musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: steam

Tewkesbury Mini-steam Weekend 2017

It was that time of the year when Tewkesbury holds a number of events in and around the town. The first event that I attended this year was the mini-steam weekend that was held on the 24th and 25th of June. I attended the event last year too as well as in 2015. I had an information leaflet somewhere but seem to have mislaid it again so will really cheat a bit if I need info. The event is held by the Model Steam Road Vehicle Society. in the grounds of the Tewkesbury Rugby Club.

The engines on display are not the large full sized beasties, but smaller versions that mimic their bigger breathren; and like the full sized vehicles are feats of engineering way beyond my skill level. Realistically most of the machines this year were the same as I saw last year, in fact that was the problem with the event this year, I had seen it before but I do look for the odds and ends that make it different. 

This was the first engine that I saw while I was walking to the event, I have seen this guy quite often with his engine “Jack”, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy himself. The Abbey can be seen in the background of the image. 

The event has the usual mix of traders, enthusiasts, vintage cars and interested parties, and quite a few of the engines were raising steam when I got there.

Oh, and having their brightwork polished. Make no mistake, these machines require lots of time, patience and probably a healthy bank balance too. 

This wonderful showmens engine is typical of that particular type of vehicle with loads of shiney brass fiddly bits.

I am always fascinated by the electrical plant on these machines. It has a certain “Frankensteinish” look about it.

Here are a few of the steamers just waking from their slumbers while their owners had that first cuppa.

There was one exhibit that I ended up rooted to the spot at. It featured a single sided ploughing engine (my terminology may be out of wack though), and I spent quite a lot of time listening to the owner enthusing about his pet project. And, she was a beauty. 

I am no boffin on these things, but this system uses a single ploughing engine, an anchor, with an associated trolley and a double ended tool carrier. Wait, let me see whether I can find a link to explain it all. has a nice description on how steam ploughing actually works. In the image above the engine is closest to the camera. The dolly in the middle looks like this. Since the war ended GI Joe has gone into the ploughing industry.

The other end (called a travelling anchor) looks like this….

And it has the large disk-like wheels to prevent it being pulled sideways by the engine with ballast on the opposite side to the engine to prevent it from tipping from the load. A large twin forked anchor is set into the ground ahead of it and it is winched forward to the anchor as the rows are ploughed.  

These models are really magnificent and the owner is rightly proud of them too. I can see why. 

A full sized ploughing engine? they look like this… 

Continuing on my meander I also spotted this quirky steam powered ape. 

Who says steam in not versatile?

While I was walking around a number of engines were making their way to the arena where they circled around in a slightly haphazard way.

You can even use steam to walk the family dog and tow the family around.

There was a small display of vintage cars, and there were some I had not seen before.

And then there was this Kombi in the distance, she should have been in that line-up too.

By now I was considering my homeward trek and stopped at some of the traders tents to look around. The one tent had all of these wonderful old vintage and not so vintage tools in it, and what a strange eclectic collection it was. 

And while I was loitering there I heard a strange noise behind me… 

And then it was time to go. However I shall enthral you with my random pics.


And that was my day. Hope you enjoyed it too.

One final pic… because this is one of the things that Tewkesbury is known for:

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 24/06/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:57

Welland Steam and Country Rally (Odds and Sods)

Having come this far you are probably asking yourself “Isn’t it enough already?”

I have bad news. There is even more. In this section I am going to add some of those odd objects and uncategorised vehicles that I saw that caught my eye. Some are not even vehicles!

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Enuff said! Bring on the images!

Yes it is steam powered

Yes it is steam powered

The part that goes "Parp"

The part that goes “Parp”


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© DRW 2016-2018. Created 31/07/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:23

Welland Steam and Country Rally (Traction Engines)

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For me the drawcard of a steam rally are items that use steam as a means of propulsion or to do stuff with. Diesel just does not have that same pulling ability that steam does, and a perfect example was the steam shovel. Close by was a similar diesel powered shovel and more people were watching the steam powered version even though they were both doing the same thing. 

