musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: SAR

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

They have gone and destroyed it

Regulars to my webpage and blog may remember the SANRASM debacle, and how a collection of valuable railwayana was reduced to so much scrap metal. It was a messy escapade, and the final outcome saw a new team placed in charge and some sort of rationality happening that seemed to signify that parts of the collection would survive. 
 
The last time I visited there was in June 2012, although I really posted that information backdated to the blog in December 2011. Like so many others I hoped that things would now progress from wreckage to preservation and finally to a fully fledged museum. 
 
That never happened.
 
The reality is that somewhere along the line (April 2014?), the scrap vultures entered the premises and cut the frames of some of the locos to get at the bearings, rendering the locos irreparable, and only fit for the scrap. Once that damage has been done the loco will never move again. I saw it happen at Chamdor, and it happened at Sanrasm, and has now finally killed Class 19D-2644, aka “Whardale”. This historically valuable loco was the only one of its kind, and was historically a very significant machine. 

I hope that one day these vultures will become victims of their own greed. When there is nothing left to steal then what will they do? Our steam locomotives, like our Rhino, will be extinct very soon.

What was saved? It is hard to know because I do not have all the information. But I know that both Class 6 loco’s were saved, although Class 6A No.454 has had her frames cut to steal the bearings off it. Fortunately the decision was made to rescue the loco and she is now privately owned and may end up on the rails again one day

6A-454

6A-473

The tender from Wardale was also saved and  I do know that one diesel was also saved. but do not know what happened to the other two.

Various parts from other loco’s were saved to keep the pool of steamers running. I do not know which coaches were saved.  

The former 4-10-2T North British Loco No.23722 was saved and is now plinthed at the Rand Society of Model Engineers site in Len Rutter Park, Florida. (2014)

More images from the disaster that was Sanrasm may be found at my allatsea blog

© DRW 2014-2018. Image recreated 17/04/2016. Updated 12/03/2017, added 10 wheeler 26/03/2017

Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:45

Johannesburg Park Station. A 2012 view.

On 2 January 1980 I started to work for what was then known as “South African Transport Services”, it was only for 2 weeks though as I departed shortly thereafter for my 2 year sojourn in the SADF. But, being a member of SATS, I was now entitled to all the privileges that went with working for a bloated organisation that was responsible for moving large amounts of people in various states of comfort or discomfort. I was employed as an “apprentice telecommunication electrician” in the Telecoms department, my depot being on Johannesburg Station in what was then the telecoms building. The theory was that we would do our practical training there until we qualified and would then be posted to the depot as a fully qualified artisan.  The Telecoms building was part of the North Station complex and had a large South African coat of arms on it.  Access was gained through a lift tower on an island just outside where the plinthed steam loco was. 
The Telecomms Building (aka North Station Building), with Paul Kruger Building behind it

The Telecomms Building (aka North Station Building), with Paul Kruger Building behind it

The building housed a 10000 line electro-mechanical exchange as well as a telex exchange that served the many railway and SAA offices that were scattered around Johannesburg city.  The local section I eventually ended up working at had offices in 22 buildings. There were also dedicated technicians at Airways Centre, Union Square and Paul Kruger Building. Between when I qualified and when I came out of the army I learnt a lot about the interior of the station, but never really viewed it as a place of interest. 
Many of the offices were  old dingy spaces, and the concourse was a cold impersonal place that we used to catch trains from. The best part about catching a train was when you caught a main line train at platform 15, 16 or 17, but that only happened on rare occasions.  
The image above is interesting because parts of the concourse have not been built and the platforms not been decked over, neither has the steam engine been plinthed outside the North Station Building. I do know that by 1972 the engine was in place so this image pre-dates 1972.
 
Rissik Street runs past the station as the western boundary with the South Station Building entrance facing Eloff Street. Wolmarans Street formed the northern boundary of the station precinct, and Wanderers the eastern boundary.     
Rotunda and Airways Centre were on the opposite side of Rissik. These were home to South African Airways and Rotunda was also the main booking area. Towards the end of my days at SATS they also acquired Airways Centre which was on the corner of Wolmarans and Rissik.  
 
The main “entrance” to the station was at South Station building, which was somewhat of an odd building, its original use no longer in context with what it was at the time. Part of the original Park Station was a wedding cake of glass and steel that can still be seen in Newtown.  
 
The original vision of the architect was of a grandiose structure festooned with themes depicting animals and transportation, but the finished structure really ended up as being somewhat of a tired hodge podge instead. Granted, it may have been a different story when the original station existed. But from 1955 till 1959 a whole new platform and station complex was built which rerouted lines and  must have caused havoc. The end result was what I grew up with, and which is still a close approximation of what can be seen today. 
  
