musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Reefsteamers

Lets go by train

In 2012 I wrote a piece about traveling by bus, and it was quite a jolt remembering all of those trips I made as a youngster, but I really wanted to do a similar one about going by train, and here is the first part (warts and all).
 
There were two types of train travel in my day, the first being suburban, and the other mainline (aka “the holiday train”). Bear in mind that my experiences fall roughly between 1963-1989, this is not a comprehensive history of rail travel in South Africa.

Typical suburban train

 The Bethlehem Train.

My grandparents lived in Bethlehem and occasionally we would pack our goodies and catch the train to Bethlehem. I do not know whether it was completely by steam, it is possible that part of the journey was behind electric traction and then somewhere along the line we would be attached to the steam engine which would take us to that city in the OFS. Bethlehem was not been electrified in those days so a steamer was the only way to get there. The coaches were balconies mostly, beautiful wood and leather furnished with a unique smell that tended to remain with the senses just waiting to leap out at you the moment you stepped into a wooden coach again. They were also painted in Imperial Brown and I was fortunate enough to find a very good example (1st/2nd class D-15 mainline passenger saloon 1044.) at the defunct Heidelberg Transport Museum .
 
 

We travelled 2nd Class and I seem to recall that the upholstery was green leather (as opposed to blue used in 1st Class). The coaches also had a crossover in the middle, and once we had left Johannesburg the “Bedding Boy” would take our order for bedding and he would later come to make up the bunks in our compartment. The ticket examiner would also pay everybody a visit and double check that everybody was where they should be. I don’t recall whether there was a dining saloon on the train, but we always had a packed hamper of food for the trip to scoff along the way.  That could include sandwiches, fruit, boiled eggs and the flask of coffee or tea.

The compartments all had a fold down table that covered the stainless steel basin set up between the windows. There were wooden shutters that were raised by pulling on a leather strap and the top bunks folded down from the compartment wall. My brother and I always had those top bunks while my parents took the lower ones. I always remembered that some of the coaches had thick black leather straps that rang across the roof of the compartment as well as a small reading lamp in each corner. The coaches were of the clerestory type and they had vents in the ceiling that wound open when you turned a small handle. I don’t really know how successful these were, but I do know that travelling down to Bethlehem in Winter was a cold trip. The coaches all had radiators in them, and these would have been supplied by a steam heater wagon behind the traction. I do not know if the steam engine would have needed one of these though because steam was in abundance. The radiators only had two settings and as a result you were either freezing or in a sauna.

The beds would be made up by the bedding boy and they would be warm and the sheets would be crisp and the bed was very comfy, although I could never sleep on a train, there were just too many distractions. At night the train took on a life of its own. In those days the rails were not all welded and the trip would have the all pervading clickety-clack of wheels going over the joints, and of course the steamer would be making stack talk way up front, there was also the sound of sliding doors moving back and forth and the ticket examiner rattling his key in the slot of a door to check the tickets or remind somebody that theirs was the next stop. There was also the creak of the woodwork as it moved with the motion of the train, I suspect staff were also busy during the night because in the mornings the corridor would be clean and the toilets would be as clean as a public facility could be. I think that the poor bedding boy may have had that included in his duties, irrespective though, the trains were something to be proud of.

One of the thrills of the trip was sticking your head out of the window and looking for the loco in front, late at night you could often see the orange glow from the steam engine up front as she powered into the night, the smell of smoke and steam would be unforgettable, and of course once you came back into the compartment your parents would give you an earful because the fresh beds now had specks of soot all over them, and you were invariably covered in soot too.

 

Fortunately there was warmish water on tap although that strange steel basin with its odd taps and small plug hole was an adventure on its own.  Before bedtime all us males would be chased from the compartment while my mother changed into her nightdress. Banished to the corridor we would peer out into the darkness, nary a light would be shining outside and the sleeping countryside was probably oblivious to the creation passing by. Trains were a regular occurrence back then, they went almost everywhere and these old balconies were becoming rare as they were slowly withdrawn from service.
The toilet was at the end of the corridors and it too had a unique smell about it, not to mention that odd noise when you pressed the foot pedal to flush the loo. The small trapdoor would open and everybody held it for just a bit longer so that you could see the track beneath (although whether we actually did is debatable, but as a child you really hoped to see the sleepers rushing by. There was no drinking water in the basins, that was available from a big blue plastic bottle at either end of the coach. When you filled your cup from the small silver tap it would make a “bloop” noise as the water was displaced. Then mum would head off to the loo and the three of us would change into our PJ’s and we would clamber up into the bunks and try to sleep

This would not happen.

When the train pulled into a station the comforting noises would stop, to be overtaken by those outside the sleeping train. A lot of people would travel by train so there were passengers boarding and doors slamming as well as the occasional safety valve lifting up in the front. Naturally everybody was shouting at everybody else and it sounded as if people were dropping boxes of plates just outside the compartment. Then the loco would blow its whistle and you would feel the initial tug, then a slow acceleration as the train once again started to move and then the first rail joint, and the second, the noise increasing as we picked up speed. If you were unfortunate something under the coach would squeak or rattle and you would just have to grin and bear it.

 

As the morning came closer it would be time to get up and usually we would be kicked out of bed quite early,  Mum would head off to the loo and we would change and then we would swap places and be banished to the corridor and loo once again.

The train would then start winding down towards Reitz, and I was told that the train did a large circle to get to Reitz, and we would watch this from the corridor, along with other males who had been banished to the corridor.

Eventually we would be allowed back into our compartment and would dump all the bedding on the top bunks and be able to re-use the seats once again. Somewhere along the line a steward would have brought coffee if there had been coffee making facilities on board, or the remnants of last nights tea from the thermos would be shared between the four of us.

The light outside would be improving and the little SAR Bokkie engraved on the window would look benevolently down on us as this fine example of the proud SAR neared its destination.

