It is full steam ahead this weekend as the Ashburton Railway and Preservation Society (ARPS) or The Plains Railway at the Tinwald Domain celebrates 50 years since it opened.
ARPS president Lorayne Oakley said the weekend is going to be about celebrating and remembering.
As part of the celebrations The Plains Railway will hold two open days running from 11am to 4pm each day.
“We want to show case the many assets that The Plains has,’’ Lorayne said.
As well as steam locomotives and the vintage rail car offering passengers rides on the mile long track there will be working and stationary engines, including tractors and traction engines displays, and a display of vintage cars.
An additional display area will be set up, behind the Ashburton Vintage Car Club, where there will be working rural historical displays featuring traction engines, working vintage machinery including threshing mill and chaff cutter, and the Dayboo Clydedales.
Food and beverages will be available for purchase.
Access to this site is via the car club grounds with parking available although shuttles will also run from The Plains village across to the display area.
The Plains will provide an educational display of new and old alongside each other.
‘‘We will have an old tractor alongside a modern, air-conditioned cab tractor so children could get an understanding of the then and now,” Lorayne said.
Children of all ages will be able to play a variety of old-fashioned games.
In the function room and upstairs exhibition space photographs from the last 50 years will be on display.
Also opening both days is The Ashburton Fire Museum, Ashburton Woodworkers and the Lynn Museum whom, alongside The Plains Railway , make this Mid Canterbury attraction a unique Heritage experience for locals and visitors alike to enjoy at a minimal cost.
The golden jubilee of The Plains will be celebrated with an informal barbecue and a casual evening on Saturday for past and present members.
‘‘We want to celebrate 50 years since The Plains opened. It’s a chance to showcase and reflect on the 50 years and how far the museum site has come,’ Lorayne said.
‘‘The progress is thanks to the founding members and the contribution of the members over the years which means we have the assets that we have today.
‘‘If it wasn’t for all the members over the years Ashburton wouldn’t have such an absolute wonderful asset which is known world-wide in heritage railway circles.’’
The Plains currently have 25 members who are very active members. They undertake a variety of maintenance tasks during the week and then volunteer at open days at the weekend.
Members range in age from Jack Tait and Hayden Oakley at aged 15, through to Mike Ross aged 70. Mike is the only original member of The Plains still actively involved.
Because of the dedication of its volunteers ‘‘the past has got a future,’’ Lorayne said.
She is proud of the unique place where she has been president for the past four years.
Operating costs are helped through funds raised from donations; train rides and hiring out their function room and church, but The Plains members also sell new potatoes and peas pre-Christmas.
The Plains Railway origins were laid out some 130 years ago, but it would take nearly 100 years before it became a concept.
In May of 1878 the first part of a railway line section was laid, known as the Mount Somers Branch.
The purpose of laying the track was to provide a way of carting the coal and lime from the Mount Somers area.
Once fully opened the 43.17 kilometre track moved both goods and passengers on a daily basis.
The transporting of passengers continued until 1933 when other methods of travel saw a decline in numbers and the closure of the passenger service. In January 1968 the entire line was closed.
At the time of the line closure members of the district’s model engineers club had an idea to save some of the track to have an attraction offering steam train rides.
A public meeting was held and the Ashburton Railway & Preservation Society Incorporated was officially formed on June 4, 1971.
Its goal was to preserve and operate a vintage train as well as to display some of the local agricultural history of Mid Canterbury.
After negotiations with New Zealand Railways 2.5km of track was purchased. After securing the track the ARPS set about getting trains.
A variety of engines are now at The Plains Railway including its first engine Dubs ‘A’ Class 0-4-0, ex-New Zealand Railway (NZR) , the last steam locomotive in service through Ashburton (JA 1260) which pulled the Friday and Sunday evening ‘midnight’ express service from Christchurch to Invercargill from NZR, and its pride – K88 the Kingston Flyer salvaged from the stop banks of the Ōreti River in Southland.
The then-Minister of Railways was Tom McGuigan who officially opened The Plains in 1973, by driving the last golden spike into the line.
Alongside the railway The Plains operates vintage and historic farm machinery and a pioneer village. New members are always welcome to join.
Volunteers of the Plains Railway & Historical Museum would like to acknowledge the support of the following businesses: RX Plastics, Wilson Bulk Transport, Quigley Contracting, Greg Donaldson Contracting Ltd, Ashburton New World, Trounce Transport Ltd, Property Brokers Ashburton, Claas Harvest Centre, Throwin’ Shapes Glass, Ashburton Contracting Ltd, Fulton Hogan Ashburton and Elgin Transport.
■ The Plains Railway 50th Anniversary celebrations November 18 and 19 open days will include the running of the trains and the pioneer village precinct will be open 11am – 4pm. Train ride fares: pre-school free, child $6, adult $12, family $30. All tickets purchased entitle the bearer to all day train rides on the day of purchase.