Strict segregation was in force and the “European” concourse was generally a very quiet spot except during rush hour when hordes of white passengers descended onto the islands that led down to the platforms. The general hubbub being punctuated by the voice of the heavily accented announcer who would breathless announce: “dietreinopplatform5isdietreinnaflorida“. The “Non-European” concourse must have been chaotic all the time, with thousands of Africans trying to catch their overcrowded 3rd class suburbans to Soweto and environs. These trains departed mainly from Platform 1 and 2, and were sometimes overflowing with humanity in transit. 
The main “European” concourse hall was a large open space punctuated by the islands for the platforms and a “restaurant” on a small mezzanine that had a spiral staircase situated in a wishing well, leading up to it. “Pie gravy and chips” being a house specialty. 
Postcard view of the "European" concourse

Postcard view of the “European” concourse

Of course, being the “old South Africa” the whole station would literally die as the country stopped work at 1pm on a Saturday. The only people to be seen were those who came into town to visit the bioscope, catch a train or who may have been working weekend shifts. The irony is that the biggest user of some of the trains were railways workers and we got our tickets cheap. 
 
The station precinct also was home to Tippet Building, and the Systems Managers Offices, as well as Railway Police,  “Taal Bureau”, Stores and many other minor departments and their offices. All manner of functionality could be found if you knew were to look amongst the many hidden nooks and crannies.  
Tippet Building and the System Managers Offices

Tippet Building and the System Managers Offices


There are portions of the station today that have not changed in years and a recent discovery of old  travel and advertising posters in an unused tunnel makes me wonder how much is still sitting there waiting to be found. 
Between the Systems Managers offices and South Station Building is a courtyard that now houses a KFC as well as an office of the police. In my day the display cases were often used to showcase exhibits that were used in recruiting potential employers to work for SATS. There was also a pedestrian subway that crossed under De Villiers Street and came out next to what is now “Attwell Gardens”, a park that is now used by the many children that live in the area. The subway is boarded shut and an informal market is now found at its exit.
 

The one interesting artefact we found was one of the station clocks that had been manufactured in 1870 and removed from the original station in 1933 and re-erected in 1958. There were 2 sets of these clocks, but the one on the corner of Rissik and De Villiers is gone. These clocks, like all the clocks on the station, would have been controlled from the master clock in the exchange in the telecoms building.    

The original station building (pre-1955) was the work of Gordon Leith and Gerard Moerdyk, and the foundation stone was laid on 11 December 1928.   The ornamental facade and original South Station building still survives today, but the facade seems lost, and the three closed entrances lend this long structure a desolate look.
 
 
If you could go in through this entrance you would find a staircase that leads downwards into what used to be the old concourse that connected to the original 1930’s station.
 

The modernisation of the station rendered this area obsolete, and it became the home of the Museum, Tea Room and Blue Room. This area is beautiful in spite of its emptiness and feel of abandonment.

When I was young and we had time to kill we would come down here and stare at the contents of the museum. There was something exotic about this area, it had an otherness that was quite different to the feel of the station.

The Museum used to be on the right of the staircase and the tea room on the left with a preserved heritage locomotive sitting in the area between the two fountains. This locomotive, the Emil Kessler,  was the original locomotive that ran as the “Rand Tram” between Johannesburg and Boksburg from 1890 until it was withdrawn in 1903. 

Emil Kessler. Photograph by Ronnie Lovemore.

Emil Kessler. Photograph by Ronnie Lovemore.


She still exists today but is now located at the OuteniquaTransport Museum. 

The area of the lower concourse is devoid of anything except dust and shafts of sunlight that penetrate the gloom. The tea room with its blue and white tiles is empty, as is the museum and the bar and toilets.

It is a fascinating area to explore, but a space that realistically would be very difficult to re-open given the change in demographics of the station 

The problem with this particular building is that you could demolish it and nobody would really notice. It’s original use has been superseded a long time ago, and many of the offices could easily be accommodated in other station buildings. My memory of the offices here was of cramped “government issue” styled rooms with poor ventilation and lighting, occupied by rude clerks and minor functionaries.

Bidding this almost Moorish area a farewell, we headed back to the concourse, and from there homewards. Photography is not allowed inside the concourse, although you would struggle to find signage that tells you this if you entered from the parking lot. Today the platform islands are gone, the old ticket office no longer exists, and the train departure board stands empty.  There more people here now, and there is quite a buzz. The old CNA still stands where it did when I was young, but the wishing well is gone, and there is a new mezzanine level around the sides. The former main line booking hall is no longer there, and today people queue for inter city buses or to travel on the Shosoloza Meyl or Premier Klasse.  The old steam loco that used to be plinthed outside the telecoms building was removed to the Outeniqua Transport Museum and the whole outside parking was finally decked over. 

