Johnny McClune's last big steam up

By John Maslin -
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Johnny McClune's send-off was something a bit special.

The 32-year-old died tragically when he fell off the back of a truck in Whanganui on November 11 but when family and friends gathered to say their goodbyes, Johnny's casket was placed in a boat that was towed behind a traction engine from his home in Waireka Rd to the crematorium.

His dad Steve said that's how his son would have wanted to be farewelled because the boat and the traction engine were things his son was passionate about.

The funeral notice also stipulated that no-one was to break out their flash suits. And they didn't either. It was all casual and comfortable for the close to 1000 people who turned up to farewell him.

Johnny McClune was born into the world of steam. His father's business specialised in repairing steam boilers all over the country.

The traction engine that towed his casket was family-owned and he was at the controls when it helped pull the paddle steamer Waimarie out of the Whanganui River for its marine survey a matter of weeks ago.

The boat carrying his casket was one he rebuilt out of an old hull. He added a little boiler and steam engine and use to run it up and down the river.

The family had lined Johnny's casket with a coal sack, a gesture that his father said epitomised his son's love of steam.

"Johnny was never one for ceremony so there was nothing at his funeral that the family didn't have connections with. We even made his casket out of wood we found around the property," he said.

The last project he was working on was salvaging a handful of stationary steam engines that used to run at the Huntly power station.

"They had a museum of these old engines up there. When demolition of the power station started nobody wanted them and the plan was to scrap them but Johnny stepped and bought the whole lot for a dollar," Mr McClune said.

His fatal accident happened soon after he had brought the last load of steam engine parts back to Whanganui. He was going to have the engines on permanent display at Waireka Rd.

"He was planning to have a big steam up so those who'd helped at the Huntly end and those who helped at this end could see the machinery going. After his service some of his mates got two of those engines running. It was the great final steam up in his honour," his father said.

Born and educated in Whanganui, Johnny left school and did an automotive apprenticeship in Hawke's Bay before moving into general engineering. He came back to Whanganui a decade ago to work with his father repairing steam boilers all over the country.

"He did a huge amount of work for the Waimarie. During the June floods Johnny was suspended in a cage cutting logs away from the front of the boat. If he hadn't done that the boat woud probably have been destroyed."

Before his funeral his casket was taken for one last ride aboard the Waimarie.

Mr McClune said his son was always one to lend a hand or use his initiative because he saw someone needed help. He said the support the family received after his son's untimely death had been overwhelming and recognised the influence his son had had.

"He led a rich and full life."

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