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When one travels throughout Europe and the Far East there is an underlying feeling of antiquity that seems to seep into one's thinking. Time is measured not in decades but in millennia. Our own history begins in the 1600's and so we often think in terms of several hundred years. Not so in the lands down under. Australia and New Zealand were not even discovered until Europeans were well established on the North American continent.
New Zealand was originally discovered by the Dutch sea captain Abel Janszoon Tazman in the service of the Dutch East India Company in 1642. He thought it a part of Australia then under the control of the British and sailed on. Not so, for it was not until British Captain Cook arrived there in 1769 did it begin to come under British influence with colonization getting under way with the arrival of missionaries in 1814. Its 103,400 square miles are concentrated mostly on the North and South Islands. If you superimposed it on a map of the United States with Auckland in the north over Cleveland then the southern tip would be over Mobile.
New Zealand is remembered for its bold experiments in social reform much of which took place in the 1890 to 1906 period. These included women's suffrage, social security, old age pensions and requiring management and labor to submit their differences to arbitration.
Steam power on the farm and in the work place and aboard ships and used to power trains grew along the same lines that steam power grew here at home. It is interesting, however, to look backwards in time for just a moment to see specifically how our neighbors half a world away achieved their success. For this today there are two very good examples in operating museums, in effect, for the visitor to experience.
These are the SS Earnslaw plying the waters of 45 mile long Lake Wakatipu and the 42 inch gauge Kingston Flyer formerly of the New Zealand Railways. Originally these two steam activities were in a coordinated transport system hauling passengers and freight from the coastal city of Dunedin. Let us look at the steamship first for it represents a tremendous achievement in engineering and construction for its time.
SS Earnslaw held the freight and passenger traffic monopoly on Lake Wakatipu until the Queenstown road was completed. This 1986 view shows her running in tourist service.
The Earnslaw, named after a 9,300 foot mountain, is a steel hulled steamship measuring 168' long on a beam of 24' and displaces 330 tons by her 7' draft. Her two 500 horsepower, triple expansion engines operate on 140 PSI steam from two locomotive type, hand fired, coal burning boilers working as a team to drive her at 14 MPH as they did when she was first launched.
Remember, we are talking about an area a hundred miles from workshops or shipyards; and, with only a 42' gauge railway in between. In this setting the ship was built in Dunedin down on the coast then completely dismantled, all 78 frames and 140 plates, and transported by rail to Kingston on the south shore of Lake Wakatipu to be reassembled and launched February 24, 1912.
With the 1963 advent of a modern road this fine old ship found herself falling on sad days. Fortunately she has been refitted and is serving proudly in the tourist trade. Her interior is still graced with the original wood paneling and gleaming brass fixtures. This is the way that I found her.
500 horsepower port engine of steamer Earnslaw. This triple compound engine was built by John McGregor & Company in 1912 with 13' x 22' x 34' cylinders and 18' stroke. (Photo courtesy of Fiorl and Travel, Queenstown, N.Z.)
No steam man could possibly let such a working museum pull away from the dock without being aboard. After watching the last minute frenzy of sailing time I found my way to the engine room casing and was watching the engineers operate her power assist reversing mechanism well below my feet on the grating. The Chief must have sensed that there was a kindred soul over his head for he looked up with a smile and motioned me to come below with a shouted warning, 'Careful of the ladder, it's slippery.'
The echo had hardly died away when I was below looking about and taking it all in as fast as possible. The cooling water pump located aft between the two massive reciprocating engines was wheezing away pumping the condensate overboard for here is a design that could only be applied in a fresh water operation; the condenser is not a shell and tube unit but is a jet condenser in which both cooling water and steam come into contact. A Worthington reciprocating pump is used for boiler feed. No feed water problem in this snow field fed lake.
In ships of this age one would expect to find the typical Scotch marine boiler which, it will be remembered, is a tubular shell with the furnace being a corrugated inner shell similar to an internally fired return tubular boiler such as the Huber. That is not the case here for her builders have used a locomotive type fire tube design. The super heater is external from the usual location in the flues at the smoke box end and is located in the up-take to the stack. The firebox is proportioned for a low volatile coal resulting in a width not limited by something like highway width. Each boiler, therefore, has two fire doors.