The former “non European” concourse now houses the Metrorail concourse and it is no longer segregated.

On the other side of the Rissik Street Bridge, the old Rotunda stands empty and silent. Today it is easier to book a flight on-line.

The original lettering is still visible around the roof edging


Close to the old Telecoms building is the Gautrain station, and the Reya Vaya stop is within walking distance of the old station and Gautrain. The old gulf red and quaker grey trains are all gone, repainted yellow and grey and many are still in service under a new guise, but a shade of their former selves.

Mainline trains still leave from here, but the service is a shade of its former self too, although some of the original coaches are still in service, as are the 6E electric units.

I left SATS in 1986, and made 3 more trips by train from Park Station, my last probably around 1988. The station is not quite the way I last saw it, it is the same station, just different.

Rissik Street looking south. (Station on the left) (1500×523)

The tour was organised by Past Experiences who operate walking tours in and around the city.  

© DRW 2012-2018 Images recreated 27/02/2015. More images added 14/04/2017, 02/02/2018
 
Updated: 02/02/2018 — 07:34

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

Heidelberg Transport Museum

On 27 January 2012 I visited the town of Heidelberg in Gauteng to do some gravehunting, My intention was to also visit the transport museum in the town to see what the status was of the railway exhibits in its care. I will not dwell on the history behind the museum, or the events that led to its closure at the end of 2003, that is dealt with by Piet Conradie in his blog. I am just dealing with 27 January 2012. 

The museum is housed in the old station building which originally opened as a station in October 1895 and served as such till 1961. It is a beautiful old building, but in dire need of restoration. The last restoration being done in 1975 when the original transport museum came into being. 

Street side of the station building

Street side of the station building

The railway coaches are housed in a long shed that was erected over the platform area of the station. There are 5 coaches in total, 2 of which are passenger saloons, 2 are dining saloons, and one is a baggage/parcels van. All are painted brown and with the exception of the bag van, are in a very good condition. A steam engine, class 16CR-816 is at the head of the short train in the first row. The first coach behind the locomotive is 1st/2nd class D-15 mainline passenger saloon 1044. This coach is in a beautiful condition inside and so many of the interior fittings are intact.
 
 
The 1st class compartments were fitted out with blue upholstery, while 2nd class had green. The coach has a gap in the middle where the corridor crosses to the other side.  This view of a 1st class compartment is taken from the window side, note the reading lamp in the top corner as well as the woodwork in the coach.  The coach still has a feint smell of wood and leather that was unique to the old coaches used on the SAR/SAS. I recall travelling down to Bethlehem in coaches like this when I was young, and they do not compare to the later steel bodied saloons with their formica and paneling.
 
 
The images above show a 1st class coupe, as well as the corridor on the first class half. Just imagine standing in that corridor while traveling to your destination. The next coach down the line is the A-18 diner “Liesbeek”, which carries the number 167. She was in service from 1914 till 1976.

 
Like many of the older dining saloons, half of her is a kitchen and the other half is the dining area, and she is a magnificent example of the pillared dining saloons that we used to have. The demise of the clerestory roof coaches would also be the demise of the pillared diner. Loose chairs tended to be unstable when the train was in motion or coming to a halt, the use of them was discontinued in later diners.
 
The last coach in the front row is a K-36 baggage/parcel van, number 4233. Unfortunately the exterior of this coach is in a poor condition on the one end. The roof of the platform area did not extend far enough to protect her so she will need a lot of renovation.

 

Behind this “train” are two more coaches. The coach next to the 16CR is another A-18 pillared diner “Illovo”, number 166, built in 1914. She is a sister to 167 Liesbeek, and is also in a very good condition.

 

Behind her, and shadowed by a building is a C-16, first class balcony coach 737, built in 1921 by Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Company in England. She is very dark inside and my camera really struggled to work in her, a torch should be on your agenda if you intend visiting the museum. Like the other passenger coach, she looks very intact on the inside and her compartments and woodwork are beautiful.

 
 

The last major piece of rolling stock is the Class 16CR-816. Cosmetically she is in a reasonably good condition because she has been under cover, unfortunately the usual copper theft has robbed her of many of her pipes, and her cabside plate, but her cab is intact.

