Topic: Dillon, Jimmy

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Jimmy Dillon of Darfield joined the NZ Railways in Greymouth in 1948 at the age of 17 years old. Two years later he transferred to Springfield, 'KB Country', as a fireman on the big KB steam trains and to be a bit closer to his home town of Rolleston.

Working In KB Country:

Jimmy Dillon of Darfield joined the NZ Railways in Greymouth in 1948 at the age of 17 years old. Two years later he transferred to Springfield, 'KB Country', as a fireman on the big KB steam trains and to be a bit closer to his home town of Rolleston.

Springfield was a railway town first and foremost. It was its reason for being. In Jimmy's time there were nine crews working shifts on the eight trains stationed there. Each crew consisted of a driver and a fireman, whose job it was to keep the coal up to the firebox, which in turn produced the vital steam - that was Jimmy's job. The guard's van was the guard's domain at the rear of the train.

Springfield railway station dealt mostly with freight which the AB and JA trains would deliver for the big KBs to haul up to Arthur's Pass, the electric train would take through the Otira Tunnel, and another steam train would take the wagons on to Greymouth. On the return trip to Springfield some 40 wagons would haul 600 tonnes of freight off loaded at Arthur's Pass for them.

As the gateway to the Coast, Springfield Station was a busy place. The senior driver was full time in the office and supervised the crews, two coalmen, a cleaner whose job it was to light the engines in the mornings, five guards, six shunting crew and three train examiners who monitored the safety and repairs needed to keep trains and wagons safe and mobile. "The wagons weren't like the fancy ones today," says Jim. "They needed lots of attention. Something was always needing done."

A station master, three shift clerks, a rousabout, the women who worked in the caf (cafe) and track maintenance staff completed the compliment of those at Springfield.

"There's nothing like the back country," says Jim, as he recalls the changes in the seasons, the rata in bloom and taking a gun in the train to "shoot the odd deer" It was bonus of the job in those days.

In 1956 Jim became a driver, a position which he had to wait on being vacated, even though he'd done his training. One Saturday night just before the Mt White bridge he saw a car upside down on the track ahead and try as he might he couldn't stop the train in time, bumping the car off into the river. You can imagine what followed, trying to find the driver or a body, who, it turned out, was a local ganger from Cass, and having escaped from the car, had walked back home and gone to bed. He was not a popular chap when they found him out!

Other experiences include watching the Bealey Hotel burn down in 1963 from the track across the river. "There was no electricity to the Bealey then and the fire started with the kerosene refrigerator. It lit up the sky." Snow was an occupational hazard and in one heavy fall Jim pulled his train into a siding at Cora Lyn Station as all communication was out "so you didn't know where the train coming from the opposite direction was". With the fire stoked up to keep them warm they waited seven hours until someone had walked from Arthur's Pass wearing thigh high gumboots, to say it was OK for the train to push on to Arthur's Pass.

The introduction of diesel engines in 1968 saw the demise of the great steam trains through KB Country sadly come to an end with the number of crews cut from nine to four. Today all the train services are now managed from Christchurch and the railway town of Springfield has evolved a new look since the dramatic decrease in the presence of railway personnel and infrastructure in the intervening years.

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Dillon, Jimmy


First Names:JImmy
Last Name:Dillon
User Name:Selwyn Library