The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
To Oamaru with Kb968, 1969

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.

The first weekend in March back in 1969 must have been as close to rail fan heaven as was possible for an eighteen year old! On Saturday 1st March, the Canterbury Branch of the NZR&LS ran an excursion, using Ab798, from Christchurch to Waiau whilst the following day local identity and all-round steam enthusiast Neill Cooper organised a Kb to run south over the Canterbury Plains to Oamaru.

Although the last two surviving Kb had been running goods trains from Christchurch to Oamaru since the middle of 1968 they weren't used on 143/144 and this was thought to be the last chance to see one at work on a passenger train. I can't recall whether Neill had specifically requested 968 but Cran Julian reminded me last year 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. 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. So like it or not it was 968 on the excursion...........

I think I travelled in a friend's car between Christchurch and Timaru in the hope of getting some photos along the way but the speed of the train, plus the need to be in Timaru to catch it, meant the journey down was a non-event. It's a not unpleasant shot of the well cleaned 968 entering Timaru though. On the left, a glimpse of a Railways Road Services bus and on the right the north end signal box and associated semaphores.

There's a number of quite good photo spots just south of Timaru.......

 .....but the best opportunities were to come once Oamaru had been reached and the loco turned. Now 968 would be facing north with sun on the front of the smoke box.

Once back on the train and readying for departure rail fans and locals gathered round to admire the big 4-8-4. Recognise anyone?

The Pukeuri Junction photo stop presented a fine array of semaphore signals. On the left is the 0-4-0 known as B10. Belonging to the local freezing works it had come out to have its photo taken with the Kb. Today B10 is owned by Oamaru Steam & Rail ( Link broken by May 2023) and has recently returned to service after a comprehensive overhaul. The line on the right is the branch heading inland to Kurow.

The enthusiasm of the fireman could make all the difference to a photo stop and 968's was doing us proud as the train crossed the Waitaki River.

One of my long time favourite photo positions is the Normanby Bridge, just south of Timaru, and with two shots to choose from I really don't know which I prefer......

With lengthening late afternoon shadows the train races through Tinwald. I must have climbed the home signal of the defunct Mt Somers Branch for this photo.....

....or at least that's the only place I can think of when I look at my going away shot. The branch had closed some fourteen months previously.

Less than two weeks after this excursion a new timetable designed for diesel operation in Canterbury, Otago and Southland came into effect and by the end of March forty two steam engines, including 968, had been withdrawn from stock. Strange things sometimes happened on the old NZR though and as the Canterbury Branch of the NZR&LS had already been promised a Kb for their midwinter excursion to Arthur's Pass the railways honoured that promise. But that's another tale..........

Rob Dickinson