 


My grandfather worked as a guard at Bethlehem, and he would be waiting for us when we arrived at the station. He knew everybody there and would exchange greetings as he strode down the platform, resplendent in a suit. He always dressed up in a suit, and his only concession to comfort would be when he removed his jacket and took off his hat. We would pile out and head off the platform to the house. Our train was rapidly emptying behind us, the steam engine would be huffing and steaming at the front and we would leave it behind until our return trip. At the back the guards van was being emptied of its cargo too, mail, packages and all manner of assorted bits and pieces that were often moved by rail.

Bethlehem was a busy station back then, it had its own steam loco, and most of my family worked there. When electrification came along the loco was almost redundant, and the staff got cut back. Then they stopped the passenger trains and the station became a ghost station, with empty platforms and a slowly decaying building.

 


I went back there in 2011, and could not believe that this once busy station had become an empty shell. The death of the railways in that town was a disaster, because employment plummeted and the town was literally cut off, dependent on lumbering trucks that would disturb the silence as they passed through. Bethlehem was always known as a one horse town, now it was a no horse town.

I was fortunate to find a scrap of 8mm film that had a bit of footage from those days and had it converted, All that was missing was the smell of wood and leather, steam and smoke.
When our visit was over we would duplicate the train trip, only this time in the other direction, and probably the last part of the trip would have involved an electric unit as steam had been banished from Park Station. I know I always hated that return trip because I had to leave that beautiful train behind. If we were lucky we would be able to ride in one of the newer coaches, although they weren’t really new as they had been superseded themselves. The balconies would fade into memory, and eventually they would be completely replaced by other wood and leather creations, very similar to the 2nd class E13 sleeper that I saw at SANRASM.

That coach had the leather and wood smell about it, and when I explored it I was amazed at how much of it was as I remembered. The last time I would travel on a wood and leather coach like this would be in 1980 when I travelled on one to Potch to do my national service, but that’s another story for another time.

Part 2:  In which we travel on the Trans-Natal. 

 

We seemed to go to Durban every 7 years, and we stayed at the “Coogee Beach Hotel” which was if I recall in Gillespie Street. The overnight train trip (aka “The Holiday Train”) was part of the holiday, and about 6 weeks before we were due to leave my father would go to Park Station to book our compartment on the Trans-Natal. It was a very formal occasional too, the bookings for main line trains was run almost like a travel agent, and you bought the tickets as well as bedding tickets and meal tickets there.

Then the long wait which would involve endless imagination, careful choice of clothing and end of year exams. Eventually the big day would arrive and one fine day in December we would pack the red samsonite suitcases and head off to Park Station and down to the main line platforms where we would eagerly wait for the pair of red electric units bringing in the train.

Postcard view of the "European" concourse

Postcard view of the “European” concourse

The concourse at Park Station was somewhat of a cathedral with its high ceiling, polished floors and islands leading down to the platforms. It was also segregated and in later years I got to know it reasonably well. I revisited it in 2012, and posted about that on my blog.

The first thing we had to do was check the passenger plan on the board at the platform, this would indicate which coach and which compartment your family was placed in. the coaches had a spring clip outside the windows of each compartment or coupe, and a small tag would be affixed to that clip with the passengers names on them. My father was never one for being late so invariably we stood around for hours waiting for the train to arrive. Eventually the electric units would come through, big red heavy machines that made a wonderful noise that is still characteristic of the 6E’s today. Sadly  the wonderful wooden coaches had been replaced by the all new Formica clad oval roof saloons on these “crack” mainline trains so part of the fun was gone. 

The train would be packed during the holiday season and people would throng the platform and windows, waiting until the departure bells rang and the units suddenly turned on the blowers as they started to inch forward out of Park Station. Some of the images I am using are of a trip I took with Reefsteamers in 2010 when we passed through Park Station en route for Magaliesburg. 

 

We would wend our way through the peak hour suburbans that headed in and out of the station, the Trans-Natal would leave in the late afternoon, heading east and pause at Germiston to pick up coaches and then head on its way to Natal, arriving after 9.00am the next morning.

We never ate in the dining saloon of the train, but always had a huge hamper of sandwiches, boiled eggs, tea and fruit to munch on. Invariably we were hungry immediately after leaving Johannesburg. Then the ticket examiner would call, and then the bedding boy who would take orders for beds in preparation for making the beds in the traditional blue SAR blankets and starched sheets. A steward would also come around and take orders for the dining saloon.  At Germiston they would shunt on coaches from Pretoria and we would be able to watch the steam engines in action. In 1986 during my last trip on the Trans-Natal the shunt would be done by the steam pilot loco of Germiston, class 12AR “Susan”, who is still around and used by Reefsteamers.  Then the blowers would start up and the train would start to move, nary a jerk would be felt and it usually felt as if the platform was leaving the train instead of the other way around. 

The journey would formally commence and we would trundle towards Durban. After or during our packed supper the beds would be made up by the bedding boy, and that meant that the bench seats were no longer available to sit on, but we would still lean out of the windows watching the scenery go past. Sleep did not feature in our plans, after all we only did  this every 7 years and only had 7 days to do it all in.

The Trans-Karoo headed by a pair of 5E's

The Trans-Karoo headed by a pair of 5E’s

Eventually my parents would pack us all off to bed, first banishing us to the corridor while she changed. My brother and I always in the upper bunks. Alas, sleep never came to me on those trips and it would be a long night of listening to the unique noises of a train and feel the swaying motion as we journeyed to Natal.

A typical SAR sleeper coach. (Reefsteamers)

A typical SAR sleeper coach. (Reefsteamers)

The modern coaches were very close in design to the wooden coaches although the clerestory roof was gone and the woodwork had been replaced by easy to clean Formica, although the leather seats were still there. The difference between 2nd and first class was that in 2nd class 6 bunks could be made up whereas in 1st only 4 were, and the leather was blue and there was a shower in the first class coaches.

