The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Meandering in the Mamakus Part I
The NZR Stores Branch Tramway

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. Part II of this tale will be available in late 2014...

It was literally on my doorstep. A mere twenty kilometres drive from Rotorua, along a sealed road, and you arrived at Mamaku the home of New Zealand's last surviving bush tramway. I lived in Rotorua from mid 1971 and until the tramway closed, just over three years later in October 1974, I managed a mere three visits. It was only a 'truck on rails' after all and I wasn't into that sort of thing! When I recently rediscovered these photos though I realised just what an opportunity had been missed.

New Zealand Railway Observer (No.140) from 1974 relates: "In September 1952 the Heisler had to be withdrawn from service. It was found uneconomic to attempt the necessary major overhaul, so arrangements were made for a contractor, Mr Oliver Smith, to undertake the log haulage to the mill using "ingenious rail tractors consisting of motor trucks each mounted on two powered bogies." And that I'm afraid is basically the only information I'm able to give on the motive power at Mamaku.

The line commenced at the NZR Stores Branch sawmill at Mamaku, crossed over the main NZR line near the station, and then headed south into the bush.

Nothing seemed to be happening the first time I visited in May 1971 and train was sitting just past where it crossed over the NZR Putaruru to Rotorua line. The engine was cold and there was no one around so I took a photo and headed off elsewhere.

It was August 1972 before I went back to the tramway again. This time the train was running and I followed it along the adjacent road.

My next discovery was the track workers railcar rattling along before it pulled into a siding to allow the train to pass.

One last shot of the train. After this the road deteriorated into a muddy quagmire and not being prepared to risk my car getting bogged I turned back. I didn't bother waiting for the return journey!

I did spot a pair of disused wagons in a siding on the way back to Mamaku.

Seven months later I passed through Mamaku riding in the van of the Rotorua Shunt. Sitting in the yard, attached to a couple of wagons, was another of the tramway fleet I suspect being used as the yard shunter.

My final visit was late in 1973 and again nothing was happening. This shot shows the tram line crossing over the NZR line and just around the curve the train itself. Looking at the large tin shed by the train and considering the large amount of oil and grease on the tracks in the next photo I'm wondering if this wasn't the usual stabling point for the train.

I believe this was the last loco to work the tramway and today it's plinthed in a park at Mamaku.

Looking back, just over forty years, to 1972 this was definitely one opportunity I missed out on big time!

Wilson adds:

After last week's tale I was fortunate to be contacted by Ian Jenner who passed on a swathe of additional information plus photos which he is more than happy for me to share.

The tin shed was actually the railcar shed which housed the lines two jiggers. This Trev Terry picture shows the two railcars outside with the log train parked in the background at what seems to be its usual spot. The railcar on the left is No1 whilst on the right No2: the one I'd seen working.

Ian first visited Mamaku in 1966 and then again in March 1967 when a group hired No2 railcar (bush jigger). They travelled over all of the tramways operating lines but unfortunately the logging train was not working that day. Railcar No1 was not complete but was pushed out of the shed for a picture.

When the tramway closed both railcars were purchased by Paul Mahoney (Author of "The Era of the Bush Tramway in New Zealand", it's a great read. RD) and transferred to the Bush Tramway Club at Pukemiro. No1 was incomplete and was laid up on a back siding.

After a number of years Paul sold both railcars to Ian for restoration. No1 has been completed and is in regular use at Pukemiro with occasional visits elsewhere for special events.

No2 arrived at Pukemiro in working condition and was used for some time before developing mechanical problems after which it joined No1 on the back siding. This shot shows No2 just prior to restoration commencing.

Here we have the chassis of No2 after sandblasting and priming. Ian comments: ''No2 is a work in progress with the chassis, front bogie and rear axle repaired and body nearly finished rebuilding. Next task is to fit the new cab which was/is a Commer Q of about 1948 – 49; fortunately I have managed to buy a suitable cab to replace the original which was well beyond repair." 

Ian goes on to comment that the orange truck pictured in Mamaku yard: "...... is another one of Ollie Smith’s great creations. When the tram at Mamaku closed it seems this machine went to the Tauranga Museum but appears to have now disappeared. It was used at Tauranga firstly with a cab but other (later?) pictures show it all stripped down with only a driver’s seat and no cab. I have not been able to track its whereabouts from Tauranga. It would be a shame if it was scrapped as of all the Ollie Smith chain-drive machines there is only the one under the shelter at Mamaku. The Putaruru Timber Museum have two – one truck (GMC cab) with un-powered front bogie, plus the double-ended unit that shunted for Gamman’s Mill. Both these are dismantled with bits scattered about and will need complete major rebuild."

I asked if Ian knew what had happened to the red truck I had photographed working out into the bush. His reply was totally unexpected: 'The red truck (a Ford cab, bonnet & grill) of about 1949 is the same vehicle you photographed a few years later with the Morris cab and is the one preserved under the shelter at Mamaku. During its life it had three different cabs – a Bedford S Model, the Ford & then the Morris.'

Staying with this Bush Tramway theme, but moving away from Mamaku, Ian also owns a small two axle jigger that came from the Bennett & Punch Mill at Ohakune in the centre of the North Island. The first picture was taken at the mill in 1966 whilst the second shows it as received for restoration. 

Rob Dickinson