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## update 27 May 2003 ##
Tramways, trolley lines, industrial railroads of Spontoon Island
(with some general references from 1890-1950)
Big Island Railway, 1920: "The Great Chicken Coup" © 1998 Roy D. Pounds II
A short historical overview
(by Ken Fletcher)
Some railroads & tramways were on the Spontoon Islands by the end
of the British
colonial administration, before 1890. They were mostly for moving goods and harvests
in the agricultural plantations to processing mills or boat landings. All were
‘narrow gauge’, with 2-feet or 3-feet width between the tracks, with light-weight track
& light equipment. Most of the light freight railcars were moved by Spontoonies pushing.
For some railways, the track was portable and could be moved in sections, with
cross-ties (‘sleepers’) and track attached together in standard lengths.
When Spontoon Island became independent, the Althing wished to improve
transportation in the atoll. Small boats and docks were the most useful for getting around
between islands and along the coasts, but the Spontoonies also wanted better land
transport. Walking & horse-trails were improved, but many main trails were upgraded to
bicycle-friendly paths. In addition, many of the main trails were supplimented by nearby
railway tracks. These Co-op railways used the equipment already available on the islands,
supplemented by purchasing used equipment and track from many sources in the Pacific
region. Tracklaying & design assistance came from off-island civil engineers working
on contract. Spontoonies did most of the labor. There was some standardization of the
rail equipment, 2 ½-foot gauge being most used, but some light feeder tramways
were in other gauges. The use of railways was at its peak about 1915.
The mostly second-hand equipment was from all over the map. Locomotives:
small British-pattern steam engines (0-4-0, 2-4-0 and 0-4-2) with built-in water tank and
fuel box. There were some USA-pattern geared steam engines (Heisler was a favorite
manufacturer) for heavier work loads. Freight & passenger cars were pre-owned from
all over the Pacific, with local modifications. An attempt was made to have a
standardized coupling system. Fuels used for the steam engines (not all at the
same time!): agricultural trash, coal, & fuel oil.
Most noteable of the rail lines was the 2 ½-foot gauge mainline
along the south coast
of the Main Island. It had regularly scheduled (but small) freight and passenger trains.
Eastern Island & South Island had some light rail line trackage for moving plantation
products. Casino Island had some railways for moving freight between docks and
warehouses. Some of this equipment & trackage was privately owned, though connected
with shared trackage rights between some of the docks. Most of the rail lines were run
by an Althing Railroad Committee, sometimes well, sometimes not so well.
By the early 1920s, truck and automobile transportation seemed more
Rail service was abandoned in sections, sometimes with the railroad grade being
converted to an auto road. By 1925, the main rail lines were dismantled and
replaced by truck and auto roads. Some sections of grade were abandoned
and became overgrown with vegitation, or became foot trails. Most of the
equipment was sold, with some in storage. Some short plantation tramway sections
were still in use, and there were still short sections of dockside trackage in use
(at times) on Casino Island, Moon Island, and Eastern Island. Most of these railways
are associated with moving heavy equipment at repair facilities or moving heavy
freight items. The motive power for the freight cars was often tractors or heavy trucks,
with only a couple of the remaining geared steam engines fired-up and operated
when needed (or for fun).
By the late 1930s some of the disadvantages of relying on only motorcars
are more obvious. Casino Island even has traffic jams at times! The Althing
was beginning to be aware of ecology problems. There was also a lot of nostalgia
for the steam trains. When approached by an outside contractor, the Althing
was willing to consider experimenting with railway service again.
Spontoon & Pacific
Sugar & Transportation Co.
from the archives of John Teall (text & pictures)
This company restored a tramway system for agricultural, light industrial,
and passenger transport, starting with track along the northern edge of
South Island, along the area of the tourist resorts.
To the People of the Spontoon Islands:
As you've probably noted, Spontoon and Pacific Sugar has been busily restoring much of the once active network of 2 foot (600mm) gauge rail network that first brought mechanized mobility to local commerce and industry among the islands here in the Spontoon Archipelago.
We are most happy to announce inaugeration of passenger services over the portion of the network now in service along the northern shore of South Island.
A recent photograph of this operation with existing equipment is inclosed with this missive for your pleasure and posting as may please our mutual benefit.
Much remains to be done and though time may sometimes pass more quickly than realized, rest assured that further developments are underway and will continue to be forthcoming.
With much genuine affection and appreciation to the good citizens of Spontoon and committee members of the Althing, from all of us here on the staff and management of Spontoon and Pacific Sugar Company.
The Workers and Staff
photographic facsimile by John Teall
## View of the Kalua Station, South Island (John Teall) ##