 


 

The assistant curator at the museum took me around and was very eager that more people come to visit it so that it can be put back on the map. Usual office hours apply, although the museum is closed over a weekend. Potential visitors are asked to call the museum first at 016-341-2091, and ask to speak to Sipho to arrange a visit. I do advise taking a torch along, especially if you wish to see the interior of 737. The coaches are very dusty inside, and everything is not perfect, but I live in hope. The fact that we still have these coaches is a good enough reason for the museum to reopen.

 

Special thanks must go to Sipho who showed me around, to Piet Conradie for his excellent blog, and to Carlos Das Neves Vieira for his information about the coaches.

 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 22/03/2016
  
Updated: 15/02/2018 — 19:48

The joy of Model Railways

When I was young, model trains was one of the hobbies you wanted to pursue. And, like today, they were overpriced and out of reach of the casual buyer  The dominant player in the South African entry level market was the Italian manufacturer Lima. Somebody in their organisation was astute enough to realise that there was a smallish demand for SAR/SAS items to be sold inside the country. 

Lima had a number of sets on the shelves; there was Lima Crick, which was a wind up entry level toy.

Then there were the Junior sets which were battery driven from a battery box and which had indifferent quality coaches masquerading as the real thing. I had a “Blue Train” which I seem to recall cost R19 at the time. The locomotives bore no resemblance to anything on the SAR at the time, but then as children we were not as sensitive to accuracy as serious modellers were/are.
 
And finally there were the “proper” HO gauge trains which ideally one would use as a basis to build up a full size collection from. Lima also produced “N” gauge but I never saw any of these in South Africa up till recently. Acquiring a catalogue was always worth the effort as you could pore over it for hours, wishing that you had one of the many sets displayed inside it.
 
 
However, these train sets were expensive, and of course we were in school so none of us had any money! Once I started working I started to collect, first on my list was the Trans Karoo with its lovely 5E-919 and steel bodied 1st and 2nd class saloons, dining saloon and bagvan. The models themselves were primitive, and the traction motor in the 5E was/is a dismal performer.

Traction motor for a Lima 5E


The set above is typical of what was available. This particular set is more of an entry level passenger train as it excludes the 2nd class saloon which you would have gotten with a slightly bigger (and more expensive) set. Interestingly enough, I found an old Christmas shopping guide for 1976, and this particular set cost the princely sum of R37-95!  Unfortunately I could not find out what the average salary was in 1976.
 
You were able to buy a dummy 5E as well as additional coaches, track sets and buildings off the shelf. A Blue Train was also available, but its coaches were not based on actual Blue Train coaches, although the 5E was blue. There was also a nice suburban train in the original colours of the SAR/SAS
 
 
 
 As well as a “Metroblitz” knockoff, which in reality was just a repaint of the 5E and other coaches.
 
 

Today these sets are very much desired by collectors, the Metroblitz is especially rare. and quite a number of suburban sets have been repainted in the new Metrorail colours.  

Goods trains were also available, and they usually had a class 34 diesel and a very nice rake of goods wagons. If anything the goods wagons were much easier to fake than a steel bodied saloon.  
 
Particularly coveted was the model of the “V8” Guards Van. This particular wagon was slightly out of scale with the real thing, but it was one of those wagons every collector wanted. Sadly, the real V8’s have all but become extinct from the real South African railway network. 
 
The big problem with HO gauge is that it takes up space, and my set was mounted on a large piece of chipboard that lived behind my desk. Each time I wanted to play with it I had to do major shuffling around of furniture which became a nuisance and my interest level fell. What I was really after was something smaller, like an “N” gauge set. So, like an idiot I disposed of my collection. Little knowing how desirable it would become so many years later. 
 
N vs. HO. N gauge in front, HO behind

N vs. HO. N gauge in front, HO behind

Lima 5E in HO Gauge, and 6E in N Gauge

Wind forward 25 years. Lima is no longer available in South Africa, and hasn’t been for years. The second hand market in South African Railway Lima items has grown, and the prices are unrealistic. However, many enterprising modellers have entered the market, creating very detailed SAR/SAS items,  although these are not aimed at the casual hobbyist, but rather the serious collector.
The current owner of the Lima brand is Hornby, and they do not export SAR items to South Africa. All that is available in the toy shops are Hornby OO gauge, and Bachmann sets based on American rolling stock. Specialist model train hobby shops (and there are a few),  have a nice selection of German equipment, and there is always bidorbuy, ebay, or directly importing yourself. Oddly enough American rolling stock and trackwork does have a large following in South Africa, and you have to admit, there are some amazing diesels and steam locos in the line up of American railway equipment.
 
