E 852 (Formally N 212)
E 852 is the last survivior of a once numerous class of M and N wagon conversions.
History – As known, prior to acquisition
E 852 probably began its life in the 1880’s as an N wagon before acquiring the number N 212 during the renumbering of 1890.
Very little is known of the wagons usage in this period but it was likely in general traffic right through to 1938 when records indicate it was converted from an N wagon to the tank wagon seen today. It was at this time that it acquired the number E 852.
After conversion the tank ran in non-revenue service attached to the Mt Somers/Springburn branch line and appears to have been designated a ‘Loco Water Wagon’ – water tanks at the top end of the branch and at Punawai did tend to suffer from drought so it is likely the tank was used for refilling tenders or tanks of engines in the summer months, after being brought up from Ashburton. Some of The Plains’ members recall a similar tank being used for railway house water supplies as well, so the tank was probably dual purpose.
In later years the tank was attached to the crane group based in Christchurch before finding itself parked up at Linwood. The story goes that the Shed Foreman was sick of the sight of it and so it ended up at The Plains Railway in November of 1974, ironically back on the remains of the branch it once faithfully served.
History – After acquisition by The Plains Railway
E 852 was used by The Plains Railway for many years prior to being parked up at some time in the early 1990’s. The Plains Railway used it for trimming lineside trees and as such the tank was fitted with ‘catwalks’ around the outside. The Railway also used it for watering crops being grown in the railways neighbouring paddocks.
In January 2011, with the impending 40th Anniversary of the Society, a decision was made to bring into service as many of the Societies freight/non-revenue wagons as possible. E 852 was one of the wagons recovered from the sidings and long grass behind The Plains’ carriage shed and over the following weeks it was thoroughly cleaned to enable an inspection for ‘rail worthiness’ to be carried out.
The inspection soon revealed that while appearing to be in a moderate condition some work would be required before the wagon could run, namely the deck of the wagon had rotted through leaving the tank precariously perched upon the remains of the timber.
After approval by the committee, stripping down of the wagon began in earnest, with the tank being lifted off allowing the wagon chassis to be worked on. After the removal of the remains of the deck timbers it was revealed that the headstocks and interior wooden framing was in very poor condition once the exterior had been penetrated. This resulted in the need to completely rebuild the chassis, keeping only the longitudinal steel beams at the outside edges of the chassis.
The steel work – including wheels, axle boxes and brake gear – was sandblasted to remove all trace of the years of railways coats of paint, dirt and grime. One the sandblasting was completed work began in earnest in replacing the timberwork. After discussion with the local sawmill it was decided to use pine for the replacement timbers, not a hard wood – the miller believed he had suitably dense pine that would provide plenty strong enough.
After around two months of drilling, cutting and shaping the new interior timbers were at last ready to be attached to the framework and the wagon began to look once more like a wagon. The drawgear and brake rigging were reattached and the wagon was at last ready to receive the new decking that the whole process had been started to replace. On the 17th of September, with just over a month to go until the anniversary, the wagon emerged from the workshops for painting, looking as it must have done prior to having the tank fitted in 1938 – just like a long wheelbase N wagon.
While the wagon chassis was being restored the tank and its frame hadn’t been forgotten about, the tank receiving some minor repair work – mainly the fitting of a new lid/hatch on the top. The framework that supports the tank was sanded and primed ready for refitting to the wagon.
The day of the big refit arrived on the 1st of October and with a hand from a Hi-Ab the tank was lifted and placed back onto the wagon, which instantly began to look like itself once more. Positioning the tank ‘just right’ on the chassis proved to be a challenge as in order to lift the tank and frame without it all coming apart the lifting strops had had to be positioned under the frame itself, lots of helping hands overcame the issue at last and the wagon was rolled back into the shed to have the tank frame attached to the wagon chassis.
With the Anniversary Weekend fast approaching, the Tank was at last painted on October 15 – only a week before it was to take its place in the various mixed and works trains run over the Anniversary Weekend.
Before it could enter service the wagon was brake tested and was found to require a new brake shoe, this was replaced and the wagon was pushed into service just in time for the anniversary – after 3 days worth of running which included a blown brakehose on the Railfans day – the wagon was found to be running a bearing. This was attributed to the tank removal and replacement, which had seen the wagon lifted up off the rails at one point. After being jacked up and having the bearing replaced, however, the wagon has presented little issue and is now often seen tucked in behind the loco and ahead of the cars on Running Days at The Plains, as a point of local interest.
The FRONZ Award – Goods or Service Wagon (2012)
E 852 was entered in the 2012 FRONZ (Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand) annual awards for Goods or Service Vehicle restoration. Around the country various heritage railways have restored items that are then entered into their relevant categories to be judge by the FRONZ panel.
We were happy to receive the award, made even more special by the fact that this was the first time The Plains Railway had entered the category.