A bunch of happy people gathered on the Levin Station, waiting expectantly for the train to arrive. And here it comes – smoke billowing from the engine, as it pulled into the station. It was time for another train excursion.
Steam Loco Ja1271
The vintage carriages were being pulled by steam loco Ja1271 – which was built in 1956 in Dunedin, she worked hauling express passenger and freight trains on the South Island Main Trunk Line. Disabled by a shunting accident in 1969, and spending the next few years providing steam as a stationary boiler, the engine was rescued by Steam Incorporated as a wreck, and towed to the Paekakariki workshops. Following an extensive overhaul, the engine was up and running again by 1995, pulling excursion trains, enjoyed by passengers, ex rail employees and enthusiasts alike.
Our travelling companions were Dot and Derek, and we settled back to enjoy the trip. Our carriage was only half full, so we took over some spare seating – much more comfortable! Our carriage as a 50ft, 2nd class car, built in 1909 at the Petone Railway Workshops. The train travelled through Koputarua, Shannon, Tokomaru, and Linton, finally stopping at Palmerston North to take on more water.
Robin, Derek, Dot and Jenny
Most climbed down from the train at Palmerston North, to join the crowds gathered around the steaming, hissing engine. People were happy to just look, take photos, or stand and admire this mighty black loco.
All aboard again and we passed through the fertile farmland, watching as cattle and sheep alike took fright and ran away as we rumbled past. We stopped briefly at Marton to pick up a few more passengers, then leaving the Main Trunk Line behind and we then travelled along the Taranaki Line on our way to Wanganui. Dipping into our packed picnic lunches, and hot water in the thermos for a cuppa, we were soon fed and watered. There was quite a lot of erosion on the hills, we noticed as we travelled along - that’s what happens when all the trees are removed from the hills.
Erosion on the hills
Sighting one of the towers on the hill means that we are almost at Wanganui. We crossed over the bridge spanning Wanganui River, and we had arrived. The river's tinge of brown was mainly due to silt.
Tower looking down over Wanganui
We spent several hours at Wanganui doing off-train excursions – more about that next time.
Then we re-boarded the train for the return journey. Stock continued to run like mad as we rumbled past their paddocks, and we saw plenty of birdlife too. Such as wild turkeys, a peacock strutting around, and a native falcon. As often happens, my camera was not ready for action when we passed these birds by. There was another stop at Palmerston North on our trip home to top up the water tender again – the loco had used 2000 gallons of water just from Wanganui to Palmerston North. While the water was being refilled, Robin chatted to the driver and the hard working fireman. And discovered that he shovels about 6 tonne of coal during the whole journey.
But what’s this? Why are these two yellow diesel locos being coupled up to the front of the steam loco? It seems that for the final part of our journey the train will be pulled by diesel locos. An announcement was made over the loud speaker once the trip was underway again. Six Kiwi Rail crew members were required for the day’s excursion, but only four steam certified staff were available, and they had already worked their maximum hours. Therefore the decision was made to add the diesel locos for the final stretch of the journey.
From steam to diesel
We had ordered an evening meal from the buffet car and the staff were kept busy cooking a simple meal of sausages and veggies for 50 people. The train pulled into Levin at 8.30pm and after a short drive, we arrived home, happy with our day’s excursion.