1901 steam engine
DONALD THE STEAM LOCOMOTIVE IS BACK ON THE TRACKS AFTER BEING DUMPED 90 YEARS AGO
— 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