Home' Greymouth Star : January 7th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 5
It all started at the sweeping bend
in the State highway just south of
Ngahere, when the Ministry of
Works started work to ease the curve
on the State highway to the south
of Jim Staton's house at Deadmans
Back then, the New Zealand Forest
Service employee's job was to measure every
log of timber that went into the New Forest
sawmill, which left him with a few hours
free each day.
e corner was an uno cial rest stop
(toilet paper, the works, dumped on the
roadside), but hidden close by in the
tall grass was the chassis of an old bush
locomotive. Jim thought it would make a
good picnic area, and for six weeks he went
down and cleared the siding by hand, and
started his research.
e Davidson loco (now restored by Jim,
and visible to all travelling past on State
highway 7) was built in Hokitika in 1922
and was used to push sawn timber out to
the siding, where it would be stacked on to
timber sets (that explains why the side of the
rest area is terraced), loaded on to trucks and
taken to the L railway wagons at Stillwater.
As Jim was cutting a track up the back
he spotted someone writing on the chassis,
'property of the Tauranga Mechanical
Society'. He told the stranger to paint over
it --- "the loco is staying here". It turns out
the stranger was rail heritage bu Paul
Mahoney, who later also worked for the
Forest Service in Hokitika, and they have
been mates ever since.
It is hard to detect from his accent, but
Jim Staton was born in Kent, England, and
emigrated to New Zealand just before his
10th birthday. He lived in Wellington until
he was 16, when his dad told him he should
get a job and arranged an interview for him
with the Forest Service. O he went to train
at Golden Downs, near Nelson.
"It was quite a steep learning curve," Jim
e teen's tender experience at that point
was "building huts in the town belt".
He spent two years learning silviculture. At
18½ he headed to the West Coast, arriving
on an old Road Services bus (these days
many have been converted to house buses).
Six forestry trainees were dropped o at
Inangahua Junction and taken to Totara
Flat by George Jones in a yellow J1 Bedford
gang bus, visiting a fair few drinking
establishments along the way.
Arrived at the NZ Forest Service camp
at Granville, Totara Flat, Jim headed o
to the forestry store, collecting his pillow
and mattress from Vern Curtain, and was
assigned to one of the 40 single men's huts.
It was November 1966.
In 1974, he got involved in the beech
project, laying out half-acre plots. Later, the
Maruia Society was formed in opposition
to beech logging and a new era arrived,
complete with sit-in protests.
"It was the start of the green movement,"
He was seconded to Bruce Watson in
Reefton to document historic sites, from
Hokitika to Karamea. It had never been
done before by a government department.
He talked to locals, old miners and the likes
of Reefton's Stan Baxter, and strapped on his
walking boots. He still has his copy of the
report in his o ce --- a lengthy tome full of
black and white photographs.
"In those days you could walk from the
Iron Bridge at Inangahua to Hokitika and
only cross the tarseal three times, on the old
miners' access tracks."
A period of looking after silviculture,
clearfelling and planting gangs, plus a stint
in the utilisation and development division
under Steve Boon followed, during which
time he got involved in the old goldmining
town of Goldsborough, where Hemi Te
Rakau was cutting the Goldsborough tracks;
together they planned the route of the
Bruce Watson took Jim back on, and when
the Forest Ser vice was dissolved and the
Department of Conservation was formed in
April 1987, all that changed was the lock on
It was about this time that Paul Mahoney
realised there was no native sawmill as a
museum piece on the Coast. He looked
around and found the Browns Creek mill
up Snowy Creek Road, and bought it for
$5000. Jim and Ces Clark dismantled the
mill and it was transported to Shantytown,
but there was a major problem: "It was just a
pile of shafts and pulleys."
Shantytown manager Neil omas
employed Keith Detla , from Ross, and up
the mill went.
"DOC's rst o cial opening of anything
was the opening of the indigenous sawmill.
Very ironic, but it was great working with
the likes of Ross Brownlee, the Gibson,
Donaldson and many other sawmilling
families," Jim says.
e heritage projects just kept coming.
Jim's DOC team had plans drawn up for
the Big River winding shed, and Reefton
man Paul omas secured the money and
built the shed. Jim also put in the mining
experience and the winding engine display
at the Reefton Visitor Centre, with a lot
of help from Dave Hawes, and ensured
the Denniston brakehead at the top of the
famous Denniston Incline was authentic.
Jim worked closely with historian the
late Les Wright; Jim brought engineering
knowledge, Les historical and together they
would nut things out.
He also worked on restoring the Golden
Lead stamping battery south-east of
Reefton, and the Big River boiler, sawmill
engine and 13m-high poppet head. e Lord
Brassey stamping battery was his dream
project, and his most remote. It is in Kir wans
Creek, up the Alexander Montgomery
River, 13.4km north-east of Reefton, with a
challenging helicopter drop zone. Idle since
1906, Jim rst spotted it in 1975. Recently, it
was rebuilt over four years.
"We used every iron tting except three
nuts. It hadn't moved since 1906!" he says.
Other projects included working on
Donovan's Store at Okarito, the Argyle
water race at Charleston (many people
do not know it is there, but the dam gate
itself is 9m deep), and the mine chimney
at Waiuta. ere was the Charming Creek
sawmill, the turntable and rail laying at the
Brunner Mine site, steam shovel at Lake
Haupiri, and the Howe truss rail bridge over
Mahinapua Creek after the Hokitika-Ross
railway line closed.
National projects include advising and
mentoring the Johnsons United stamping
battery rebuild at Golden Bay, the Nydia
Bay tram in the Marlborough Sounds,
Golden Point battery engine in Otago, the
Johnston locomotive in the Longwoods,
gun emplacements on Waiheke Island, the
Homeward Bound stamper battery near
Macetown, the Bullendale powerhouse site,
and the Otaki tramline.
In his free time these days Jim Staton is a
member of the Westland Industrial Heritage
Park --- restoring engines, of course. He has
helped many, many authors research books,
is also the West Coast-Nelson regional
representative for the Rail Heritage Trust
of New Zealand and a member of several
rail and heritage groups. ere are also
his adult children, Chris and Allan, ve
grandchildren, and wife Paula.
Again, he presses the point: "I'm part
of a team. I have had the opportunity to
direct the orchestra and do great things for
industrial heritage, but have always learned
from, and lean heavily on my peers and
mentors. It's all about teamwork."
PICTURE: Laura Mills
Department of Conser vation ranger Jim Staton, at home in the bush.
Department of Conservation ranger Jim Staton has been involved in just about all the major industrial heritage
restorations on the West Coast, plus a few others elsewhere in New Zealand. He has saved stamper batteries, sawmills
and chimneys, and surveyed most of the known heritage sites on conservation land. Not bad for a city boy who started
out in forestry, as LAURA MILLS reports.
PICTURES: Department of Conser vation
e Golden Lead battery south-east of Reefton, before and after it was restored.
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