Southern African Trains - General - Dick Gillatt
Locomotives - A   Wonderful Winter's Week
Chasing steam trains around the country is what prompted the theme for one of the Allied's past television advertisements. This month we are treated to a 'chuff-by-chuff' account of what it is actually like to go dashing after the old giants along the byways and off-the-beaten-track sidings in South Africa. Our cover picture is a beautiful photograph taken by Dick, of a Class 15F locomotive leaving Cullinan.
When your hobby dictates that you have to dip into your annual leave in order to pursue it, an innocent discussion with regard to a vacation can quickly turn into a heated debate with your spouse! Happily, I am most fortunate in having a wife who understands my need to go off and chase steam trains every now and again, and it was recently that this need arose once more.
Thus it was that during the week of 16-22 July 1989 my friend Tom, his two sons, my son and I found ourselves in our cars on the road south to explore the steamy activity in and around Kroonstad and the Welkom goldfields. Our first stop was the Kroonstad Locomotive Depot, where we found a Class 23 no 3300 locomotive. This is the only one of its kind left in the country and it is retained for use as a tourist train only. Furthermore, it is in immaculate condition and a pleasure to photograph. There is a daily steam train from Kroonstad to Hennenman, where some shunting is done, after which the train returns to Kroonstad for the night. We wanted to catch no 3300 in action, so we assessed the possibility of the SA Transport Services allowing its prestigious no 3300 to be harnessed at the head of the daily train to Hennenman, instead of the usual filthy 15F locomotive! Well, no harm in asking and as 'faint heart never won fair steam engine', we decided to raise the question and try to obtain the necessary permission. We were pleasantly surprised (and thoroughly delighted!) when permission was granted and it was arranged for no 3300 to head the train the next morning, which was Tuesday.
When you realize how long it takes, not only to fire up a locomotive, but also to clean it out after a day's trip, you can really appreciate the assistance received from the staff of the Kroonstad Locomotive Depot!
The rest of Monday was spent on the Loraine Gold Mine, photographing their steam locomotives in action, after which it was back to the Kroonstad Locomotive Depot for the night, in order to follow the early morning (action would begin at 05:30!) departure of no 3300.
It should be mentioned, that in order to capture the best possible photograph, you never quite know where you will be from one night to the next and it therefore follows that the most versatile form of accommodation must be found. Now what could be handier or more versatile than your own motor car? So it was that our cars became not only our means of transport, but also our hotels for the week! Meals consisted mainly of tinned meatballs, tinned baked beans and tinned spaghetti heated over a small gas stove. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'eating out' (out of tins!). Sometimes some other form of tinned meat was thrown in just for a change. Mmmmmmmmm! Meatballs and spaghetti for breakfast! Lovely!
We awoke on Tuesday morning at 04:30 to find the car windows completely iced up. During the night a cold front (the coldest in a decade) had swept across the Free State. However, this was not the worst of the cold. Whilst following the train to Hennenman, it began to sleet and the temperature really plummeted. Upon our arrival at Hennenman the temperature was down to -14. This huge drop in temperature was attributed to the chill factor caused by the wind. It was so cold that Tom's movie camera froze up, so it was a case of dashing out of the car, taking one or two pictures and scurrying back into the car again to thaw the camera, then dashing out again for another snap or two! I have never known such a cold day. The wind, sleet and drizzle continued all day, but despite the inclement conditions, we persevered with our photographs, as the possibility of getting SATS to put this very special locomotive on duty again within the week, was remote.
The beautiful Class 23 no 3300 at Hennenman

The beautiful Class 23 no 3300 at Hennenman

Murphy's law being what it is, during the trip back to Kroonstad and as the sun was setting, the sky began to clear! Well, I suppose you can't have it all, although it would have been fabulous to have had the sun shining on this sparkling clean locomotive. The rest of the week was clear but cold - perfect weather for photography.
The following day was spent at Loraine Gold Mine and Thursday and Friday at St Helena Gold Mine. At these mines, the steam trains work round the clock hauling ore from the mineshafts to the processing plant and then taking the empty skips back to the shaft. Photographs were taken during the day and then at night we would record the sound effects on audio tape, as sound travels a lot further at night and the effect is a lot clearer than with daytime recordings.
Class 16 CR no 8 of the St Helena Gold Mine during its monthly service.

Class 16 CR no 8 of the St Helena Gold Mine during its monthly service.
This loco was specially pulled out of the sheds for the photograph.

On Thursday night, after a long session of audio recording, we managed to find a spot (in the middle of nowhere and next to a railway line) where we could park our cars and sleep for the night.
At about 04:00 on Friday morning, I awoke to a loud banging on the car window and someone yelling at us to "Maak oop! Maak oop!" in a very guttural accent. I couldn't see what was going on outside because of the frozen windows, so with my heart pounding, I scraped a clearing on the ice and peered outside. I made out two figures in greatcoats and peaked caps. "Gestapo!" I thought! Still not quite sure as to who was whom, or what was going on, I managed to open the window slightly and my terror quickly turned to huge amusement when the 'intruders' identified themselves as members of the South African Police force, who ordered us to "Klim uit!"
Well, the night being as cold as it was, you can imagine the amount of sleeping bag, blanket and duvet there was to "klim uit" of!  Wow! It was freezing outside!  So after grabbing blankets to wrap around myself and my son, we were bundled out of the car while the upholders of justice (bless them!) did a thorough search of the car plus the boot.  After a lot of explaining and showing of cameras, photographic equipment, tape recorders and food supplies, they were convinced that we were genuine steam train enthusiasts and they (apologetically) left us (greatly relieved) to get on with it!
Amidst all the terror, confusion and subsequent hilarity, it was somehow very comforting to know that our police force is so alert to the unusual.
The locomotive crews love their locomotives as much (if not more so) as the locomotive enthusiast and are always only to keen to be of assistance. You get to hear some amusing stories when chatting to, and sharing a cup of coffee with, the drivers and crew of the locomotives.
I recall an incident related to me by a driver, of the time he was in charge of a tourist train. They had stopped at a small station and he was busily making his midday meal, which consisted of a casserole cooked over the heat from the locomotive's firebox. An American tourist popped his head into the cab and remarked "Hey, man, that smells real good!" Ever ready with good old South African hospitality, the driver generously offered to share his meal with the tourist and asked the tourist to join him as soon as the dish was cooked. The driver then set about preparing a second portion of casserole in another tin while the tourist went off to take some more pictures.
Unfortunately, while the driver was preparing the tourist's lunch, the tin accidentally toppled over and landed on the floor of the cab, which is invariably covered with a fine layer of soot! Quite unperturbed, the driver reasoned that 'what the eye don't see, the heart don't grieve' and promptly scooped the casserole back into the tin and popped it back on the fire to continue cooking. The finished dish was presented to the tourist who remarked "Wow, this is good, especially the little crunchy bits !
All good things must end, however, and on Saturday morning it was one last, lingering look at the steam trains of Loraine Gold Mine and  -  then back to 'home, sweet home , a good, hot meal and a nice soft bed!
Class 25 NC just outside Pretoria, with a steam special.

Class 25 NC just outside Pretoria, with a steam special.

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