The Life & Times of a well-travelled Steam tram Engine - No.100 - celebrating 130 years of age

Author: James Duncan
Author: Christen McAlpine
Editor: Megan Hutching

In the very early years of tram operation, New Zealand’s tramway undertakings had to generate their own electricity as there was no national grid.  The tramways used stationery steam engines with the steam pressure being used to turn dynamos or turbines, and these generated the power needed to run the trams.  In many cases, electricity was often sold by the tramways to Councils for street lighting and in some cases, local businesses for running equipment such as elevators, and this was the case in Whanganui.

Electric trams commenced operation in Whanganui on December 11, 1908, making it the first provincial town in New Zealand, to have an electric tramway.  The first 4 electric trams commissioned by the Council, were built by a Wellington coachbuilder, Lyons and Company.  Soon after, a further order of 15 electric trams was placed with Boon and Company of Christchurch, the prominent builder of most of Christchurch’s trams.

The system opened with two main routes from the city centre, inland to Aramoho and the other went out to Gonville, with the later addition of Whanganui East.   The extension of the Gonville line out to Castlecliff Beach was the result of the Council joining forces with a separate Tramway Board, set up to see the line completed. The Gonville-Castlecliff Tramway Board were responsible for the construction of the extension and key player – Steam Tram No.100 – was called up to undertake the work.

Built in 1891 by the well-known engine manufacturers Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, U.S.A., Steam Tram No.100 arrived in Sydney on the S.S. Henley around 1892.  It was the last of 100 motors built for the New South Wales steam tramways, and accordingly, received the fleet number 100.  Trams had operated in NSW from 1887, and initially the tramway used both steam and electric trams.  Many of the steam trams operating on this tramway were modified from their original manufacture as two-person operated to a single-person operation.  However, it appears No. 100 was not modified, thus retaining its original, as-manufactured layout. No. 100 operated out of the City’s Bridge Street yard until 1905, when electric trams replaced steam services. However, it remained in Sydney for five more years as the backup for the private Saywell Tramways.

After being retired from use in Australia, No.100 was shipped to Whanganui in 1910 where it was used in the construction of the Gonville and Castlecliff Tramway Board's electric tramway extensions of the Whanganui system. Once the work was completed in 1912, steam tram No.100 was used rarely, the tram being retained as a ‘standby’ vehicle.
However, in July 1920, Whanganui’s electric power supply failed, leaving trams stranded and forcing businesses to close.  Passengers returning home were forced to walk or use taxi cabs, and the following morning the situation remained unresolved, which resulted in bicycles, taxi cabs, horses and walking as the main modes of transport.  The power failure, caused by a lack of maintenance of the power generating plant, was to extend over three months and caused the governing bodies to review all available power supply options.  In a bid to provide some form of emergency service, Baldwin steam tram No.100 was returned to the rails and was used to haul some of the tram trailers between the city, Gonville and Castlecliff.  It was about this time that the Baldwin steam tram earned the nickname ‘Puffing Billy.’

As soon as the power plant was back up and running, No.100 was confined to barracks once again, but did return to the streets for one last hurrah in September 1950, the week before the Wanganui Tramway system was to close. Once again with trailers coupled up, ‘Puffing Billy’ trundled up and down Victoria Avenue giving free rides. This coincided with a parade to celebrate the almost 42 years of tram operation in the city and to introduce the new fleet of buses.

Following closure of the tramway system, No.100 sat in the yard of a local scrap merchant and lingered there rather like a trophy, until discovered in 1955 by the Steam Tram and Railway Preservation Society of New South Wales, Australia, who immediately sought the purchase of the tram and then worked to arrange its return to Sydney.

As the society was unable to then finance the cost of shipping the tram locomotive back to Australia, it was purchased by Graham Stewart and Peter Mellor in 1958, and they donated it to the Old Time Transport Preservation League, after which it was eventually brought to MOTAT.  Since arriving at MOTAT No.100 has been fully restored to working order and remains in near-original condition with the two-person operation retained.  The restorations took place over a period between 1971 and 1996.

The engine is unique: of the roughly 500 similar tram-motors built for street railways throughout the world, No.100 is the only one still operating and with limited modification to its original form and equipment. It represents a unique surviving example of steam tram technology, design and use and connects the development of tramways throughout New Zealand, opening a new method of transport between towns and cities which had previously been reliant on boats, shipping, horse-drawn wagons and carriages.  The opening of the countryside by this type of vehicle technology was very contemporary and modern.

Since its restoration, Steam Tram 100 has become a unique part of MOTAT and enables an old form of transport to be demonstrated and experienced.

Wanganui No.100 – Steam Tram
Manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia
Makers No.11665  Class 4-16-C-87
Wheel configuration of 0-4-0
Cylinder diameter 11” x 16”
Boiler Diameter 3’ 4”
Steam Pressure 140lbs
Track Gauge: 4' 8½" (1435 mm) gauge.


  • Alexander, Ron. 2006. Wanganui Corporation Tramways 1908-1950, Canterbury: RB & ER Alexander.
  • Graham Stewart books
  • Hutching, M. 2019. 2004.310 Tram #100 Wanganui Collection object significance research report. Auckland, NZ: MOTAT.
  • Nevin, B. 2018. 2004.310 Tram #100 Wanganui Significance Score Sheet. Auckland, NZ: MOTAT.
Subject date
Duncan, James. McAlpine, Christen. 2021. The Life & Times of a well-travelled Steam tram Engine - No.100 - celebrating 130 years of age. New Zealand: The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT).

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