Monday, November 13, 2017

Thames (NZ): Steam Returns to Thames thanks to HPA

Apart from the activities of Steampunk, at the northern end of town another momentous event took place at the Hauraki Prospectors Association 'Goldmine' site. A renovated steam engine was started to run the stamper battery. The HPA are a unique group who just quietly get on with business and make the impossible happen! We all should be very proud of the years of dedication put in by this group, to keep the mining history alive in the town.
The following is a press release and photographs from the Hauraki Prospectors Association.

Steam returns to Thames

"A whistle blew, and steam billowed around Hauraki Prospectors Association volunteers yesterday for their first fire-up of a renovated stationary steam engine. It is among very few such operating engines in the country and the only one set-up to run a stamper battery.

The “dream of steam” goes back some 50 years and has driven members to collect old engine parts and boilers over the decades, with major components for seven stationary steam engines now on site, although the condition of these varies greatly. Murray Stent of Orongo, Hauraki Plains, who has worked such engines since obtaining a first-class steam qualification in 1956, refurbished the best steam engine to pristine condition in the 1970s and 1980s, with the intention of one day connecting to a steam boiler.

The vision has been revised recently with increasing success of Steampunk The Thames, the annual Thames Steampunk Festival, and the growing number of overseas tourists with a passionate interest in steam visiting the association’s Goldmine-Experience site.

In June this year, the Thames Community Board provided $20,000 in a local economic development grant towards the project, which has been used for parts to set up a steam boiler in operating condition (ex-Adams clothing factory in Thames) to connect to the engine. This required an official survey and certification, lagged piping to connect it to the steam engine plus steam-pipes, bearings, counter-shafts, valves and other fittings.

The steam engine started yesterday originally drove a sawmill in the King Country area of Taringamotu and was saved from scrap-yards by Driving Creek Railway founder Barry Brickell, a supporter of the Thames group. About 30 years ago, members visited a similar engine that an Albert Baker discovered in an abandoned battery at the top of Rangihau Road, Coroglen. It was used to drive a five-stamp stamper battery, leading the Thames group to believe it could replicate this. Calculations also supported the belief.
ABOVE: Murray Stent (left) and Eric Mountford with the new steam engine in Thames.
It is thought there are only a handful of operating stationary steam engines in New Zealand today. Since 1995, the British-based International Stationary Steam Engine Society has tried to estimate the number of steam engines of all kinds in New Zealand and by 2013 recorded there were some 300 traction engines, portable steam engines, road rollers, steam wagons plus 16 operating steam railways.

However, in comparison to these “mobile engines”, stationary steam engines were rare, with the main collection (35) on display at the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum in the lower North Island. One was set up to run and could provide power for the site. The British society found another operating steam engine at the Kauri Milling and Transport Museum at Kerikeri running a recreated sawmill.  At Gore one that had been using for animal-feed milling was in good working condition, oiled and tuned monthly but not generally available for public viewing.

Since these studies, the Kerikeri steam sawmill has shut down and the Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum has been closed to the public also, except for group visits by arrangement, and the site is up for sale.

According to Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand portable steam engines were imported for farming in the 1860s and in a census in 1919 New Zealand had 728 stationary engines used for agriculture (eg threshing mills and winnowing machines). Hundreds of other such engines were used in flax mills, sawmills and mines, including some on the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki Plains but actual numbers are unknown.
The histories of a few of the engine components at the Goldmine-Experience site are known and as well as restoring at least two engines volunteers hope to record as much as they can of the histories of all of them. One engine comes from Roberts’ Mine, which was up Waiotahi Creek, and it has been converted quite ingeniously by former engineers into an air compressor. This is “second-on-the-list” for in the group’s steam restoration plan.

ABOVE: Murray Stent with refurbished steam boiler.
Another is an A&G Price “winding engine” dated 1877. It is thought the engine/winch was used to raise mine cages on a mine shaft in the Thames goldfield and was then taken back to Prices to assemble the boilers for the May Queen Pump house. When at the foundry it was positioned to the side of the tower structure (winding head frame) that remains there today. Ropes from the winch drum of the engine passed over pulleys at the top of the tower to lift boiler plate through a press in which the seams were riveted. The engine was removed from Prices to the Goldmine-Experience site in the 1970s.

Mr Stent, 81, who has run the steam refurbishment project this year in conjunction with the association’s chief engineer Nelson Valiant, operated steam engines throughout the district last century, starting off at a casein factory at Turua, then in various sawmills and running a large marine-type engine at Paerata that drove NZ Dairy’s butter churns."

For further information Contact: Paul Bensemann, HPA, 021 2142665
Special thanks to the Hauraki Prospectors Association for permission to publish story & photographs
ABOVE: Murray Stent operating the steam engine.
BELOWMurray Stent starting up the steam engine.
 For further information on the Hauraki Prospectors Association and visiting details go to

Related Information on HPA:
Opening of the Stamper Battery 6 August 2017