Typical 2nd class compartment

The strange basin was still the same, as was the steam radiator and of course the blue water bottle which stood at the end of the corridors still dispensed water from a silver tap. There were also 3rd class coaches which were mostly sitters, and of course strictly segregated from the rest of the train.

Once again sleep would evade us and the night would drag on, the Trans-Natal was an express so did not stop at each and every station, so occasionally the outside light that shone through the steel shutters would change as we hurtled through a station. Every now and then a sliding door would open as somebody headed off to the loo down the passage, and occasionally the units in front would sound their horns. We were safe in those trains, we knew the driver and his assistant were awake and secretly I really wanted to be a train driver driving the units, although I ended up in the Telecommunications Department instead. 

The next morning would see us meandering down the long hills of Natal, calling at some of the sleepy stations along the way. Marionhill was very memorable because the train seemingly stopped in the middle of nowhere, and heaps of African children would throng around the train hoping that people would throw coins or sweets for them. Then we would slowly pull away again and continue on our journey to Pietermaritzburg with its circular platform and strange unfamiliar steelwork. It was a very pretty station, and nothing like the concrete monoliths in Durban and Johannesburg.

Then we were off once again on the final downhill stretch to Durban, by now the air felt very different, a touch of humidity and heat? those trains were not air conditioned and opening a window was the best way to keep cool. The holiday feel was in the air.

The cuttings and greenery started to give way to houses and industry and soon we were wending our way into Durban Station. I think I only went into the new station in 1986, our other arrivals may have been at the old station.  Our holiday had begun!.

There are at least 3 reels of 8mm footage from our Durban holidays that have survived. Unfortunately though, they are random and don’t seem to have any real theme. Just a family, on their holidays. Actually its more about 2 boys on their holidays with the occasional shot of my father in them. That means my mother must have been playing cameraperson.  There is one image that came out which I am particularly fond of, and which I would love to have as a still image.  

  
Naturally there are no images of the train trip itself, but then film was an expensive commodity and while I do recall taking photographs one year, they were never developed and the film was lost forever.
Those seven days flew by in 2 days, and eventually we would be dropped off at the station by my uncle and board the train for the trip back to Johannesburg. It too was a identical trip, except for one odd thing which always confused me. In the morning it always felt as if we were heading in the wrong direction, instead of going towards Johannesburg it felt as if we were heading back to Durban. I always secretly hoped that this was the case, but it never was.  Arriving at Park Station was an anti-climax. It did not feel good to be at home, although none of us missed the heat and humidity. The only real thing we brought back was sunburn, sand in strange places and a bottle  of sea water for the maid. It was really time to start counting off another 7 years on the calender. But first it was Back to School!
  

1982 Print ad for the SAR

The last time I caught the Trans-Natal was in 1986, I had resigned from Transnet (as the SAR was now known) and had a weeks holiday. I travelled 1st class on my annual free pass and it was almost exactly as I remembered it from my childhood, the only difference was that I ate breakfast in the dining saloon.  It was also the last time I travelled on a mainline train in South Africa. 
 
Reefsteamers still operates two sets of original ex SAR coachsets in their original livery. They have saloons and sitters and the experience is very good for nostalgia sake. 
 
Train travel as part of the holiday was fun when you were young, although I do not know how my parents coped with us in that compartment, fortunately the trips were only overnighters. We never went on the Blue train, or even the Trans-Karoo, so those experiences are not in my field of knowledge. I did use the train when I was doing my national service, traveling from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, Kimberly and Jan Kemp Dorp. That one involved a change at Warrenton and a 4 hour wait for the Mafeking train with its steam loco in front. I wish I had paid more attention to those trips but then we were more interested in getting home to civvy street. I also saw a troop train leave Johannesburg bound for the border, and it was a very memorable occasion, long lines of uniformed soldiers waving as the train pulled out of the station, the noise and emotion were very tangible, and very sad too. 
 
Those days are gone. The railways that I knew no longer exists, it has moved on, but whether it has improved I cannot say as I have never travelled with Shosholoza Meyl, I believe that it is still fun, it is just slightly different. 
 
Special credit must go to Reefsteamers who has managed to maintain their fleet of nostalgia which helped me so much to recapture some of my lost memories. SAR Menus courtesy of Brian Bunyard.
 
© DRW. 2014-2018. Created 24/08/2014. Images recreated and posts merged 19/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:03

Marking time

Don’t even get me started on station clocks…. When I qualified as a telecoms sparky one of my duties were the station clocks on Germiston Station, these were stepped by means of a pulse every 30 seconds that originated from the master clock in the exchange. Each platform had a double faced one, usually close to the stairs (this is 1985 btw), every morning when I arrived from Johannesburg by train I used to check the clock against my watch to see if it was running fast or slow, and when I went to the depot would check 2 faces of the tower clock on the station building.

Platform clocks. Both showing the wrong time.


If the platform clocks were loosing or gaining I would then have to grab a ladder and a battery and climb up to that clock and disconnect it from the cable and manually step it until it was right and then reconnect it. I have no idea how old the clocks were, but they were definitely not the latest model. If you tried to step the clock with the cable connected you could then upset the other clocks. Unfortunately the wiring on Germiston station was covered in soot from the many steam locos that plied up and down in it. (Susan my favourite steam engine included). And, the wires had been disconnected and reconnected so many times they were becoming perilously short.

