Farm Collector

STEAM DOWN UNDER

108 Garfield Avenue Madison, New Jersey 07940

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.

  • Published on Sep 1, 1986
© Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved - Ogden Publications, Inc.