Note that all photographs on these pages are Copyright © Trevor Staats 2002 and may only be used for personal viewing. They may not be used for any other purpose without my express permission.
Union Limited Hantam II Photos and Report
Willowmore – Oudtshoorn 4th August 2002
|An early start, and a chilly one at that. The cars were caked in
ice, but Peter managed to scrape it fairly clean! No petrol stations
were open in Uniondale but we had enough time to get some in
Willowmore before the Union Limited departed.
The skies were clear, and the crisp cold invigorating and it looked like being a great day. Until… we arrived at Willowmore and the power was off, so no petrol would be available until 8:00 pm. We could only hope to get some along the way but there is not much between Willowmore and Oudtshoorn except De Rust, which is still a long way.
Locomotives 19B 1412 and 19D 2698 were readying themselves for departure, the 19B towing a water tank that started life as a 19B tender I think… Superb glint conditions prevailed at the station and it seemed that the departure would be great. But the 8:00 departure time came and went, and at actual departure time some 20 minutes later, a thick bank of cloud had rolled in and snuffed out the sun! The runpast on the R57 road bridge just out of town was definitely a video shot! Speaking of which, my tripod decided that this was a good time to drop one of its legs off…
We drove out towards Antonie on the dirt road, but given weather and petrol conditions we turned back without a shot, but still managed a grab near Laughing Waters where a runpast was held. Fortunately Peter had a roll of duct tape, with which I was able to affect a hasty repair to my tripod. The duct tape once again lived up to its reputation of being like The Force – it has a light side, it has a dark side, and it holds the universe together…
We then drove around to Toorwater station, where the support crew were ready to service the locos when they arrived. The weather looked decidedly better here and we could see snow on the distant peaks. We hoisted up our gear and trekked the kilometer or so along the line into Toorwaterpoort. Since we expected the train to be another 20 minutes or so, it seemed like a good place to sit and have a drink. The Savannas had not even been taken out of the bag when we heard the 19B’s distinctive exhaust beat echoing through the poort.
We quickly set up for a shot from the Pinnacle and the train arrived, the 19B working alone it seemed as it brought the train to a halt for a runpast. A couple of runpasts were held, and rightly so as this poort is such magnificent natural feature. We managed a nice reflection shot then climbed the side of the poort at the station end for a final shot. There was still flood debris deposited high up where we were perched on a rock, some 4 or 5 metres above the poort floor! The sun co-operated and gave us shot number one on the Warwick Falconer List of Required Shots.
After the train had left, we sat on the rocks admiring the gorge, savouring our Savannas, smelling the remnant coal smoke drifting on the breeze. Strangely enough it was exactly one year to the day since I had last been in Toorwaterpoort. We were discussing how amazed the surveyors must have been to find this natural thoroughfare through the steep mountain range.
The tired surveyors are sitting dismayed, eating their dry lunch somewhere near where Toorwater station is today. “How the ‘ell are we going to get the line over these blerry mountains?” “Nah, I don’t know. Zig Zags? Cog railway?” Then their mate who was off having a moment with nature comes running back looking very excited - “Hey, you okes, come check what I found here, you won’t believe it!”… and the rest is history.
Well it was so pleasant to sit in the poort, relaxing on the rocks. The hard part was climbing back down the rocks after a drink or two and handfuls of camera equipment! After the walk back to the station we were fine again, but slightly hungry by this stage as it was after lunchtime and we had missed breakfast and the cooler-box was empty. Worse still was that the Toorwater Vetkoek Den was closed for the winter. So I was ready to start looking for locusts and wild honey on which to feast…
We took a departure show then headed out towards Snyberg. On the map it shows a road through Barandas and Rooikrans to Struisvogel then on to Snyberg. That’s on the map… We followed a road into Rooikrans farm, the farmer looked slightly nonplussed to see us arriving there… We asked if the road went through to Snyberg (a nod) and if we could please have his permission to use it (another nod) and finally if it was passable with our cars. A smirk and “You can try with your cars…”
We set off and arrived at Struisvogel station after crossing the riverbed on a rather dodgy road. Here we took the wrong road and ended up at a big hole in the ground filled with ostrich and sheep carcasses… Back to Struisvogel and onto the service road on the other side, and we seemed to be doing better! We picked a reasonable spot for a shot, but the train was a long time in coming, we guessed that they were doing runpasts near the Red Wall. We filled in time finding shrubs and bushes that looked suitable for re-use as HO scale trees – many of them did look quite good. A rather gloomy shot, then we continued further along the road to Snyberg. I have named this stretch of track “The Path of One Thousand Gates”, as there seemed to be a gate to open and close every 100m or so, and each one had a different fastening device!
