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A restoration project is underway to bring Thomas back up to safety standards at Moanataiari School. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

‘Thomas’ to live on thanks to volunteers

Once a main feature of the Moanataiari School playground, a derelict shunter engine now lies isolated and rusting on the edge of the school grounds. But not for long – Thames Rotary is working to restore the lonely engine as part of their partnership with the school.

The shunter engine was donated to the school by local foundry and engineering firm A&G Price sometime in the 1980s. Ann Ridley, currently the school’s neighbour, spotted the engine sitting on a rail turntable behind the A&G Price buildings in the late 70s. 

“I used to see the train sitting there,” she said. 

“When I got involved with the school … I said to [my husband] one day, ‘you know, that would be a nice playground apparatus’.”

Others jumped on the idea and eventually the locomotive did make its way to the school, where it has remained a proud part of the junior playground ever since. 

“It was a big attraction,” Ann said. 

“What [other] school has an engine from an engineering firm that makes trains?” 

School principal David Brock said there were a number of students who had chosen the school specifically because of the engine. 

“The train is really very popular,” he said. 

“But it has been sitting out here for all those decades, it’s starting to rust and I don’t want to be the principal that removes the train because it plays a fairly special part in the kids’ lives and experience here.” 

Luckily for David, there were a few train enthusiasts among the members of Thames Rotary who were keen to lend a hand. 

“We’re very fortunate to have Rotary doing the repairs on this train,” he said. 

“The back is completely rusted out. The guys have gutted the floor to the train … we’ve started to make some progress.

“But in the meantime we’ve had to clearly rope the area off – it’s a hazard and we can’t have the kids playing with it while it’s in this current state.” 

Peter Vale, who is leading the restoration project, said Rotary was now looking for local businesses to donate time, resources or money to the project. 

“Some of it is cast iron, but some of it is sheet metal – that’s in a poor state of health,” Peter said. 

“Materials not being used from engineering shops around the district would be most welcome. [The repair is] all relatively simple stuff to do.” 

Peter said he was happy to offer his engineering skills to Rotary and the school. 

“It was always about the kids,” he said. 

“And for me it’s something interesting to do. I’ve got the skills, and Thames Rotary is one of the best [community groups] I’ve seen – a dynamic bunch of people doing things.” 

David said the school was optimistic the engine could be repaired before the new school year, but said he was aware the timeline of the project would rely entirely on the availability of the volunteers and materials. 

“I don’t know how long the work’s going to take, because these people are giving of their own time – it’s a labour of love,” he said. 

“But we really look forward to it very much being repaired and fit for purpose. We’re very grateful to the support that we’re getting from Rotary.” 

DETAILS: To get involved with the restoration of Moanataiari School’s Thomas engine, contact Peter Vale on 0800 890 015 or email

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air