Approaching Germiston Station from President

The tower clock was a different ballgame, this was situated in a tower on top of the roof and was accessed via a trapdoor that led down a rickety ladder into a passage below. If my memory serves me right there was one mechanism that drove all 4 faces via a gearbox. But setting the time was another story altogether. Theoretically they should all have been showing the same time, but because of wear and tear in the hands and shafts, as the minute hand rose from 6 -12 the face would loose time, and as the hands fell between 12 and 6 the face would gain time (it’s called gravity). Each face was more prone to this than the other and we tried our best to find a way to prevent the hands from doing it but the whole mechanism was worn. You could also cheat a bit by physically moving a hand to try make the time more accurate but this could only be done from outside the tower. If we removed the hands or one face needed to be removed we then had to climb onto the station roof and blank that face off. There was a rusty iron ladder on the one side that gave us access to the ledge around the tower and a rusty chain that was to prevent us falling off. That crummy clock was one of my bugbears because the tech supervisor used to catch the train too and would check the clocks when he arrived and I would get a call logged to go sort them out.
 
You can see the white painted external ladder and the chains in the photograph below,  you can also see the faces are showing different times. Sigh. All my hard graft for nothing.

Germiston Station Tower Clock


I was also responsible for the departure bells, and rewiring the main line platform with new bells, cables and bellpushes was the last job I did at SATS. I recall wading through 6 inches of soot on the roofs of the buildings to access the cables. We had a .22 powered Hilti gun that we had to use to mount some of the equipment with and had to notify the railway police (aka Stasie Blompotte) that we were going to use it, otherwise they would have thought somebody was letting off a firearm. 
An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.

An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.


I also used to be responsible for the Signal Post Telephones (SPT’s) between the rails as well as the battery chargers in the signal cabins (4 cabins in Germiston) as well as the foot switch alarms in the ticket offices and all the phones in the whole railway area that was part of Germiston. I also used to maintain the intercom system and the cables and speakers associated with it. Blimey, I worked much harder then than I do now. 
Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

By the time I left SATS in 1986 they were looking at replacing the platform clocks with digital ones, but I don’t know if that ever happened. Although, the clocks I saw on the platform in 2010 looked very much like the ones I used to set back in 1985/6. Looking at the infrastructure today, after last seeing it in 1986, I can just imagine what Barney (seriously nasty Tech Supt in the Johannesburg Telecoms Depot) would have said about the current state of affairs. Probably rolling in his grave.

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:34

Stuck in the mud!

It was one of those days. My gut instinct was telling me “don’t go to Reefsteamers today”, while my gut was telling me “you need exercise!” . The reason for heading out to Germiston was the Easter Train operated by Reefsteamers that was due to depart at 10.30 on a round trip. Not much else was going on because it was a public holiday so off I went.

Everything went well until I came to the abysmal track that is used by RS as a road to access the depot.  In rainy season this track is a quagmire. We hadn’t had rain in yonks so the assumption was that that the road was passable. The first giant puddle should have served as a warning, but I didn’t really have any problems with it. The next puddle was a different puddle altogether, it was more like a bog and I ended up bogged down to running board level halfway through.

Now people may scoff at my strange car, but the yellow peril and I have been to many odd places where cars like mine should not go. The situation was bad, this road is literally in the middle of nowhere, with a squatter camp close by and nothing between it and the depot. I tried a few movements to try gauge how badly I was stuck, but the mud was very deep and I was soon up to my ankles in it. Fortunately I was wearing boots or my shoes would still be in Germiston. 
 
I decided to lock up and try for help from RS, but they were busy trying to get the train underway and there was no help forthcoming from them. I never really had a good relationship with RS, the days when I was working at the depot I kind of did my own thing and nobody really took  much notice of me. I also recall the one meeting I attended that pretty much killed it off for me. Back to the car I trudged, noting an even bigger puddle a few bends further on. There was no way I would have gotten through that one either! What worried me was the type of puddle I was in, that yellow mud was mine sand, so it was probable that the water was upwelling acid mine drainage, after all, we hadn’t had rain here in ages. 
 
I tried packing stones and bricks and rubble behind the wheels but to no avail, and eventually I decided to call my insurance company for help. Fortunately they had a roadside assistance that would send out a tow truck to yank me out. While I was waiting, a train of 6E’s came howling along and I was able to capture them with my video camera, and, while I was filming, my cellphone rang. What amazed me was that over the noise of 4 electric units at 25 metres, the camera was able to record my ringtone, even with my phone in my pocket! The mike on that camera is a very selective one. Shortly thereafter, the tow truck arrived and dragged me out. Thank you MiWay Insurance and Easyway Towing for your help.
 
Looking back at it all now, I shouldn’t even have tried traversing that puddle/swamp/quagmire, but there is no real way of knowing the depth of these things until you are in them. Once I was back on the road I went around to the diesel depot gate and went to RS depot, passing by the one building that may have housed the DB for the telecom cables in that area. I was a regular visitor to these parts when I worked for the railways in Germiston.
 
At the depot there was no sign of the train. And nobody could tell me how long it would be before she arrived. I walked up and down, taking pics while I idled the time away.
 
I enjoy walking through the depot with its silent steam engines and empty coaches, its a place of reflection and wonder. When I used to come here in 1985 to do faults the depot was in full swing, with a busy coal stage,  bustling workshops and steam engines galore. Today it is like a ghost town. I stopped to visit “Susan”, the former station pilot from Germiston, she was in the workshop with her smoke box agape. This class 12AR is the only one left in the country, and amongst the 3 oldest working steam locomotives in South Africa. She is being prepped for her boiler inspection and we are all holding thumbs for her.
 
The one bright part of my wait was the arrival of two 6E1’s who made all the right noises. Part of the fascination with these units is the resistance blowers that makes their noise very distinctive. These units are destined for extinction as they slowly get withdrawn or rebuilt into 18E’s. These units, as well as my ringtone enhanced ones are available to see on my youtube channel
Some passing diesels helped entertain me until eventually I heard the distinctive steam whistle in the distance. Janine the 15F was in charge, but she was running tender so first photography wasn’t great. There isnt really much to see when the front of the loco is buried into the coupling of the first coach of the train. But I grabbed some video anyway.  Finally, after navigating the maze of points in the yard, Janine and train were safely inside the depot,
 
and I was able to film her as she was moved to another line inside the depot.  The train was 2 hours late due to a late departure and a delay at New Canada. That I am afraid is something outside of the control of anybody. 
 
