The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Steam in South Africa Part 3

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.

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For other tales in this series see:

A GMA arrives at Uitenhage on a freight from Klipplaat, 23rd January 1977.

23rd January 1977 saw me on the night passenger, stopping all stations to Graaff Reinet, departing 19.30, ahead of me 12 hours of GMA haulage. Passing Sydenham depot, I noted the dirty GMAs queued up outside the shed, the numerous 15AR and 12Rs, a few S2s and the abandoned 16CR Pacifics.

The lengthy train meant the locomotive had to work hard to keep its path in the suburban network. Despite stopping all stations it ran close to suburban times giving me a more exciting ride than some of the highly rated 15AR hauled suburbans that Id spent a couple of days riding.

Tea was brought around 6.30am and as I stood in the corridor I found my attention drawn away from the train to the hideous shanty town by the track. The Black bedding attendant stood by me and made a very blunt comment on the poor conditions his people were living in. Graaff Reinet station was away from the slums (surprise, surprise) and seemed a small place, living on its history. A 15AR was busy as the yard pilot. After the passenger left for Klipplaat I found I was the only White intending to ride the freight to Rosmead which was to be powered by GMA 4051, now based at Rosmead. The 15AR re-started its shunting whilst the guard evidently thought I was demented as he scrutinized me and my ticket, before unlocking the single White compartment in the brake van, it could only be described as filthy. The windows had neither been cleaned nor opened in years and the benches and floor were covered in ash. 

Once underway I discovered that all was not well with the guards van; a shaky start nearly tore it apart and this was a mere prelude to a back numbing and bone jarring ride ahead. As the GMAM got its train going we were dragged at walking pace past another shanty town. Once the train had crawled past this human hell, we were out in the countryside and the splendours that South Africa offers. 

At Glen Harry, the lines builders had managed to squeeze in a passing loop clinging to a rock ledge, below was an almost dried up river bed, the pockets of lush vegetation would be left behind. Whilst I was taking in the wild scenery and contemplating how the line had been built, an opposite working squeezed in the loop, our locomotive had blown down and the battle commenced to drag the resisting train upgrade for several hours through semi-desert country.

This was first the blow down and then the departure from Glen Harry.

By 12.35 we had reached Blouwater: A bushfire was visible on a hillside and in the passing loop 19D 2643 was ready to re-start its short pick-up goods. I later found that the pickups returning to their home depots of Rosmead and Graaff Reinet were turned here and locomotives were exchanged too. At the time of my visit it was the only duty on this line left for 19Ds. There were just a couple of large trees offering some shade and which broke up the barren landscape. After Blouwater the climb became even tougher, the locomotive throwing a vertical exhaust high up, even though the day was warm. It was reported that the crews did not like these locomotives, but they did come with automatic stokers, surely a relief on a hot summer's day. 

The many curves assisted the train to gain height, at times the brakevan was running parallel to the locomotive, but in the opposite direction!

Jagpoort was a tiny isolated station with a towering water tank and we crossed GMA 4053 on another freight. The fire was again cleaned and more water taken for the final ascent to the summit nearer Middelburg. In this section I saw two large Roebuck, quietly grazing near the lineside, strange shaped hilltops look down on the line, near the summit, with a remote farm house in view. I had travelled in summer, winter brings snow, a tough place for farmers and rail workers. 

A brief stop was made at Middelburg, where a 19B had been preserved on the platform, then we made the final run, at last we got into a little speed! At 15.15 the train reached Rosmead. Whilst there was often a dirt road in view of the line I had not seen a single road vehicle till we reached Rosmead. I had a superb vantage point and listening post with no road distractions.

The final picture shows us approaching a cutting near the summit. 

Rosmead was a small railway village, apart from a substantial station and depot there seemed to be only a couple of houses, however tucked away was a post office and hotel. At the time of travel few guides covered other than major tourist destinations. With no internet, fans posted their observations to rail magazines and helpfully noted if a hotel was available. You then rocked up to see if they had a bed, I carried a sleeping bag in case it didn't and had to camp out! This time I got a room in a clean well ordered establishment. A shower eased off some of the aches, but not the bruises left from my ordeal in the van, but I was left wondering how the guard kept fronting up for work in such miserable conditions?

Rob Dickinson