It’s not everyday that Rangiwahia becomes the focus of a fiftieth anniversary. It is probable that the majority of the present-day residents had no idea that one of its past residents was the proud owner of a Ramsomes, Sims and Jefferies No 24090 of 1912 Steam Traction Engine. Half a dozen young men purchased this particular engine fifty years ago and so began The Steam Traction Engine Society Incorporated with the goal of collecting and restoring steam traction engines.
The story goes something like this. In 1953, James (Jamie) Waugh purchased a steam traction engine from A.N. Wilson of Wilson’s Sawmill at Hunterville. Mr Wilson had been the owner for 20 years, but after the mill was destroyed by fire in 1953, he sold the machine on to Mr Waugh. He used to work on the railways and it would have been during this time that he earned his Steam Ticket, necessary to operate a steam traction engine.
Jamie Waugh had a block of land by Pemberton’s corner, at the junction of Rangiwahia and Mangamako Roads, just south of Rangiwahia, where he milked cows and used the Ransomes to haul Maire logs up from the gullies. Ken Smith, originally from Mangaweka remembers the wire rope breaking quite frequently, when the powerful steam engine would pull on a stuck log. He apparently left the machine lying idle for several years on the side of Mangamako road, which leads to Ohingaiti.
In 1961, he began repairs on the machine in preparation for 75th Jubilee celebrations in 1962.
In 1961, he began repairs on the machine in preparation for 75th Jubilee celebrations in 1962. Jamie was also farming up the Aputu and Manaia Roads, on what I understand, were original Waugh family farms. The Aputu Road links Rangiwahia with the Kawhatau Valley. After the celebrations he decided to drive the machine to the Aputu Road Farm. However, he struck trouble down Karewarewa Road after fording the Mangawharariki Stream. He couldn’t get the machine up the hill and there it stayed near Sid Stent’s old pump shed, until a some one bulldozed a track down to where the engine sat and Jamie was able to move it to the property.
The main use for this engine was for winching Maire logs, of which there were plenty in Rangiwahia. They had been felled and were lying around farmland on the hillsides and flats and were a major obstruction to grazing & mustering. His idea was to winch them up on to flat land and cut them up for firewood. He also milled some of the logs and used the timber in the floor of a woolshed. The engine was uniquely designed with one of the back wheels offset to accommodate a winch to haul the logs. John Stent, a past resident, living in Feilding now, remembers his father, “Old Siddy Stent” making the comment that “the traction engine burned more Maire than it pulled out!”
Reg Thompson remembers the traction engine being used to winch Maire logs out of the Aputu Gorge onto the flats to be used for firewood. He had it up there for a only a few months, before he took it back to the old pump shed, which had a tap to access water, and there it remained. Why he took it back and only got as far as the pump shed, is not clear, but it had some mechanical problem. At any rate, there it stayed with its only companion being a fat pig, who used to rub the mud off its body onto the wheels. Jamie Waugh eventually moved onto Mangaweka, where his brother Ken was the local plumber and the Waugh family may have at an earlier stage owned the local butchery. He later moved to Feilding.
Meanwhile, sometime in 1963, a young man by the name of Mike Barnes was a fitter and turner at Production Engineering in Marton. He heard about this traction engine up in Rangiwahia and was very keen to buy it along with 3 other enthusiasts – Ron Alexander, Ron Boyce and Ian Chamberlain. Mike took his father up to meet Mr Waugh at Mangaweka and negotiated with him the price of £60, which was a lot of money in those days. By this stage 3 more men were interested and they all pitched in £10 each to repay Mike’s father.
The Wanganui Steam Traction Society began, because most of members were based in Wanganui. The founding members of the society included Mike Coghlan, Ron Boyce, Ron Alexander, John Pudsey, Mike Barnes and Ian Chamberlain, all of whom are alive today. Ron Alexander has recently published The Epic Journey, a most interesting story about the recovery and restoration of this particular traction engine. Eventually the Steam Traction Society moved from the Marton base to the site in Maewa Road in Feilding in 1973.