I am fortunate that I do have the catalogue so may be able to Identify some of the machines in my pics, however the pics taken in the arena are quite dark because of the heavy cloud cover that was developing. 

The highlight of the traction engines was definitely the Showman’s Engines. I was amazed at how big they were, most that I had seen previously had all been miniatures. This was the first time I had seen full sized versions.

Most of these machines were already blinding to the eyes, but the shining continued all the time.

The dynamo/generator/alternator is mounted on a shroud protruding over the smokebox door, and even that was spotless.

The agricultural sector was also well represented with ploughing engines in action, these too are huge machines, and even they are spotlessly clean as can be seen by this Fowler ploughing engine. 

There were a number of traction engine cranes at the fair, and I find them fascinating because of their sheer size and the ability to lift things. I have however not seem one of them in action (much to my dismay).

The steam powered trucks and lorries have also always been a favourite of mine, there is something about that transition between traction engine and truck that I find fascinating. There were quite a few on display too, so choosing pics is difficult.

What I did find quite impressive was this Burrell Road Locomotive trundling along with it’s load consisting of a boiler. You did not want to stand in it’s way.

Overall though there were a lot of engines, and trying to show each one is impossible, because there were potentially 72 full sized machines, 34 miniatures as well as 22 showmen’s engines, and I doubt whether I saw half of them.

And when all was said and done,

and they had lined up,

one by one.

With a mighty roar,

and spray of steam,

their whistles farewell did scream.

Final line up (1500x636)

Final line up (1500×636)

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McLaren 6" showmans engine "Goliath"

McLaren 6″ showmans engine “Goliath”

Fowler "Lord Doverdale" (1917)

Fowler “Lord Doverdale” (1917)

Ruston Proctor 6" scale

Ruston Proctor 6″ scale

Marshall No 28922.  “Alderman”

Wm Foster & Co. "Pride of Freystrop"

Wm Foster & Co.

“Pride of Freystrop”

Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies. "Velfrey Queen"

Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies.

“Velfrey Queen”

The Burrell "Herbert's Galloping Horses on tour"

The Burrell “Herbert’s Galloping Horses on tour”

Garrett No 34085


McLaren 1332 "Gigantic"

McLaren 1332 “Gigantic”

Garrett 4" model "Muriel"

Garrett 4″ model “Muriel”

Burrell Road Locomotive "Duke of Kent"

Burrell Road Locomotive

“Duke of Kent”

Aveling & Porter 10072 "Achilles"

Aveling & Porter 10072


Burrell 3" "Gladwys"

Burrell 3″ “Gladwys”

Garrett 6" "Claire"

Garrett 6″ “Claire”

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 31/07/2016. Bad poetry by DR Walker.

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:24

Welland Steam and Country Rally (Military Vehicles)

[ First page ] [ Military Vehicles ] [ Cars and Trucks ] [ Traction Engines ] [ Odds and Sods

The Military Vehicles really interested me because of my own time in the military and of course a general interest in things military. As mentioned, most of the equipment on display was of American origin, with a smattering of other nationals equipment.

The tracked vehicles really stole the show, and one vehicle in particular was really impressive. I had never seen (or heard of) a M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer before, but be rest assured I know about them now! 

This vehicle would show its paces in the arena a bit later and it was astounding! Capable of 80 km/h they could probably run rings around most tanks on level ground. The 76mm was not the perfect weapon, but in the hands of a skilled crew could cause havoc. 

Tank number 2 was not American, but rather a PzKpfw 38(t) from 1943, originally built by Skoda of Czechoslovakia. This vehicle is currently under preservation and this was probably the first time it has been under it’s own power in 60 years.  

She was not much to see in the arena though, and I suspect the Hellcat would have run rings around it.

The next tracked vehicle of interest was what I think is an LVT (Landing Vehicle tracked), also known as an “Amtrak”. She too was fast, and really churned up the grass behind her.

The other interesting tracked vehicle my guide identifies as an Alvis 432, and it is a British Army AFV

Of course there were two American half tracks on the move and they too were quick on their feet, wheels and tracks…  My personal favourite was there too, with its quad 50 cal Brownings.