Then it was time to head off home. My car was in dire need of a bath both inside and out. So was it’s owner. My jeans were destined for the dustbin and I was headed for the bath. I had aches and pains in place I forgot I had, and the photography had not been as good as I would have liked. Phew, what a day! 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016 
 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:21

Linesiding and graves in the veldt

Saturday 01 October 2011.
This morning I decided to go do some linesiding. For those that are not in the know, its when you head out to some obscure section of railway, preferably on a hill, free of any obstructions, and then wait for your train to come along. Today’s steam engine was the very impressive Class 25NC-3472 Elize, operated by Reefsteamers.

http://www.reefsteamers.com

She is an impressive lady, and about as hi-tech as the old SAR locos got. Originally designed as a Class 25 Condenser, these class 25’s were used extensively on the long stretches in the Karoo where water is scarce. They re-used their water and were extremely efficient. This particular 25 is number 3472, and somewhere along the line she lost her condensing capability and was converted into a normal class 25. She is a bit too big and heavy on coal and water for day trips, but she makes up for it by being visually very impressive and a firm favourite amongst steam buffs. 

 
Sadly, today was lousy weatherwise, it was (still is for that matter), overcast and very windy, not really ideal photography weather at all. I was at my spot at roughly 09H45, waiting, kicking stones, taking long looks through the viewfinder and trying not be too bored. Geminis don’t do standing around very well. 
 
She finally came past about an hour later,  hurtling up the hill with nary a puff of smoke or steam. Then the chase was on, to reach Magaliesburg before she did.
By the time you reach the road that loco has a head start, and if nothing delays her at Tarlton theoretically you are cutting it close. However, today a bakkie decided that 30km/ph was the speed and a line of roughly 15 cars sat behind him as he dawdled along. Overtaking was not possible or advisable. 
 
As I reached the last stretch to Magalies I saw the loco and her coaches approaching the level crossing, it was going to be a close one,  there were 4 cars in front of me, would I make it? Naturally I didn’t. There is no way I will try take on a thumping great steam powered engine in my tiddly car and I grabbed the camera and filmed her as she went through the level crossing, whistle screaming for everybody to get out of the way or get squished.
 
 
I ended up at my other fav spot near the goods shed, watching her tackle that hill from a standing start. I have to admit, steam engines still make for the best photography when it comes to effort. 15F-3046 Janine is fun to watch and feel on that hill, she shakes the building as she goes past.
 
 
There is video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZk1uHtO4do
 

16/06/2011 Linesiding at Vlakdrift

Once she was turned around (quite a process in itself), I was ready to head off gravehunting again and  I had scheduled two tasks for today. My first task was to get GPS co-ordinates for the one Steenkoppie site. Naturally my stupid GPS said I was somewhere in Roodepoort, its the same problem I had last time I tried to get these co-ordinates, only that time it said I was in Randfontein. After much ranting and raving at Garmin, the Tannie inside the GPS and thorn trees in general I was all finished, and I could head off to my next task which was roughly 14 kilos east of where I was.
 
 
I had been in this area before, investigating what I thought was the battlefield for Dwarsvlei (which it wasn’t). Those images are in my camera which went AWOL at Blaauwbank. For once the tannie in the GPS was right and I was soon standing at Weltevreden 493. As farm cemeteries go, this was a well maintained one. I have been in much worse.  Its quite interesting when you find these cemeteries to see the same surnames crop up. This one was predominantly Oosthuizen, Duvenhage and Viljoen. Now where had I see those names before? Cem photographed it was time to head home.
 
 
All in all it was a productive day, all tasks were accomplished, more data was collected, a train was admired, batteries were flattened and the rain stayed away. I don’t think that will be for long though, its looking pretty grim outside, and the weather forecast is for light rain. We will see what happens tomorrow……
 
DRW © 2011-2018. Images recreated 19/03/2016, link recreated 03/03/2018
Updated: 04/03/2018 — 20:06

Linesiding 12AR-1535

One of my all time favourite steam engines in South Africa is 12AR-1535 “Susan”. The pair of us go a long way back to my days when I worked in Germiston. Like me, she is still around, albeit she is much better looking. I did a Magaliesburg trip with her in 2009 and whenever I have grave hunting to do in the area I would try to tie it in when a steam engine is in the area and try get some pics too. This is more of a photo essay type post, there is not a lot to say.

My favourite spot for line siding is near a set of grain silo’s at the top of a hill with a view of the mine dumps of Randfontein in the distance and a long climb up to where I would be patiently waiting.

The area is called “Battery”, and I expect many many years ago there was even a station here. The derelict building certainly points to it.

I would be armed with rough timings as to where the train would be, the last known point probably being Krugersdorp station. After that anything is possible. At parts the line is a single one so any oncoming trains from Magaliesburg side could mean a delay near Millsite. On this particular day a diesel with a load of empty wagons came trundling past but stopped on the downward slope. Which meant my train was on the stretch between Millsite and Battery.  If you can zoom in far enough you can sometimes spot the train travelling along the flat section before turning into the uphill stretch.

Eventually there was movement and I could turn on the video camera and start filming. It is very possible that I have video of the event, but finding it is a whole different kettle of fish

Look, here is our train climbing the hill. I seem tor recall that I had problems with the video camera on this occasion, so only a few stills exist. Sadly though, Susan was not making clouds of smoke like she is supposed to. 

The goods train on the other line continued its journey towards Randfontein once the line was completely clear.