So the Traction Engine was off again. Before fording the river, it hit a rock and the steering chain broke. It was fixed the same day & they crossed the river. Before moving on they had to deal with some “red tape”. The boiler had to be inspected by the Marine Dept. for a certificate of worthiness to steam the boiler, and the driver had to have a certificate of operation competency. Fortunately John Pudsey had sufficient hours with steam to sit for his certificate. Then someone needed a road license to drive it on a road & finally they had to apply to the County Council for a permit to operate it on the road.
Six weeks later the journey began on the 9th June 1963 and they arrived in Marton 90 miles away on 26 April 1964. With all the repairs, stops and starts the machine actually only spent 8 days over that 10 month period traveling on the road at about 3 mph (about 6kmh) and not without problems. One example included the funnel falling onto the road after the chimney base broke. It was put back together with No. 8 fencing wire.
Meanwhile the group leased a site 6 miles north of Marton at Tutanui on Les Coleman’s “Kapiti View” property. This is when the society changed the name to The Steam Traction Engine Society Incorporated. Other machines were purchased and driven to this site, where a large shed was built. Restoration of the Ransomes No 24090 began in 1966, but stalled until 1971, when a new member, Doug Chambers, purchased the machine. The restoration process continued and was finally complete 4 years later in 1975.
In 1976, the Ransomes sold to Chris Pask, the founder of CJ Pask Wineries, in Hawke’s Bay, who used the machine to remove old gum trees and later to sterilize wine barrels at his winery.
The present owner, Wayne Clark of Havelock North, bought the machine in 1996 and has continued with repairs and maintenance, bringing it back to it’s present excellent working order. Check Pg. 30. Under Wayne’s ownership it is the most traveled engine in the country.
The Rangiwahia steam engine was used solely for winching out Maire logs, but traction engines had many other uses, such as pulling timber, heavy road haulage operating saw mills, chaff cutting, building roads, thrashing corn, wheat and barley and any other heavy work on farms or in the forests.
They were fired by either wood or coal, which heated the water and so created the steam to drive the engines. When the machines were out on contract thrashing wheat etc the team of men were self-contained with living quarters including a cook, a “water joey” (a horse & wagon to carry the water to the engine) and all involved in the operation of the contract work. The living van or galley was commonly known as a “stinky” in the South Island, because the men had no access to daily showers! Oddly enough the occasional “stinky” was fitted out with pretty lead lights as shown in the photo.
Feilding club members have dedicated their time to restoring at least 12 traction engines, boasting possibly the biggest collection in the Southern Hemisphere. So the 50th celebrations provided an opportune time to display them and get them back on the road. The group decided to travel back on the machines themselves to the places of significance – Tutanui and the old pump shed.
The celebrations began on November 9th in Feilding with all the original members present. There are 68 current members and most were able to attend the celebrations. They were mainly from the Manawatu, but several made the trip from UK, 2 from the South Island; one who brought his engine up, and several from distant places in the North Island. They celebrated with a dinner in Feilding, catering for 138 in the traction engine shed down Maewa Road.
Afterwards two journeys were organized leaving from Feilding. Six engines went through to Apiti, where they spent the night. The convoy then moved onto Rangiwahia via Main South Road arriving at the Rangiwahia Hall on Tuesday afternoon. The other convoy of 3 machines drove to Tutanui and then onto Hunterville for the Monday night, making their way to Rangiwahia via Peep-O-Day Road. There were no speeding tickets issued as the average speed was from 7 - 20 kph.
The arrival of the traction engines in Rangiwahia created much interest and the locals were able to talk with members of the club and to view these magnificent examples of antique machinery. They were originally built in England to the highest standard of workmanship and with the greatest of pride. Fourteen coats of paint were applied then finished off with 5 to 6 coats of varnish to protect the paint. They were very expensive machines costing about £650 compared to a new car of £40. The first owner of The Ransomes, after it arrived in New Zealand at the end of 1912 was a Mr Eggleton, a contractor from Bunnythorpe. He sold it onto to Mr Wilson in 1933.
So 101 years from The Ransomes beginnings it is still as new and shiny as the day it was built. If it wasn’t for the foresight and passion of a few young men, it along with the other steam traction engines, may never have been restored to their present glory. We congratulate The Steam Traction Engine Society Incorporated on this amazing feat.
I would like to thank the following people, who have supplied the information for this article –