The International Steam Pages
Once upon a time, long ago,
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.
The writing was already on the wall for the Fairlie Branch with the Minister of Railways having announced in August that the thirty five mile line from Washdyke to Fairlie would be closed on the 1st March 1968. The New Zealand Railway Observer (No 113) said at the time: "The recent review of branch lines had disclosed a steep decline in the quantity of goods carried on this line in recent years as a result of changing transport patterns. Whereas, for example, 22,100 head of livestock were carried in the 1963-64 financial year, last year only 450 head were carried. Served by three goods trains a week from Timaru the line was now operating at a loss of some $43,000 a year. Accordingly, having regard also to heavy expenditure on track maintenance necessary during the next few years, and the probability of a further reduction in traffic, Government had decided that retention of the railway could not be justified."
I spent the night with relatives in Timaru then the following morning, after first getting the necessary permission, boarded the guards van of train 244 for the run inland to Fairlie.
First stop of the day was at Washdyke Junction to pick up two more passengers: local lads off for a days fishing near Pleasant Point. Train engine, Ab 617, was from the first batch of the class and built by Railway Department Addington Workshops in 1916. The Ab went on to become the most numerous type of steam locomotive in New Zealand and as late as 1967 was still playing an important role in the South Island although now mostly on branch line trains.
I travelled in the van as far as Pleasant Point and was then invited onto the foot plate. There was no shunting to be done en route so the driver suggested a stop or two along the way for a photo. Fine by me although little did I realise I was going to get more than just a static shot.......what he had in mind was a run past complete with smoke and steam effects! This shot of the train running onto a wooden bridge shows just how light traffic on the branch had become: six loaded four wheel wagons, an empty bogie and the guards van.
Immediately following another small trestle bridge the railway crossed over the main road to Fairlie and the Mt Cook region.
With regulator wide open 617 hammers up (or hams it up on) Cricklewood Bank. Back down the line and slightly to the right can be seen a small red blob.......that's the Cricklewood goods shed.
Last photo run before Fairlie was by the servicing area with yours truly on top of the loco water tank.
After arrival the first job was to shunt our train into the yard and then make up the return service. The track led up the main street and a number of movements were necessary before the job was done. The lady with the walking stick was the only 'traffic' delayed by the shunting!
Then down to the servicing area to water and oil the loco before turning it in readiness for the return journey.
On the way back to Timaru there was time for two more photo stops with the first climbing the bank out of Fairlie. Again the loco crew provided some great smoke and steam effects. This must have been the lines steepest gradient as an Ab was only allowed 290 tons on the section to Cricklewood.....after that it was 700 tons all the way to Washdyke.
The second photo stop was at Cave where it was suggested I might like to head up the hill overlooking the station while the crew enjoyed their afternoon tea break. I wasn't overly impressed with the idea at the time but looking at the photo now I'm glad I made the climb.
All too soon we were back at Washdyke and I returned to the van for the final few miles into Timaru. The loco crew were good sorts and I'd been invited to join them the following morning for another cab ride: this time on the mainline. Definitely very good sorts were my relatives who had to unexpectedly welcome me back for another night and then get me out of bed at 3 in order to catch the train at 4! Grateful thanks folks................
I visited the Fairlie Branch once more......the day after the line closed on 1st March 1968 there was double headed last train. I featured this farewell excursion which has also been posted on this website.
Ab617 lasted a little longer, not being withdrawn from stock until March 1969.