The R28 locomotive


R28 first operated May 1879, made for the New Zealand Government Railways in 1878 by the Avonside Engine Company, England.  The following dates outline its history:

1879 – Entered service in Dunedin.

NatLib-FL16688054--Steam locomotive 28, R class, type 0-6-4T, (Fairlie's patent), was built by Avonside (Maker's no. 1217/78), went into service in May 1879 and was written off in 1934. Location unknown. :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-1124-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

1907 – Used in Christchurch at the Port of Lyttelton.

1912 – Returned to Dunedin.

1915 – Re-boilered at Hillside (Dunedin) Railway Workshops, with an Addington (Christchurch) Railway Workshops built boiler

1915 – Worked at Oamaru.

1922 – Returned to Christchurch and Lyttelton.

NatLib-FL16689961-R28-Single-Engine-Fairlie-Port-of-LyttleonAccident showing steam engine hanging half over the edge of Lyttelton wharf, having been dropped from a crane while being loaded or unloaded. Godber, Albert Percy, 1875-1949 :Collection of albums, prints and negatives. Ref: APG-1853-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

1934 – Ended service for the New Zealand Railway.

1934 – Sold to the Timaru Harbour Board and worked until 1940.

img624-R28-Single-Engine-Fairlie-Timaru-Harbour-BoardR28 being operated by the Timaru Harbour Board to haul bassalt from a quary for breakwater extension work. Photo bJ.A.T. [Trev] Terry [Pleasant Point Railway and Historical Society Archives]

1944 – Sold to the Morris family, Reefton, worked at Burkes Creek Colliery.

1947 – Owned by the State Mines Department, worked at the Burkes Creek Colliery.

1948 – Locomotive retired.

img621-R28-Single-Engine-Fairlie-ReeftonR28 abandoned adjacent to the old Burkes Creek line which it used to operate on. Photo by Hugh Bennett [Pleasant Point Railway and Historical Society Archives]

1960 – An attempt made by the then Reefton Station Master, Mr Crompton to save the engine.

1960 – Engine gifted to the Inangahua County Council (ICC) on behalf of the people of Reefton.

Fairlie Loco in yard 2006-08-17-1331-28-thm

1960 – The informal ‘Single Engine Fairlie Group’ formed.

1961 – Engine moved by rail to the Reefton playground, Church St.


1982 – Engine re-located to its current covered display site on the strand, a grassed  recreation area between Reefton’s main street (Broadway) and the Inangahua River (Strand).

Farilie Loco 2008-thm

1987 – With the dissolution of the ICC, the engine became an asset of the Buller District Council (BDC).

2005 – Decision between interested parties to consider the restoration of the engine.

2005 – Condition report for R28 produced with the need for intervention identified.

2005 – Cost of restoration report prepared by Ian Tibbles, Engineering Manager, Shantytown.

2008 – Condition assessment / informal restoration strategy made by Allan Familton, engineer and locomotive engineer, Hornby.

2010 – There has been a realisation prior to and beyond 2005 that there is an urgent need to place a significant amount of resource into the restoration of this internationally significant engine.  Rust never sleeps, and while the engine is under cover, significant deterioration has occurred due to the engine being outside and exposed to weather from 1948 (its retirement date) to 1982 (when it was located under its Strand shelter), a total of 34 years.  In addition rust also comes from the inside to the outside.  Moisture in the atmosphere locates itself in parts of the engine that may be protected from the weather, that leads to corrosion.

2011/2012 – Steps taken to assess the condition of the R 22 boiler held by Canterbury Steam Preservation Soc, Christchurch.

2012 – R 22 boiler assessed by SGS as being able to be brought into survey (steamable with minor repairs.

2012 – Mechanical condition of the engine assessed and the cost of the repair.

2015  $5000 pledge recieved from Bladdadder Trust to help purchase the R22 replacement bolier.

2015 – Steps taken to formerly purchase the R22 boiler from the Canterbury Steam Preservation Soc for $25,000 inc Gst

R22 Boiler

R22 boiler at Morrow Engineering, Christchurch, where it has been prepared for inspection and inspected by SGS, a company amongst other things specialising in surveying boilers. Boiler fittings have as of 2015 been taken off the boiler to better determine the overall state of the boiler.

Engine information



R 28, one of 18 of its class arrived in New Zealand from England in 1879. It was built by the Avonside Engine Company of Bristol. It was of the single engine Fairlie form and was fitted with one articulated driving bogie.
It was capable of speeds of 50mph and could easily tackle grades of 1 in 35-50, and traverse curves of 5 chains radius.

It came as a short side (water) tank locomotive (compared to some that came as long side tank locomotives or were fitted with long
side tanks during their life) and remained that way during its length of service life. At some stage the side tanks were fitted with a tool box. The side tanks were of riveted construction.

It was fitted with an Avonside built boiler, which had its safety valves mounted atop the outer firebox, surrounded by a fluted polished brass cowling,
and had a steam dome atop the boiler barrel, with a polished brass cover. The clack valves were located to the side and front of the boiler barrel.

The boiler bands may have been polished brass. It most likely had a boiler mounted sand dome as well as sand hoppers located at the forward end of the water tanks.

The cab was a simple cab hood, open to the sides, with a pair of small hinged rectangular windows to the front and the rear of the cab. It is most likely had a short
smokebox and a balloon funnel. A steel cow catcher was fitted to the front and rear timbered but steel plated headstocks. In front of the funnel, as would have been
at the rear of the tender, was a round and mounted oil lamp.

The engine would have been painted black, with inscribing lines on the cab, tender and side tanks. On the water tanks both sides were placed the rectangular
brass plates with the name Fairlie’s Patent. The tender sides would carry the oval maker’s plate. The class type and number would be sign written on the rear
of the tender and the front buffer.

The wheel size was 361/2 inches.

Physical modifications

Prior to the engine being re-boilered 1915 it was fitted at some stage with an extended smokebox and air brakes, with a Westinghouse pump mounted on the smokebox
on the driver’s side. The front of the smokebox was fitted with K class locomotive headlight bracket that held a large rectangular shaped oil lit headlight. Standard shaped, oval number plates were placed on the tender sides.

In 1915 it was fitted with an Addington Railway Workshops built boiler, but the boiler was fitted at the Hillside Railway Workshops. The new boiler featured safety valves atop the steam dome.
The boiler clack valves were located on the boiler barrel, just in front of the ends of the side tanks. The extended smoke box was still a feature and the engine had a stove pipe funnel or smoke stack. T
he Westinghouse pump was located to the fireman’s side of the loco and mounted on the smoke box. The rectangular shaped headlight was replaced with round acetylene light?

The cab was fitted with driver and fireman side windows front and rear, as well as a tablet exchanger on both the driver’s and fireman’s sides.

From 1934 onwards when working for the Timaru Harbour Board, the buffers were modified, as were the couplings to haul rock wagons for breakwater development.
The buffers were fitted with running boards to allow a crew member or shunter to stand during shunting movements.
The front headlight and presumably rear tender light was removed. The Westinghouse pump exhaust ran externally up the back of the funnel.

The Fairlie’s Patent plates and number plates were still fixed to the side tanks and the tender sides.

From 1947 onwards working for the Morris Family and the State Coal Mines, the modified buffers remained, but the harbour board style couplings were replaced with the standard NZR type coupling.
The front and rear running boards were removed. The Westinghouse exhaust pipe still exhausted to the rear of the stove pipe funnel.

The Fairlie’s Patent and number plates remained.

A56 part from the changes and loss of lighting, the introduction of the Westinghouse air brake system to the engine, and the boiler replacement in 1915,
and the changes in appearance that the boilers brought, including the change to a stove pipe funnel, the engine remained little changed over its entire life.


(1919) Wheel arrangement: 0-6-4T (Tank); Weight 33 tons; Cylinder dimensions 12 1/4” dia x 16” stroke; Driving wheel diameter 36 1/2”; Boiler pressure 160lb/square inch; Speed, capable of 50mph

(2016) Wheel arrangement: 0-6-4T (Tank); Weight 33.5 tonnes; Cylinder dimensions 311.25mm dia x 406.4mm stroke; Driving wheel diameter 927mm: Boiler pressure 1103 Kilopascals; Speed, capable of 80kmh

Significance today

The other two examples are located 1) in the USA at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn in Michigan (A Mason Bogie Locomotive, based on the Fairlie Patent) named Torch Lake, built in 1873 and re-boilered in 2009, and 2) in the UK (Wales) at Ffestiniog Railway.  The Ffestiniog engine Taliesan, is a re-constructed engine built in 1999 that used few parts from the original 1876 engine.


Uniquely a double Fairlie engine ‘Josephine’ of the Vulcan Foundry, England, is housed as a feature exhibit in the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin.  NZ is therefore fortunate to have both single and double Fairlie Engine representatives.

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