The Puffing Billy Railway’s Class B 25 ton Climax locomotive, Builder’s No. 1694 is historically important not only because of its service on the Forests Commission of Victoria (FCV) Tyers Valley Tramway, but also because it is one of only 19 Climax locomotives which survive worldwide, only about four of which are currently operational.

It is the only one known to have been built to 2 ft 6 in gauge. It is also the only intact survivor of about 53 steam locomotives which operated on Victorian timber tramways.

From 1988 to 2001 it operated on the Puffing Billy Railway, at Belgrave, Victoria. In 2001 it was taken out of service for a major rebuild. That rebuild was completed on 13 August 2013 when the locomotive was fitted with its trucks (bogies). The first test of the restored locomotive took place on Friday 16 August 2013, when the locomotive was run successfully around the yard at Belgrave.

The restoration has included – amongst other things – major work on the boiler and frames, new wheels, axles and gears, and replacement of a number of castings.

Climax locomotive No.1694 was built in 1928 by the Climax Manufacturing Company of Corry, Pennsylvania, USA for the Forests Commission, Victoria (FCV). The FCV had purchased it for use on its Tyers Valley Tramway, which carried sawn timber from Growlers Creek and Ten Acre Block, via Tyers Junction to Collins Siding on the Victorian Railways’ (VR) Moe – Walhalla 2 ft 6 in gauge railway.

The fact that it is 2ft 6in gauge is a peculiar accident of history, as the Tyers Valley Tramway was entirely separate from the VR’s Walhalla line, and used different rolling stock.

The Tyers Valley Tramway closed in July 1949, and the Climax locomotive was stored in the open at Erica until the mid-1960s when it was transferred to the Puffing Billy Preservation Society’s (PBPS) Museum at Menzies Creek for static preservation.

In the early 1980s a team of PBPS volunteers began the major project of restoring the locomotive to operating condition. This task was completed in 1988, and the locomotive was used on special trains until 2001, when it was taken out of service as – amongst other things – it required major boiler work.

After the restoration of Beyer Garratt locomotive G42 to service in 2004, work commenced on Climax No.1694. The boiler work is now complete, and work has commenced on the frames and running gear.

Problems have been found with cracks in the axles, and it has been found that these were due to a fundamental design fault, due to the trucks (bogies) having been designed for 3ft gauge, not 2ft 6in. As a result new axles and wheels will be needed, and these will be costly (around $A95,000).

Unique features of Climax locomotives

The distinctive feature of the Climax locomotive is that the cylinders do not directly connect to the driving wheels. Instead they drive a cross shaft near the centre of the locomotive.

From there the drive is transmitted to the driving wheels through rotating shafts, universal joints, and skew bevel gears. The driving wheels are mounted in two four-wheel bogies so that they can easily follow sharp curves in the track. None of these features are found in normal steam locomotives.

The result is a locomotive that is extremely powerful for its size, and that will cope with sharp curves and steep grades with ease. But this is at the cost of speed; Climax locomotive No.1694 is just about flat-out at 13 km/h (8 mph).

The skew bevel gears are unusual; this is because the longitudinal shafts are on a different plane to the axles and the main drive shaft (i.e. they pass above the centre line of the axle, and below the centre line of the main drive shaft).

When the first Climax locomotive was built in 1888, the formulae to design the gears was not known and the first patterns had to be made by trial and error. The technical name for this type of gear is straight cut bevel with non-intersecting centre-lines, and their use in large scale industrial applications – like locomotives – is extremely rare. Climax’s well known competitors, the Shay and the Heisler, used normal bevel gears.

 

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Climax locomotive No.1694 at Menzies Creek on its first test on the main line after its second restoration, 21 August 2013.

Climax locomotive No.1694 approaching Menzies Creek on its first test on the mainline after its second restoration, 21 August 2013.

Climax locomotive No.1694 approaching Menzies Creek on its first test on the mainline after its second restoration, 21 August 2013. It is towing diesel-mechanical locomotive D21 which was there to rescue it in case of problems, but there were no problems.

Front view Climax locomotive 1694 16 Aug 2013

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Belgrave on the day of its first tests after its second restoration, 16 August 2013.

This shows the new smokebox, which is as close as possible to the original smokebox. When the locomotive was running on the Puffing Billy Railway between 1988 and 2001 it was fitted with a replacement smokebox which had been made by the Forests Commission Victoria (FCV) sometime in the 1940s. That smokebox did not have rivets around the front and along the seams, and it had the smokebox door off-centre.

Climax locomotive 1694 Belgrave 13 August 2013 side view

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Belgrave 16 August 2013.

Climax locomotive 1694 Belgrave 13 August 2013

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Belgrave, 16 August 2013.

Climax locomotive 1694 Belgrave 13 August 2013 rear view

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Belgrave, 16 August 2013

Climax locomotive 1694 Belgrave 13 August 2013 cab view

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Belgrave, 16 August 2013, on the day of its first tests following its second restoration.

Climax locomotive No.1694 crosses the Monbulk Creek bridge (bridge No.5) near Belgrave on its last run on 7 April 2001 prior to going in to storage pending its second restoration.

On the same day Climax locomotive No.1694 is seen in the forest near Selby.

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Menzies Creek on its last run in 2001 prior to going in to storage.

Climax locomotive No.1694 at Emerald in 1989, one year after its return to service following its first restoration. On this day it had run a wood-cut special from Belgrave to Clematis.

Links to Climax 1694 videos

A video describing the project to restore Climax locomotive 1694 to service can be seen here. It includes a number of photographs of the locomotive in service on the Tyers Valley Tramway between 1928 and 1949, and photographs and movies of the locomotive running on the Puffing Billy Railway between 1988 and 2001. There is also a brief movie of it hauling sawn timber on the Tyers Valley Tramway in the 1940s.

A video of 1694 running between Belgrave and Menzies Creek in the early 1990s can be seen here. It includes a long segment taken in the cab, and has some good sound effects.

A 1 minute 30 second video of 1694 can be seen here with some quite good sound effects.


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All photographs Copyright Frank Stamford who may be contacted by email at: frank.stamford@bigpond.com

Last updated: 2 April 2016