This is a series of 30 articles that were written during the restoration of original Ghan steam locomotive, NM25. The restoration took place from 2000 to 2003.
NM25 now hauls many of Pichi Richi Railway's heritage train journeys, on the same track it used to haul the Ghan for the Commonwealth Railways from 1925 to 1956.
Part 1: 1925 to 1990
Pichi Richi Railway's NM class locomotive, number 25, is currently being completely restored.
NM25 is one of two surviving Commonwealth Railways (CR) 4-8-0 locomotives used to operate the Port Augusta to Alice Springs railway. The other (NM34) is maintained under cover as a static exhibit by the Port Dock Station Railway Museum at Port Adelaide.
NM25 was built by Thompsons of Castlemaine (Victoria) in 1925, entering service in December of that year. It was one of the first batch of 14 locomotives of the class. A further 8 were subsequently ordered. They spent all their working life trudging up and down the line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs, with the exception of NM38, which was sent to Darwin, where it was apparently of little use, being too heavy for much of the track.
NM25 was one of the last to be in service, and survived, partly be cause it was kept as a standby to assist trains through the occasional flooded creek, when the NSU diesels could not get their traction motors wet. It was eventually transferred to Port Augusta where it maintained an existence as a stationary steam plant for cleaning at the roundhouse.
In the formative months of the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society, NM25 was considered for restoration. In fact a job costing was done by CR for a fitting a new boiler ex Queensland Railways (QGR). This indicated a cost in the order of $5,389, plus the purchase cost of $4,000 for the boiler. The Chief Mechanical Engineer recommended the Society against this course of action as he considered the boiler cost too high. In fact his memo infers he thought the price a bit absurd considering that the QGR were no longer using steam locomotives. In view of the fact that at the time a complete and operational 4-8-2 W class could be bought from the Western Australian Railways (WAGR), for a little over $2,000, his recommendation made perfect sense.
Thus the locomotive did not come to Pichi Richi, but instead went into the then wide open "Homestead Park" space in Port Augusta. It stayed there until 1990.
In 1989 the Port Augusta and Flinders Ranges Development Committee raised the possibility of extending PRR operations "from Woolshed Flat to Stirling North and possibly to Port Augusta". At the time there was also talk of moving the Yudnapinna homestead (at Homestead Park) from Port Augusta to Woolshed Flat. In the same letter, it was also reported that a member of the House of Representatives (Mr Tim Fischer) Standing Committee on Transport had made a similar suggestion.
As a result of these suggestions, and the shadow over the future of Homestead Park, negotiations continued with the City of Port Augusta for the release of NM25. Eventually, it was exchanged for the remnants of a Broken Hill Associated Smelters 3'-6" 0-6-0 locomotive (Passchendaele) and ex Electricity Trust of SA 4'-8½" gauge diesel loco ETSA2. In an interesting day of big cranes and locomotives sailing through thin air, the exchange was made and NM25 arrived back in Quorn once again.