Once the train was past I hopped into my car and barrelled along to Magaliesburg, There is no guarantee that you will get there before the train does either. I generally was not interested in catching her at the station, I had bigger fish to fry. Once the train has offloaded her passengers at the hotel she then faces a long upward slog and a left turn immediately at the top of the hill. 

 By the magic of television, the video of this hill climb does exist on my youtube channel. You can also click on the pic below and theoretically it will open in a new window.

Previously the train would spend the afternoon at the station, with passengers using the facilities at the station, but Reefsteamers started using a place called Vlakdrift instead and the loco would continue from here to Vlakdrift. 

Once the train had stopped Susan was uncoupled and run around to be serviced.

At this point I left the area and went gravehunting close by, the intention being to catch up with the train a bit later, or go home when I was done. It really depended on time.  

And while I was rooting through the veldt traffic would occasionally pass me on the single line to Krugersdorp or in the other direction (I believe the line eventually ends up in Botswana). 

I seem to recall on this particular trip I wanted to watch the pull away at the station so made sure I was in position round about the time the train was ready to leave Magaliesburg. 

Lo and behold, there is video of her arrival at the hotel  and if you stick around long enough there is her pull away too (1.18 minutes into the video), or you can cheat and click on the link below for the edited version. 

There is even video of her passing through Witpoortjie. Those were good memories that helped me reconnect with steam and our rare steam heritage in South Africa. I really enjoyed linesiding, although did not always have the patience to do it regularly. I had to be able to tie it into some other activity. This time around I was just lucky to get some interesting footage of a machine that still succeeds in captivating everybody that sees it. Live steam has the ability to make people stop and stare, to forget about their cellphones and admire the elementalness of it. And every child instinctively knows how to make the noise of a steam whistle.  

© DRW 2011-2018. Retrospectively created 05/06/2016

Updated: 24/12/2017 — 19:15

By train to Magaliesburg: GMAM-4079

This trip actually happened on 6 November 2010, and was previously documented at my website, but I have since decided that rather than loose all of these train trip posts I would reproduce them here. The train was operated by Reefsteamers.
 
This trip took place on 6 November 2010 from Germiston to Magaliesburg. This was the first outing of the GMAM – 4079 “Lyndie Lou” since she was re-certified. Unlike previous trips that started at Maraisburg, this time around the trip started out at Park (Johannesburg) Station before heading to Magaliesburg where passengers would be disembarked, before continuing west until we reached “Swallows Inn” where the train would unload the balance, before continuing to Vlakdrift where the loco would be serviced.
Fresh out of the shed and almost ready to go.

Fresh out of the shed and almost ready to go.

Shunting the water bottle

 

Shunting the water bottle

I boarded at the Reefsteamers Depot in Germiston so almost had the train to myself as we headed towards Park Station. It was the first time I had been through Germiston and Johannesburg stations since 1986.  

We also went past the apprentice school where I trained all those years ago, and through Braamfontein, Mayfair and Langlaagte, all my old stomping grounds.

Approaching Park Station

Approaching Park Station

Alongside the platform

How long ago was it that an SAR liveried train had stopped at this station? and how many memories were made at these main line platforms? 

Braamfontein used to be a busy place, and I was trained at the apprentice school behind the station. There used to be a spur that turned right here and crossed into Milpark. That was where they made up the main line trains, and it was also used in January and July as the place where National Servicemen would start their two years military service from.

Approaching Braamfontein Station

Approaching Braamfontein Station

The weather was variable during the whole trip, starting out as grey and muggy, turning to sun and then rain and then sun which explains some of odd colours.

 Approaching Mayfair Station

Approaching Mayfair Station

Mayfair Station was my link to the SAR network, and you could actually see the back of our house from a passing train. It was a busy commuter station, and I travelled in both directions from here. I last used the station in 1984. There was a lot of talk of widening the tracks in and out of the station and a lot of houses were expropriated, but the expected construction never happened. 

 

Then we were passing through Krugersdorp, then passing Millsite and shortly after that the disgrace called Sanrasm, and then the long haul to Magalies, with its attendant curves and whistle blowing.

 

There were reportedly 600 people on board and it was a 16 coach consist, and probably one of the strangest trains to be seen by those who saw us go past. Steam engines still draw stares from those that have never seen them, or by those who remember them. Our Garratt was a rare beastie, and it was always difficult to know which way was the front.

 
One of my colleagues from work was at Magaliesburg Station to capture the train as it entered the station. The slog up the hill before the station is a good place to experience the loco working hard. Although I don’t think 4079 really struggled all that much. Special thanks to Clinton Hattingh for these images.
 
 
Then we were through the station and heading towards Swallows Inn. 
 
Here we disembarked, and the train headed on a bit further down the line for servicing and turning around.
 
 
I drifted around Swallows Inn, the service was poor, and I seem to think I spent most of my time waiting for my lunch to arrive. Next time I would just stay on the train and go do some photography instead. 
 
Then it was time to go and our train was ready to embark on the return trip, and this time we were water tank first.
 
The train is usually much quieter on the return trips. Too much alcohol has deadened the senses, children are worn out, and families sit huddled together. And of course the afternoon still stretched ahead. A lot can go wrong between here and Park Station, as has happened before. 
  
 
 
I enjoyed hanging out of the window and watching the loco in front, steamers are very alive, their noises change depending on how hard they work, and there are many tough grades in that area. But it was a reasonably uneventful trip home so far, and when we looked again we were in Krugersdorp.
 
 
And its beautiful old station building.
 
 
The scenery had changed now, from grass and veld to buildings, roads and cars. The sun was also leaving us, so photograhy was becoming more difficult, although there are some who love this low down sunset light.
 
 
And even I started to take fewer pics, although some of the results were quite interesting. A suburban coach refurb area near Langlaagte
 
 
People waiting for a train at Mayfair Station
 
And looking back towards the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Braamfontein.
 
