1901 steam engine


The Shed - - Contents - By Sue Al­li­son Pho­to­graphs: Juliet Nicholas

— After decades of restora­tion, this two-foot-gauge lo­co­mo­tive is up and run­ning again

Alit­tle Scot­tish steam lo­co­mo­tive called ‘Don­ald’ is back on track 90 years after be­ing left for dead in a South Is­land bog.

The steam engine’s restora­tion by Blen­heim River­side Rail­way So­ci­ety vol­un­teers makes it the only op­er­a­tional two-foot-gauge steam lo­co­mo­tive from the last cen­tury in the coun­try.

Brought out from Glas­gow in 1901, Don­ald spent three decades work­ing in the Puponga Coal Mine at the top of the South Is­land, near Colling­wood. When his work­ing days were over, he was pushed out the back of a shed into a swamp, where his hulk was found, al­most com­pletely sub­merged, half a cen­tury later.

The restora­tion be­gins

It was in the De­cem­ber 2015 / Jan­uary 2016 is­sue of The Shed (No. 64) that we first vis­ited the Blen­heim River­side Rail­way So­ci­ety, where the restora­tion of Don­ald was un­der­way. Hap­pily, on hear­ing that restora­tion is now com­plete The Shed headed back to Blen­heim to catch up with the restora­tion team and record their ef­forts.

It was in 1990 that the Colling­wood Mu­seum So­ci­ety handed over Don­ald’s rusty re­mains to the Blen­heim River­side Rail­way So­ci­ety. “All that re­mained was a rusted-out cab, rusted-out boiler, rusted side frames, and rusted cylin­der,” says de­pot man­ager Gary Coburn.

A re­tired rail­ways engineer, Gary was a key mem­ber of the ‘steam team’ that re­stored the loco, along­side John Stich­bury, a for­mer ma­rine engineer with spe­cial­ist knowl­edge of steam and trac­tion en­gines, and re­tired Royal New Zealand Navy engineer Arthur Bea­man.

Their com­bined ex­per­tise, not to men­tion thou­sands of work­ing hours from so­ci­ety vol­un­teers, saw an ex­tra­or­di­nary en­gi­neer­ing feat come to fruition as Don­ald chugged out of the sta­tion with his first load of pas­sen­gers in March of this year.

One heck of a jour­ney

“As far as I’m con­cerned, be­ing in­volved in the restora­tion of this loco is the pin­na­cle of my en­gi­neer­ing ca­reer,” says Gary,

who spent 56 years with New Zealand Rail­ways.

“I’ve built a lot of things and fixed a lot of things, but restor­ing this engine with the other guys has been ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic. We had to solve three or four hun­dred lit­tle prob­lems along the way, but it’s been a great jour­ney.”

The first step was to pre­serve what re­mained of the cor­roded skele­ton, which was sand­blasted, metal primed and painted black for pro­tec­tion. The cylin­der was re-bored and sleeved, and the wheels — which were in­tact but worse for wear — were over­hauled.

“The rest we’ve made up,” says Gary. Age-old en­gi­neer­ing meth­ods were com­bined with lat­ter-day tech­nol­ogy and some in­ge­nious re­pur­pos­ing from other ma­chines to rebuild an au­then­tic engine equipped for mod­ern re­quire­ments.

The steam engine is pow­ered by diesel rather than coal for clean­li­ness and safety rea­sons. Don­ald’s new boiler, which they re­tubed, came from one of the work lo­cos that put in the Pic­ton to Kaik­oura track in 1941 be­fore be­ing de­com­mis­sioned and used to make a steam plant in a tomato glasshouse.

A great bit of in­ge­nu­ity

John Stich­bury built an in­ge­nious de­vice us­ing an engine from an old steam launch and an air com­pres­sor off a truck to pro­duce com­pressed air for the brak­ing sys­tem. He adapted the engine for its own oil sup­ply and re­built it to be di­rect driven from the crankshaft rather than the camshaft. The sump and other com­po­nen­try were ma­chined to fit the small sin­gle-cylin­der launch engine. A dual role ‘don­key engine’, mounted on the side of the smoke­box, also pumps wa­ter into the boiler.

“All that re­mained was a rusted-out cab, rusted-out boiler, rusted side frames, and rusted cylin­der”

The restora­tion crew used his­toric pho­tos to de­sign the cab, which was un­rec­og­niz­able when it was re­cov­ered, first con­struct­ing a ply­wood pat­tern then send­ing it away to be fab­ri­cated in steel. The lo­co­mo­tive’s head­light, gifted by the lo­cal Vin­tage Car Club, came from a pre–World War I mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle. Many of the fin­ish­ing fea­tures in tim­ber, in­clud­ing a VIP seat on the ten­der, were made by the Marl­bor­ough Guild of Wood­work­ers, which also has premises in Brayshaw Her­itage Park.

The orig­i­nal 0-4-0 tank engine was con­verted to a 0-4-2 by adding two wheels on a trail­ing axle. “We couldn’t have an open back for health and safety rea­sons so I said, ‘Right, if we are go­ing to al­ter it, we’ll put a set of wheels un­der the back’, which gave us a 0-4-2,” says Gary. The ex­tra wheels stop the back fish­tail­ing and re­duce track wear. “It also gave us a lot more room in the back to do things like put the daily fuel tank be­hind the boiler with an al­ter­na­tor be­side it to keep the fire go­ing.”

The fin­ish­ing touches

The fuel is pumped from a tank un­der a seat at the rear of the cab into the daily ser­vice tank in­side the door­way. “From there it’s not pres­sured in any way into the burn­ers, as op­posed to si­phon­ing the fuel from way back be­hind the ten­der,” says Gary.

The ten­der, which car­ries a back-up fuel tank as well as wa­ter, has air brakes, spring sus­pen­sion, a 230V gen­er­a­tor, and 24V alarm sys­tem. In a nice his­toric touch, its chas­sis and wheels came from one of the orig­i­nal coal hop­per wag­ons that Don­ald would have pulled at the Puponga mine.

Next on the agenda is the con­struc­tion of two fully en­closed car­riages with slid­ing win­dows and doors on ev­ery cor­ner. Framed in ply­wood with an­tique-look trim­mings, they will be pur­pose­built for func­tions and wed­dings.

It seems that the lit­tle Scots­man, back from the brink and 120 years young, might be spend­ing his days car­ry­ing a more glit­ter­ing pay­load than coal.

“Be­ing in­volved in the restora­tion of this loco is the pin­na­cle of my en­gi­neer­ing ca­reer”

All aboard at Brayshaw Sta­tion

The don­key engine driv­ing a com­pres­sor for the air brakes is from a 120-year-old kauri launch that used to take fruit and vegeta­bles from Lit­tle Bar­rier Is­land to the Auck­land mar­ket

John Stich­bury fine-tunes the engine (Gary Coburn at right and Arthur Bea­man ob­scured)

Wa­ter glasses show­ing the height of the wa­ter in the boiler

The du­plex pump pumps the wa­ter un­der pres­sure into the boiler

Bronze plaque pro­vided by the Li­ons Club ac­knowl­edg­ing the his­tory and restora­tion of Don­ald

Above and be­low: Don­ald the steam train as re­cov­ered from a South Is­land bog in 1990

Back at the yard (above) and head­ing into the work­shop (be­low). The vol­un­teers’ next job is to build Don­ald his own shed, as vapour ex­ud­ing from the steam engine after it stops run­ning con­denses and rusts tools

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