I had seen this beauty before at the GWR military themed day in April

On display was a Daimler Dingo Armoured Scout Car. Surprisingly small it was incredibly agile and an extremely popular vehicle.

It is however quite strange in that the transmission included a preselector gearbox and that gave five speeds in both directions, it was also fitted with a four-wheel steering system and had a tight turning circle of 7.0 m. Personally I find it confusing as to which end is the front (the image above shows the rear of the vehicle).

The closest equivalent at the fair was probably the ubiquitous Jeep of which there were many variants on display. My personal favourite mounted a 50 cal Browning, but then you can cure many things with a 50 cal. 

Standing out amongst the drab was an SAS Land Rover long range desert patrol vehicle from 1968. Known as “Pinkies” for their Mountbatten Pink camo, this particular vehicle saw service in Oman in with the SAS from 1969-1974.

Now compare that to this overloaded mountain of kit on wheels.

I missed the information sheet for this one, but the entry number lists it as Land Rover Dinkie from 1986.  Judging by the amount of kit it is festooned with it is probably a modern equivalent of the Pinkie. Somewhere in there is the driver and passenger.

There was another nice vehicle on display that I really liked, but unfortunately I am unable to identify it as I cannot see it’s entrant number 

Number 96 was an Austin Tourer from 1929, and I suspect this must have been used as a military runabout inside a base. I can’t quite picture it in the heat of battle. It is however a wonderful little vehicle.

As mentioned before, there were a lot of Jeeps on display, and this fitted in very well with my interest in trains. 

The vehicle carrying the drain pipe originated in Sweden and is a Volvo TGB IIII, and the drainpipe with its elevating mechanism is seen in the stowed position, there is even a cutout for the weapon in the windscreen.

The weapon is a 90mm recoilless rifle, although I doubt whether this is the the real thing and is probably a replica.  I hope the whole package was more reliable than the 106mm recoilless rifles we had in the SADF that were mounted on Jeeps. 

Number 97 is a GMC 353, also known as a “Deuce and a half”.

There are many variations of this truck, and a number were on display at the fair. Workhorses like these are what kept the Allies supplied in the Second World War, and many would be very useful in the post war economies of Europe and America. 

The oldie below with the twin Bren mount is a Humber 1 ton cargo pickup, and was originally an ex RME signals repair truck.  

In the background is a flatnose Bedford which I also encountered in the South African Defence Force in 1 SAI in Bloemfontein.

That more or less covers the more memorable vehicles in the military equipment line up, although I am going to add many more into the Random Pics gallery below. Where I can identify a vehicle I will add in the description.  According to the programme there were theoretically 113 military vehicles there. No wonder I came away with so many pics.

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Random Images.

Bullnose Bedford RL (1966)

Dodge WC38 (1940)

Dodge WC38 (1940)

VW Kubelwagen

VW TYP82 (1943)

Dodge WC52 (1942)

Dodge WC52 (1942)

Norton Combination 1939

Norton Combination 1939

Thorneycroft Nubian 1944

Thorneycroft Nubian 1944

Auto Union Munga (1964)

Auto Union Munga (1964)



Chevrolet G506 Tipper

Chevrolet G506 Tipper

Scammell Explorer (1953)

Scammell Explorer (1953)

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 31/07/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:24

Welland Steam and Country Rally (I)

This morning we headed off to the Welland Steam and Country Rally which is held at Woodside Farm, Welland, Worcestershire. The weather had been changeable lately, and there were periods of cloud and blue skies, but overall it was a great day.

Because of the amount of images I took (over 800) I have split this blog post into as 5 parts because there was a lot to see: ranging from scooters, vintage cars, traction engines, military vehicles, strange steam shovels, stationary engines, vintage trucks, and everything in between. I had no real priority though because it all went pear shaped when we arrived and I realised there was a lot on display.

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Regular followers of my blogs will know I have an eclectic taste in many things, so I did take a lot of pics. Some good, some bad.

