(When Margaret and I visited New Zealand early in 1984, we were able to meet the Heron family Frank, Joyce and two sons, Kerry and Garry. One of the family's proudest accomplishments is the rescue of a huge traction engine from the Docherty Creek in 1975. Michael Hanrahan, editor of 'Vintage Farming' magazine, who sewed as our guide in New Zealand, has very kindly enabled us to quote from an article in the magazine in 1978, written by Joyce Heron. Gerry Lestz.)
Frank Heron, chatting with Bill Scott, of Rangiora, after a traction engine rally, said he would like to own a traction engine, since he had repaired many of them. Bill said he knew where one was buried in a river at Franz Josef. Permission was obtained from Ted Gibb, who owned it, for a visit of inspection. Joyce's account continues:
Frank Heron with the Marshall 2 speed #38513, single cylinder, rescued from its water resting place. Frank's large collection includes a Keystone drilling rig; he has located two more in Christchurch, both operational.
The engine was located completely covered in shingle, boulders, and sand and with branches caught on the top. There was also water in Docherty Creek almost to the top of the engine.
By lowering the level of water with Bob Gibb's D8 bulldozer we were able to establish that it was a 7 HP Marshall traction engine number 38513 built by Marshall Sons & Co., Ltd., in Gainsborough, England, in 1902 and that the boiler was in excellent condition, even though a lot of the top gear had been removed.
A further trip in May, 1975, followed and with the aid of George Wheeler's (Kaiapoi) Fordson tractor and Dinkum Digger, and Bob Gibb's (Franz Josef) bulldozer and plenty of hand work by my family and Harold Feather, we were able to dig out the traction engine in under two days. It was very helpful to find that Docherty Creek was dry.
On getting the traction engine to the surface, rain started to pelt down as it can only do on the West Coast. The decision was made to pull the traction engine to the river bank. With three wheels turning and one sledging, the engine was pulled out with Bob Gibb's bulldozer and Ted Richards' tractor, while the freezing rain pelted down. Ted Richards also retrieved the funnel a mile down stream. We were unable to find the crankshaft and flywheel.
On a later trip in February 1976 we had the aid of an army metal detector to try and locate these items. However, certain stones responded to the detector. If however, you wait your patience, the river will give up the missing pieces. Ted Richards found this on Boxing Day 1977 about 60 yards further down stream. So you can see that this is a very savage river at times. It is very interesting to note that at one stage Franz Josef Glacier had covered this area.
The following day we inspected our prize and found that Docherty Creek was in flood. In January 1976 we went to Franz Josef to free up the cogs and wheel. This took four days and we were surprised there was still oil in the wheel hub.
The engine was thoroughly washed to get rid of tons of sand and stones through it. After all this time there is still visible the salmon colored paint on the wheels and brown on the body. 'Franz Josef' has now been painted the same colors.
The traction engine was loaded on a Lowloader truck and transported back to our workshop at Fernside (near Rangiora) via the Lewis Pass.
We have hunted most of the South Island for the top gear, flywheel and crankshaft for a 7 HP Marshall, but only saw one restored 7 HP in Ashburton district.
With the help of Stewart Leddington of the Invercargill Traction Engine Club, we were able to locate a derelict 8 HP Marshall at Spars Bush. These parts we purchased from the owner and Stewart helped remove them from the engine. This engine's number is 38825, so it was probably manufactured about three months after 'Franz Josef'.
It was used for stumping trees at Spars Bush, and the land has now become very fertile sheep country. Of course some of these parts have been too large such as the main crankshaft gear. Each tooth had to be cut down and shaped by 1 inch and the root of the tooth by half an inch.
Frank works on the restoration nearly every night and every weekend, and I estimate that between four and five thousand hours' work have gone into it.
It has had new tubes, stays, smoke box and a few other parts manufactured with the purchased parts as patterns.
However, when the marine inspector was due on Tuesday, 14th February, 1978, Frank was suffering from nerves of the stomach, but he need not have worried as it passed its hydraulic test with flying colors and was granted 140 PSI.
We have all worked on the engine, cleaning, polishing, painting, cutting tires, etc., with loving care: Our daughter, Barbara, and sons Kerry and Garry, the boys still being at school. They also have their model traction engine, steam truck and engines.
Purchased by George G. Richards of Docherty Creek (now of Hokitika) from Bowmans in Christchurch in 1948. Before that it is believed to have come from the Gore area. It has Southland, Otago and Canterbury Marine numbers.
Mr. Richards had it railed from Christchurch to Ross and then drove it south with Bill Chapman steering. Owing to difficulties in Fergusons Bush when they had to drive off the road to let cars go by, they had it trucked to Franz Josef.
It was used by George Richards on his farm for stumping for about 10 years. When it blew a tube, it was left in the corner of a paddock. Following heavy floods, the river took a piece of Mr. Richard's farm, and traction with it. It was then sold to Gibb Bros, for 10-0-0.
One brother took some of the gear off it 20 years ago, thinking that he might use the steel on the farm some time. Some parts were found in their garage and some on the farm.
We have made some wonderful friends, met many interesting people who have also been very helpful, and I can't say enough about our local friends who have helped with parts, practical advice and labor. Last but not least, the firm in Twizel who supply the scraper tires at no cost for fitting on the wheels. We have had many visitors from all over the world.'