The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Steam in Zimbabwe, Part 7
The Southern line
Mbala Mbala

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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On 20th October 1986, 16A 615 rolls downgrade into Mbala Mbala to cross another 16A 609 which is heading for Bulawayo.


There is a steep climb through a gorge out of Mbala Mbala, this was a test for engines and crews. The first train I saw here climbed the gorge with smoke climbing high in the air, reaching a series of S curves it started to slip and eventually stalled. Efforts to restart ended in more wheel slips, despite the firemen walking ahead and throwing ballast on the line. The soldier in the gondola car hopped out and wandered over to have a look at what I was doing and watch the antics of the crew, they eventually gave up and unhooked from the train to run ahead to Esigodini (Essexvale) and borrow the engine from a train heading for Mbala Mbala. They returned sometime later with no help, but having refilled the water tank. In the meantime I had been talking to the guard, he told me the engine was knackered, (a highly technical term). The load was split and even that caused difficulties, by now the engine was oozing steam from the front cylinders, as it passed me the driver yells “it's gutless!” The engine returned for the second part of the load and got away successfully, only to have to stop again for the soldier, the guard had told me the soldiers were now only a nuisance and no longer needed.

On 5th October 1986, 14A 510 had stalled on the climb out of Mbala Mbala resulting in another load being split.

Two pictures of 16A  610 making its ascent from Mbala Mbala on 17th October 1986. With safety valves feathering and a vertical exhaust it sounded magnificent.

On the same day 16A 605 leaves the gorge and gains momentum on the easier grade to Esigodini.

On 25th October, 16A 604 eases into Esigodini, station to make a cross with 16A 615.

The Jacaranda trees at Esigodini made a colourful backdrop to 16A 615 on 20th October 1986.

Most of the line from Heaney Jn is downgrade, on the same train, 16A 615 needed steam on for a stretch entering Esigodini.

16A 615 rests opposite the Esigodini hotel on 23rd October 1986.

At 1.10pm I thought the day’s action complete, but one of the trains I had seen turned out to be a pick-up to Mbala Mbala to clear loads. 615 rolled into the loop with the final Bulawayo to Colleen Bawn working. I recognized the Indian driver and his African guard who sported a topee sunhat, we chatted whilst they waited for a cross with the return working from Mbala. I had first met them a few days before when they had swapped roles, for some shunting. The African guard was firing whilst the fireman acted as guard, I gathered the rules were relaxed once off the mainline!

I checked into the old Essexvale pub that was now run by and catered for the Blacks, it seemed to have lost favour with the Whites but was still attractive and great value. That evening I listened to the thunder as a storm swept through, briefly drowning the disco.

Rob Dickinson