The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
Salute to a Canterbury Workhorse: Ja 1240
August 1967 - September 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.


Ja1240 has recently returned home to Christchurch after forty two years away. The old girl left shortly after the demise of South Island steam in 1971. After a mere twenty four years in service for the NZGR she was one of the lucky ones though and escaped the cutters torch. Stored first at Blenheim and then Auckland it wasn't until 2006 that Mainline Steam began the enormous job of restoring her back to mainline standard. The job was completed 2012 and then 1240 successfully ran a number of enthusiast trips in the North Island.

In October 2013 she headed south from Auckland through the heart of the North Island to Wellington and then, after crossing Cook Strait, continued onto Christchurch to become one of the starring attractions at events celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the New Zealand Railways. Since then 1240 has been based back home in Christchurch and will remain there for a number of years.

So this week it's as good a time as any to have a look back at 1240 over the two year period between August 1967 and September 1969 that I knew her. My tale is not about the highly polished, well maintained beauty she has become today but about the work stained, seldom cleaned engine that was equally at home on passenger and freight workings. Some of the pictures have been used previously but hopefully they'll stand another outing.......... 

It's August 1967 and Ja1240 and 1247 have double headed a Sunday Snow Excursion up to Arthur's Pass from Christchurch. 1240's fire has been cleaned, the tender filled with water and now it's onto the turntable for a quick spin. In the background a very tired looking water tower and day trippers wandering up the road towards the village shop. It's actually a scene that hasn't changed overly much today when an excursion arrives at the Pass I suppose.

Homeward bound at Springfield and with the Refreshment Rooms doing a roaring trade there was a change of loco crews. Although just over an hour from Christchurch and home the first crew would be nearing the end of their working hours. Their place would be taken by more Christchurch men who had come up by road and the original crew would now return to Christchurch the same way. 1240 is lead engine in this late afternoon shot.

Another glorious Christchurch morning! It's February 1968, around 6.30am, and 1240 is getting underway from Sockburn with great gusto. The train is the twice weekly overnight express from Invercargill and the next and final stop is Christchurch.

A long standing Christchurch tradition are the Snow Trains. Just after crossing the Bealey River Ja1240 has paused to allow trampers to get off. None did but I climbed down and made the most of the opportunity. There was no station or platform......it was just somewhere the train would stop for the convenience of passengers and you climbed down directly onto the ballast. In the month this picture was taken, August 1968, the Railways ran four Snow Trains whilst this year Mainline Steam ran two so the tradition still lives on.

December 1968 and Ja1240 has arrived at Timaru with a goods from Christchurch. Leaving the train on the main the loco headed towards the depot and servicing.

With a very light train 1240 was fair racing along with 224 goods, between Chertsey and Rakaia, on a Saturday morning in January 1969. The landscape is typical of the Canterbury Plains.

The next four shots are of 143 express on a school holiday Saturday morning in August 1969. It's a cold and misty morning with leaking steam helping to create an eerie atmosphere as the train waits at the platform............

........but by the 08.40 departure time the mist has cleared and 1240 gives a truly magnificent display as she heads away. Passenger loading seems to be light today: I can't see anyone in the front car or the first half of the second.

A month later on a Sunday afternoon at Linwood Loco I attempted an arty shot of 1240s smokebox plate and Ja1267 two roads over. The end result is not quite what I wanted!

Amazingly there is a possibility that this Sunday afternoon line-up from September 1969 could be repeated sometime in the future: it may be a long time happening but there is the potential. All three engines are still in existence with Ja1267 awaiting restoration at the Mainline Steam depot in Auckland whilst Dj1222 is part of the Taieri Gorge Railway fleet at the opposite end of the country.

Ja1240 went on to become the last steam engine to run a scheduled train in New Zealand that was not an excursion. On Tuesday morning, 26 October 1971, she was rostered to haul 190 express from Oamaru to Christchurch. Paul Markholm wrote on a Yahoo Group earlier this year: 'A group of Christchurch rail fans went to Burnham to photograph this momentous occasion and we thought 1240 was making more noise in the rods than usual. A centre bolt on the intermediate driving crankpin was broken and this allowed the brass (bronze) to pop out so allowing the coupling rod to bang away at speed. Thereby the crankpin attacked the steel bush in the connecting rod. Not a good look! What an absolute disaster. On such a special train it had to end like this.

It was all over a few miles later at Rolleston with 1240 having to be replaced by a diesel to haul the NZR's last steam train the final fourteen miles into Christchurch. 1240 returned home very slowly later that morning.

So Ja1240 is now back in Canterbury after forty two years away. Welcome home, old girl.............  


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk