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The Tokomaru Steam Museum

The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum has one of the largest collections of static and live steam engines in the Southern hemisphere with over 50 exhibits and a steam train running on a loop track through the original Tokomaru station. It is almost entirely the work of one man, Colin Stevenson and, unlike almost all such enterprises in Europe, there is no large band of volunteers supporting them. On steaming days there may well be a dozen examples of live steam.


The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum is a must to visit if you have the least interest in Steam or our industrial heritage. We have visited it three times so far and will go back again. They have an impressive collection of engines with over 50 on display. They are mostly from last century with an emphasis on farming, ice making plants, gas plants, generators and ship engines although there are many others on display or in storage. Many originated in the UK or built under UK licenses although the centrepiece of the collection is a huge refrigeration plant built in Milwaukee. It used to produce 180 tons of ice a day for the meat trade. Most of the engines were rescued from being scrapped and were in full time use until they came to the museum. The collection was first opened to the public in 1970 with a grand opening by the Prime Minister in 1973 since which it has gained many extra exhibits. It must be the biggest and most comprehensive collection of working steam engines in New Zealand and quite possibly of the Southern Hemisphere.

The most exceptional aspect is that it is almost entirely the work of one man, Colin Stevenson. It is owned and run entirely by Colin and Esma Stevenson and, unlike almost all such enterprises in Europe, there is no large band of volunteers supporting them. On Steaming days they have a few paid helpers for safety considerations otherwise it is all their own work. The first times we visited it was not in steam and gave the ideal opportunity for a quiet look round - we were the only people present for much of the time but even so the Stevensons found time to come over for half an hour both times to talk and show us the highlights. We found it fascinating and spent several hours each time but even then we felt we had only scratched the surface - there are still many more old pictures and information boards we had not studied in depth.

On the last steaming Sunday we visited, Colin had 8 static engines running inside, not all simultaneously as the boiler will not support them all,as well as two road engines outside and the train was in continuous use on a loop track running through the old Tokomaru station. It is a tremendous achievement for Colin, almost single-handed, to keep so many of they in a such good condition and running when the large ones would have had large teams to run them during their working days.

The Steam Museum is at Tokomaru on the highway 57, an alternative parallel road between Palmerston North and Levin, initially follow signs for Massey not Levin leaving Palmerston North or branch off at Shannon going North. It is marked on our AA map and is well signed. Any information office should be able to tell you the days they are in steam and it still makes a fascinating visit even when they are static. They unfortunately have no information sheets, just simple adverts, and no web site at that time - it had taken all their efforts to build up and run the huge collection. It is a tremendous resource but one which I fear many are not aware of. During our last visit we spent some time talking to Esma and I told her I would like to extend the information I had on the web from previous visits and she promised to send me further details.

Esma subsequently sent us a xerox of a very comprehensive book they published in the early days, which has unfortunately been out of print for a long time. She has told me to feel free to use the material, for which they have the copyright, and marked up a few changes. I am delighted to do so and hope very much these pages will be found by people searching for information and thus assist them - it is a small contribution to help such a magnificent collection survive and be appreciated by more people. The original text was written and edited for them by Neil Rennie and the photographs in the original book were by Graham Radcliffe. I have so far scanned the lists of exhibits, the list of engines in store and a couple of chapters which I think give the flavour of the museum and the tremendous enthusiasm and dedication of Colin and Esma Stevenson.

This site is intended to be complementary and in no way replace the commercial site Colin and Esma have now commissioned at http://www.tokomarusteam.com

Hold the cursor over a picture for the title or click on a picture for a larger version. The symbol will always take you back to the top of the page

List of exhibits

1. Filer & Stowell Engine & Compressor 335 h.p. ex Imlay Freezing Works Wanganul.
2. Browett, Lindley Engine 200 h.p. ex Otira Tunnel ex Summit Timbers Kuretau.
3. Marine Engine built by Otago Foundry ex Riverton ex Patea Dredge.
4. Caledonian Horizontal ex Dairy Factory Westmere.
5 Tangye Single cylinder ex NZ Dairies Hamilton ex Summit Timbers Kuratau.
6. Brown & May single cylinder ex Manawatu Knitting Mills Palmerston North.
7. Bellis & Morcom ex Manawatu Knitting Mills Palmerston North.
8. B W. Sisson 50 h.p. ex Wellington Milk Treatment Dtaki, ex Denna Bros Waipukurau.
9. Bellis & Morcom 225 h.p. and generator 150 k.v.a. ex Waingawa Freezing Works Masterton.
10. Tangye Vertical 150 h.p. ex Summit Timbers Kuratau.
11. Single-acting twin cylinder Berry Engineering Works Palmarston North.
12. Sembow U.S.A. ex Massey University Palmerston North.
13. American make unknown Wellington Technical Institute.
14. Tangye 4 h.p. ex Gardner & Yeoman sawmill Whakarara.
15. W. Allen & Son single cylinder 550 r.p.m. 50 h.p. ex Power House Evans Bay Wellington.
16. Tangye coupled engine 138 b.h.p. ex Gardner & Yeoman Whakarara.
17. Reader & Son single cylinder 1944 ex Auckland Hospital.
18. Bellis & Morcom vertical tandem comp ex Power House Evans Bay Wellington.
19. Browett Lindley 100 h.p. ex Summit Timbers Kuratau.
20. Day Summers Winching Engine ex Patent Slip Wellington.
21. Howden Engine & Generator 1943 (new) ex HM Dockyard Devonport Auckland.
22. W. Sisson single cylinder 1944 ex Auckland hospital Auckland.
23. Steam Hammer (Peter Pilkington) ex Gear Meat Co Workshops Petona.
24. Tandem Compound Horizontal Engine over 100 years old ex sawmill Hastings.
25. Bellis & Morcom V-type valves & generator ex Gear Meat Co Petona.
27. Howden HS Engine & Generator 1953 new ex NZ Navy Devonport Auckland.
28. Log Hauler built Vulcan Foundry Napier NZ ex Gardner & Yeoman Whakarara.
29. Daniel Adamson ex Milk Treatment Plant Palmerston North
30. Vulcan Log Hauler Boiler made Napier ex Taylors Laundry Palmarston North.
31. Cochran Boiler made Scotland 50 h.p. ex Gas Works Palmarston North.
32. Sir William Bailey Steam & Vacuum Pump Engine ex Dairy Co Midhurst.
33. Ingersoll Rand Steam Air Tandem Engine ex Patent Slip Wellington.
34. Bryan Donkin large engine ex Gas Works Miramar Wellington.
35. Bellis & Morcom single cylinder 1944 ex Gas Works Miramar Wellington.
36. Bryan Donkin vertical single cylinder & exhauster ex Gas Works Palmerston North.
37. Bryan Donkin horizontal engine & exhauster (1925) ex Gas Works Palmerston North.
38. Appleby Bros Winching Engine 1869 ex Patent Slip Wellington.
39. W. Sisson large vertical engine ex Gas Works Miramar Wellington.
40. Hercules Compressor over 100 years old ex Freezing Works Ngauranga Wellington.
41. Manning & Wardle Locomotive ex Imlay Freezing Works Wanganul.
42. Fowler Locomotive ex Napiar Harbour Board Napier.
43. Price C. Bush Tramway Locomotive ex Taringamotu.
44. Climax 522 Bush Tramway Locomotive 30 tons ex Mangapehi.
45. Fowler Locomotive ex m.o.w. ex Army Camp Linton.
46. Automatic Boiler (Daniel Adamson) 1948 ex Milk Treatment Station Palmerston North.
48. Aveling & Porter 5 h.p. steam roller ex County Council Dannevirke.
49. Marshall 5 h.p. Steam Roller 1929 ex Christchurch.
50. Fowler Traction Engine 1904 No.9890 ex Otane.
51. Aveling & Porter portable 16 h.p. ex Geraldine.  


Engines in storage

Bryan Donkin Co ship winch engine No 6045 ex Summit Timber Kuratau.
Bryan Donkin Co engine built 1925 ex Gas Works Palmerston North.
Browett Lindlay Ltd No 2913 2OOhp CMP ex Summit Timber Kuratau.
Bellis & Morcom Ltd No 6779 9Ohp ex Power House Evans Bay Wellington.
Greenwood & Batley Leeds England No Cl 731 l2hp l44Orpm ex Power House Evans Bay Wellington.
Tangye Vertical (small) ex Ross South Island.
Russton & Hornsby Threshing Mill 1925 4'6" drum ex Hastings.
Marsh & Sons reciprocating steam saw 7ft blade ex Summit Timber Kuratau.
The Hardy Patent Pick Co Ltd Sheffield England ex Kaitangata Coal Mine South Island.
E & G Hall Dartford England vertical No 19395 ex Gas Works Napier (built 1880).
R G Ross & Sons Nottingham England 1892 No 1049 Steam Hammer ex Kaitangata.
Andrews & Bevan single bag threshing machine ex Grasslands Division Massey University Palmerston North.
Weir Turbine 1927 No B8182 ex Power House Evans Bay Wellington.
Aveling & Porter portable engine 1896 16hp. This engine had to be towed by horses to the job, then used as a stationary engine driving off the large fly wheels. Last used Geraldine South Island. Then purchased by Aveling & Barford Upper Hutt, who donated it to the Museum.

Excerpts from the booklet "The Tokomaru Steam Museum"

The Formation of the Museum

Gathered here under one roof at Tokomaru is the biggest and most comprehensive collection of working steam engines in New Zealand.

There is no doubt that the Tokomaru Steam Museum can claim, at the very least, to be the steam centre of New Zealand, and quite possibly of the Southern Hemisphere.

A total of 50 steam engines, including examples of most types of stationary engines, small locomotives, traction engines, steam rollers and a small locomotives, are on display in full working order in the museum.

Together the engines have a collective power output potential of over 2000 horsepower of which 1000 horsepower is turning over. A number of engines in varying states of repair will be added to the working displays once they are restored to full going order.

It is fitting steam should be responsible for putting the one-time boom town of Tokomaru back on the map, because in the town's heyday during the first two decades of the century, steam played a vital part in making Tokomaru boom.

Within a few miles radius there were seven flax mills, the area's major industry, all driven by steam.

A steam dredge dug the main drain through the Makerua Swamp in the 1920's and was responsible for opening up the rich land in the area for farming.

The 12 acres of land the museum stands on, along with hundreds of other acres, were mole drained by a local contractor, Mr Hewitson, using a 6 h.p. McLaren traction engine, which also operated a full range of agricultural contracting equipment.

And in the days when there was only one kind of road . bad - the railway was Tokomaru's most important link with other centres.

Yet the way the museum's proprietor Colin Stevenson tells it, he never meant to start a museum at all. It began as a hobby which just kept on growing.

The not so small acorn from which the museum sprang was a 1904 Fowler traction engine bought from the late Mr Percy Pilcher of Otane in 1963.

A blacksmith/engineer by trade, Colin operates a successful engineering business, although the museum takes an increasing amount of his time.

"I bought the Fowler because I wanted the satisfaction of overhauling it and getting it back into top mechanical condition," he says.

Restoring the Fowler took three years his spare time work' and led Colin to many out of the way places in New Zealand in a quest for spare parts.

Undoubtedly the most inaccessible was a derelict 6 h.p. Traction engine at Bainham which many visitors on two separate occasions told Colin the location of.

The traction engine had been employed by a sawmill, and when the mill acquired a new D2 bulldozer, they took old faithful to the top of a hill, built up a full head of steam, tied the steering and let her go.

After tramping through bush and fording several streams Colin found her where she landed in the bottom of a gully, barely damaged, a tribute to the strength of her construction. From this engine and others in the Nelson area he brought back numerous spare parts.

Once the Fowler was restored and had passed its Marine Survey it was used at various displays and rallies, including the first North Island display, held at Tokomaru in 1967.

By now the bug had really bitten and he was on the look out for more vintage machinery of the steam era.

A 1915 Aveling Porter steamroller, which had spent all its working life with the Dannevirke Borough Council, was the next acquisition.

It had originally been brought to Colin's notice three years earlier when he passed through Dannevirke on the way back from collecting the Fowler traction engine.

Soon after obtaining the roller the opportunity arose to buy a threshing mill, the item of machinery most closely associated with traction engines during their heyday.

It was a 1926 Ruston & Hornsby, one of the best mills of its type ever built, with roller bearings throughout and balanced cranks on the shakers making for smooth operation and long life. It cost £1100 new and was the last of the wooden threshing mills imported into New Zealand.

"It was about this time people began saying I had started a museum - even though that had never been my intention," Colin says.

'But visitors kept on coming out to see what they called a museum and really I was talked into it. "One of the problems at that time was storage for the engine and threshing mill, as the latter was 4Oft long. This was solved when my brother Rob sold me his workshop which was too small and was being replaced.

Because it was a fabricated steel frame clad with galvanized iron, shifting it and reconstructing it on the museum site was not difficult.

"This building forms the core of the present museum building but extensions have been added as the collection of engines has grown.

At this stage Colin's attention began to focus on stationary engines.

Two were donated to the museum in 1967 by Manawatu Knitting Mills, on the condition that removal was at his expense and he would pay for any damage done.

The job took a weekend and Colin has vivid recollections of wheeling a 1.5 ton flywheel, with the assistance of Mr Russell Larsen a local Opiki farmer over a rattley wooden floor during the removal operation.

The engines, a 1900 Brown & May and a 1916 Bellis & Morcom, were to prove the start of a continuing quest to acquire and preserve in working order, as wide and comprehensive a range as possible of different stationary steam engines, which played such an important part in this country's history.

A superb 1937 Sisson engine was next, bought from Denne Bros., the manufacturers of Peter Pan ice cream in Waipukurau.

Just for fun these engines used to be coupled up to the traction engine boiler and run for the benefit of various groups of people who requested it.

But the problem was the boiler was too small and used to rapidly run out of steam.

Meanwhile more and more engines were acquired. A 225h.p. Bellis & Morcom engine & generator from the Waingawa freezing works was bought as scrap.

And then the biggest stroke of luck, Colin was invited by MSD Spiers to buy all seven engines in the "Summit Mill" at Kuratau which was being closed down.

For slightly better than scrap price all the engines plus a tremendous selection of spare parts, including drums of special oils and greases were brought back to Tokomaru. The total load weighed 34 tons.

The turning point in the museum's history came shortly after this when Mr Percy Foot offered to donate the big 138h.p. Tangye coupled mill engine and help install it.

In order to run this and all the other engines now owned, it was essential to have a better source of steam than the traction engine boiler.

Firstly a 50 h.p. boiler built by Seagar Bros of Auckland in 1950 was bought from the Tokomaru Dairy Factory which was eventually replaced by a diesel fuelled boiler which consumes 150 litre's of fuel an hour and uses 5000 litre's of water during an afternoons steaming.

"At this stage I had to raise money to cover the cost of building and installation," Colin says. "I decided if I was going to the trouble of buying a boiler, enlarging the building and setting all the engines up properly I would officially run it as a museum open to the public.

"Actually it was amazing so many steam engines of different types were around and available at this time. There were still plenty of steam saw mills in use, and with natural gas being piped in, all the old gas works were being broken up so engines became available from that source also.

"I obtained engines from both the Palmerston North and Wellington gas works. I also scoured the country to get as many different types of engine as possible as examples of all the different types of work done by steam engines in New Zealand."

The railway side of the museum is another story, told in a separate chapter in this booklet.

But there is no doubt the addition of the railway combined with the publicity of the huge steam rally held at Tokomaru in 1973, has helped to make the museum widely known as an interesting and informative day out for young and old alike.

But most of the visitors who pass through the museum are unaware of the amount of work, which goes on behind the scenes to keep the machinery operating.

In a normal day's steaming the boiler burns 150 litres diesel an hour and consumes 5,000 litres of water in the day.

Just as important as the boiler is the workshop where reconditioning and repair of the old engines is carried out, along with the normal engineering work carried out by the firm of Tokomaru Springs which is owned and operated by Colin Stevenson.

Formerly the workshop was located quarter of a mile down the road from the museum, but the new workshop on the museum grounds has greatly eased the problem of shifting and working on heavy equipment such as locomotives.

The existence of the workshop and the key part it plays in the museum's operation is stressed because there is no doubt that without the combination of engineering equipment and skills owned by Colin Stevenson the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum would not exist.

Other members of the Stevenson family play their part. Mrs. Stevenson still mans the admission gate, and sons John and Hugh, who have now left home, used to assist in running the museum when it was open to the public.   

From the Booklet "The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum", reproduced with the authority of the copyright owners © C & E Stevenson

If you can shift it...

"If you can shift it, you can have it!" Many times these words have been the signal for Colin Stevenson to launch yet another rescue operation of some piece of New Zealand steam history, which was otherwise destined for the wreckers.

Over the years he has salvaged many engines in these circumstances.

But nothing so far has matched the time, effort and money expended in shifting the gigantic Filer & Stowell engine and compressor from Wanganui's Imlay Freezing Works, which now dominates the front of the museum.

Everything about this machine is king-size. The original specification called for it to be "of massive construction throughout" and there is no doubt the manufacturers met these instructions completely.

The total weight of the Filer & Stowell tandem compound engine and the Ball ammonia compressor it drives is seventy tons. The biggest single item is the giant 16 foot diameter flywheel which weighs 13.3 tons. Dismantling the unit, removing it from the work's building, and transporting it the 59 miles from Wanganui to Tokomaru took six weeks of effort by the museum's full time worker Bernard Watson and the two other staff members available in 1976.

Three trips with a heavy haulage transporter plus nine trips with an eight-ton truck were required to shift all the different pieces and the various spares and accessories which went with it.

Re-assembly at the museum was a more leisurely affair but still took two men two months to complete, and this doesn't include the month's work preparing the foundations for the compressor.

Long before Colin Stevenson finally acquired the Filer & Stowell in 1975 he knew of its existence, and had let the Imlay works know he was interested in taking the engine when they finally disposed of it.

Negotiations with the works' chief engineer and the owners, the N.Z. Refrigerating Co., resulted in an agreement that he could have the Filer & Stowell on condition it was removed at his expense and with minimum interruption to production.

Apart from its sheer sue the Filer & Stowell is of considerable interest because it is the only American designed and built engine with Corliss valve gear in the museum, and possibly in New Zealand. There are only three other small American engines in the museum.

This is not because the museum has collected only British machines, but simply reflects the fact that the great bulk of the steam engines which came to New Zealand were from Britain.

Therefore the Filer & Stowell is something of a maverick and the historical circumstances behind its arrival in this country are quite interesting.

When Imlay works was completed in 1916, two big Robey steam compressors had been ordered from England. They were sent out in different ships - one of which was torpedoed by a German submarine.

The American firm of Filer & Stowell were able to offer earliest delivery of a replacement machine and it was landed at Wanganui later the same year, for a price of $US13,025.

And if Colin Stevenson and his lads had difficulty shifting the machine out, they are consoled by the fact that the engineers installing it 60-odd years ago had their problems too.

The story goes that one half of the huge flywheel was painstakingly manoeuvred off the vehicle which brought it to the works and lowered to the ground - where it promptly sank out of sight.

It took six weeks of digging to retrieve the flywheel half and refill the swampy patch with something more solid so the second half wouldn't repeat the actions of its twin.

Not surprisingly it was the flywheel, which again proved the most troublesome during the removal process.

A special lifting beam and a trolley had to be built to carry the two five-ton chain blocks which lifted the flywheel halves out, as the roof trusses wouldn't support the weight.

The beam was 31 feet long by 18 inches deep and weighed about a ton. It was supported by three pairs of legs of unequal length, because the pair 16 feet long stood on the factory floor, but the pair 22 feet long had to fit into the engine pit.

Constructing and installing the legs took about a week, a task further complicated by having to fit it in amongst existing pipes and other machinery

The flywheel halves are held together by bolts and two links which look rather like dog-bones - they fit into grooves in the flywheel halves after being heated to expand them, and when they cool they shrink and pull the halves together.

These 'links are three inches thick and for removal had to be heated with a gas torch for five minutes to dull red heat before they expanded enough to be removed. The Spanners from the original toolkit were used to undo the four bolts, each 30 inches long by three inches diameter and weighing 86 lbs.

After dismantling the flywheel, lifting and winching the top half to the door was the next step. To get it out of the doorway the doors and an arched window directly above were removed leaving an opening 12 feet high. From here a crane was used to lift the flywheel half out clear of the door then to load it on to the transporter.

The 4.5 ton crankshaft and bottom half of the flywheel were taken out in the same manner. All other parts of the compressor unit, which includes cast iron engine frames, weighing about nine tons, were skidded out on heavy steel beams.

The steel beams were necessary to spread the load over the wooden floor. Adding more than a spice of danger to the whole operation was the knowledge that underneath the floor were ammonia pipes which, if anything slipped and dropped on them, would fracture, leaving occupants of the building only a few seconds to get out to safety.

After the flywheel the trickiest item to remove was the condenser for the steam engine. This was tucked away in an inaccessible corner and removing it involved using winches pulling at different angles to shift it around various pieces of machinery.

The condenser is a fuel economy device and estimated fuel saving is about 10% which is quite significant on a machine this size. The last time the machine was used at the works was for 12 months during 1954 in order to conserve electricity. The bill for coal then was £14,000 for that year.

Building the foundations for the engine bed was greatly simplified because the chief draftsman at Imlay resurrected the original plans and specifications sent out with the engine by Filer & Stowell.

The foundation hole, which took 119 yards of concrete, is 35 feet long, 16 feet wide and seven feet deep and the unit virtually fills this space. Set into the concrete are 26 engine mounting bolts ranging from six to eight feet long and two inches thick, which were made up in the museum work shop.

The design philosophy behind engines such as the Filer & Stowell is that it should work slow and last long.

This durability is illustrated by the fact that although during reassemble the engine was overhauled only minor repair work was required.

But the designers were prudent men - they did provide spares. And when one of the white-metal bearings on the ammonia compressor big end was found badly cracked it was replaced - with a new spare bearing which came out with the engine in 1916.   


Manufacturer: Filer and Stowell Co. Milwaukee, USA
Description: Tandem compound Corliss valve engine
Performance: 335 hp 60 rpm Steam pressure 160 psi
Dimensions: Weight 70 tons Stroke 48 ins: Diameter, high pressure cylinder 16 ins low pressure 32 ins.
Flywheel: Weight 13.3 tons diameter 16 ft.
Work: Driving Ball ammonia compressor with capacity to make 200 tons of ice in 24 hrs.
Owner: Imlay freezing works Wanganui.   

From the Booklet "The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum", reproduced with the authority of the copyright owners © C & E Stevenson

Introduction | List of Exhibits | List of Engines in Storage | The Formation of the Museum "If you can shift it, you can have it!"

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