Full steam ahead for The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum

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Full steam ahead for The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum

Tags: Commercial Palmerston North

One of the world’s most unique museums of working steam machinery - complete with its own steam locomotives, historic railway station, and a kilometre of private track has been placed on the market for sale.


The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum, with its extensive array of machines is the creation of 85-year-old Colin Stevenson, and his wife Esma Stevenson, 81. Now, after 50 years of collecting and lovingly restoring the steam engine collection, the Stevensons are calling it quits because of their age, and health reasons.

In what is being described as a unique offering, the museum property, business, and chattels at Tokomaru, just south of Palmerston North, is being marketed for sale by Bayleys Palmerston North through a tender process closing on November 26.

Colin Stevenson said after a century of doing the “grunt-work”, such as carving out New Zealand’s rugged landscape for roads and clearing forests, steam engines became obsolete, and were smashed up for scrap in the 1960s. Horrified at the scale of this, Colin took it upon himself to preserve examples of New Zealand’s industrial heritage.

While his wife, Esma, was busy raising three children, he grew the collection, and so did the demands from steam enthusiasts for the museum to open, which it did in 1970.

A few years later, in 1973, the Prime Minister and former stationery engine operator, Norman Kirk, opened the first section of the museum’s one kilometre rail track. The first festival held in Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum in the same year attracted a crowd of more than 8000 people.

Mr Stevenson said some of his best memories were of the museum’s visitors, such as a group of older people who came in one winter. “They sat on the carriage seats alongside the Filer and Stowell engine…they were so nice and warm, but I also think a bit hypnotised as they had all nodded off to sleep,” he said.

Mrs Stevenson said she had loved meeting such a variety of people.

“One four-year-old turned up having done thorough research…what he didn’t know about steam engines wasn’t worth knowing, even extending to recognising types of locomotives in the photographs on the walls.”

She said engineers and experts were always surprised with her knowledge during the tours.

Bayleys Palmerston North salesperson Lewis Townshend said though the business was changing hands, it was a marvellous opportunity to take regional tourism to a new level.

“Colin had a vision for the museum, and through years of dedication, brought that dream to fruition. It has enormous potential, and the next owner can just slide into the driver’s seat,” he said.

Pride of place in the collection is New Zealand’s largest steam engine, an American-made Filer and Stowell. The monster engine came from the Imlay Freezing works in Wanganui.

At the time, very few people had the opportunity to see this giant, made up of seventy tons of cast iron, sitting on a 220 ton concrete foundation.

“The scrap metal workers told Colin they refused to touch the machine because of dangerous ammonia pipes under the floor, so it was his for the taking if he could move it – which he did,” said Mr Townshend.

“It was a mammoth haul, and Colin said no other task took him so much time and effort…the next owner has the chance to pick up on this legacy and keep it charging forward. You could say, full steam ahead.”

Mr Townshend said there was scope for The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum to develop further, with more machinery to be restored, including an American Climax locomotive, built in 1904.

“This machine weighs in at 30 ton, and came from the Ellis and Burnard timber mill in Mangapehi, in South Waikato,” he said.

“Colin and Esma have turned into a reality what children the world over fantasise about…most are happy to have a toy train set in their bedrooms – this couple has constructed that in their backyard,” he said.

Mr Townshend said it would be wonderful to visit the museum with new attractions, such as seeing a restored Climax locomotive puffing around the track.

“The next owners wouldn’t just be buying up their ‘passion project’ – but the residence Colin and Esma have called home for decades,” he said.

The approximately 4.8 hectares of The Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum business and chattels includes:

• A three bedroom house, built in the 1930s, with major improvements undertaken in 1989

• A detached triple garage

• Numerous work and storage sheds

• Working steam engine museum complex, including circular rail track, complete with steam locomotives and carriages

• The historic Tokomaru station as the focal point to the railway track

• 50 steam engines, including most types of stationary engines and two fully restored steam rollers

• A comprehensive engineering workshop

Though the property has one of the most comprehensive collections of working steam engines in the world, Mr Stevenson said it was just a hobby that gained momentum.

For further information on the sale of Tokomaru Steam Engine Museum, or additional images of the property, contact Bayleys Palmerston North salesperson Lewis Townshend 021 454 508.

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