Matt Austin, Grove Farm Museum’s Locomotive Restorer

In 1973, Miss Mabel Wilcox, the niece of Grove Farm Plantation founder George Norton Wilcox, decided to restore four old, broken-down sugar plantation locomotives stored in a Grove Farm warehouse at Puhi, Kauai, and then use them to take visitors for rides at a plantation museum she planned to establish at her Grove Farm homestead in Lihue.

One locomotive expert Miss Wilcox called upon to inspect locomotives Paulo, Wainiha, Kaipu and Wahiawa was Honolulu teenager Matt Austin, then working on the restoration of locomotive Waialua No. 06 on Oahu.

Austin determined that Wainiha was in the best condition of the four, and for the next two years, until 1975, when Miss Wilcox placed him in charge of restoring Wainiha with funds she provided, he spent his summer vacations working at the Lahaina-Kaanapali Railroad on Maui, where he became chief mechanic.

Then in 1975, the recent high school graduate went to work repairing, sanding, cleaning, painting and utilizing spare locomotive parts he found inside boxes at the Puhi warehouse to restore Wainiha that same year.

And, some old railroad track that Lihue Plantation gave him was a real bonus.

Six years later, in 1981, Austin, in charge of a team of four, and at that time a mechanical engineering senior at the University of Hawaii, also restored Paulo.

Paulo’s bell, whistle and headlights were replaced, as were its firebox, water tanks, boiler pipes, pressure release valve and other parts and equipment, and using blueprints he discovered at Grove Farm Museum, Austin rebuilt Paulo’s boiler.

Casting work was outsourced, but Austin did the required welding and riveting himself.

Work on Kaipu, the final locomotive Austin restored for Grove Farm Museum, was finished in 1983.

Matt Austin graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1982 with a degree in mechanical engineering and currently runs Hawaiian Steam Engineering Co. of Honolulu, which designs, inspects and restores boilers and locomotives, and also consults the Navy on servicing nuclear submarine power plant components.

Monthly train rides featuring locomotives that Matt Austin restored are presently conducted by Grove Farm Museum in Lihue.

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