Today Wa165 comes out of retirement for special excursions as described below:
In October 1985 a group of rail enthusiasts got together and formed a society, Gisborne City Vintage Railway Society, with the aim of rebuilding the locomotive to its 1897 condition, if not better.
The disused NZR Workshops at the Gisborne Railway Station became the next home in October, 1988 for Wa165 as more space and facilities were required for machinery and for repair work.
After much debate Dispatch Engineering in Greymouth was given the task of making the new boiler, first all welded boiler for a steam locomotive in New Zealand. This finally arrived in June 1993 and was lifted onto the framework, cladding was done and all the gear installed so that a stationery test firing could be carried out for a boiler inspection, October 25th 1997.
The job of putting Wa165 together piece by piece took until 1999.Then finally on the 29th November 1999 NZ Railways inspectors took the restored Wa165 out for its first test run.
From the time it was mooted to bring the locomotive back to Gisborne, the City Council agreed to make a site available for the veteran, But the final resting place for the “Old Girl” was a debatable issue between the Council and the “Jaycees”. After 12 months of deliberation, The Greater Gisborne Inc came to the fore and offered the group a piece of land on the Alfred Cox Park that was accepted. Having been sandblasted and painted by this time, Wa165 was moved to her final resting place in July 1962. Well almost! Six years later the engine was moved to Young Nicks Playground in Awapuni Road, a site not far from the beach- front and the salt sea air. This was obviously not a very wise move for preservation purposes. However, there she sat for 18 years slowly rusting away.
In July 1968 the City Council received a request from a Hamilton group seeking the acquisition of Wa165, pointing out that Wa68 was a stationary exhibit in Napier, close to the sea air, only to become a heap of rust corroded metal, a danger to children and finished up as scrap iron. Their request was turned down by the Council stating that the engine belonged to Gisborne, and would remain in Gisborne. By this time Wa165 was the sole survivor of its class in New Zealand out of eleven that were built between 1892 and 1903.
It was during 1960 that the Gisborne Junior Chamber of Commerce discovered Wa165 slowly decaying on a railway siding at Frankton better known as “Rotten Row”. As it had had spent 31 of its 62working years on the old Motuhora line, they considered it only befitting that it be returned to Gisborne as a stationary exhibit.The locomotive was purchased from the New Zealand Railways for the sum of two hundred pounds which was its scrap value at the time. Raising that sum of money was not a simple task for the group, but on the 3rd March 1961 a deposit of fifty pounds was handed over to the Gisborne Stationmaster to secure the locomotive, with the final payment being made 10th May 1961.
During the time that negotiations were taking place, Wa165 had been cleaned up with a steam hose, all axles and bearings oiled and greased, connecting and eccentric rods removed (necessary when running a dead engine) and prepared in general for the 497 mile journey back to Gisborne. The veteran Wa class 2-6-2T locomotive No 165 arrive back in the Gisborne district at midday on the 26th May, 1961 having travelled from Frankton to Palmerston North, Napier and then on to Gisborne. It was cleaned up and put on display at the Gisborne Industries Fair in mid June of that year.
The loco sat on an unused piece of track in the Railways demolition yard during the fair and attracted a lot of attention from the young and the not so young. The “demolition yard” was so named because a lot of the rails and sleepers, bridge spans and other materials salvage from the now defunct Gisborne-Motuhora line were stored there awaiting disposal. It was quite ironic that Wa165 should be parked in the same yard containing the now disused roads that she steamed over in her heyday.
Of the six Wa class locomotives that were based in Gisborne between 1910 and 1942, No 165 was a true Gisbornite.
Wa165 was born in the N.Z.R. shops at Hillside, Dunedin in 1897 and was the first locomotive to be build in these shops. It was put into service in March 1898 and commenced work at Wellington in April 1898, transferred to Palmerston North depot in 1899 and then to Taihape in 1910. In early 1911 it went to Petone workshops for an overhaul prior to being shipped to Gisborne section in July 1911. This locomotive remained in the Gisborne section until the line south was opened in 1942, then transferred to the Napier depot but continued to appear in Gisborne from time to time on shunting duties. In 1943 Wa165 went to the Hutt shops for her last “A” class overhaul, and in 1946 was on the move again, being transferred to the Frankton depot.
In 1949 during her working career in the centre of the North Island, Wa165 carried out shunting duties at Putaruru, Hunting and Te Kuiti, and then between 1951 and 1952 was on loan to the Mines Department at Rotowaro while their locomotive went through A & G Prices’s shops for an overhaul. For the next few years it carried out general shunting duties around Frankton until in 1957 when, in semi-retirement, the aging loco was confined to the daily coal shunt between 4pm and 6pm.
It was withdrawn from service in 1959, and on 25th August, 1961, Wa165 was finally written off the N.Z.R. books although it had been sold to the Gisborne Junior Chamber of Commerce in May of that year.