Huge engine to get all steamed up

Thornbury Vintage Tractor and Implement club members (from left) Keith Watkinson, of Ermedale, Tom Parkes, of Invercargill, Tony Strang, of Waimatuku, and president Fraser Pearce, of Kennington, alongside the 18.7 tonne restored Garrett stationary steam engine.

MORE than 1000 voluntary hours have gone into restoring the mammoth 18.7-tonne stationary steam engine which will have its first public steaming this weekend.

The Garrett Compound Condensing Superheated stationary steam engine arrived in Bluff in 1910.

During its 111 years, the 100-horsepower, 3.6m high, 3.9m wide and 6m long engine was used in various industries from goldmining to driving a seed cleaning plant, and at a lignite and coal company. It was then bought by Harold Richardson to be used at his Progress Valley sawmill where it was in service until the sawmill converted to diesel.

Steam enthusiast Keith Simpson bought the engine from Mr Richardson in 1973 for $50, transporting it to Waianiwa where it remained for more than 40 years.

The engine and its shed was bought from Mr Simpson by the Thornbury Vintage Tractor and Implement Club by fundraising and with the assistance of a grant from the Lottery Environment and Heritage Committee almost five years ago.

Club president Fraser Pearce, of Kennington, said the engine was transported from Waianiwa to be housed in a specially built shed at the club’s Thornbury site about two years ago.

“We purchased the engine because it was a piece of Southland heritage. It was a really special opportunity for us to get it, being so close to our club and such a unique piece of Southland’s industrial past.”

Although the club had an extensive collection, “steam was an aspect of Southland farming we hadn’t covered, so it filled that gap”, Mr Pearce said.

With 60 members, there were plenty of skills in the club to build the shed and restore the engine, club member Tony Strang, of Waimatuku, said.

As well as the extensive foundations which took a year, a shed was purpose-built for the huge engine, with its funnel which protruded through the roof.

“Because of the weight [of the engine], special foundations were needed,” Mr Strang said.

It may be 18.7 tonnes, but that was before 4.5 tonnes of water were added to create the steam and turn the monster machine into a working beauty, he said.

“All the work was done by volunteers, including the engineers; building the shed and laying the extensive foundation, Mr Pearce said.

“The old tubes had to be removed, the engine inspected. Then the new tubes were installed and a hydraulic test completed by filling it with cold water and pumping it by hand to pass its working pressure while the inspector was here.

“Once we were happy with the integrity of the boilerfire bars and steaming it up, the inspector was invited back again to check the safety valves.”

It was now fully restored and certified for public demonstrations, Mr Pearce said.

The only one of its kind in New Zealand and one of just three left in the world, this weekend the Garrett steam engine would have its first public steaming, club member Tom Parkes, of Invercargill said.

Hosted by the country’s “oldest vintage tractor club”, the Thornbury Vintage Tractor and Implement Club, the open weekend, which coincided with the club’s 65th birthday this month, would be held at its extensive grounds in the heart of Thornbury.

Mr Pearce said the open weekend and unveiling of the Garrett fitted in well with Southland Heritage Month.

“The Garrett will be officially unveiled on Friday), then the public can see it on the Saturday and Sunday.”

With something for all ages, visitors would also have the opportunity to check out the other various sheds, displays and exhibits during the open day.

  • Thornbury Vintage Tractor and Implement Club Centre Open Weekend, Saturday, March 13, and Sunday, March 14, 10am-4pm, 61 Folster Rd, Thornbury. Adults $5, children under-16 free.