Trinidad’s first Government Railway Locomotive is now mostly lost from living memory having been scrapped in the mid 1930’s. Her full story is now recorded in the book ‘The Railways of Trinidad’ and at the top of page 27 there is a wonderful photograph of the locomotive before she was exported to Trinidad.
This photograph was taken by P. C. Dewhurst in 1935 when the engine was stored in the running shed at the railway yard in Port-of-Spain. This shed is still in use today as a workshop for the bus fleet of the Public Transport Service Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago.
This is the story of ‘ARIMA’, the first locomotive of the Trinidad Government Railway.
The Crown Agents for the Colonies, whose job it was to handle all the supplies of goods to the Governments of Colonial territories and their business transactions in London, purchased the first locomotive from the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds in 1874. This was a small saddle tank engine for the Colombo Harbour Authorities in Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka). The Crown Agents connection with this famous Leeds locomotive manufacturer remained uninterrupted for the remainder of the Hunslet Engine Company’s existence.
It is perhaps then not surprising that the Trinidad Government Railway’s (TGR) first locomotive was also a Hunslet imported via Crown Agents for the Colonies to work on the construction of the Port-of-Spain and Arima Railway in 1874.
The firm of M. J. Caldwell of Soldiers Pt., Holyhead, following their successful tender the previous year, arrived in Trinidad during May of 1874 to begin construction of the new railway.
The contractors brought in the new Hunslet engine (works number 125 of 1874) which was named ‘ARIMA’ after the town which formed the first objective of the new railway.
‘ARIMA’ was an 0-6-0T, side tank engine with a water capacity of 500 gallons and a 45 sq. feet firebox with grate area of 7.5 sq. feet capable of generating a boiler pressure of 160 lb. per sq. inch and a tractive effort of 8406lb.
Once the railway was built, ‘ARIMA’ (the engine) was purchased by the Government and allocated to the TGR locomotive fleet (then made up of four engines in 1876). The engine never carried any number, it was forever known simple as ‘ARIMA’.
‘ARIMA’ became somewhat of a “mascot engine” loved by the department (probably because at the time it was the only TGR engine with a name). Over the years ‘ARIMA’ was used for building many of the subsequent railway extensions and for shunting and light cargo movements between the yard at Port-of-Spain and the wharf. She was sometimes hired out to the sugar industry and worked in the cane fields hauling cane to the various factories. She could be described as an “all-purpose engine”.
I have never found any evidence of ‘ARIMA’ being used to haul passenger trains. The job of hauling passenger trains was first carried out by the more powerful standard Kitson 4-4-0 tank engines like No.11 at Harris Promenade.
There is a very interesting account of an incident which took place in 1885, involving the “ARIMA” in the book “LOOKING OVER MY SHOULDER: forty-seven years a public servant 1885 – 1932” by PERCY L. FRASER, as follows:
“After I left St Mary’s, having a penchant for mechanical engineering, my father apprenticed me to the Trinidad Government Railway engineering shop.”
The account continues: “I was handed over to Mr. Davis, an old and experienced mechanic. He was then engaged in the renovation of the old engine “ARIMA” called by that name in honour of the first terminus of the railway. It was the first engine imported, and it was being practically rebuilt. I therefore had the opportunity in learning all about an engine. Mr. Davis was a very nice old man, who took a delight in teaching me everything. But an incident took place which I shall always remember. The time came when we had to be confined in the firebox of the engine, which was a small one and anyone knowing about an engine of this size, will readily appreciate the space allowed two persons in its firebox.
It was very dark inside, and we had to use an oil lamp. We did not have the luxury of electric torches in those days. Our oil lamp did not give much illumination. One day while at work in the old box old Davis started making the most awful grimaces, and I noticed that his limbs were in an awful state of contortion; he was also frothing from his mouth. At first, I thought the old man was playing a practical joke on me, but then I remembered that he was a serious man, this idea was dispelled from my mind, and the next thought was that he had suddenly gone mad, and to be in a small firebox with a raving lunatic was not the most pleasant experience I could imagine. I then started to yell out, and at the same time, tried to squeeze myself through the fuel hole, a rather small aperture, which was the only exit from the box. My yells brought the entire staff of the shop to the spot, and when I eventually managed to crawl out, the foreman asked what I was making all this row about and told me that Mr. Davis only had an epileptic fit (it appeared that he had had several before). I was very young at the time and epilepsy was unknown to me.
The old man was sent home, and the next day returned to work, fit and well, but nothing would induce me to go into that hole with him again.”
According to The Railway Magazine in the UK, the ‘ARIMA’ was still in working order in 1931 having had two boiler changes and numerous rebuilds during its lifetime.
I have been able to find some records of the engine during its working life in Trinidad. The last individual service log for ‘ARIMA’ was done in 1920 for the year 1919. She was recorded to have made 8,811 miles that year and her total mileage up until that period was 244,624 miles (an average of some 5560 miles per annum).
According to the Trinidad Guardian newspapers, reported on 17 January 1920, the locomotive was to undergo conversion from burning coal to oil: “It is understood that the railway management are expecting a new boiler from England for the locomotive, ‘ARIMA’, which is mainly engaged in yard shunting. This engine is to be converted into an oil burner and when its repairs are complete it will be greatly useful in relieving the strain on locomotives during the sugar crop.”
In relation to the oil burner, it must be mentioned here that during the Great War (1914 to 1918) Trinidad had experienced a shortage of coal because of the conflict. In the latter years the railway through its Chief Engineer C. R. Walker, invented a local oil burner capable of burning crude oil straight from Trinidad’s oil wells and it was this burner that was being installed into all of the company’s locomotives and coastal steamers.
After 1920 the TGR stopped reporting yearly and cumulative locomotive fleet mileage.
The engine was reported out of use awaiting a new boiler at the end of 1924 and to have been scrapped in 1935.
What a great pity the ‘ARIMA’, as Trinidad’s first TGR locomotive, was never preserved.
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