They were as chuffed as they were puffed at the world's only contest to pull a 28-tonne steam engine through a town's main street.

Nine teams and two community teams entered the fray at yesterday's Kawakawa Puff & Pull Carnival, where the fun also included a talent quest in Johnson Park, market stalls, rides and displays.

The engine, called Gabriel, is the only remaining engine of its type left in the world, so the event is unique and any record-breaking pulls are world records, said Anne Leitch from Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust. The main street doubles as State Highway 1, which was closed off with detours in place from 10am until 1pm for the tug-of-war with a difference.

With several teams being the only ones in a category, for most competitors the event was more a challenge than a contest. Adult teams had 20 members, with 40 in a community team. Train-pull competitors' ages ranged from a rumoured 84-year old to a 5-year old, the latter in the plucky Kawakawa Primary School team (2:02.65 minutes). A team of much bigger pupils from Bay of Islands College also impressed with their train pulling prowess. With two short in the team, they still got that 28-tonne beast over the line in 1:46.93m.


Drumming up enough team members for the community category proved challenging in itself for compere Frank Leadley, stalwart of the Vintage Railway Trust.

"Come on, " he urged. "Join in so you can tell your grandchildren you pulled a steam engine through Kawakawa, down a highway ... Not many people in the world can say that."

It was about the same time Mr Leadley mentioned the oldest puller he could see taking up the rope was 84. The comment saw a few more able-bodied folk rush to take part.

In the community contest, the Far North beat the mid-North. Wahine Fit from Kaitaia, already the Far North's tractor-pull champions, took out the women's section (2:17.36m). More demonstrating their might than competing, Motatau Marae - a team made up from the Motatau community's sports teams and kapa haka group - got that engine chugging across the line in 1:30.58m.