Talk Story with Scott Johnson

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Paulo might not be able to move on the track, but sports a coat of polish for the Grove Farm Museum’s first Sugar Plantation Bash as Scott Johnson moves the locomotive in place for the fundraising shindig in Lihue.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Scott Johnson reflects on Paulo’s colorful history at the Grove Farm Museum yard in Lihue.

Following a glorious history of hauling sugar cane and, more recently, keiki and visitors, Paulo needs some help.

The Grove Farm Museum hosted the first Sugar Plantation Bash and earmarked a portion of the proceeds to help the ailing locomotive.

Following more than 30 years of service hauling sugar and other plantation duty, and more than 35 years of museum duty highlighted by the museum’s monthly Fire Up days, Paulo’s crank pin came loose. Following temporary repairs, the 130-year old crank simply gave out, rendering the locomotive inoperable.

Despite being hobbled by the broken crank, Paulo continued to service the community, making two public appearances in the 2017 Lights on Rice holiday parade, and more recently, the Koloa Plantation Days parade in July.

“Paulo has been in parades blowing whistle and ringing bell,” said Scott Johnson, the Grove Farm Museum engineer. “But on the track? Just no can go.”

Who, or what, is Paulo?

Paulo is Kauai’s own nationally registered historic sugar cane train, and the oldest operating sugar plantation locomotive in Hawaii.

The locomotive is named for Paul Isenberg, a partner of Lihue Plantation and Koloa Sugar Company, who was an active Kauai railway supporter with trains at the Koloa Plantation in 1882, then Lihue Plantation in 1891.

Paulo is a wood-fired steam locomotive manufactured at the Hohenzollern Locomotive Works in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1887, its badge showing the locomotive was the 426th engine to come from the plant.

The locomotive was shipped to the Koloa Sugar Company, the first commercial sugar plantation in the Kingdom of Hawaii that started in 1835. Paulo’s adventure to Kauai included an Atlantic Ocean crossing, passing “around the Horn” in Antarctica, journeying half way across the Pacific Ocean to the Sandwich Isles, and the final stretch in a row boat to the Koloa Landing, arriving in 1888.

The 19th century locomotive weighs in at 10 tons and pulled several three-ton cane cars during its sugar tenure.

Paulo was one of the two identical steam locomotives used in the construction and improvement of the Waita Reservoir, Hawaii’s largest man-made reservoir at 695 square acres.

Parts on Paulo are engraved with the “426” designation. But on one side, there is a part engraved with “462,” designating the part was from the 462nd engine produced. That proves there was another engine on the job site, identical enough that parts were interchangeable.

Paulo worked the Koloa fields for 32 years until 1920 before being retired to the lawn of the Koloa Plantation manager’s house where it was displayed until 1948 when the Grove Farm Company purchased Koloa Plantation and Paulo was moved to the Puhi warehouse.

In 1968, the Disney Corp. made an offer to buy the old trains for $500 each. Grove Farm board member Mabel Wilcox offered to buy the locomotives to keep the history here on Kauai, and the trains were not sold to Disney.

Instead, by 1970, Mabel Wilcox created the Grove Farm Homestead Museum and was gifted the locomotive collection in 1975. Among the collection, Mabel Wilcox restored locomotive Wainiha, GF Co No. 6, to operating condition using her own finances, and watched the restored locomotive run on 100 feet of track.

In 2001, Paulo and Wainiha had supporting roles in “To End All Wars” with Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Carlyle telling the true story about four Allied prisoners of war who endure harsh treatment from their Japanese captors during World War II while being forced to build a railroad through the Burmese jungle.

Johnson was hired to be the locomotive operator in that film while doing boiler (tube replacement) repair work on Paulo.

The current Haleko Road Lihue Mill site started operations in 2006, providing an extended ride for Kauai’s ohana, preserving Kauai sugar train history through fun-filled, educational rides. Paulo hauled guests along the historic railroad right of way until last September.

The 130-year-old metal cranks had worn out and once again, Paulo was retired from operations while awaiting repairs. With Paulo “resting,” the Diesel No. 65 is being run to pull the cane cars for passengers at Lihue Mill site which has been designated the Locomotive Learning Park site.

