The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 6 (October 24, 1926)
The Locomotive in New Zealand — Its Evolution and Development
The growth and development of any commercial undertaking is inevitably reflected in the expansion of its capital resources and there is no more striking index to the growth of our own undertaking than the large and ever growing increase in its locomotive power. From the comparative giants of the present day—the term comparative being used in deference to the truly giant locomotives of larger countries—to the pigmies of early days is a far cry, and, while the latter have been called upon to do great service in their day and generation, signs of their gradual disappearance are not wanting. Of the small engines the F. Class has been a most tenacious survivor, the number in service being very little below that of 26 years ago. These sturdy and serviceable little engines have played a very conspicuous part in the locomotive history of New Zealand and, until quite recent times, were easily the most numerous class. Modern shunting requirements in the large yards are, however, an unreasonable call on their capacity and a contemporary British engine in the J. class has assisted in replacing them as shunting engines in the larger yards.
The first impression to be gained from a study of our locomotives is the multiplicity of classes. These comprise no fewer than 48, and while two or three are essential for special work as, for example, the H, (Fell) class, and other light types are necessary for branches and lines where modern heavy types cannot be permitted, the fact remains that there is an undue number of classes in service. It should, however, be noted that the twenty engines taken over, from the late Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company added no less than nine classes, and the Midland Railway Company one, so that the New Zealand Railway engineers can decline responsibility for ten classes. These comprise the Bc, Na, Nc, Oa, Ob, Oc, Ud, Wh and Wj (W. & M. Rly.) and La (Midland Rly.). Of the remaining classes, some are merely a development of design from other classes, and certain engines do not differ materially in design from others. Instances are the B, Ba and Bb, a successive development, and the Wf, Wg and Ww. The Ab and WAB, though materially differing in appearance from the fact that the first is a tender and the second a tank engine, are very similar in design, the WAB obtaining greater power from its heavier axle loading on the driving wheels. The WAB and Ws are very nearly identical. The U, Ua, Ub and Us classes, which were built or imported round about 25 years ago, varied to a certain extent in weight, design and tractive force, but there is a considerable similarity in these types when American and British constructional differences are allowed for.
The Wd can be regarded only as an improvement on the Wb. The N. and T (American) are not materially different from the V and P (British) respectively.
Of engines at present in service the earliest built are F-11 and F-241, both constructed in 1872. The balance are widely distributed over the intervening years up to the present time. It is interesting to note that one of the earliest and smallest classes, viz., “Small tank” 196 is still in possession of the Department, and it is not long since it ended a long and varied career in bush service for the State sawmills. This engine was the last of the old “A” class, weighing only 11 tons in working order, and lost its identity when the new “A's” came into existence.page 31
The eurlier classes were necessarily imported, and the “cracks” of those days were the K, N and V (passenger) and O (now disappeared), P and T (goods). It may surprise some to find that the earliest engine in present service which was built in New Zealand, W-192, dates back to 1889. A second one of this class was built in 1891. Following this came the Wa, U, B, WF, A, Wg, Ba, Ww, Ab, WAB and Bb, somewhat in the order given. Most of them were built in our own workshops. Some Ab engines were imported, and a number of A, Ab, Bb and Wf were built by Messrs A. & G. Price, the well known Thames firm. Other classes such as the Fa, L. M and We were rebuilt or evolved from other types in our own shops. Of the classes enumerated the X, which is an exclusive Addington production, was built in 1908 for North Island Main Trunk service and still holds pride of place for weight and power.
A marked step forward in locomotive power took place between the years 1898 and 1901, when the B, U, Ua, Ub, Ue, Wb and Wd classes appeared. They were, with the exception of some of the B's and the whole of the U's imported from Great Britain and America. The Q particularly was looked upon as a great engine on its inception and, in the eyes of at least the younger members of the staff appeared a veritable monster. The next radical introduction was the A (compound) which gradually superseded the Q and Ub for express work, just as the Q and Ub had superseded the N in former days. Then followed the × for Main Trunk work, and the present climax was practically reached by the appearance of the Ab for express and general work. Numerically this class easily holds pride of place, and they undoubtedly give very fine service.
As previously stated, the WAB and Ws, both large and powerful engines, are really a variation of the Ab class. The Aa, a large and powerful class, were imported in 1915. Classes which have disappeared by means of sale or scrap-heap are the former B, double Fairlie; C, small saddle tank; E, double Fairlie; a later E, built for Rimutaka Incline; G, small saddle tank; former L, small tank; former Q, light semi-tender; and O, tender. Others, such as the old A and D, K and other classes, are on the verge of extinction.
It is not so many years since the best of the Locomotive stock was in the South Island, and the writer often remembers the jibe of a well known locomotive foreman to the effect that the North Island had only the South Island rejects. This had particular reference to the K, N, O and T classes, which were transferred from the South to meet the growing demands of the North, such transfers being made possible by the influx of larger classes in the South. How completely the situation has changed since the opening of the North Island Main Trunk Line, as well as other developments, is obvious to all.