Saturday, October 9, 2010

Steam Train, Day Two: Ohakune to Wellington

Well, from stifling hot to freezing cold... my room last night at Station Lodge, while being nice and spacious, was also lacking in bedding. I ended up sleeping in pjs and a hoodie and using my towel as a blanket (which didn't really work out because it was damp from the shower I had). So I spent the night shivering on my bed, but I suppose that's my own damn fault for putting my sleeping bag in storage back in Auckland before I set out on this trip.

This morning two steam locies were hooked up to the cars; the new addition was Ka 942, a 1940 4-8-4, which was built as a coal-burner but converted to oil in 1948, and retired in 1967. The locie's name is "Nigel Bruce"; I'm not sure if it was Ian Welch, the present owner, who gave it that name, or if the locie was dedicated to someone prior to his purchasing of it in 1972. Ka 942 is no shrimp: she weighs 145 tons in working order, and carries 5 000 gallons of water and 1 600 gallons of fuel. (As a comparison, Samson #25 weighs 18 tons and carries 500 gallons of water). Ka 942 also has what is known as a "streamline" look, common for the era in which she was built: originally she had side plates over the wheels (quickly removed because they interfere with maintenance work), but still has the iconic square front piece. I'm not partial to the streamlining myself - I think it looks ugly - but it is unlike any steam train I've ever seen operating, and the novelty and history of the style it is enough to make me appreciate it.

Ka 942 in the morning sunshine at Ohakune Station

Streamline detail on Ka 942

My day started off with fun and excitement: I got a CAB RIDE in Ka 942!! I rode with the crew (engineer, fireman, and Mainline Steam representative Richard) from Ohakune to Waiouru. What an experience! Ka 942 runs at 200psi, and can clearly move along at a fair clip (turns out the 70 km/hr limit I saw inside the cab of Ja 1275 is a limit imposed by the railway, not the engines themselves). I took pictures of everything, and even shot a little video: I got to watch them sanding out (they have a funnel with a long exhaust pipe-like attachment to feed it into the firebox), and after the sanding out was done Richard shoved all the morning's oily rags into the rat hole, telling me cheerfully he was "cleaning up". I snickered when I thought of Peter stuffing rags, tinfoil, even fried chicken bones(!) into Samson's rat hole this summer... he was "cleaning up" in a sense, too.

It didn't take me too long to figure out where everything was and what everything did in the cab; the basic principles were all the same (although the injectors where round valve handles, not levers, which confused me for a bit - duh - ), and the brake valve system was practically identical to what is on #25. One interesting detail was the throttle positioned vertically, not horizontally, and the engineer would stand up to pull it down (to increase speed).

Note the "teapot" of oil on the boiler shelf

Another interesting thing about New Zealand steam trains: they don't have bells (such disappointment) and they seem to blow their whistles whenever they damn well please, and for how long/short/number of toots as they please. There is no long-long-short-long regularity here!!

Mt Ruapehu as seen from the cab of Ka 942

When we arrived in Waiouru I thanked the engine crew immensely for letting me ride with them, and then headed back toward the passenger carriages, passing Ja 1275 along the way. 1275 was steamed up with a minimal fire, but not effectively contributing pulling power to the train; it was running with its drains open (to minimize wear on the pistons? I'm not sure).

Ka 942 and Ja 1275 coupled together

The beauty of Tongariro National Park

Later in the day, we arrived at Feilding, where Feilding Steam Rail society has a depot and several locies. We left Ja 1275 there (apparently it is figuring in several steam events happening there over the next few days), and we will pick it up again on our way back north.

Smiles from the cab even in the rain

City water from the pipe...

... travels through the orange hose...

... and into the tank. 11,160 L of water is 11.2 cubic metres,
394 cubic feet, or 47,170 cups!

After a water refiling at Feilding, it was straight on down to Wellington, where we were reduced to all but a crawl in several areas because of works happening on the tracks (they are double tracking some areas of the line and we had go slowly to avoid equipment and workers). We arrived in Windy Welly around 6:15 pm, and I marched myself across the street and right into Downtown Backpackers: quite the convenient location!

Sunshine breaking through the clouds
over the ocean outside Wellington

I am becoming more well-known to the train crew; this afternoon I went back to the observation car to look at the souvenirs they were offering for sale, and ended up talking to Ian Welch, the owner of the locie (thank goodness I didn't realize he was the owner or I would have been very nervous talking to him). I also got talking to Michael about the pins and such they had for sale, and he told me if I would agree to look after the souvenir sales on some of the busier runs in the South Island later this month, I can take some pins for free! Hmm. Well, I guess that is a quasi-fufillment of the prediction that I would find a steam train down here and get a job on it.

Ka 942 at Platform 9, Wellington Station

Tomorrow I have a free day in Wellington and I have no idea what I want to do; I imagine I'll catch a bus downtown and have a look around: the Te Papa museum is calling.



  1. No bell? The bell is one of the best parts! ;;)

  2. I know! The whistles don't sound as good as Samson's, either. (And yes, fellow nitpickers, I know Samson's whistle isn't its original whistle. But either way, these NZ locies' ones don't sound as nice).