The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Heading South Chasing Kb 968. February1969

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.

It was 27 February 1969 and the end wasn't far away. The changeover from steam to diesel in New Zealand's South Island was rapidly advancing and by February 1969 forty seven of the new Dj class diesel electric locomotives had already entered service. The Railways believed, that on completion of the sixty four loco order, they would have minimal need for their remaining steam engines.

It was a case of every chance you got head out and chase a train especially if you had been given the use of the family car for the day! The plan was to head down the South Island Main Trunk following train 147: the mid morning goods from Christchurch's Middleton Yard. The line heading south over the Canterbury Plains was never a scenic highlight and on a dull, cloudy day you had to work even harder for anything approaching a reasonable shot. To further complicate matters the Railways had put three Dj at the head of the train for testing purposes. Train engine Kb968 was tucked away behind runner wagons and while the diesels were attached had very little work to do.

By now 968 was the sole surviving Kb still usable although we didn't realise this at the time. Cran Julian recently emailed that the only other remaining working member of the class, 970, was already waiting for 'depot repairs'. These were never completed and she was hurriedly rushed to the cutters torch in late March 1969. Apparently in the twilight years of steam some locos were often booked 'depot repairs pending' and held only for further use in an emergency prior to the next step of scrapping.

With the three Dj leading train 147 enters the crossing loop at Dunsandel. First two are 1252 & 1256 which look as if this could be their first time out on the road. The roof of the third, 1246, looks sufficiently grubby to have already been in service sometime. Barely visible is Kb968. 

At Ashburton, fifty miles south of Christchurch, the test run was over. The Djs were cut off to return to Christchurch probably at the front of the next north bound goods. 968 was now in sole charge of its train and with a new crew on board it's almost time for the off......

South, heading south and smoke can make for a fine shot even on a cloudy day! Action shots taken out of car windows are pure luck at the best of times and a fence post in the wrong place could have easily spoilt this one. Now was I driving and trying to take a photo at the same time or was fellow enthusiast Paul Markholm sitting in the back seat with my camera?

On such a dull day it didn't really matter which side of the train you took your photo on. All seemed to be well with the world though as train 147 heads across the Orari River. The consist is typical of the mix you would find on trains in 1969...... a wide variety of four wheel and bogie wagons....back when the railways were still the major carrier of freight in New Zealand.

A short time later and the sun was starting to make its one and only appearance for the day as 968 drifts through Winchester: a typical country station of the period. Detail that would now be long gone includes the wooden station building with tablet exchanger at platforms edge and the goods shed with loading bank and wagons alongside. Paul seems to be going for a more close up shot. 

At the south end of the yard 968 comes to a halt.........

.....and waits for Ja1266 on north bound service 136 to enter the loop. 

The two trains cross.........

.....and 1266 moves on up the loop before drawing to a halt at the north end. Considering the number of wagons in the sidings Winchester must have been a quite busy station in its day. 

Final shot of the day sees 1266 passing through another country station. A successful tablet exchange has been made: the station agent is heading to the exchanger to collect the tablet from the previous section while 1266's fireman reaches out to take the new one off the loco's exchanger. To complete this tale I reckon that's the Lythgoe family car (Morris 1100?) just managing to try and sneak into the left of the shot.

Rob Dickinson