads locally built Ja1257 on the climb up to Seacliff.

The previous day, when 144 had been double headed out of Dunedin, the banker had come off the train at Seacliff. Not so today and as the train pulled away from the water stop it was obvious both locos were continuing to Oamaru. Great stuff! 

I must have written date, loco numbers and stations on these slides quite some time after the event. Between the stations I didn't bother with the approximate locations and so now can only say these three photos were most likely taken between Seacliff and Palmerston. Other appropriate titles could be 'uphill (or maybe it's a speed restriction)', 'downhill' and 'racing along' though! 

By the time the train was pulling into the loop at Katiki the weather was starting to improve.......

 ......and when the southbound express arrived for the sun finally started to shine. From the left we have Ja1252 & 1271 on train 143 crossing J1234 and Ja1257 on train 144. I think this was the only time I ever managed to photograph two double headers crossing in New Zealand: when next I saw this happen it would be thirty five years later in China.

Arrival at Oamaru and, with their job done, 1234 & 1257 head for the loco shed and servicing.

For the run over the Plains to Christchurch a single Ja was sufficient power for the train. It was always a fast run and between Oamaru and Timaru, fifty miles, we only managed two photo stops. The second one was on this lovely little bridge at Normanby, just before Timaru. The late afternoon sun, coupled with a speed restriction, gave almost perfect light for this rods down shot of 1267. The rods down was pure luck though! 

Taking advantage of the slow speed the fireman was adding coal which gave a fitting final shot to the days activities.

This has been my fifth look at trains 143 and 144. I'm really not sure how many photos remain in my collection of it but there is every likelihood that another one or two "Once upon a time, long ago, in a place faraway" will continue with this theme. Time will tell........ 


Rob Dickinson

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