Archives For Sawmills

By Shaun Burnett, Community Relations Ranger, Greymouth

There are still a few old ‘plank roads’ hidden in the Grey Valley on the West Coast. These are wooden ‘planked’ roads constructed for the timber industry in the early twentieth century to help extract timber to the nearest road or sawmill site.

A mountain biker planking along a track.

Planking but not on a plank road

One rainy Tuesday we set out to record one such road on GPS. This particular road was rumoured to have half buried treasure abandoned along its route.

The road was roughly 3 metres wide and consisted of cedar poles laid along it to form a type of ‘boardwalk’ road for the logging trucks.

Walking along the plank road through a corridor in the bush.

Native planks rotting and a faint corridoor ahead

Today, nearly 80 years later, little remains of these roads but the trained eye can still pick a faint corridor in the trees and occasionally you can see the actual logs that made up the road, rotting away as the bush slowly regenerates and claims back its rightful place.

In a swampy clearing, celery pine grows up between the runners, as we stepped carefully between the logs and followed the remains onwards, into the bush again.

Plank road remains in swampy areas of the Grey Valley track.

The remains of the plank road are clearly visible in the swampy areas

After a short 40 minute walk, Historic Program Manager, Jim Staton, led us to his treasured find at the end of this particular plank road: a Marshall portable steam engine!  This old engine was used to drive a winch that hauled logs out of the bush.

The steam engine is in remarkable condition considering it has lain forlornly on its side in the bush for nearly 80 years. The question now is, what to do with it?

A Marshall portable steam engine.

A Marshall portable steam engine

DOC Historic Program Manager Jim Staton is considering the engine’s fate. We could remove it to a local place for public viewing (taking it out of context), or remove it to a place that will restore it to working order, or cut a track to it for public viewing that has an interpretation panel explaining what it was and why its here, or simply forget about it. What do you think should happen?

Marshall portable steam engine half buried.

Small parts have been poached, but it’s mostly intact