The area where the rally was held was a large one, but then there were a lot of exhibits on display and a lot of people too. In fact there were quite a large number of dogs accompanying visitors, and that can be quite confusing.

For me there were a number of highlights, although not much would beat the steam shovel. 

This machine belched steam and smoke from a number of places as it grabbed bits of gravel from the pit and deposited it on the other side. There was just something about it that held you spellbound. I have never seen a steam powered version of one of these in action before and it was fantastic. I have video of it on my youtube channel.

Another machine that I was hoping to see in action was a 1901 Dubs steam engine with a crane mounted on it. I had first seen one of these at Chasewater Railway  but was curious to see one in action.

Unfortunately she never really worked, she just seemed to run backwards and forwards on a length of track and that was it. She is not an easy loco to photograph either, and this image was probably my best. 

There was another crane that I wanted to see in action, because there were remnants of one at Sanrasm North Site, but this crane did not have much of a  “wow!” factor. 

In this area they had a number of working machines powered by steam, and the crane was used to pick up logs to feed into a steam driven circular saw, I did look for the “damsel in distress” about to be rendered into messy bits by the saw but ‘ealth ‘n safety were having none of that.

and Scrumpy was just dog tired.

This area also had a makeshift navvy camp and it was interesting because as usual no work was being done. In fact the one item I really wanted to see doing something wasn’t doing anything! 

And here he is… 

Just waiting for me to turn my back so that he can rattle down the track while I am not looking. I was really hoping that this was some previously undiscovered narrow gauge loco, but it turns out that it is not, The builders plate identifies her as Wilbrighton Wagon Works Number 2, (2007) so she is really a newbuild and carries the name “Howard”.  I cannot find out too much about her as yet, but she tentatively seems to belong to the Statfold Barn Railway, Tamworth, in Staffordshire. I will have to do more reading about this one I am afraid.

Part of the attraction of the rally was the fun fair and the attendant Showmans Engines.  Most of the traction engines i have seem have been smaller versions, these were the fulll size machines and they were stunning. They had so many people swarming over them cleaning that it was difficult to get a clean shot of the machines.

There is a an overhang at the front of the machine and that is where the dynamo (generator?) is bolted onto that is run via a belt to the flywheel of the engine. 

110 Volts, 220 Amps. That is quite an impressive piece of kit! 

But then when you are running one of these you need all the power you can generate. 

Close to the fun fair was the Military Vehicle display which sucked me in as per usual. Although much to my dismay most of the equipment was of American origin. 

With the exception of this stunning Kübelwagen 

I have posted the military vehicles in a separate post but for now will leave you with a pic of a vehicle that does bring back memories of my own time in the SADF.

The Bullnose Bedford we knew as the “Vasbyt Bedford” and they were painted that ugly “Nutria” colour that the SADF used. I actually drove one of them in Jan Kemp Dorp and nearly demolished the only hairdresser and robots in the dorpie.

The arena was not too far away, and during the day they held a display of vintage cars and bikes, as well as military vehicles, small scale traction engines and of course full size traction engines. Some of these will all be dealt with separately.

Walking a bit further there there was a nice display of various vintage stationary engines/pumps/generators/ and similar machines.  They are odd machines to see because many are incredibly reliable and quite old. I always find it amusing how every now and they they emit a solitary “splut!”. I usually do not photograph these odd machines but they can be fascinating in their own right.

This 1929 Gardner 2 stroke reversible diesel engine was running and was one of a pair of engines that were used on board the motor yacht Cordelia II.  

While all this was going on, a number of giant calliope type machines were churning out a selection of oompah elevator music that impinged on the ear drums the moment you came with range.

The irritation factor of these things is huge, although I have to admit I am impressed that it can produce something almost recognisable as music, or should that be muzak?

Having done a circumnavigation of the site it was time to start watching out for when the arena events were happening. So far the vintage cars had been on display as had a selection of motor cycles. 

Next on the list was the smaller version engines. These I was was used to seeing because most of the rallies I had been to had featured the smaller versions. This rally had the fully size machines and some were really huge. But first…. 

and then…….

