The First Restoration
For K88's revival you could perhaps, thank the Minister of Railways Mr. J. B. (Peter) Gordon and general manager Ivan Thomas (in power during the early 1970's).
As steam was phasing out from the 1950's onwards, the future situation was not looking very good from the tourist point of view. These two men debated about the prospect of a tourist train between Lumsden and Kingston, strangely enough, while flying from Invercargill to Wellington one day. Upon arrival at their destination they had made their decision and were quite convinced that it would work.
They had even decided upon the name of the new train; it was to be: The Kingston Flyer. after the crack expresses of the late 20th century across the Waimea Plains where the Rogers K's reached speeds of near 60 miles per hour on the downhill runs to Gore.
So eventually the beautifully restored vintage steam train made its inaugural run from Invercargill on December 18, 1971. The train was double-headed; pulled by Ab 778 and Ab 795 and was on it's way up to Kingston, with many privileged people aboard.
This new tourist train caused a real sensation in Southland; many people were talking; many remembered past years; of picnics and holidays spent beside the banks of the Oreti River.
Now, older people normally always tell the younger ones of the important things which had happened whilst they were young, and Southland was no exception.
Someone, whose name we might never know, remembered that many years before, lots of railway engines and other junk had been dumped in the Oreti River to protect the bank from erosion. Among all these, was four Rogers K class locomotives, one of which was K88, the engine which began the Kingston Flyer service back in November 1902.
With the reborn Flyer being such a great success, it was understandable that people would talk of how could K88 be lifted.
Finally, the members of the Southland Vintage Car Club and local Lions group banded together to raise the K from the 10 foot hole she was in; only a few tall willow trees were between them and success.
On January 19th and 20th 1974, when the Oreti River was at it's lowest, and with the Invercargill City Council helping by shutting off part of the water treatment plant, K88 was removed.
On day one using two large bulldozers, wire ropes, winches and a crane, the locomotive was pulled upright, and on day two lifted out onto the bank.
Of course, whenever someone has an idea like this you can never guarantee the outcome. The shock the bystanders got when K88 was unearthed was quite considerable. They all naturally asked themselves the question:
"Whatever do you do with a heap of scrap metal like this? Why! You can barely tell what end is which."
There was not much left of her. What was left was pretty battered. Much of the K was missing, like the cab, the sand dome and the side rods.
The Wellington Evening Post of May 25, 1974 commented: "The engine is considered to be well beyond ever being used again, but it is thought possible that it might be restored as a facade."
The Vintage Car Club and Lions group people had their plans. One of their ideas was to set up K88 as a static display at Lumsden or Kingston to be remembered forever as the great predecessor of the Kingston Flyer tourist train. Another idea was to build an engine shed along the route and put K88 inside.
Eventually their enthusiasm waned, and K88 was left on the riverbank with an irate city council threatening to tip her back into her grave if someone didn't hurry up and make a decision.
This is where Mr. Bob Anderson of Ashburton caught the bug which was to stay with him till his death. He became 'fatally' interested. This modest and unobtrusive little man was a wool buying merchant by vocation who had to attend a night school course to obtain the necessary welding skills.
Southland was Bob Andersons home province. He was bought up in a tiny village alongside the Wairio branch line, and when it became time for him to go to Technical College in Invercargill he would catch the train and travel across the railway bridge over the Oreti River. Every time he went past, his nose would be hard pressed against the window of his carriage; he would gaze down at the old engines which had been dumped in the Branxholme dump site back in 1927, and dream his boyish dreams.
As this small sandy headed lad dreamt, he little realized then that one day when he grew to be a man, he would work on and restore one of these rusting old hulks back to her former beauty.
At the time of K88's extraction Bob was living in Ashburton, was the Secretary of the Plains Railway and Preservation Society, and a keen railway modeler who had made several model traction engines and steam locomotives. He knew nothing at all of how to restore an old locomotive from scratch - least of all one that had been treated as K88 had!
But as the game little man that he was, he succeeded in convincing his fellow members at the Plains Museum to ask for the K. The outcome was that K88 arrived at the Plains in July 1974.
What was Bob to do now?
Well, Bob started by dismantling everything. You would have thought that he intended to split the K into as many separate parts as possible.
No of course not! By stripping her right down meant that Bob would be able to clean the rust and dirt from everything. Only those who have worked hard restoring old steam locomotives could ever appreciate and understand the hard work and discipline that he put into the K.
When Bob started the restoration there was no shed in which to house K88; it stood out in what was really a large paddock with no shelter; just a few trees dotted here and there around the fence line.
Bob spent over 10,000 hours working on K88, or nearly eight years, most of which was out under the stars, summer and winter. As he had to go to work each day, the only free time he got was after tea each night or during the weekends.
During the winters, which always seem all the more bitterly cold when one has an outdoor job, Bob placed a big drum near the K, which with plenty of large dry logs burning inside, it not only kept him warm but the bright cheery glow helped to keep his confidence up - most necessary at such times like this!
It was never really an easy job for him. Even someone with the worlds top engineering skills would probably not have found it an easy job either.
The weeks of share hard work; the tough problems that Bob often came across late at night or during the early hours of the mornings could sometimes be heartbreaking. It could only be expressed in the words of his youngest daughter Sally:
"I can vividly remember Dad arriving home after working on K88, often late into the night, with his hands outstretched and covered with blood.
"As he came staggering in he'd be saying over and over again with a broad smile across his dusty oily face: 'I did it! I did it! I did it!
"He meant he had succeeded that night in undoing one more rusty old bolt - cutting his hands in the process!"
Prior to the recommissioning the K had covered 62 miles with test running, since the very first movement on 7th November 1981, On that day K88 had been steamed for the first time in around 58 years. She had run at 130 psi, and took her first run for the first time since the early 1920s; making it a most memo-rable occasion.
Finally recommissioning day arrived at last on November 27th 1982. The passengers in the cab for the first trip that day were:
Trevor M. Heyward, the NZR General Manager. Hugh Rainy, who was Bob Andersons friend and Wayne Nicolls.
Bill Frazer an elderly gentleman who had seen K88 in 1909 at Gore in Southland. The K had been ready to leave with the Kingston Flyer and head to Lake Wakatipu. It had been engraved into Bills memory how tidy and neat the locomotive was. He was one of the lucky ones to have a "first" ride on the restored locomotive in 1982.
The official crew on the day was:
Driver: Bob Anderson.
Fireman: J. Mc Namara.
Assistants: J. French and Don Wilson.
A total of 60 miles was driven within 20 trips.
The ceremony indicated the end of the restoration.
Over the following 5 years K88 was run on the main line, and used for many charters, the most notable of these was when K88 was used in 'The Defense of Minnie Dean,' the Television New Zealand 'Halon' series.
K88 was sent up to the Weka Pass to be used as the 'star prop'. It spent a short time there afterwards, during which many railway enthusiast's had the chance of riding behind her tender.
In December 1984 Mr. Ben Wicks of Oamaru wrote to Bob Anderson congratulating him on K88's fine condition and said:
".......K88 and the Weka Pass went so well together - I half expected to see a bunch of Red Indians galloping after the train. That Saturday was a terrific day......."
K88 was last steamed for Mr. Bob Andersons funeral, in late June 1987. Bob Andersons ability to restore a locomotive from a hopeless wreck to a working example of the past, has inspired many other people to follow on in the restoration of other old railway locomotives from riverbeds. Truly, he was an incredible man to do what he did!
Failing to pass for a new certificate put K88 away, unused, and unwanted!
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Last Updated: Wednesday, 05 April, 2017