The final years of steam-powered locomotives in the South Island have been chronicled by former Oamaru man Robert John in the form of a recently published book, with a chapter dedicated to the town he once called home.
Glorious South Island Steam Power features a series of photographs and information on the steam locomotives that travelled around the South Island during the late 1960s.
During that decade, Mr John was a pupil at Waitaki Boys’ High School and was fascinated by trains. He would often, with camera in hand, eagerly await a train’s passing.
His most recent book, one of several he has published on steam rail, covers the five years of steam before diesel-powered trains took over in 1970.
The chapter that focuses on Oamaru includes information and several photographs on the various classes of steam locomotive that passed though or stopped in Oamaru, such as the Ab, Ja, J and Ja classes among others, that carried freight and passengers along the South Island’s major line.
He said Oamaru was an important stop on the line and between 1965 and 1970, among the busiest areas in the South Island.
“Oamaru was the dividing point from Christchurch and Dunedin’s last steam locomotives. Back in those days, all through-trains had to stop in Oamaru for a change of engines. From 1956, there was an early sort of dieselisation of Dh class engines which ran in pairs and ran most of the tonnage between
Oamaru and Dunedin. Oamaru was the only place you could see a Christchurch-based steam engine beside a Dunedin-based steam engine.
“Between January 1968 and March 1969, New Zealand Railways virtually completely replaced 90% of all the steam trains’ operations between Christchurch and Invercargill.”
The Oamaru chapter includes information on the Kurow branch line, which ran its last service in 1968.
Mr John said a highlight for him, which features prominently in the book, was when he captured the first recorded photograph of a daytime departure of Kb 970, a train that rarely visited Oamaru, in September 1968.
He said that if it wasn’t for his photographs, the history of steam rail between 1965 and 1970 would not have been recorded.
Mr John lived in Oamaru between 1961 and 1964, and again between 1965 and 1970. Born in Adelaide, he lives in Auckland.