Followed by…..

I had secured myself a nice ringside rail to lean against (later upgraded to a chair) and could settle down to watch the parade.

My self imposed limit of pics on a page allows me to share some random images before we reach the end. 

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Random Stuff



To be continued

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 30/07/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:25

The Steam Museum in Swindon (2)

Continuing where we left off, this part deals with some of the other odds and sods that I saw at the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway. The reproduction station that was erected at the museum is really a glimpse of something that no longer exists. Small rural stations and branch lines met their ends with the Beeching Axe, and that is still being debated long after it happened. 

And when we lost the rural station we also lost the rural signal box. The station was an important part of the community, and when the trains stopped many communities stopped too. A similar thing happened in South Africa, although the axe was wielded by neglect and bad planning

I do suspect this guy may be waiting for a train that never comes.

I do suspect this guy may be waiting for a train that never comes.

The museum also emphasizes the role that the railway played in holiday travel, a trip to the seaside by train must have been something that all youngsters dreamt of, just like we did in South Africa when I was young. The GWR played its part too, and there were lots of travel posters that played on this urge to grab your picnic basket and dash off to Cornwall or Fishguard or similar.

The trains still run to Cornwall, but the romance of it has gone, and the modern snazzy airplane style coaches do not have that appeal, and neither do diesels for that matter.
Interior of current First Great Western carriage stock

Interior of current First Great Western carriage stock

The museum also shows the role that the railways had during the wars, and it is difficult to fully explain just how the war affected the railways, and how much they contributed to the war effort. Women were brought into the workforce in large numbers and they did the job with enthusiasm and pride, and their own lives were changed forever. 
Our lady with the tea trolley made a contribution that may be seen as something really small, but to those servicemen and women who were trying to get home, or who were en route to bases, knew that it was just as important as those who were out there getting killed in battle. 
Like many industries, the Swindon works were involved in munitions and equipment production, and  a large portion of their male workforce would have joined the forces. And, as I expected, there are Remembrance Plaques and Rolls of Honour in recognition of those who never came back.  I have posted images of the ones I photographed at allatsea 
Britain was a very different place back then, and the war really made it what it is today.  
Then it was time to head out, I had to find graves from that war in a nearby cemetery, and my missing hour had cut into the time I had available to do this. I had enjoyed this little march through the past, like so many of these museums this one is a gem, and I can’t help but wonder how many working and static steam locos I had seen in Britain compared to the masses of derelicts that I saw in South Africa. I was also fortunate enough to visit Mid Hants Railway in 2013 and the glimpse of the country station there was just as fascinating. I may return here one day, because I am still missing 28 graves from the cemetery, so maybe there will be a part three to this blogpost somewhere down the line.
Random pics. 
The goods yard

The goods yard

Scammel delivery van

Scammel delivery van

Railcar drivers position

Railcar drivers position

Fishguard? lets go!

Fishguard? lets go!

Working loco model

Working loco model

GWR Brakevan

GWR Brakevan

Carriage works

Carriage works

Track inspection vehicle

Track inspection vehicle

© DRW 2015-2018 Created 17/01/2015, images migrated 22/04/2016

Updated: 27/08/2018 — 07:59

The Steam Museum in Swindon (1)

