One of the more obscure centenary celebrations coming up is that of 12AR-1535 “Susan”. This steam engine is the only remaining member of the SAR Class 12AR in the world, as well as being Reefsteamers’ oldest operating locomotive and the second oldest operating main line locomotive in South Africa.
She was built in 1919 by the North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow and joined her sisters in South Africa for service on the Germiston-Witbank line moving heavy trainloads of coal. She first entered traffic on 15 March 1920. The sisters were all reboilered at some point in their lives, and 1535 was reboilered in 1944, although her existing boiler was commissioned in 1955.
I first encountered her in 1985 when I was posted to the Germiston Telecommunications Depot. At the time she was the “station pilot” for Germiston Station, and she shone so much that she could blind you in the sun. She never really retired from service and was not restored from scrap or in a derelict condition. Fortunately her original service in Germiston means that she is really back home in the depot where she worked for so many years. I have a soft spot for her and enjoyed linesiding this small wheeled “4-8-2 Mountain” as she spent her retirement running heritage train for Reefsteamers.
According to the EXIF data on the image below, Susan was brought back into steam on 28 March 2009 and I was present for a photography session with the people who had walked with her to that point.
You can read more about her history on the relevant Reefsteamers page. Special thanks for Lee Gates for his work on that page and his continued posts on social media.
It is not very often (especially in South Africa) that a steam working steam engine reaches her centenary, and with this in mind I am reposting the blogpost about the trip I did 10 years ago on 4 April 2019.
By train to Magaliesburg. 12AR-1535
I got the opportunity to travel with Susan 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 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,
In memory of Rita Elizabeth Kyriacou. 06 Sept 1967 – 20 Mar 1971
This afternoon I was working my way through this blog moving images and deleting posts that were of no relevance when I bumped into the post for Forgotten Children,dated in 16/09/2012. As I reread the post I realised that one of the children mentioned on that post died on 20 March 1971.
Somewhere in that space is my 1st cousin (1 times removed), Rita Elizabeth Kyriacou who was born on 06 September 1967. I was 6 years old when she was born, and her family lived in another town, so I did not see her much, but what I do remember is a dark curly haired moppet that was very naughty and who doted on her grandfather. Her home life was a loveless one, the family being broken up when the husband had to leave South Africa for military commitments in Cyprus. They subsequently divorced in 1968, so it is unlikely that Rita knew much about her biological father.
Tragically she died in a drowning incident on 20 March 1971, and was buried in Sterkfontein Cemetery in Krugersdorp. I do not know the circumstances of her death, but sadly there is no headstone to remember this small girl who never became a woman. I do not know whether her father attended her funeral, or whether he was ever notified. But she is probably long forgotten by her mother and everybody else.
I did not forget her though and eventually managed to find her grave after long searches in the registers at Sterkfontein cemetery. The irony is that the only real love that she may have had came from her grandmother and grandfather, who are also buried in unmarked graves not too far from where she is.
I like to think that somewhere there is a place where she went to and that she finally found the love that she deserved. There is no photograph of her, and no longer any real proof that she even existed. Did her father ever know about her death? Does he have a faded picture of her?
Rita, wherever you are, My family have not forgotten you. And while I only knew you for a short while, but you made an impression on me and you always were at Sterkfontein waiting for me to find you.
One of the many aspects of gravehunting is the finding of children’s graves. It is is inevitable that children are often the most vulnerable when they are still very young, and, the earlier one goes back in our history, the more precarious that young life could be. Often you encounter the graves of children that die shortly after being born, and often enough their mothers would die with them, or shortly afterwards.
Occasionally their lives would be cut short by disease or illness; childhood diseases like measles or diphtheria were often fatal to a young child, and while their gravestones very rarely mention their causes of death, you can only imagine the heartbreak that must have existed in the household when a baby or toddler was taken from them. In some cases more than one child is remembered on a headstone, and often a parent may be remembered on the child’s headstone.
Equally poignant are the small statues that often decorate the half sized graves, statues that usually are the first to be vandalised, and in some cases there are rows of beheaded statues in children’s plots, or small porcelain feet are all that is left of the cherub or angel that once adorned the child’s grave. The much used “never forgotten” phrase is also common, but in many of the cases not only are the parents of those children long departed themselves, but, even the next generation are well into their middle ages and the existence of these children is now in the realm of the genealogist or, a curious gravehunter like myself.
I have two children’s graves in my family, the one closest to me is of a 1st cousin called Rita, who drowned at the age of 4 and who is buried in Sterkfontein Cemetery in Krugersdorp, I do remember her as a naughty, curly haired moppet, 6 years younger than myself, who doted on her grandfather, but alas there was not a lot of love from her mother. I found her grave awhile ago, and there is no headstone, and even the exact position is difficult to ascertain due to the layout of the plot. But in my family tree I have her marked down and I know that she existed.
I also have graves that I visit when I am at certain cemeteries which have a special place in my heart, one being that of a child who is buried with her soldier father in Brixton Cemetery, and the other is that of Claire Wallace, daughter of the writer Edgar Wallace in Braamfontein.
My latest find is a simple grave that says “Pookety” engraved on it; in Burgershoop Cemetery in Krugersdorp. I have no idea of the gender or age, but with a bit of investigation I may be able to find out more, assuming that the graves around it are numbered consecutively.
Another of my heartbreak graves is probably one of the older graves in the Johannesburg area. Two sisters: Anna Maria, and Cecilia Maria Smit, aged 13 and 10 respectively, were struck by lightning on 01 Dec 1876. They were buried in the farm cemetery very close to where I worked and they were possibly killed on the very farm where our office was. Today we are so divorced from these two girls who died 136 years ago that it is very unlikely that any of their family even know that they existed.
Of course childhood deaths can be seen in any cemetery, there is a large plot in Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery where many stillborns or babies are buried in unmarked graves. And while their burial is recorded in the register, there is no real way to know the grave numbers as these have been lost/stolen over the years. By the same token, a large section in Brixton Cemetery is given over to children’s graves, and many of those are marked in the register as “unknown”. Lives that came about and never saw fruition.
I have always considered that children’s graves are very special and they often reflect the love of a parent for a child. In some cemeteries toys and mementos abound on those small graves, in others simple words of affection are engraved on simple headstones, but often there is just an empty space where a headstone should have been, the name known only to those who laid it to rest, or who wrote it in the register. And just maybe in some faded family album somewhere there is a photograph but nobody knows who the photograph is of.
My final thought goes to the many thousands of children who were lost in the concentration camps during the Boer War, or in any conflict for that matter. Their lives should not have been about struggling or pain, but about experiencing the joy of childhood and the smiles and love of parents.
I am not finished with “Pookety” yet, I hope to identify the grave one day, and I hope to stop by at Baby Sol’s grave, and visit Claire again, and I will pass the memorial to the children that died in the Westdene bus disaster, and pause to photograph an angel, and read a faded inscription, and get all soppy and sentimental because often those silent memorials speak more to me than any elaborate granite monolith ever can.
I returned to Burgershoop on 17 September 2012 and catalogued the graves around Pookety, and after consulting the register I am about 98% sure that the grave is that of Gerald Norval Allen Watt, aged 6 months, buried in grave J1546, on 17 January 1918.