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Diary of Events

 

 

 

THE OFFICIAL DETAILS

    Saturday 12th March 2005. After a cloudy morning the day became really pleasant. Beynons Contractors Ltd. and Westroads Ltd. built a shingle "ramp" or "causeway" out into the river some 10 metres in readiness for the cranes to arrive. We bought a smoke box door (with a broken hinge) across from the mud pan (which shows only at low tide) on the south side of the Grey River, in our wee boat, the "Saucy Jane". We also bought a damaged sand-dome base across from the same place below Ub330. A lot of planning was done today before the job began tomorrow in earnest.

    Sunday 13th March 2005. Some local divers gave their services today to fill in until the professional team arrived from Wellington. As the tide was out for the best part of today the local divers found it hard to swim against the current of the Grey River. When the tide is out in that part of the river the current is always stronger than it is at high tide. The local divers gave up after some rather nasty scares. One of them was caught against an old timber spike in his midriff. Thinking all his ribs were broken, he gave a bellow of pain when he reached the surface... That bought home to everyone just how dangerous the site was. These local divers were use to working in ocean waters and wore special life jackets. These life jackets hindered their movements in the water, as did their air bottles. We decided to give our own air supply invention a go. Back to the other side of the river from the engines we went in the Saucy Jane. It did not take long to load the boat with our gear and for Simon to don his wet suit. After we arrived back in the sheltered haven next to the submerged engines, we set up camp and Simon prepared to dive. His first task was to locate everything. After sometime Simon came to the surface to give us an update and dived again. Later in the day it was decided to connect a wire rope to the tender (frame and wheels) of Uc 370 and drag it to safety. Simon fastened on the wire, which had been winched across the river by extreme means... See the photos to see how this was achieved! The Crane, hired from Reefton Hire Ltd., hauled the tender across with ease. It was left below the crane and still in the water for the night as it was getting very late in the day.

    Monday 14th March 2005. A long day! Everybody rose early and was on site by 8 AM. The tender from Uc 370 was lifted from the river this morning and La 312 was prepared for her passage to salvation. The Wellington based divers from NZ Diving and Salvage Ltd. were quite enthusiastic never having done this type of job before. To them it meant a new challenge. Whilst the wire cable was taken across the river once more, the NZDS team prepared themselves for the dive. As soon as their boat was launched, loaded and ready to go they motored across the river into the little haven by the engines. They made a preliminary assessment of the river floor and the whereabouts of the 3 locomotives, and then came to the surface for a debate on the best action to taken next. It was decided that 4 airbags be fitted to La 312 before the tide reached full. This was achieved with no great hassles. Once the airbags were chained in position, the divers returned to collect their air compressor with which they then inflated the airbags one by one. As the airbags filled, the tide also rose to its peak. There was a swirl of water, which quickly became muddy as La 312 floated for the first time. "Start hauling now!" was the cry to the Crane operator. There was a mad rush to get across to the other side… to comparative safety before the winching started in earnest. As this loco was the first one to be floated across everyone was still learning, so you can excuse us when La 312 grounded little more than halfway across. The reason? The tide had dropped somewhat sooner than had been counted on. Never mind we were more prepared when the time came to float the Uc's across. But wait, that comes further on in the story. When La 312 had been winched in far enough the cable was adjusted and another fitted to a huge truck crane, also belonging to Reefton Hire Ltd. It was truly an awesome sight to see this unique locomotive of 1888 vintage lifted slowly from her watery grave 76 years after she was placed there in 1929. We would like to thank that unknown someone who started the applause that rippled through the group of awed onlookers. That was a sign of respect really appreciated by all who heard it. Thank-you!

    Tuesday 15th March 2005. Everything was set back a day as the NZDS teams boat was sunk in the early hours of the morning. Apparently, unused to the great rise and full of the West Coast tides the boat was fastened without enough slack rope to allow for this and having the front under the wharf did not help much. The dive team were out there refloating their boat in the early hours of the morning. They had the twin outboard motors started by midday but had to spend the rest of the day raising their air compressor from the bottom of the river with airbags… the compressor weighed 1 ton! It turned out later that their compressor had to be sent back to Wellington for repairs, so they hired another so they could continue. What was happening at the Omoto dumpsite whilst the divers were working on their own boat? Well, nobody was relaxing at all. The salvage partners (WBFP and MRHT) were hard at work collecting parts from the other side of the river. The smoke box door complete with part of the front of the Smoke box surround was cut from Uc 365 with a portable gas axe. That took some getting across the river believe me! We used a small "surf skiff" to get the heavy items across with. The skiff was fastened tightly to the Saucy Jane but the trick was trying to balance the skiff without losing the lot overboard in mid-river. Many other bits and pieces with bought back. As a matter of interest, the smoke box door from Uc 365 was the best one at Omoto. All the others had cracks or broken hinges. Of course these could be fixed but it was nice to get at least one in good order.

    Thursday 17th March 2005. Everything started slowly and gathered momentum as the day passed. As the tide reached full this evening Uc 370 floated across to the cranes with 10 five-ton bags, which lifted her out onto dry land. She had some 7 tons of mud and rock on her, which made it difficult to lift. Beynon's came to the rescue with their front-end loader. The loader gave the pull necessary to drag the locomotive in onto land.

    Friday 18th March 2005. The front bogie from Uc 369 was hauled off the bank with the crane and placed beside the other parts on the riverbank. Uc 370's smoke box door was located partly buried deep in the bottom of the river and lifted to safety. The rear cowcatcher from La 312 was also saved. The divers spent a considerable time fastening the airbags to Uc 369, and as the tide reached its peak again the crowds awaited the flotation of the last great locomotive to be lifted in this exercise. 10 five-ton bags were fitted to the frame and 2 two-ton bags were attached to the steam dome with the intention of keeping the engine on its side so as to draw less water. This locomotive was rather more spectacular than the other two as the current tossed the airbags around but not the engine. It appeared as though the river was dammed up and the water struggled to pass it by. Strangely enough the locomotive was not swept downstream whilst she was afloat. The same technique was used as with the other two locomotives where, once the engine had been floated far enough she was dragged until it could be taken no further. Then the cranes were attached to both ends and the lifting process began. Although Uc 369 was lighter to lift (it left the ground completely) Beynon's helped with their front-end loader.

    Saturday 19th March 2005. After a 6 AM start the locomotives were prepared for loading onto their respective trucks and eventual transportation to Springfield, Canterbury. T. Crofts Ltd. of Stillwater had the job of cartage with Reefton Hire Ltd. carrying the tenders and other smaller parts. Each locomotive was placed on its own low-loader one by one. Uc 369 was first, and then it was Uc 370's turn with La 312 put onto her truck last. After the locomotives left the site the tenders were loaded. It was awe-inspiring to stand on the riverbank and imagine the thoughts of the men who were cheering madly when the locomotives rolled over into the river. Not one of them would ever have believed those engines would have been travelling across the riverbed on the back of a truck low-bed 47 years further on. Ian Coates of Greymouth is one of those people, only he was standing not far from where the locomotives were lifted. He even took photographs of what he saw happening. Isn't it incredible how things turn out?

    Monday 21st March 2005. This morning the 3 locomotives and their respective tenders arrived at Springfield. Goodness knows how many years ago it was since they were last there… over 50 years ago at least! 

  

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Last Updated: Wednesday, 05 April, 2017