Smoke and steam poured from valves and pipes, water slopped on to the track below, there was grease all about and it hissed, roared and grunted - and it could not have been in better shape.

It is Ja1271 - a steam locomotive which was the fourth to last one built in New Zealand in 1956 and which ran the rails of the land until the diesel locos eventually took over.

"A lovely old lady," was how one of the great machine's handlers put it.

And the large gathering of steam and smoke-savouring bystanders which lined the tracks off Munroe St yesterday morning to watch its first Tremain Art Deco Weekend departure would have agreed.


"It's a grand sight - just a wonderful thing to see," said David Roe, of Matarangi Beach, who was visiting Napier with his wife.

"I used to work on the steam trains during the 1940s - started in 1946 and was with them for nine years."

When the great 110-ton locomotive sounded its horn, which had some clutching their ears, Mr Roe smiled and simply said "beautiful".

All agreed that while the classic 1957 diesel locomotive, which was called into duty last year after fire restrictions throughout Central Hawke's Bay snuffed the idea of a coal burner out, was a nice machine - nothing beat steam.

Art Deco events manager Peter Mooney said while initial sales had been modest they kicked in over the past few days, and two of today's train journeys were sold out and a third close to selling out.

"The Pea Pie and Pud run is three-quarters full and there are only 30 seats out of 380 for the run to Dannevirke on Sunday."

With steady rain over much of the region a fortnight ago the fire risk had stayed out of the danger zone and on Monday the trust received the all-clear permit to operate the train without the need for a following fire crew.

"We were doing rain dances back then to get the steam train here but this week we've been doing sunshine dances to get the weather we want - and it seems to have worked pretty well so far."

The steam locomotive is operated by Steam Incorporated and based in Paekakariki.

Locomotive serviceman Daniel Garland said the four morning and four afternoon shift engineers, the dozen cabin crew, a couple of guards and staff running the hospitality carriage all happily volunteered to be part of it.

"It is such a fine machine to be around, and of course the whole weekend is so special."

It was retired from service in 1970 and eventually sold to Steam Incorporated in 1978.

It was restored over 20 years.

The locomotive carries five tonnes of coal which fires up and boils 18,000 litres of water.

Yesterday's departure for the run to Otane was a true blast from the past as vintage cars dropped off the dapper and daintily dressed passengers who later waved regally to the delighted crowd who gathered to see the return of steam to the big weekend.