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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)

Locomotive Development New Zealand — The Fairlie Engine

page 46

Locomotive Development New Zealand
The Fairlie Engine

The feverish activity in railway construction that followed Vogel's gallant gesture led to a positive riot of official openings and ceremonial runs. Early in November, 1873, the faithful “Ada” drew the first train out of Auckland, but on the 1st of January, 1873, the flighty “Josephine” had hauled the “first train” out of Dunedin to Port Chalmers. The Governor and Lady Bowen and the notabilities of Dunedin enjoyed a brief stop at Burke's brewery on the way through and, thus duly entertained, were welcomed by the Mayor and made, or listened to, the usual speeches.

Actually the first train was a goods train from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, on September 18th. 1872, which brought a freight of beer from the brewery to Dunedin. This, with all its happy augury, was the first train to run on the 3ft. 6in. gauge in the colony, and marked the inception of the present New Zealand railway system.

The driver was everyone's old friend, the late “Jack” Thomas, who came out from Bristol on the “Wave Queen” with the two locomotives. “Rose” and “Josephine,” and rolling-stock and rails —under articles of agreement with Proudfoot, Oliver and Ulph (the contractors) signed by Robert Fairlie as agent—and so began his long and faithful service with the Department. It is curious to recall the fact that the first engine driven in New Zealand by the sturdy veteran of a few years ago, with his long career of steady reliable service, was the flighty “Josephine.”

By about the middle of last century railway construction in England (and this meant in the world) had settled down for a breathing space on rails that permitted a maximum load of only about nine tons. The locomotive engineer then imagined that it was unsafe to couple together more than two driving axles if even moderate speed were to be attained, and for passenger engines greatly preferred the single driver type. The consequent lack of adhesive weight seemed to have brought about a deadlock in the fight for power, but the inventive genius of the great engineers of the day quickly suggested a way out, and they proceeded to demonstrate the axiom (that is so frequently forgotten even to-day) that great engineering feats spell bad engineering.

The Yankee “K” laughs at the “Josephine” on the first through train from Christchurch to Dunedin.

The Yankee “K” laughs at the “Josephine” on the first through train from Christchurch to Dunedin.

Sturrock was, perhaps, the first (he added cylinders and gear to the tender), but Robert Fairlie was, perhaps, the most able of these great men. And if we now know that “the wisdom of yesterday is the folly of to-day,” we must also remember that it is usually only the man who makes mistakes who adds anything worth while to our sum of knowledge.

At a time when it was considered somewhat unwise to allow freedom of movement to even carrying (as distinct from driven) axles, Fairlie boldly put forth the idea of mounting the driving mechanism of the locomotive on swivelling bogies, and bolder still, of multiplying these. He accordingly patented what became known as the “Double Fairlie” type of locomotive, and the “Rose” and “Josephine” had to be in the new fashion.

Approximating the Garratt type of locomotive patented so many years later, Fairlie built a deep firebox between two swivelling bogies on which separate driving mechanisms were supported. Really his only claim to page 47 originality, as compared with the Garratt type, was the curious form of boiler, although this was not the essential feature of his patent. The boiler comprised two ordinary locomotive boilers running fore and aft from the central firebox, which had the usual firebox door opening on one side only, the fireman's side, of the firebox. It is curious to note that the very latest and much lauded type of articulated locomotive, the “Franco,” has virtually the same type of boiler; only in this case the firebox is divided longitudinally to make two separate boxes and the two firehole doors, and the two firemen are located one on each side of the boiler. Truly the wisdom of yesterday is … always with us.

A few years later the New Zealand Government Railways took a share in the other railway argument that was waged so lengthily and so fiercely (Broad versus Narrow Gauge was the first) as to whether American locomotives were better than English. The men on the Canterbury end of the new narrow gauge line swore by the Yankee “K” engines, and when these lines were linked up with the Dunedin system the earliest opportunity was taken to pit the rival “Josephine” against the more straightforward “K.”