The condenser portion of the steam cycle aboard the ship is unique enough to warrant some special attention too. Figure 1 shows the construction of a combined jet condenser and air pump though in this ship they are separated. Steam enters at A, passes through the deflecting cone, B, and mixes with the condensing water which is drawn through the suction injection, C, by the vacuum in the condensing chamber, D. The cone valve, E, regulates the supply of condensing water and discharges it as a conical sheet against the spray plate, F, which deflect it into the condensing chamber, where it mixes with steam which has passed above the spray plate. The water resulting from this mixture of steam and water, together with the air liberated, is removed by the air pump, G, through the passage, H, and valves, J, as the pump piston moves to the left. On the return stroke the mixture is brought to above atmospheric pressure for discharge overboard. In other words, the condensate is not recirculated to the boiler as it would be in the more familiar shell and tube condenser. Such a condenser is suitable for the relatively low vacuums of steam engines and where suitable fresh feed water supply is no problem; and, it is comparatively inexpensive.
By now we were cruising at 13 knots and the fireman was kept busy feeding the hungry boilers at the rate of one ton per hour being heaved by hand through the four fire doors. My preoccupation with the engine room scene was finally interrupted as the engine room telegraph called for slow speed; soon we were along side the pier and my trip backwards in time was drawing to a close.
The next day found me at the Kingston railway station, awaiting the arrival of the Kingston Flyer. Here a section of the original 42' gauge railway line connecting Dunedin with the lake district has been preserved to carry on the legend of steam with two Class Ab 4-6-2 former New Zealand Railway locomotives being preserved in active tourist service. These had been built in the railway's own shops. There are several turn of the century American built Rogers Locomotive Works engines being preserved elsewhere in static displays which, in themselves are a tribute to the early American builder of Paterson, New Jersey.
My New Zealander friend, Tony Flicker, was the route to meeting the engine driver, Russell Glendinnin. Just buying a ticket doesn't pay one's dues in the steam fraternity that comes with work. When Number 778 backed onto the turntable I was there to put my shoulder to the handlebar and help get her turned. After lending a hand in the coaling operation Russell remarked, 'Hop up in the cab.' I didn't need a second invitation.
I've been in some mighty grubby engine cabs but in this one I was almost afraid to take my place in the fireman's seat for fear of getting something tarnished, the brass work shone so vividly. Truly, she must look better than when the railway's shops delivered her for service in 1925. A quick look around told me that they were operating at 150 pounds boiler pressure. She is equipped with Westinghouse air brakes but I noticed two things that were unfamiliar. First, they run the air brake system at a 75 pound brake pipe pressure as compared to 110 in stateside passenger service. Now, this isn't because of being historically accurate for the regular passenger trains I saw elsewhere were at the lower pressure. This locomotive, unlike her sister in preservation, did not have a separate automatic and independent brake. The engineman, whether he was running light or with a train had only the automatic.
Otherwise, everything looked familiar: injectors and gravity lubricator and a neat air operated cylinder drain cock remote control. If it was made of brass it shone in the sunlight. If it were of black iron it was wiped clean. When the pitching footplate caused the fireman to spill a bit of coal it was immediately swept back to the tender. A real show piece.
We departed the station for the run to Fairlight in a seemingly effortless manner. There was only that muffled sound of the exhaust with its increasing tempo so dear to steam lovers. A few shovels of coal as we got underway added to the effect of sight and sound. At first I thought that this was saturated steam talking to me but it turns out that this engine is superheated.
It was (on this run at least) the guest fireman's job to blow for the road crossings. Since my qualifications are on American railroads I was blowing Rule 14 (L)'s. the first time that I did Russell looked at me questioningly and I yelled across to him above the noise, 'That's the way we blow for crossings.' He simply shrugged and smiled.
It has been my experience that within the bounds of reason, and truth too, if a person expresses an interest in steam machinery and particularly to a preservationist, doors open. Careful, once you are inside the door. It worked to my advantage in both of these experiences. I feel that as a result I have several new steam friends 'down under'. It was made easier, perhaps, since we share an ethnic and political commonality along with the interest in historic steam.