After much vacillating and excuses I finally got my butt in gear and headed off to Swindon to visit Steam. Museum of the Great Western Railroad.
I was looking at doing a trip to the museum since last year, but doing it from Salisbury would have been a mission, whereas from Basingstoke it entailed a train to Reading, and then another to Swindon. This is Great Western territory as opposed to my usual South West Trains that I have been using regularly on my travels. This is also the furtherest North that I have traveled since coming to the UK in 2013.
The train trip was a bit of a disaster though; I had left a bit later in the morning than I should have and it put me in Reading just after 10am. I had two visits lined up for the trip and theoretically had enough time to do both. Unfortunately the train before us had problems with its central door locking at Didcot Parkway, and was stuck in the station while we ended up stuck not too far from the station as a result, and I sat watching the time march from the comfort of the inside of a train. We sat for almost an hour and by the time I hit Swindon I had seen my plans take somewhat of a dive. The museum is not too far from the station, in the former engine works of Great Western. Looking at images from there you cannot believe that all that engineering is gone, and in one case it has even been replaced by a yuppie fashion house. These works and Great Western are also closely associated with the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The Museum is housed in a former machine shop, and the last steam locomotive that came from these works in 1960 was the Eastern Star, which is the last steam locomotive built by British Railways. (Tornado was not built by British Railways). Hopefully there would be some steamers still inside the building, and that was what I was after. 
The traverser and 4 wheeler were a good sign,  and I eventually found my way into the museum. Schools were open so theoretically it should not be too crowded. 
The first surprise was a set of driving wheels for Brunels broad gauge loco, Lord of the Isles.
These wheels are 8 foot in diameter, which makes Brunel look short. It is worth remembering that Brunel was using the “broad gauge” which is 7 ft (2,134 mm), later eased to 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) which meant his rolling stock was very big. The gauge they use in the UK now is 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm), now eased to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm). (South Africa uses what is known as “Cape Gauge” 3ft 6 inches). There is quite a good explanation on track gauges on Wikipedia
The first major artefact which caught my eye was a boiler with all the complications that it entails (including a woman sitting in the smokebox). This is a representation of the boiler works
The one thing I have learnt is that steam engine boilers are very complex devices with a lot of engineering that often does not make sense. However, when you consider the energy that steam is able to generate then you can see why the boiler has to be so strong and designed with so much inherent strength and flexibility. The locos that were coming out of these works would be in service for many years and works like this produced some fine machines that would still be running had it not for the demise of steam traction. 
Just around the corner I discovered one of the many intact steam engines in the museum,  GWR 4073 Class 4073 Caerphilly Castle.  The nice thing about her is that you can actually walk underneath her and see those hidden bits that are all taken for granted.

She was built in 1923, and withdrawn from service in 1960. I was going to wait for the person in the wheelchair to move before I took the last pic, but then I realised that he did give a sense of scale to the machine.

Around the corner I came to a replica of  the 1837  “North Star”, and it is really a comparatively simple loco when compared to the machines that rule the rails 100 years later.

The original was purchased by GWR and ran one of the first trains between Paddington and Maidenhead in 1837. There is no consideration for crew comfort in this machine, although I am sure these locos did not break too many speed records.

2516 is a Dean locomotive, built in 1897 and used on freight services. It has some resemblance to a cab, but has been split away from her tender.  She is the only survivor of her class of 260 built at Swindon.

9400 is a relatively new machine, having been part of  a class that was built between 1947 and 1956. She is an 0-6-0 Pannier Tank loco, and her class really had very short lives as the diesel made more inroads into their traditional roles. She is one of two survivors of her class

At this point we come to a replica station and the trains pulled up at the platforms. There are two locos here, namely 4003 “Lode Star”:


She was built in 1907 and is the only remaining GWR 4000 Class locomotive. 

And  7821 “Didcheat Manor”  She is a reasonably new loco too, having been built in 1950. 

And that really concluded the collection of steam engines at the museum, The other interesting piece of motive power at the museum is a GWR diesel railcar.


The art deco styling of this railcar must have really been a sight to see as it trundled along the route between Birmingham and Cardiff, and they were really the precursor to the DMUs that I travelled on so often in Salisbury.  Unfortunately the railcar was not open so I could not see the interior except through the windows, and it did look really nice inside.

The museum also has a Buffet coach on display, and its green interior must have been very comforting to somebody having a cuppa and a sticky bun inside.

There is also a Great Western Royal Saloon on display, and it formed  part of Queen Victoria’s Royal Train. Unfortunately part of the vehicle is closed off and I was not able to get much of an impression about the coach, which is a pity really because this is quite an important exhibit.

The rest of the museum has a lot of very interesting exhibits, in fact it is overall a very nice museum, although I would have liked to have seen more rolling stock and coaches, but then beggars can’t be choosers either.

