by Colin Barry
From the National Archives material it can be deducted that P.W.D. No. 236 had not been dumped before 14th September 1931; but was ready for dumping. The last penciled note on the memorandum dated 10th September 1931 noted : ‘to dump loco & wagons at approach to bridge where scouring.’ One assumes from this that the bridge approach was giving trouble, and no doubt little time was lost in dumping the equipment noted, Unfortunately, due to the fact that Westport’s newspapers of that era have not survived it is probably now impossible to pinpoint the exact date of dumping.
Around 1972 I was asked if I would like some relief work at Westport. With my interest in railways I was quick to accept. The weather was generally fine and any spare time was spent roaming around the local railway yards. There were then a considerable number of small sheds and buildings alongside the track on the town side, south of the Westport station. While peering through the cracks in the boards of one of these sheds a railway ganger engaged me in conversation and, on learning of my interest in railways, opened up one shed. All that can be said is that my collection of railway lamps improved somewhat that day!
Further conversation led to him telling me about a locomotive that was dumped near the approaches to Bridge No.105 in the Buller Gorge.
The years rolled by, and with work transfers to Canterbury, it became harder and harder to organise an expedition to confirm the story. By the time ten years had rolled by my mates had got sick of the story of the locomotive dumped in the Buller Gorge and sufficient pressure was enforced for a trip to be organised. Permission was obtained from the New Zealand Railways District Engineer in Christchurch for a party to be in the area; the letter to be carried by myself as organiser. I can well remember leaving the letter, by accident, in Christchurch, and for many years it was filed away. The filing system has let me down, but one day I will find that letter again, just to prove that it existed!
The party, as far as my memory serves me (bearing in mind that we are going back to 1982) was Allan Familton, Ian Tibbles, Peter Kerr, Harold Feather, Gary and Susan Moffatt, Shane Ward and the writer. The cars were left at Te Kuha and the walk started. We had no idea how far through Bridge No. 105 was, but every step carried us further and further beyond the point of no return. Quite close to Te Kuha we found the pony truck from the locomotive and further in again I remember a ‘Yb’ wagon crushed between the track and hillside by a massive boulder. It appeared to have been there for many years. Through another tunnel, again in a hurry in case the light at the other end was ….! Anyway, Bridge No.105 was quite short and a very quick inspection of both embankments soon found the locomotive.
Expeditions I lead are always equipped with slashers and spades, and the site was soon cleared for photographs. The rear of the cab was close to the river and the smokebox was against the embankment at approximately 45 degrees and lying on its side. There may have been a plate on the underside, so a large hole was dug to get access. The memory I have of this is Ian Tibbles feet held by Allal Familton, with the rest of Ian being down the hole!
Above the locomotive and on the side of the embankment were two wagon frames and the wheels; one of which had a fabricated/riveted channel and a spacer beam between each axle box. I have always regretted not measuring these wagons, especially the one with the fabricated frame. In later years, research at National Archives, Christchurch, turned up the letter authorising the dumping of two ballast wagons and the locomotive.
After lunch some of the party walked on towards the Cascade bins and the Cascade Bridge. There is a photograph somewhere of one of the party crawling on hands and knees over the railway bridge – too scared to stand up! The one long lasting memory was the long walk back to Te Kuha and the total lack of conversation from a very exhausted group.
Editor’s Comment: Colin’s mention of finding the trailing bogie of the locomotive some distance from the main dump site leads to the question – why? Your editor also saw this bogie during a railway excursion through the Gorge in 1988, and it has, of course, been salvaged with the engine last year. Did the engine develop a ‘hot-box’ while being towed to the bridge No.105? There seems to be no other logical explanation. It would have been an interesting site to see the engine being jacked up in the middle of nowhere to have its trailing bogie removed. – John Griffiths
© 1995 Colin Barry