The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
A Canterbury Miscellany from 1967

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 effort comes from Canterbury Province in New Zealand's South Island. The pictures were all taken within about 60 miles of Christchurch and show everyday scenes of steamers going about their daily routine. Very little scenery this time but hopefully strong in nostalgia especially for people like myself who were around in those days. They feature two class of locos then in everyday use, the Ab and Ja, and are some of my earliest slides.

First introduced in 1915 a total of 141 Ab class 4-6-2's were built by a number of builders. They were the 'super power' of their day and handled all major services until the advent of larger and more powerful engines. One of those more powerful and larger locos were the Hillside built Ja's: thirty five of these 4-8-2's being built between 1946 and 1956. The Ja's fast became the mainstay of the South Island railway system relegating the Ab to secondary and branch lines services.

Ab 798 (built by A&G Price as a Wab 4-6-4T in 1926 and converted to an Ab at Hillside in 1957) raises steam outside the Waipara engine shed surrounded by those necessities of the steam age: lighting up wood and buckets of coal. The coal buckets, most likely, would have been filled daily by a man with a shovel.....back breaking work. Waipara was the junction for the Waiau branch and the shed would have supplied locos for the branch and for some goods trains heading to Christchurch.

Ja 1245 (Hillside, 1947) and Ja 1266 (Hillside, 1950) change crews at Ashburton, some 50 miles south of Christchurch, on the South Island Main Trunk. As can be seen in this, and the other photos in this selection, back then New Zealand trains did not have their headlights on during daylight. This was still to come............. 

Ab 798 again, this time running train 68 the morning passenger service from Rangiora to Christchurch, making a spirited departure from Styx in early morning sunlight. In 1967 Styx was a country station with siding and goods you wouldn't even know a station had once existed there in an area now part of Christchurch suburbia.

Ab 704 (A&G Price, 1923) shunts Belfast yard whilst working the No 2 Shunt service from Christchurch.

A regular event in the days of steam were the Sunday Snow Excursions from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass. On a cold, windy winter's day Ja 1240 and Ja 1247 (both built in 1947) pause at Avoca in the Canterbury High country. The driver on 1240 looks back for the "right away" from the guard....hopefully not before I had climbed back on the train though!


Ab 807 (North British, 1925) shunts Lyndhurst whilst working the three times a week service on the 22 mile Methven branch. The train seems to be composed of empty wagons.


Later that afternoon 807 is seen at Rakaia junction after completing its journey back down the branch. The fireman takes the opportunity to replenish water supplies. By now not an empty wagon can be seen in the consist!

The Mount Somers Branch was another Mid Canterbury Branch worked by the Ab class. Whereas the Methven Branch served country sidings and finished in a large country town, the Mount Somers line only served a number of country sidings. Lack of traffic caused the line to close on 1 January 1968 so on 30 December 1967 the railways ran a 'Last Train' to allow anyone interested to travel the line. Here Ab 753 (North British, 1921) draws into Cavendish on the return trip with its tender suitably decorated in loo paper (a real imaginative effort!). The weather beaten station building and overgrown platform were typical of the line. Cavendish also boasted a goods loop (one rail can be seen in the bottom right of the picture), a loading bank and a sheep yard but one doubts if they had been used for quite some time!

A few miles before the main line junction the train has stopped due to some of the more 'fun-loving' passengers having again applied the brakes. The loco crew lean out of the cab to see what's going on while the guard has left his van to walk the train and find out where the problem lies. This was probably the largest train the branch has seen in years! I travelled down the line sitting on the van steps enjoying the slow progress in the warm afternoon sun...........

Rob Dickinson