The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Meandering in the Mamakus, Part II

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.

This is another look at scenes from my 'back yard' taken during my Rotorua years in the early 1970s. It wasn't a backyard I frequented very often but occasionally I'd venture forth into the the Mamaku Ranges and take a few photos. I should have explored them more....I should have taken a lot more photos....I should have done this....I should have done's always easy to be wise forty years after the event I suppose! 

Bartholomew Land and Timber Company

Back in 1969 there was an article in The New Zealand Railway Observer about 'A Day on a Bush Tramway - 1967 style' by PJ Mahoney. The line was based around the village of Te Whetu, deep in the Mamakus, and belonged to the Bartholomew Land and Timber Company. According to the article the line was to close in 1968.

Sometime in 1971 I decided to go to Te Whetu and see if there was anything remaining. It was a long slow drive along a gravel road and once there I can't recall having much of a look around. In the back of my mind there is an inkling that there were a number of signs saying visitors were not welcome or maybe I just wasn't interested in what I found. My pictures remind me there were houses still occupied although I can't recall much else.

Bartholomew had purchased two lokeys from Wilson Brothers of Invercargill (I wonder if I'm related?) although I'm not sure whether I took this picture to show the lokey or the standard of the road into Te Whetu. This is the larger of the two lokeys having been built in 1952. The motor unit is mounted on a four wheel chassis with power going through a drive shaft to the first log bogie on either side. This helped to provide the necessary adhesion.

The standard of track on bush tramways was never high as this photo shows. Looking past the stacks of sawn timber that may be the lokey in the distance.

A selection of four of the lines railcars or jiggers as they are more commonly called. These would have been used to take the bushmen and track workers along the line to work each day.

Not being able to find much information on Bartholomew I emailed Ian Jenner who had been such a help with my NZR Stores Branch Tramway tale. Along with these two pictures Ian replied:

'We visited the mill in 1965 or 66 and tried to get permission to go back again for a ride on the tram but that was refused and so we did not visit again. We did not see the variety of jiggers you have in your pictures, except of course the rear jigger in the first picture which would be the one in the doorway of the shed in my picture. I canít remember if there were other jiggers in the shed, I think we were not welcome on the site and could not look around too much. I have seen another picture somewhere of jiggers at Te Whetu buried in mud, as in your first picture, said to be following a major rain storm in the area.

Unfortunately none of their equipment was saved when the mill closed and so there is little recorded about it. Barts certainly had some weird looking gear, the two jiggers in my pictures would never win any design awards, similarly the ones in your pictures.'

The Rotorua Shunt

Monday to Friday, each morning around 10.30, the Rotorua Shunt would head off to Putaruru, fifty kilometres away, on the other side of the Mamaku Ranges. There the consist would be left for another train to collect and the shunt would pickup tonnage already waiting. After a lunch break it was off over the Mamakus again with arrival back into Rotorua sometime in the afternoon.
I must have had the urge to at least try and make an effort so joined the shunt in March 1973 and rode in the van there and back. First stop was at Ngongotaha where the Shunt was put into the loop...... cross a ballast train. In the loop is Da1463 with Da1473 arriving on the main.

In researching this tale I've found all sorts of figures for the height of Mamaku station above sea level so I'll stick with this railway sign figure of 1890 feet. What caught my eye when I scanned this picture though was the sign colours: white text on a black background with a light blue shadow on the station name. It makes a change from what was the accepted standard of the day: black text on a white background.

Waiting for the off at Mamaku. Between the two semaphore signals in the distance you can just see the NZR Stores Branch Tramway crossing over the main line. What are the two semaphore signals for though: are they the Mamaku home and starting signals or is their purpose to protect mainline trains from ones on the tramway?

A few days later I was back out for another photo of the Rotorua Shunt this time with Da1430 in charge. The Mamakus are in the background and the train is very close to its Putaruru destination. Risking life and limb I standing on the State Highway 1 overbridge but then traffic was a lot lighter (and slower) back then.


Rob Dickinson