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Photo: David Maciulaitis

Back in the mid-1980s, in the era of the so-called “Think Big” projects, I was General Manager of the heavy engineering company IST Engineering Ltd who, at that time, had a number of major steel construction projects with New Zealand Steel (NZS), mainly involving the newly expanded hot-mill section.

One of the prospective suppliers of materials handling equipment for steel mills was Orenstein & Koppel AG (O&K), a major German engineering company who had exited the railway business by the early 80s and was keen to expand its machinery operations.

During an O&K visit to NZS, IST were asked if we would be interested in tendering for the installation of an O&K machine, should they choose it. Of course we said yes and a meeting with two O&K engineers was quickly arranged.

Being friendly Kiwis, we laid out a nice morning tea in the Board Room and welcomed O&K to the company.

As soon as the two visitors had settled, they produced some of their O&K publicity material and were somewhat surprised when they were told that I and a number of IST staff were very familiar with O&K, particularly their locomotives.

“How do you know O&K?” one engineer asked.

I responded by telling them that I was a volunteer at the local Museum of Transport & Technology (MOTAT) and although my main interest was the heritage tramcars, I was very familiar with the O&K 0-4-0 locomotive which has been operating at the Museum’s Rail Section since 1980.

The O&K people’s jaws dropped and they both exclaimed at once... “You have an O&K loco and it still operates?”

“Yes,” I replied, “would you like to see it?”

Morning tea was instantly abandoned as we piled into my car and set out for MOTAT. One of the IST staff phoned ahead and found that the Rail Section workshops were open and as there were two volunteers working there, we were allowed to view the locomotive.

Bertha, as the loco was called, had been given a full rebuild by the MOTAT Rail Section, only a few years previously, and subsequently was in first-class condition. The two O&K engineers were very impressed with the restoration standards.

Photo: Ian Jenner

Naturally, at such short notice, Bertha could not be fired up but there were lots and lots of photos to take back to Germany.

From memory, O&K were unsuccessful with their machinery tender to New Zealand Steel, so IST had no further contact with them. But the story of of a shared passion connecting two hemispheres is one I shall never forget.

- by Chris Cameron

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