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A Canterbury locomotive trust yesterday bought the remains, taken this week from a farm near Palmerston to Everitt Enterprises' scrap metal yard.
Midland Rail Heritage Trust Springfield development planner and project engineer Allan Campbell arrived in the city yesterday to confirm it was a coal and water tender from a U-class locomotive.
The U-class was the first New Zealand-built express steam engine. Nine were produced between 1894 and 1903, and all were scrapped by 1959.
The find - believed to be the last surviving U-class tender - was "too good to go under the blowtorch" so the trust bought it for an undisclosed "but what for us is a very comfortable" sum, Mr Campbell said.
The tender would be restored with a pair of Uc-class locomotives, recently rescued from where they were dumped in the Grey River in the late 1950s.
The tender did not have a frame to attach it to its bogeys and it had been modified for shunting, but it was straight and not riddled with rust.
"Well, it was used to prop up a shed, so that kept it dry and, I suppose, kept it as a surprise for people interested in rail history," Mr Campbell said.
Everitt Enterprises operations manager Richard Everitt said the sale price would cover the company's costs and was not linked to its potential, undetermined, resale value.
The potential heritage value of the tender was first identified on Tuesday, when a motorist spotted it being transported from Palmerston to Everitt Enterprises' yard.
Taieri Gorge Railway operations manager Grant Craig visited the yard to confirm what it was and to let the Canterbury trust know it may be of interest.
The tender had been cleared from Tahi Miller's farm. Mr Miller did not know what it was but was pleased it was noticed by someone who did.