And then we were at Park Station, and passengers were disembarking and I had the train to myself once more.
  
 
We wound our way past Ellis Park, Jeppe, George Goch, Denver, President and finally through Germiston Station before we came to the depot in Germiston yard. The lights were on, so somebody must be there. 
 
It is not a straight forward job to get into the depot, a lot of points have to be crossed and direction reverses made until the gate is reached. I climbed off the train and headed to my car. I had to drive back the way we had just come, while the Reefsteamers members had to shunt the train, tidy up and put the loco to bed before they could make their weary ways home. It was a long day, but it was also a glimpse into an era passed by.
 
I was also shooting video on that trip and these can be found on Youtube. I seem to recall there are 4 in total.
 
http://youtu.be/h_hcoTxln48
  
Special thanks to Les of Reefsteamers who found me a spot on the train, as well as Clinton Hattingh for the pics, and of course to the Reefsteamers crew who did such a great job.
 
© DRW.  2010-2018. Images recreated 10/03/2016
 
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:35

Friends of the Rail to Cullinan

I had always had a hunkering to go on a Friends of the Rail trip, but never seemed to do it, until one day Reefsteamers was offered seats on the 150th Celebration of Steam Railways in South Africa trip to Cullinan.
 
This trip took place on 26 September 2010 from Hermanstad to Cullinan, and I was really looking forward to seeing their train as it had magnificent vintage slam door suburban coaches. I had always wanted to ride in one of them and this was my chance.
The loco up front was 19D-2650 “Cheugnette”. We were blessed with great weather were soon ready to go.

Friends of the Rail (aka FotR) operates out of Hermanstad in Pretoria, and they have a very nice collection of rolling stock and loco’s at their disposal. Unfortunately though, Pretoria is a bit out of my range, and I had only visited their site once before (and nobody had been home).

And then we were off. I do not know the route that the train takes, although I do recall we went past Capital Park and Hercules, although where they fit into it is beyond me. I had also never ridden behind a 19D and she was really romping up front, she had a wonderful whistle too and the coaches were a pleasure to travel in.

 

At some point we stopped. The line is a busy commuter line too, and naturally precedence is given to Metrorail. We were passed by a 10M5 here, and it was interesting to see the difference between two the generations of suburban traction.

 
 

From here we had a clean run to Reyton where we collected the Staff which gave us permission to use that line. A few years ago a 15F operated by FotR derailed on the way to Cullinan after sleeper theft, but we were fortunate that all sleepers were intact as we wound our way into the sleepy mining town.

Once we were alongside a short ceremony was held to celebrate the 150th Celebration of Steam Railways in South Africa. It also gave me an opportunity to have a look at the whole train without a platform in the way. Unfortunately the light post I could do nothing about.
 

 And there were photo opportunities with Cheugnette.

 

At this point I headed off to the local cemetery and to do some sight seeing. The town isn’t really very big, and one of the major attractions is a large hole (and you cannot even see that properly).  There is also a very strong military heritage to the town, but I did not have the time to explore it.

 

 



I soon ran out of things to see so headed back to the station where our loco was being serviced and having a drink of water.

Once that was completed she was turned around and then ran back down the line to be at the front of the train in readiness for our return.

A few last minute photo opportunities were provided and then we were ready to leave.

There were quite a few linesiders on the way back and I bet they got better pics than I did, the curvature of the track did not give me enough of a view of the loco ahead, so opportunities were few and far between. 

 
And of course as we got closer to Pretoria we started to encounter many of the Gautrain works that were extending to Hatfield. The Gautrain was still a few months away from being in operation, and I believe that some great images have been taken on this stretch of track of the Gautrain since it opened. 
 
 And there are still remnants to be seen of the old South African Railways along this route, even if they are long disused watertanks and SAR liveried coaches.
 
The end destination was in sight, all that was left was to shunt into the Hermanstad and disembark.
 
 
 
It was over. Time to head off home. I had a long drive back to Johannesburg, and it was getting dark quickly. Hopefully my GPS would not get me lost like it did last time I was here. Well done Friends of the Rail for great trip, and long may you go on preserving this heritage.
 
© DRW 2010 – 2018. Images recreated 10/03/2016
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:37

Photo Essay: Unloading the 19A

In November 2009 I was made aware of a semi derelict class 19A that was being shifted by road from the Cape to Reefsteamers in Germiston for possible restoration. I was definitely curious to see how this was done because it is not every day that a steam engine goes by road, and I would get the chance to look around my old stomping grounds in Germiston. 

My first destination was Reefsteamers because they would have to have a steam engine in steam to do the move.  The loco rostered for the move was former Germiston Station Pilot 12AR-1535 “Susan”

 She was simmering away at the top running shed, not quite ready to strut her stuff so I decided to head off to the area where the loco was to see the loco to be moved.

I used to know this area quite well because I was responsible for all the telecomms equipment in the depot during 1985/86, I knew many short cuts and paths that led between the various areas in the Germiston railway area, but it had been over 20 years since I had last been here, things had probably changed considerably.

However, by the time I got to the back of the station the loco and her tender had been offloaded from the two abnormal load vehicles that they had made the long journey on. I could not quite remember this line leading into the railway area though, but it looked familiar, I just could not quite work it into my memory from way back then.

The loco (19A-691) and her tender were in a sorry state and I could not help thinking that there was a lot of work involved to get her to a point where she would move again. Sadly derelict steam engines were a sight that I would see a lot of in my meanderings at Millsite and Sanrasm

Back at the former steam loco; Susan was ready to start moving and thread her way through the maze of lines to reach where we were. 

