The International Steam Pages


Case Notes - Steam in Zimbabwe, Part 5
Cab riding on the Northern line
Thomson Junction to Victoria Falls Part 2

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index.


This was the scene at T.J.shed on 2nd November 1986

On 5th November 1986, I had a footplate pass to ride the afternoon freight from T.J. to Victoria Falls and the return working on the Mail train. The Roster Clerk introduced me to Driver James, our 15th was 421 which was recently ex works. The engine backed off the shed to the compulsory blow-down area, before going to the yards to collect the train. We roared out of T.J on full regulator using the short downgrade to build up momentum, then rocketed across the Dekka River Bridge before losing speed on the grades and S curves that followed. The train was not a full load but still had enough drag to force the engine to pound along for the next three quarters of an hour when we reached a loop. A freight behind another 15th was waiting to cross us, this was the return working for the crew and engine which had worked the Mail train to Victoria Falls.

The driver and fireman swapped roles for the journey to Matetsi, the African fireman was learning the road and rules prior to his forthcoming driverís exam. After fire cleaning and taking water a staff service coach was detached from our load. All was peaceful, but during the civil war this isolated spot was a dangerous place, train crews had been killed and injured both here and at T.J. 

The next day the  11.50 freight from T.J. to Victoria Falls crosses the Dekka River: 

Journey's end, Zimbabwe 20th 744 at Victoria Falls station on 26th October 1986

On 27th October, Zambian 20th 752 poses next to the famous station name board which gives distances to Cape Town (2651km), Beira (1534km) and Bulawayo (451km).

At Victoria Falls I cleaned up and stretched my legs. 20th 750 arrived on a freight which must have been close on our heels out of T.J. The crews chatted as both engines took water, then we collected the empty stock for the Mail. Approaching departure time the fireman started throwing in large rounds to establish his new fire, the station announcer asks people not travelling to leave the train Ė in three different languages. Doors are slammed and the guard blows his whistle, but Driver James is annoyed as it was still before departure time. He ignored the guard waving his flag until the pressure gauge satisfies him and pulls the whistle cord. He sets the cylinder cocks lever to open and opens the regulator. An on time departure sees the train rapidly accelerate out of the yard and then gain momentum on the downgrade that follows. Most Mail trains loaded to 14 coaches plus van, a lengthy train which was no trouble for a 15th.

By the time we dive under the road bridge and out into the open countryside we are really moving. The sun is setting but I catch some good views of wildlife, zebra, kudu, gazelles and ibex were seen. The driver told me they often see elephants in this vicinity and they see more than the passengers as the animals are often out of sight by the time the carriages pass.

The prized light bulbs are taken from the driverís trunk, fitted and the dynamo is turned on. (Light bulbs were in limited supply and easily pilfered). We have a couple of stops at halts and the engine really barks away from them, throwing sparks high into the night air. The fireman has been working hard and the driver took over the firing for the final section to Matetsi. The grade is not hard, but coupled with the load and timings it makes for heavy coal consumption. 

Leaving Matetsi there is plenty of thrash and hard work, the third man is shovelling forward from the bunker unit. I know the journey is nearing an end when we sight the distant lights of T.J. The line twists and turns, we are coasting downgrade the hard work almost over although it was another forty minutes before we arrived. A final round is used prior to the Dekka River Bridge to lift the train upgrade to the station. What a fantastic way to visit the Falls!

The flame trees add a touch of colour as a Zambian diesel prepares to depart for Livingston. 26th October 1986

On the same day, 15th 392 makes a spectacular departure from the Falls.


Rob Dickinson

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