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Volume 1 (2008)

BILLYGOAT TRAMWAY


by David Wilton

Introduction

The Billygoat tramway was an important part of the infrastructure established to log kauri timber in the Atuatumoe (Billygoat) stream catchment, a tributary of the Kauaeranga River. The background and history of kauri logging in the Kauaeranga Valley area can be found in the separate Parawai Booms article on this web site.

Figure 4: View of Billygoat Camp,
showing hauler shed (chimney with smoke,
near centre) loading ramp and loaded bogeys.
The other source of smoke towards
the left is probably the cookhouse.
Click to enlarge the photograph.

Figure 5: View of some Billygoat Camp
buildings.The temporary nature is apparent,
which makes remnants of these camps
so hard to find 80+ years on.
Click to enlarge the photograph.
The tramway terminus (known as Billygoat Landing) can be reached by driving to the car park at the end of Kauaeranga Valley Rd. Walk approx 500m to the suspension bridge, cross the Kauaeranga river and proceed approx 100m east on the track towards Pinnacles Hut. A side track (approx 50m long) is signposted to Billygoat Landing. The landing is immediately adjacent to a small knoll, which the track climbs to afford views of the Billygoat Falls. From the landing, it is possible to cross Atuatumoe Stream and follow the tramway route uphill to where it joins the main DoC track (earthworks, such as cuttings, and timber remains of the tramway are clearly visible).
To access the railhead and middle reaches of the tramway, park approx 1km short of the road end, where a DoC track is well signposted to Billygoat Falls and Tarawaere Dam. Cross the main river by fording or via the suspension bridge and follow the track towards Billygoat Falls. After approx 40 mins climbing, the track reaches the crest of a ridge, which was the route of the tramway. From here on, cuttings associated with the tramway can be seen and there are two short sections of rail, which have been restored. Where the incline levels out at the top of the ridge, an interpretation panel is located at the site of the steam winch. Further on, the remains of trestle bridges can be seen (the so-called long trestle is signposted). The railhead, and site of Billygoat Camp, is well off the track and difficult to find, due to thick scrub and regenerating bush.
All parts of the Billygoat tramway and other supporting infrastructure are on Conservation land and access is unrestricted. However, the terrain is steep and rugged and normal precautions relating to back-country tramping should be observed.


GPS Waypoints and Location Maps for The Billygoat Tramway.


History

Logging in the Billygoat basin, above the falls, commenced in the 1880s, when the Stone Bros. had the contract to log the Kauaeranga area. The subcontractor for the Billygoat catchment was Sam Webb (after whom Webb's Creek was named) who built three dams in the headwaters of the Atuatumoe Stream. The initial extraction plan was to build a dam at the top of the 200m-high Billygoat Falls and drive logs over the falls to the Kauaeranga River below. However, the long free-fall meant that most of the logs were smashed on landing, and another method had to be devised. This involved using the dam at the top of the falls as a holding dam and building a short section of wooden-rail tramway, bypassing the falls. From the end of this tramway, logs were fed into a log chute that took them down to the main Kauaeranga River (see Fig. 1). However, the length of the chute meant that logs were travelling so fast on arrival at the bottom, many got stuck in the mud and were difficult to extricate.

Figure 6: Fordson rail tractor used on the
near-flat upper section of the Billygoat tramway
(here being used to collect firewood)
Click to enlarge the photograph.

Figure 7: Fordson rail tractor with empty
bogeys crossing short trestle
Click to enlarge the photograph.
By the 1920s, the Kauri Timber Company (KTC) had taken over the Kauaeranga lease, and in 1921 conceived the idea of a tram line, to carry logs from the head of the Billygoat, all the way down to the Kauaeranga. The steep lower section was built by contractors Tony Voykovich and Frank Kumerich and had a maximum gradient of 1:2.7. These men, well-known local identities, had no formal engineering training and relied on their bush experience and plain common sense. It is understood that Tony Voykovich implemented cambering of the sharp curves of the Billygoat tramway to help keep wagons on the track.
These two men also built the middle section, which followed the route of the original wooden tramway. The long, almost flat, upper section was built by wages staff under Bert Collins, who was the prime contractor working for the KTC in the Kauaeranga area at that time. As an aside, Tony Ave in Totara, south of Thames, was named after Tony Voykovich, who, with Frank Kumerich, built all four of the Kauaeranga branch tramlines and parts of the main tramline. Tony owned a market garden at Totara in the 1950s and 60s, and the author of this article worked for him during school holidays in the late 1960s.
Logs were hauled from where they were felled in the bush to the railhead by means of a steam winch. The section of line from the railhead to the top of the incline had its own locomotive - a Fordson rail tractor, built by A&G Prices' Foundry in Thames (Mahoney 1998). Another steam winch was used to lower logs down the steep incline section and to haul the empty bogeys back up again. At Billygoat Landing, logs were unloaded using timber jacks, winched across the Kauaeranga River and reloaded onto the main Kauaeranga tramway, which led to Thames. (For details and history of the main tramway see NZAA SRF T12/1302.) The entire Kauaeranga tramway system was decommissioned in 1928 (effectively, after the area was logged out) and the tracks were pulled up.