Let the late “Ben” Verdon tell once more the story he took such delight in telling—only prefacing that the test took place on the first through train between Christchurch and Dunedin, on September 6th, 1878, and that the late Mr. Alison Smith personally supervised the handling of his pet “K” engine.

“The train, which was pretty full, was of six of the old carriages and a van. A ‘K’ engine was ordered to pull it, and I was ordered to drive it. At Oamaru we picked up the old (sic) English engine ‘Josephine’ to double bank the rest of the way. There was a nice little dispute as to which engine should lead and, all the time the passengers were banquetting, the dispute went on. At last it was decided that my Yankee ‘K’ should lead, and they sent with me a local man to show me the road, and Mr. Smith was on the engine, too.

“I kept my engine pretty close going up the Waiareka bank just to see what the Josephine could do, and found that she was making hard work of it. Mr. Smith noticed it, and said, 'Look here, Verdon, this won't do; you mustn't play up on the ‘Josephine.’ I said ‘All right; I only wanted to see what she could do.’

“They carried a fitter on the “Josephine,” and by the time we got to Palmerston he was wanted. All the time they were banquetting he was working, and after the banquet the party come out and sat on the bank waiting till the fitter got the ‘Josephine’ ready for work again. When she got to Seacliff the ‘Josephine’ was in a fearful state. The fitter wasn't able to do her any good; so she was cut off and left behind. We got on very well and reached Dunedin only half an hour late.”

As can be gathered from this account the “Josephine” was saddled with all the disabilities inherent to the articulated type of locomotive. The complication of two driving mechanisms geared to separate driven axle-units is bad enough; but when to this is added the maintenance of steam and exhaust pipes that have to be fitted with swivel and expansion joints, and of driving wheels that “shimmy” ecstatically from rail to rail across the track, the “flightiness” and non-reliability of the type is evident.

However, the “old” “Josephine” survived to do another twenty years of somewhat interrupted railway work, and finally drifted into the scrapheap of the Otago Iron Rolling Mills at Green Island. Largely through the generosity of Mr. A. Smellie she was rescued from her impending fate and now stands—a moment of misguided genius and a memorial of brave and stirring days—alongside the Early Settlers' Hall at Dunedin, beside the new station and under the eye of the most beautiful church in New Zealand. Their view of each other was slightly better in their young days, as the artist shows, but surely not more kindly; and I do hope that Jack Thomas was not driving the “Josephine” the day that Ben Verdon triumphed.

The “Josephine” leaving the old Dunedin station in 1885. “First Church” in background.

The “Josephine” leaving the old Dunedin station in 1885. “First Church” in background.

“Orders is Orders”

The following amusing paragraph, from “Saturday Night,” Toronto, has been kindly forwarded by Mr. J. W. Collins, N.Z. Trade Commissioner in Canada and U.S.A.:-

A very good friend of ours who recently had occasion to breakfast on a railway train found that the one-dollar breakfast consisted of fruit or cereal, ham-and-two-eggs, toast and coffee. Being, like ourselves, a man of most abstemious habits in the early morning, he ordered this breakfast but with the qualification that the main dish should contain only one egg. He obtained his desire, but the bill was one dollar and twenty-five cents. Upon requesting an explanation he was informed that while ham-and-two-eggs were part of the dollar breakfast, ham-and-one-egg could only be served a la carte, and his attention was drawn to the rule on the menu card: “No variation from the items named in the table d'hote menus is permitted.”

Our friend was annoyed, but we think he was wrong. He was asking for a certain elasticity of mind which nobody has a right to ask for in a railway diner in connection with a dollar breakfast. With an a la carte breakfast, yes; with a table d'hot one, no. The difference is part of what you get for the higher charge. Our friend was trying to save the railway the cost of the second egg; but in doing so he was imposing upon it a far more serious item of expense. He was upsetting the system, he was causing a bouleversement of the routine, which would probably cost more than a dozen eggs. What he should have done was to suffer the second egg to be brought, and then to throw it out of the window, or at the waiter, or put it in the finger bowl, or ask for an envelope and mail it to the president of the railway with a few well chosen words on Costs and How to Cut Them.

page 48