The station is particularly interesting because it really shows most aspects of what stations may have been like so many years ago, and in the  follow up to this post I shall add in some pictures of the other exhibits.Please turn the page to go to Part 2

© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 22/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 08:30

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

Siemens Northam Train Depot Open Day.

When I first started to explore Southampton I spotted the Northam Train Depot from the railway bridge near the stadium, and I really hoped that I could find a way to get around exploring the place.

Somebody must have taken my thought to mind as it was announced that the 12th of October would be an open day at the depot. This was my chance at last! Fortunately the weather was decent on that day so it was worth spending some time there looking around. I have travelled on a few of the South Western Trains in the area and they are really comfortable and the blue and red colour scheme on some of them is very handsome.

It is a short walk from where I live to the depot, although I was coming from a totally different area, but I got there about midday, and it was already bustling.

The main workshop area is spotless, and I am sure that was not because it was an open day either. A variety of trains were on the lines and most were open to inspection. There was also an inspection pit where we could see what goes on underneath.

Driving coach bogie with traction motor and gearbox

Driving coach bogie with traction motor and gearbox

The underside of the train is populated by a lot of equipment that is taken for granted by the passengers above, and it can include things like sensors, compressors, traction motors, gearboxes, batteries and a host of other odds and sods. As much as I wanted to take more pics and ask pointed questions there were a pile of people behind me who didn’t. 

Brake calipers and wheel.

Once back at ground level I headed across to see what was happening outside, a vintage steam engine had been brought from Swanage Railway and I was hoping to at least get some footage of her before leaving. Outside a battery driven shunter was running back and forth between the workshop and the building where the wheel lathe was housed. 

Battery driven shunter,

Wheel Lathe

The wheel lathe was a much more complicated machine than that which was laying at Sanrasm North Site so long ago, but then are from two different eras altogether.This vehicle was not going to win any speed records, but I expect it is very effective at moving trains around that are not under their own power. Incidentally, the third rail power to the depot was isolated so nobody was accidentally fried by standing in the wrong place.
Returning to the workshop I really wanted to see the drivers cab of one of these trains, but finding one where somebody had not stalled completely in the way was very difficult. I am also amazed how people leave their children to just push and shove and pull anything that looks like a switch or lever. I am sure that a number of the trains there would have had to have their drivers panels reset after the panelbeating they received from junior train driver wannabes. 

Drivers view

Drivers view

There is not a lot to the panel, and the view outside isn’t expansive, but with the train in motion it must be a totally different story altogether. The conductor/train manager also has a panel, although that one is much less impressive. I wonder where the recorded voice is kept, because the one on my morning train is kind of confused. 
Conductors panel.

Conductors panel.

The closest we have in South Africa to these trains is the Gautrain, and back home they forget that technically the Gautrain is reasonably mundane in the UK, Commuter trains here are almost all like that, except maybe the smaller DMU sets that we have up to Salisbury. 
The workshop has walkways that can access all three levels of the train, (underside, ground level, roof level), and the only thing I did not see what a washing bay, but I expect that exists as well. 


There were over 1600 people at the open day, which was quite a good turn out for something like this, of course the heritage items may have proven to be a drawcard as well.

As for the steam engine… this was an M7 Class 30053, 109 years old and the only surviving member of that class. She was running between the depot and just past the Stadium close by. Had she continued down that particular line she would probably have come out in the harbour at Ocean Terminal. The queue was long to go on her so I rather went and took pics where I could. 

She was pulling a very attractive brake van, which I would have loved to have had a closer look at, but the crowds really made that impossible.


My day was about over, and I was ready to head off home. It was a very interesting morning, and I am glad I took the opportunity to have a look. It is not very often that you get to see what goes on behind the scenes of a place like this. There is a huge train repair depot up at Eastleigh that looks very interesting, but the odds of getting a look around there are small.



Who knows, I may never view a class 450 in the same way ever again.

© DRW 2013-2018. Images replaced 13/04/2016

Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:53
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