Survey

Several visits were made to the Billygoat tramway site over the period December 2007 - March 2008. Areas visited included Billygoat Landing, the lower section of the tramway route on the true left bank of the Atuatumoe Stream, and the upper section, which is reached via the DoC track. Around Billygoat Landing, a buckled section of rail (approx 1m long) was found, as were lengths of charred timber from the Atuatumoe Bridge, on the true left bank of the Atuatumoe.
The lower section of the incline, up to its junction with the main DoC track at WP 293, was also surveyed. This section is probably the most interesting part of the Billygoat tramway and has numerous artefacts, including several cuttings, sections of trestle, sleepers and spikes. (Unfortunately, waypoints could not be taken as the GPS could not acquire satellite signal under the bush canopy, on an overcast, rainy day.) There is a well defined route, partially cleared and quite easy to follow, either uphill or down.
Points of interest in the upper section included the remains of two trestles, numerous cuttings and two short sections of rail that have been restored. Two unsuccessful attempts were made to find the site of the railhead and Billygoat Camp. This was due to very thick scrub and regenerating bush, and the flat, almost featureless, nature of the basin at the head of the Atuatumoe Stream.
A search was made for the dam site at the top of the falls, which was successful. Immediately south of the short trestle is a well-formed track that leads to Atuatumoe Stream. On the true left bank of the stream, two pieces of unidentified cast iron machinery were found (see photo next section). There was no obvious site for the dam, as there is no place with high, steep banks on both sides. However, possible sites were searched and the main stringer of the dam was located on the true right bank, approx 100m upstream from the short trestle. The section of stringer that remains has been squared, is approx 2m long, and is bolted to a foundation log that runs parallel with the stream. This is an apparent improvisation to overcome the lack of a suitable high bank to anchor the structure on that side of the stream. Two possible sites for the start of the log chute were found, below the stretch of the incline that bypasses Billygoat Falls. These are where there is a sharp drop-off to the west side of the ridge followed by the tramway, allowing line-of-site to the Kauaeranga River. However, no supporting evidence that confirmed the actual site was found (it was too steep to attempt to follow either of the possible routes).

Figure 8: Hauler shed at top of Billygoat incline, housing a Judd steam winch that had extra braking to help control the descent. In addition, a brakeman rode on the rear of the wagon.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 9: Preparing to lower logs down the incline. Because of the very steep grade (maximum of 1:2.7) special equipment was used. The cable was passed around rollers to allow it to follow the bends in the track and was held down to near ground level by a special bracket below the bogey. The person in the white shirt is a visitor.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 10: Logs being lowered down incline.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 11: View down the steep section of the incline (Billygoat Landing at the bottom).
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 12: View of logs being lowered.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 13: Loaded bogeys crossing the Atuatumoe bridge.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 14: Logs being unloaded, using timber jacks, at Billygoat Landing.
Click to enlarge the photograph.






Figure 15: View of Billygoat Landing, with empty bogeys being winched up the incline. Billygoat Falls are near the centre and smoke from the steam winch boiler can be seen towards the top right. View of Billygoat Landing, with empty bogeys being winched up the incline. Billygoat Falls are near the centre and smoke from the steam winch boiler can be seen towards the top right.
Click to enlarge the photograph.


Photos of the Billygoat Location As Found Today.

References:

Hayward, B. W. (1978). Kauaeranga Kauri, Lodestar Press, Auckland.
Mahoney, P. (1998). The Era of the Bush Tram in New Zealand, IPL Books, Wellington.




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