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A Salvage Expedition




K95 at Branxholme
K95 at Branxholme

    To keep an old locomotive like this running, when things wear out, new parts have to be either made from scratch, or retrieved from other old engines of the same class - in this case out of the Oreti River, (K95 & K97) at Branxholme.

    In 1998 while we were down in Southland exploring the loco-motive dump sites there, we came across the half hidden remains of a 'K' class engine at Branxholme.

    Branxholme is a few miles north of Invercargill and is the home of the Invercargill water works - that's the place that supplies all of the water to Invercargill city. When the water works has purified the water, they discard the muck into a certain area, which happens to be where all the old locomotives from the Invercargill railway yards were tossed over early in the 1900s.

    There was Nasmyth, Wilson and Company 2-8-0 'P' class locomotives with 2-6-2 'V' class engines of the same company. Even a Canterbury 'J' class 2-6-0 is at Branxholme.

Oil is still present on bolts
Notice that oil is still present on the bolts

    Four 'K' class locomotives, K88, K94, K95 and K97 were among the 14 or so dumped there in 1927. When we were there the place was very overgrown, being covered with long grass, willows and broom, making it very hard to locate anything at all.

    However, we persevered and finally we found something quite startling......

    Naturally we began to dig down, and beneath the mud of the water works silting ponds we noticed the cylinder block and part of a wheel - enough to prove interesting enough for us to unearth. Slowly, day by day, we managed at last to get the whole of one side uncovered. Finally we had the whole locomotive as Simon said, looking as though carved out of chocolate. It was almost complete; even the brass shoulders and boiler bands were all still intact. We had a good check over the engine and then headed for home. We called in at the Plains Museum at Tinwald, Ashburton, to tell of our findings in Southland. Upon showing Mr. John French, the man in charge of K88's second restoration, the photographs of our findings in Southland, specially at Branxholme, he was so intrigued with the idea of another K being still there, that he organized a salvage expedition to go forth a short time later. Consisting of a number of Plains Railway people, we all met together again down at the Branxholme water works ready for a weekend of railway archeology. The events which followed are all shown in the K88 Restoration video, "Out of the Mud from A Bygone Age, Part 1", It was very early in the morning when everyone got to the site; the sky was hazy but promising. We all stood around looking at the old wreck in the hole we had dug previously, pondering over what was to be done to get the thing out. We were waiting for the digger to arrive - when it did, everybody went out to the road to watch it being unloaded.

This is the new tender for K88
This is the new tender for K88

    The digger driver was a friendly soul, by the name of Steven Brown. He lives at Drummond, a lovely little Southland settlement with his family.

    After Steven had been working sometime, it was sadly discovered that the K was in no condition to be lifted out, so after much debate it was decided that the locomotive should be stripped down, with all the reusable parts taken back to Ashburton.

    While Steven was at work at the rear of the K making a large soak pit for all the water to drain away into, he suddenly struck metal at a depth of about 5 feet below the rear of the K class locomotive.

    Upon close inspection it turned out to be an bogie axle box off what? Everyone nearby gave help in some way, either by man power at the end of a shovel, or just friendly advice. But digging by hand was too slow. Most of us were eager to know just what had been struck, so Steven being a most obliging individual, placidly climbed back into his digger and began to excavate further. At last it was revealed to the many bystanders what the rusty bit of junk was. Buried for over 70 years after its finally plunge into the Oreti River was the complete, intact tender off the K engine just in front.

    John French was very pleased to get this tender out because when K88 was removed back in 1974 her tender lacked the correct bogies. and as K88 was intended to be used on the mainline after her restoration, the original tender frame was discarded, since it had been badly bent when rolled into the river back in 1927. The tender frame off this other K locomotive could be used instead.

    With all the parts being removed by the gas torch or gas axe as it is nicknamed, there were many trips backwards and forwards away from the muddy hole to dry land about 200 yards away. One of the most enjoyable sights of the weekend was when Steven Browns family came to watch him work his digger. His small son stood between his knees at the controls of the digger almost all the time he was there.

    The wee lad made us all laugh with his seriousness.

Steven Brown and his son at work at Branxholme
Steven Brown and his Son at work at Branxholme

    When all the parts were back at the Plains Museum, numbers were found stamped into the metal (just like K88). The letter "K" followed by the number "95" was on all the most important parts. The tender also was found to be off K95. 








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Last Updated: Wednesday, 05 April, 2017