This area used to be the domain of the “S” Class shunting locos way back when. I recall how they used to pound along and then ram into a line of wagons, waking all the sleeping clerks in the railway area. There was always a pall of smoke over Germiston in those days from the steamers and steam depot. That pall has diminished, but so have the steamers.

After a long wait Susan made her appearance. How long had it been since a steam engine had run on these lines? 

The Reefsteamers crew were hard at work disconnecting the pistons from the drive wheels of the derelict. Sadly this made the poor old steamer look even more forlorn.

Susan now backed onto the tender and then extricated it from the spur and married it once again to the rest of the loco. A tender loco without a tender just does not look right.

And she is looking better already.

The two loco’s were now tender to tender. People were stopping to stare at this smoke belching machine, it had been many years since the depot had been populated with working steamers, nowadays only the growl of diesels would be heard with the occasional whine of a 6E. 

Everything was now connected and the strange train was ready to be moved back to the depot. 

I headed back to the depot too, hoping to get there before the train did, although the path to the depot would require a lot of backing and forthing to navigate the maze of points and lines. 

Finally our train appeared amongst the lines of wagons and slowly got closer, crossing and recrossing lines until they reached the gate into the depot

Some wag lit a few rags in the derelict, and a wisp of smoke trailed from her chimney,

There were sighs of relief all around at having brought this old lady safely inside the depot.

Susan, having done her work, would now have her fire drawn and would be returned to the running shed where she could continue her nap.

And what of the loco?

I saw her once more in January 2011, but never again,  I stopped going to Reefsteamers after April 2012, and as far as I am aware she is still there. The restoration did not happen and she continues to moulder away in the yard.

© DRW 2010-2018. Retrospectively created 20/06/2016.  

Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:44

Finding Sanrasm North Site

My exif data for the first images of North Site are dated 10/04/2009, and I had not even been aware of North Site when I had first visited Sanrasm South Site in February, and only picked up on it existing by accident. I added it to my list and grabbed my camera and headed out there. Like South Site. it too was locked, overgrown and derelict, with an extensive pile of derelict locos and scrap outside the gates. It was very difficult to comprehend what I was seeing, it just got worse all the time. 

1
sanrasmnorth21

© DRW 2009-2018. Retrospectively created 12/06/2017

Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:05

By train to Magaliesburg 12AR-1535

The one steam engine that Reefsteamers operates that ties into my time with my working at Germiston Station is 12AR-1535 “Susan”. She was being used as the station pilot when I was working there and I was amazed to hear that she was still in service after so many years. In fact she is a very popular loco with steam buffs because she is the only one left of her class. 
 
I got the opportunity to travel on her on 4 April 2009 from Maraisburg Station to Magaliesburg. The same consist as before was used and the schedule was almost identical to my previous trip with Elize. Some of the images used here were taken linesiding or when I intercepted other trips at Magaliesburg.

The two images above were taken on another trip that she made on 27 April 2009, I would definitely not stand here taking pics if I had been travelling on the train.
 
And then we were off,  eventually passing through Roodepoort Station where the plinthed 10BR slowly moulders away in the parking lot.

Through to Krugersdorp where we could pick up any passengers that had wanted to join there,

 

Past Millsite and the rows of derelicts that were not as fortunate as Susan was, and any goods wagons that were being shunted, 

and then past the disgrace that was Sanrasm.

 

And once that was past you could really relax and enjoy the ride for awhile and listen to the loco in front. At some point you would start the long climb towards the grain silos,

 

and then power along towards the end destination,
 


although the cutting really was the first sign that we had almost arrived.

 

This time around I had opted for lunch at the hotel, but I did not bail out there, but hung around at the station for awhile to watch them turn Susan. 

 

 
I then had to make a mad dash down the hill for my belated lunch at the hotel.
 
Arriving back suitably satiated, I discovered that Susan had been turned and was now on the opposite end of the train in readiness for our trip back.

 

And as usual, there was brightwork to be polished. These preserved loco’s are always turned out very well because they showcase our proud steam heritage. Susan, as station pilot in Germiston, was always in a supershine condition, there was a lot of pride in these machines, and that is still true today.

 
The sitters were empty as the passengers did their thing at the picnic area, quite a few were already tanked up before we arrived and they would sleep the return journey away. 
 
 
The passing of some Class 34’s really provided a photo opportunity, although I know which is the more handsome engine out of all those in Magaliesburg on that day.
 
Then the passengers were roused and the whistle blew and we were off, pausing at the hotel to collect a few more errant people before attempting the level crossing on our way out of the town. 
 
 
In 2011 I was in the area and stood at the level crossing watching this spirited departure which is available on Youtube, and it amazed me how even though the loco had started moving drivers still try to get across in front of her! You do not tackle a steam engine with a car because you will loose. 
 
 
Unfortunately though we literally crawled through the cutting and the hills, and I asked some of the guys why this had happened, and it turned out that the coal was of poor quality so she was really struggling. Susan is a freight loco with lots of power, but even poor coal can turn a steamer into a snail. I did take some video of the climb and pullaway, so all is not lost
 
 
 
And even today people wave at steam engines going past, because it is just something that is done. I feel sorry for those who have never experienced steam trains because they have lost a little bit of magic.
 
Fortunately most people opted to relax on the trip home, and the kids stopped with the “pooop pooop” imitations and I was able to get some peace. I was not really in a mood to take too many pics, besides, everything you see here is very similar to what you saw in the other trip post. 
 
 
Even the desolate landscape that we passed just after Millsite was devoid of life, but then that area has been ravaged by mining and will take many years to rehabilitate, assuming that even happens in the first place.
 
And eventually we were home. The sun was low on the horizon and the people who climbed off were much more subdued than those that had climbed on this morning. Even Susan seemed tired, and she still had a long way to go before she could be bedded down for the night,
 
 
 More video: 
 
© DRW © 2009-2018 Created 04/04/2009. images recreated 07/03/2016
 
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:09
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