Trust adds to its collection

Lumsden Heritage Trust chair John Titter inspects the wheels on a JC Class sheep wagon recovered from a steep gully near Hyde, in Central Otago, at the end of January. Photos: Supplied
The wreckage of three JC Class sheep wagons rescued from a gully near Hyde, bound for Winton for restoration work.

THE Lumsden Heritage Trust has overseen another challenging recovery operation as it builds its impressive historic railways collection.

The trust’s “A team” of contractors hauled the wreckage of three JC Class sheep wagons up a steep gully near Hyde, in Central Otago, at the end of January.

Having reached the end of their useful lives as rolling stock for New Zealand Railways, the wagons had originally been placed at the top of the gully in an attempt to prevent erosion of the hillside but on the night of July 30, 1977, they slid into the gully following snow and heavy rain. In the 45 years since, scrub had all but obscured the three wagons.

Lumsden Heritage Trust chair John Titter said the recovery operation went relatively smoothly considering the difficult terrain, thanks to the efforts of a highly skilled group of southern contractors who had worked on a series of similar projects since early 2020.

Once access to the wagons had been cleared through thick scrub, the first wagon, weighing over five tonnes, was hauled up the hillside by a 12-tonne digger, with a bulldozer behind pushing it when needed. “They got about two-thirds of the way up and it started shuddering as the digger struggled to gain traction.”

On the next haul the digger towed the bulldozer as it dragged the two remaining wagon frames, stacked on top of each other, to flat ground at the top of the gully, where they were loaded on to trucks.

Mr Titter said the gradient on the hillside was about 45 degrees at its steepest. Despite this, the wagons “towed really well”.

“I don’t know how they did it. There was a lot of weight there. They would have been pulling around 10 tonnes. It was just incredible.

“It was pretty gnarly up there. There was a hairpin at the top of the track with a straight
drop down into the gorge. There was nowhere to go if things went wrong.”

JC wagons were built in New Zealand in the 1940s and 1950s and were used by New Zealand Railways to transport stock until road transport became the preferred option in the late 1970s. The 6m wagons had timber frames and two decks.

Lumsden Heritage Trust secretary-treasurer Rob Scott said the trust wanted to recover the wagons for their under-frames, which include the chassis, wheels and axle sets. Parts from two of the three wagons will be fabricated by Bulleid Engineering, of Winton, to make a complete underframe for a C Class passenger carriage, which the trust is planning to recover soon from a residential property in Winton.

“The beauty of it is that the axles, headstocks, buffers and frame are all complete,” Mr Scott said.

“We looked at building one from scratch but the cost of the recovery and getting it to
Winton was cheaper, and we don’t have to look for any other parts.”

The third wagon, with its sheep crate frame still largely intact, will be preserved to original condition by Project Steam Middlemarch for its heritage rail collection. Its chairman, Clark McCarthy, has been the technical adviser for all of the Lumsden Heritage Trust’s recovery operations.

The wagons were gifted to Lumsden Heritage Trust by the Hyde landowner Bevan Dowling.

The trust’s so-called “A team” of contractors – Smith Crane and Construction, Southland
Machine Hire, and Linton Contracting – carried out the recovery mission at Hyde, with help from Cook Transport of Hyde.

“This is a good project,” Mr Titter said. “There are only seven JC wagons remaining that
I am aware of on the New Zealand Rolling Stock Register.”

Bulleid Engineering is also stripping down the 1880 D Class steam locomotive D6, which the trust recently acquired from Ocean Beach Railway in Dunedin.

Eventually the restored D6 and the yet-to-be-recovered Winton carriage (C100) will form part of a unique heritage display at the Lumsden Railway Precinct in northern Southland.

“The plan is that D6 will sit at the front of the current carriages to create a pre-1900s heritage train consisting of carriages ranging from 1877 (C100) to 1883 (A199) to 1896 (A525),” Mr Titter said.

“This will be a heritage line-up not seen for possibly 70-plus years.

“It’s going to be great for Lumsden.”