I sold off my original small N Gauge set many years ago, having been unable to get any new rolling stock for it. My current N gauge ended up in storage as I downscaled due to retrenchment. I was fortunate enough to find the basics of this set very cheaply, and was able to add to it mainly through the second hand market. At one point I even tried to convert it to a digital layout, but fitting the decoders in those small locos was a major problem.
 
 
However, I will hang onto the loose odds  of  Lima SAR stuff I have picked up. I have always liked those 1st and 2nd class coaches in spite of their many faults. And 5E-919 is about as close as I will get to having a 6E1.  Its really all about the nostalgia aspect of it as opposed to finding rolling stock for an existing layout. Living in a flat does not make for easy model railroading.
5E-919. Red and Gulf Red versions

5E-919. Red and Gulf Red versions

2nd Class "Cape Town" Saloon

2nd Class “Cape Town” Saloon

1st Class "Johannesburg" Saloon

1st Class “Johannesburg” Saloon

Dining Saloon "Sabie"

Dining Saloon “Sabie”

I too am fortunate that I can still find real vintage coaches to look at, and I have photographs of many of them. There is no doubt that the railways that I knew exists no longer, the wood and leather clerestory coaches are a memory. The steam engines are an endangered species, and even the much loved 6E1 is seeing the end of its long reign. Model trains may be one of the few places left where you can look back on the past and participate in it. 
 
Unfortunately, the old Transport Museum in Heidelberg shut up shop years ago, although the rolling stock is still there. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to look around the coaches and dining salons and it was heck of a nostalgia trip for me. 
 
Update: 02/08/2014
While attending a live steam event in Salisbury, I chanced upon a Blue and a Gulf Red 5E-515 as well as a 1st class sub coach and driving trailer. They were still in their boxes and had their original price tags on them. The 5E cost a whopping R19.95, while the 1st class sub coach cost R4.99 and the driving trailer for the sub cost R16.95. The one box was for a 309242 (First class saloon) and it was marked R4.95. If I interpret the price tag correctly these date from 1981. I will not discuss how much I paid for them in UK Pounds, suffice to say I would probably not be able to buy them at that price in South Africa. 
 

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 21/03/2016. Updated with more images 13/05/2016

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:01

1949 Orlando Train Disaster.

One of the interesting things about gravehunting is that often you find the graves of people who have been affected by a significant event. Often it is an event that you are not even aware of. While rooting through my images from Newclare Cem in Johannesburg I remembered finding a grave for people killed in a rail accident. 

At the time I didn’t really go into it, but recently, while considering trains that pass through cemeteries I decided to revisit the grave and see what was available on the internet about the incident.

I was quite surprised that I actually found a reference to the accident, although there is not too much information.
 
“29/04/2949. At the time the accident was the worst rail disaster in SA, and occurred when 3 electric trains, all headed in the same direction on the same track were involved in the crash. Two were stationary on a high embankment when the 3rd came around the bend and smashed into the back of the one train which then rammed into the train ahead of it. 74 Passengers lost their lives and more than 90 were injured. An investigation found that the block signal system was faulty.”
  
Orlando Station is on the Soweto Line, and I expect that many of the other victims ended up being buried in Avalon or one of the other Soweto Cemeteries. I do recall that when I lived in Mayfair during the 60’s, a train derailed just past Langlaagte Station, and it was a real mess, I don’t know what the death toll was, but it was a major incident. I seem to recall that there were tank wagons involved too. The coaches in use in those days on the “non-white” services were mostly the slam door suburbans which had wood throughout, and they would have been very crowded. I can just imagine what the scene must have looked like to those who responded to the disaster in Orlando.

A partly demolished slam door sub from the commuter trains in South Africa.

 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 12/04/2016  
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 18:58

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

Witwatersrand Plaque

Coming back from the West Rand one Saturday, I was in the area of Witpoortjie Station, and on that day my favourite steam engine was returning from her day trip to Magaliesberg. I decided to see whether I could catch her coming through the station on her way back to Germiston.  That short video may be seen on my youtube channel
 
On my way out of the station I found a plaque that very few people know exists.
 
 
This plaque ties into the geological formation and area commonly known as the Witwatersrand (Ridge of White Water)
 
Witpoortjie is one of those small sleepy stations that exist serving a dwindling number of train commuters on a train system that is no longer in tune with demand. This is probably its only claim to fame. 
 
 
Not too far from here are the mining areas of the West Rand as well as Confidence Reef.  However, very few people are really aware of this tiny bit of information that is relevant to understanding more about the geology of Johannesburg.
 
© DRW 2011-2018. Images recreated 17/03/2016
Updated: 24/12/2017 — 10:31
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