Ww 644 is the main workhorse of the GVR, being used for most Sunday running and charter work, she regularly does more than 4000km's each year!
The Ww class was designed by R. Pye-Smith to the requirements of A. L. Beattie and was introduced in 1913. It was largely an improved version of the Wg class, they had larger cylinders and a lower boiler pressure of 180 psi. Fifty of these engines where built for the suburban services in Auckland and Wellington as well as small branch line and mainline work.
Ww 644 worked in several areas and prior to 1950 was working in the Auckland area and it is likely that the engine worked trains along the current route of the Glenbrook Vintage Railway. Along with eleven other members of the Ww class, 644 was modernised with a larger boiler and cab, after emerging from Hillside Workshops in 1953 644 worked at Timaru as well as Oamaru until October 1956 when she transferred to Westport on the West Coast of the South Island. Here she worked the long coal trains to Seddonville and Conns Creek, as well as runs through the Buller George.
In March 1970 Ww 644 was moved down to Greymouth in order to prepare her for the delivery run to Auckland after being purchased by the Railway Enthusiasts Society for use on the then developing Glenbrook Vintage Railway. During Easter Weekend in 1970 she went across to Christchurch and then up, over the cook strait and up the North Island Main Trunk to Auckland. After arriving at Auckland 644 was stored at the Papakura Locomotive Depot until 1972 when she was moved to the GVR.
Ww 644 working her train northwards towards Auckland in 1970
In 1978 an overhaul was started with the engine being stripped down into her component parts, however this project was halted when Ja 1250 required an overhaul in order to be ready for upcoming mainline running. 644’s main components where stored all around the GVR’s Pukeoware depot for 23 years until 2002 when a concentrated effort was made to finish off her overhaul. After years of outdoor storage almost all of the sheet metal work (Her cab, coal bunker, side tanks and smokebox) where beyond repair and where made brand new for the engine. The boiler was completely re-tubed and overhauled, with all the running gear and frames of the engine being cleaned down and repaired where necessary.
After 5 years of work by the workshop staff 644 re-entered service on the GVR during the 2007 Steam and Vintage Country Festival. Since then Ww 644 has been the regular engine on the GVR, being used for most mid week charters and normal Sunday running days.