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Dorian Davis

Joined: Sun Jun 19th, 2011
Location: Cobden, Greymouth, New Zealand
Posts: 22
What follows are some preliminary ideas pertaining to the Moonlight Creek Coal Co. Tramway.

A freelance mining and logging tramway in the Paparoa Range, the South Island's West Coast, New Zealand, built on 3 or 4 x 1200mm.x600mm. modules.

The Area:
The Paparoa Range (Maori: “long place”) extends for 29 miles south-south-west from the lower Buller Gorge, between the Grey and Inangahua Valleys and Tasman Sea and the coastal plains, and reaches 4,925 feet at Mount Uriah, with many other peaks exceeding 4,000 feet. Glacial action in the past has produced sharp ridges, steep cliffs, and cirques, and many of the deeply incised rivers and streams have glaciated forms. With an annual rainfall of 150–200 inches., the range is clothed in thick podocarp forest up to about 3,500 feet, a thin narrow belt of sub-alpine scrub giving way to mountain grasses on the tops. On poor soils these grassed areas can be as low as 1,000 feet.

The range is part of a complex, faulted anti-clinorium from which the softer Tertiary and Mesozoic sediments have been mainly stripped, exposing a core of granite and pre-Cambrian greywacke, argillite, and gneiss. Mount Buckley (1,145 feet) is a continuation of the structure south of the Grey River. The Papahaua Range, north of the Buller Gorge, is a geological continuation, the gorge being cut as these ranges were uplifted during the early Pleistocene.

Significant coal deposits have been found in the Paparoa Range, with the Blackball Branch/Roa Incline and the Rewanui Branch railways built to provide access to the mines. Although these branch lines are now closed, they were famous for their usage of the Fell mountain railway system to aid braking for trains descending the Inclines (though this was not a full use of the Fell system like the North Island's Rimutaka Incline). Gold has been worked on a small scale on the southern end and, more recently, uraniferous deposits have been investigated in the Buller River, Fox River, and Bullock Creek catchments.

Numerous species of flora and fauna are found in the Paparoa Range, as well as lower slopes and valleys below. One of the significant understory elements of the floral palette is the fern Blechnum discolor.

A portion of the range is protected as the Paparoa National Park.

Black Diamonds
Drilling and detailed geological surveys had shown the presence of a sizable area of coal in the headwaters of Moonlight Creek in 1911-12. This was outlined, in yellow, on the map in the Annual Report of the Mines Department for 1912 (known, in later years, as ‘the Yellow Blob’). This could have become an extension of a nearby State Mine, but in 1913 the government decided to cut its losses and abandoned the area.

After the closure of the State Mine in 1914, there was renewed public interest in securing a lease to mine this coal-bearing area. The problem was how to transport coal from an inaccessible area surrounded by dense West Coast rain forest. Local saw miller, Walter Sullivan, who had constructed a bush tramway to his small mill near the mouth of Moonlight Creek in 1912 proposed to extend this a further 4 kilometers upstream to the coal field. Finance for the extension and mine development was raised by a share issue, and the Moonlight Creek Mine eventually started coal production in 1920.

"Trouble at Mine!"
The late 1920s was not a good time for West Coast mines. The demand for coal dropped during the Depression, and there was fierce competition for sales. The Directors of the Moonlight Creek Coal Company were prepared to undercut the price of coal from the longer established mines at Blackball and Roa. Because no other jobs were available, Moonlight Creek miners were forced to accept a form of contract work known as the "Tribute System", which was strongly opposed by the large mining unions. This was to lead to an ugly confrontation.

In the early hours of 26 May 1931, more than 200 miners, led by union officials from the Blackball and Roa Mines, trekked up the Moonlight Creek tramway, arriving just as work was about to start. They frog-marched the Moonlight Creek miners back to Paparoa where they were forced to leave the district, under police escort, showered, with what the Grey River Argus termed, "Irish confetti" (bricks or stones).

The government sent police to restore order, and the protest leaders were subsequently arrested and fined. Within a few weeks the Moonlight Creek mine was working again, but the events were to leave a legacy of mistrust (that would persist for decades). Over the years a number of private mines opened in the area, but the miners there remained apart from the strongly unionized miners west of the Grey River.

The mine is remote from nearby settlements. Some miners live at Pikipiki, and have an 8 kilometer bush walk to work every day. Others live at Paparoa, and ride to work on the tramway in the empty mine tubs.

Moonlight Creek Private Siding
Interchange with NZ Government Railway; (dual gauge). At present, this is considered as an "off-stage" location.

Paparoa - a West Coast Littledene1
Fictional West Coast settlement; Locals: gangers: Bill, Jack, Stan and Blue; Ah Lee (Chinese market gardener) & the Goose; the Dutchman; Taniwha somewhere in rivers of the Paparoa Ranges; Liam O'Neil (Irish rabblerouser/trade unionist); sly grog shop; short rail corridor thru West Coast bush.

Sullivan's Saw Mill
Dense West Coast bush; saw mill; sawn lumber loading dock, stacks &c.; saw miller's huts.

Moonlight Creek
More dense West Coast bush; Moonlight Creek; Moonlight Creek trestle bridge; derelict hut(s) in bush; coal mine.

1935 (The Sugar-Bag Years) - the eve of the New Zealand General Elections. Unionized West Coast miners.


1 Littledene is a mythical 1930s rural community created by H.C.D. Somerset; it features in his two sociological narratives: “Littledene; A New Zealand Rural Community” (1938), and “Littledene; Patterns of Change” (1974).

Last edited on Sat Mar 8th, 2014 01:41 am by Dorian Davis

Herb Kephart

Joined: Thu Jul 19th, 2007
Location: Glen Mills, Pennsylvania USA
Posts: 5929
Interesting read!

Sounds like something that could eventually expanded to many more (and wider) segments--if you have the room.

There is something to be said for building in "modules" as one can be finished, one in the process of getting scenery and the third with just the track and landforms going down. Especially good idea, is incorporating an inglenook into the earliest section--so that when work gets to be a bore, you can have some meaningful operation.

I have done a little on line "looking" at NZ, and the scenery is spectacular. If it were not for the choice of North island (getting fried by a volcano) or South island (having brain even more rattled by the shaking) sounds like a great place to live.

It is very common on model railroad forums for some one to post that they bought a handful of strip wood, and have 10 replies "can't wait to see how this turns out". Fortunately, that doesn't happen here very much--but I have to say that your proposed project interests me a great deal. I look forward to more posts, and photos, as you progress.

Herb  :old dude:

Dorian Davis

Joined: Sun Jun 19th, 2011
Location: Cobden, Greymouth, New Zealand
Posts: 22
Thanks, Herb.

The Concept is really nothing more than Programme Notes; the modeler's aide-de-memoire.

Overall, it is indeed a long-term project (2 years?) further complicated by an imminent shift of house (Christchurch-Auckland) in 3 weeks time. I have already laid out the trackplan for the bins area (on an old 4'x1' testbed) and it looks & feels good. For the creek/tressle area will foreshorten the baseboard cutout to force some perspective (the layout should ideally be viewed at 1.4m). When I can, will post photos of the prototype and layout progress in the appropriate fora.

As for volcanoes and earthquakes: we just happen to live in interesting times. :glad:


Last edited on Sat Jun 25th, 2011 11:30 pm by Dorian Davis


Joined: Mon Aug 26th, 2013
Location: Roscoe, Montana USA
Posts: 72
Dorian, did you ever get to work on this project?

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