Sugar cane train days relived

Scott Johnson fired up the Kaipu on Thursday morning for one of the steam locomotive’s periodic maintenance runs on a short set of tracks in Puhi.

Johnson, who has been working on rebuilding and restoring the Kaipu since 1982, explained that they need to fire up the engines periodically as a way of preserving the historical artifact.

Kaipu is one of three working locomotives in the Grove Farm Homestead Museum’s stable, this particular engine being named after one of the company’s lunas.

Manufactured in 1925, Kaipu was designed to burn coal, Johnson tells a crowd who had gathered, mustered in by the bellowing steam whistle unique to trains. Today, Kaipu has been reconfigured to burn disel fuel, a commodity much easier to obtain than coal.

When Johnson started the rebuilding of Kaipu, he discovered that about 60 per cent of the locomotive had to be reworked or rebuilt, a process that continues today as part of the maintenance process.

Many of the required parts for rebuilding the engine were created at the Puhi trainyard by Johnson and his crew of helpers that swell depending on the scope of work that needs to be accomplished.

This rebuilding and maintenance schedule has Johnson well-versed in the operation of the engine, as he described Kaipu as a saddle tanker based on the water tank that straddles the cowling immediately outside the cab.

On this maintenance run, Kaipu was hooked up to a train of five flat cars configured to haul sugar cane. These cars have also been replicated from the original, Scott pointed out, each car having a gate locking system unique to the type of operation it was used for.

In the crowd was a family from England whose interest in the locomotive was based on one of their younger members recently completing an employment application to work on steam engines in England. They found their way to the baseyard through a Kauai relative who has connections to museum, while other “passengers” included members of Johnson’s family and invited friends. Other engines in the Puhi trainyard include the Paulo, a smaller engine named after Paul Isenberg, a former owner of Lihue Plantation. Manufactured in 1887, the shipment of Paulo to Kauai from the plant spanned a period of one year, the locomotive having to make the journey around the Horn before arriving at Koloa Landing via ship.

Wainiha is the third working locomotive. As Johnson opens up a cannister of disel-soaked rags, he flashes a smile as he works the rag onto a special hook before lighting it and inserting the lit rag into the burner to ignite the disel, “We recycle everything.”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.