How did Paulo suffer its damage?

Paulo worked at hauling Koloa sugar cane with routine repairs for 32 years before being retired.

During its restoration which was completed in 1980, Paulo’s boiler tubes have been repaired twice along with other parts needing attention during its 37 years of museum service with the Grove Farm Museum on its Fire Up days that take place on the second Thursday of each month at the former Lihue Sugar Mill employee parking lot. This site is also known as the Locomotive Learning Park site.

The crank pin became loose, and two separate temporary repairs were done over the years. The 130-year-old original metal crank has just worn out. Other parts are also worn, and time has come again to do major repair to the oldest operating steam locomotive in Hawaii.

What is involved in repairing Paulo’s damage, and how much is it going to cost?

We need to move Paulo back to the Puhi Roundhouse because the mill site has no pit to work under the engine.

There is no electricity (needed to operate the restored Wainiha locomotive that will do museum duty once Paulo is moved to Puhi), and no solid floor or covered work space.

The procedure to repair Paulo involved moving the locomotive to Puhi, disassembling Paulo’s underframe, running gear, wheels, smoke stack (which is also in need of work due to age since being restored) and cab roof.

Some of the work involved includes checking the running gear tolerances and general entropy, repairing and replacing fabricate, application of protective coatings where applicable, lubricating, reassembling, checking clearances, hydro testing, preparation for test firing, checking for operational recertification, and recertification of operational complacency.

The original paint was applied in 1981 and survived two hurricanes — it’s time for repainting and rust prevention.

Initial estimates come in at more than $30,000 for repair work and train movements cost about $850 between truck costs and labor.

How did Scott Johnson get involved with railroads?

As a child, he inherited his brothers’ Lionel Q27 trains, and finally, Dad handed over his 1926 American Flyer Standard Gauge set. His best man gave him his first G gauge train set for Christmas.

He developed an active interest and study of railroading from 1966, moving to Maui in 1970 to work with the Kahului Railroad leading to historical and photo documentation of the system.

In 1982, he started work on more than 600 feet of track and switches for the Puhi Roundhouse that was built in 1943.

He was actively involved in the restoration of cane and flat cars for the Grove Farm Museum, and in 1985, worked on the construction of a 400-foot weekend rail line for the 150th anniversary celebration of sugar in Koloa.

Repair and restoration work overflowed from the Grove Farm Museum trains to the restoration of the steam locomotive KRR No. 1 Claus for the Alexander &Baldwin Sugar Museum, boiler repair work on LK&PRR Myrtle for Kyle Railways with an unofficial rivet education class for the Hawaii state boiler inspector.

In 1997, work started on the restoration work of a 1906 Fowler steam tractor for the Grove Farm Museum and work on Wainiha and Kaipu.

More recently, Johnson has been working to identify the rail lines on Kauai, focusing on the Lihue Plantation mill to the end of the Grove Farm Museum property in preparation for track laying using historic documents, photographs, and leveling surveys.

He has preserved the rail line documents for Ahukini, Nawiliwili Harbor routes as well as to Kapaa and Anahola through the Kealea historic rail route.

This is in addition to starting public displays of model railway efforts in 1975 where he collected a second-place ribbon.

This stoked his interest in public displays, presenting the public with an operating hands-on model train layout where a first-timer grandma showed her grandson how to run it.

By 1983, Johnson started independent displays of trains and informing the school children as well as community members of Hawaii’s historical sugar trains.

Currently, Johnson provides the historical, informative, and entertaining narration for guests at the monthly Fire Up days during the running of the Grove Farm steam locomotives where Kaipu is scheduled to start running once electricity is secured for the Locomotive Learning Park site.

Johnson is also responsible for all preparation and maintenance duties involved with the Grove Farm locomotive operations, including Hawaii state boiler compliance. He is the state registered power boiler operator for the Grove Farm Museum.

Contributions to the repair and restoration of the Grove Farm locomotive collection will be gratefully received and are tax deductible.

Info: (808) 245-3202; www., or grovefarm@


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or


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