Eventually we arrived on the main dirt road to Snyberg (felt like a superhighway!) and the locos were already being serviced. Many of the locals turned out to watch the proceedings, there must have been quite a few steam trains through there already this year.
The snowy peaks we had seen earlier in the day, being the Groot Swartberg, were now right behind us and had a nice smothering of snow, which must have fallen overnight. I began plotting ways to get them in a picture as the cloud was lifting from the peaks and the sun was shining nicely. Unfortunately the mountains were on the “wrong” side for a sunny shot, unless a “jelly” (or dark side) shot was attempted. They certainly looked spectacular.
The afternoon sunlight was just perfect as we paced the train west towards Oudtshoorn, snapping shots here and there as they presented themselves. A grab shot on the curve at Vlakteplaas gave the first decent opportunity for a snow show, but given the short time between stopping the car and taking a shot (like 1 second) it is doubtful as to whether the shot will come out… (have a look)
The next objective was Marevlakte (shot number two on the Warwick Falconer List of Required Shots) so we roared off at speed to beat the train there. Petrol situation by this time was dire, but we decided if we got a good shot at Marevlakte it would be worth the walk into De Rust! The fuel light had not come on yet, so I checked the "Owner's Manual" to see how many litres were left when it did come on: "If the low fuel indicator light appears, your vehicle is almost out of fuel. Refuel at the soonest possible opportunity" Hmm, yes - very helpful.
Neither Warwick nor myself had ever been to Marevlakte by road, and Peter had only been there quite some time ago. So, we arrived at the line and the station sign said “Middelplaas”… Argh – the next station up the line! We had no idea as to where the road to Marevlakte was, so we decided to grab our gear and run.
Which we did. It seemed like quite a distance to Marevlakte, and we hadn’t arrived yet when we saw the train coming. We hastily beat a retreat to a sunny spot between the hills before we noticed that the train had stopped. A runpast! Whew! We ran the final 500m or so to Marevlakte and joined the passengers for the runpast. What a scene… Late afternoon sun beaming between the hills onto the track, rugged mountain range covered with snow as the backdrop, sun shining on the peaks… Magnificent! (Sorry if I was in your pan, Barry & Liz!) The runpast was repeated, as if to ensure that the shot was actually real. Shot number two on the WFLORS had been achieved and exceeded expectations!
Peter, who had remained at Middelplaas, then backtracked and found the road in and picked us up. After the run from Middelplaas, I had never been happier to see a car in my life! Peter dropped us off at our car and escorted us to De Rust. By this time the petrol gauge needle was well below the “E” on the gauge, I don’t know what we were running on. Incidentally the fuel light never came on so I assume it doesn't work! We had last filled at PE, then linesided from Loerie to Assegaaibos, then to Uniondale, Willowmore and now to De Rust with plenty of detours for shots. We must’ve done over 660km on that tank; I had previously thought the range to be around 550km. The gricing gods were smiling on us that day… A super-quick stop at De Rust to put in R20 so we could resume the chase. At least that got us up to the empty mark!
The sun was fast fading by now, but we grabbed a few more shots on the way. Van Wykskraal was quite nice, also with the snowy peaks behind. A final shot at Stolsvlakte before a dark arrival at Oudtshoorn. Actually a very dark arrival, as the power was also off in Oudtshoorn! No petrol, most restaurants were closed! We checked in at Backpackers Paradise which was clean and friendly. We enjoyed a beer in the dark pub there before heading to the Spur – the only restaurant in town with power!
Luckily the power came back on whilst we were at dinner so we were able to fill up finally! There had been some doubt as to whether the traction south from Oudtshoorn the following day would be steam, after the outgoing trip was diesel due to the fire index. We noted GEA 4023 and GMAM 4122 standing cold at the station and we hoped they would be lit up overnight.
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