|Every now and then comes a weekend when it seems like there is
nothing to do. Luckily for us, Selebi Phikwe is a short drive away,
situated just right to relieve those boring weekends. So on a Friday
night over a couple of beers, Trainman, Graham McWilliams and myself
were discussing the only working steam in Botswana, and how we
didn't really have anything on for the Saturday and Sunday, and how
nice it would be to go there again, and it's only 5 hours away...
Next thing we knew, it was 6:00am on Saturday morning and the sun
was rising over Potgietersrus as my trusty Toyota headed for
Botswana once more, loaded with cameras, gricers and Savannas.
Arrival at the border was just on opening, and a huge line of trucks
was waiting to get through. The border was in a bit of chaos as they
are busy building new customs/immigration offices and vehicle
So into the fray we went, clutching passports, car licences and pens
to try and get through. After lining up with 237 truck drivers, we
got our pass stamped, then a quick trip through immigration for
another stamp and we were ready. Back into the car only to be
stopped at the gate:
"Anything to declare?"
"Um, no, nothing except what a lovely day it is..."
"We want to search your car..."
"Okay, search away."
Opens boot... Sees tripods and camera bags. "What is all of this?!
Where is the declaration???"
So off we go back to the customs office. The chap there rolls his
eyes and tells us that there is no need to declare personal camera
equipment. Back to the car at the gate.
"Where is your declaration?"
"The other guy said we don't need one"
"You need a declaration - where is your declaration?"
More exercise as we traipse back to customs, this time with a note
from our friendly gate man explaining what we need. So finally the
form is given, we fill it out and get the all-important stamp. Back
into the car, 3rd time lucky.
"Where is your declaration?"
"Okay, go through.", without a glance at the paper!
Things were a bit congested on the Botswana side it seemed, and the
one-lane bridge blocked by trucks coming into SA, with a line of
cars and trucks waiting to go into Botswana. Eventually the snarl
was cleared enough for us to cross the bridge, weaving in between
trucks on the other side to get past. Then once again into the
throng of people in the tiny border post, all trying to get the
attention of the staff for stamps, payment of insurance, gate
passes, filling out of books etc. Finally we were through that, only
to be blocked into the car park area by the long line of vehicles
waiting to get in. They are busy rebuilding on that side as well so
the vehicle lanes weren't all open.
At last we were on the road again, after more than an hour spent at
the border. The remainder of the drive was quite enjoyable, with
only occasional hitch of a roadblock holding us up, we had to
protect our breakfast goodies from the inspectors there! I think
they had other plans for our bacon and eggs.
Arrival at Selebi Phikwe mine was at around 11h00 and we set about
checking in with security. We stopped by and had a chat with the
mine MD and some of the other people there. One of the accounting
guys there is a keen wildlife photographer and the hallways in the
admin building are lined with his work - very impressive. We had
actually warned the mine in advance of our arrival so they knew we
would be there and also arranged our accommodation through the mine,
so we waited for someone to direct us to the place where we would be
There was little happening on the train front at that point, there
is usually a lull at around midday, so we went to our house and sat
under the big rubber tree in the front yard, relaxing and enjoying a
cold Savanna. Yup, that's the life!
A little later we returned to the loco shed for a look around.
Unfortunately I had left my spare film at the house so I went to
retrieve it. On reaching the mine gate, the security guard came to
speak to me and asked what I was doing. I told him that I'd be back
in 10 minutes, but he told me to wait because he had to get his
"ball bag". As you can imagine I was quite puzzled (not to mention a
little uneasy!). He strolled back to his guard booth and came back
with a calico bag. He told me to reach inside and select one of his
balls. I did as asked and pulled a yellow rubber ball out of the
bag. He said "Okay, you can go. Red ball means search, yellow ball
means you can go. International rules." Okay, I thought, I'll play
along with those rules! An interesting method of determining who is
searched and who is not!
|19B (ex-NRZ #337)
|Henschel 1952 #27409
|Dumped by the shed, parts removed. Built for Nkana Copper
Mines in Zambia, originally had short tender.
|19 (ex-NRZ #328)
|Henschel 1952 #27392
|Cold, Receiving attention in shed
|19D (ex-SAR #2765)
|Robert Stephenson 1947 #7278
|On stores and transfer duties
|19D (ex-SAR #3350)
|North British 1948 #26070
|Working Selebi and Selebi North lines
|19D (ex-SAR #3341)
|North British1948 #26061
|Cold, working order
|19D (ex-SAR #3338)
|North British1948 #26058
|Destroyed in collision some years back, only tender
|14A (ex-NRZ #520)
|Beyer Peacock 1953 #7599
|Dumped behind shed, partially cannibalised.
|14A (ex-NRZ #523)
|Beyer Peacock 1953 #7602
|Working order, receiving washout
|14A (ex NRZ #511)
|Beyer Peacock 1953 #7584
|In scrap yard, was badly damaged in a derailment on the
exchange branch mid-2000. Derailment caused by heat-buckled track.
Superheater elements, wheels and other spares have been removed and
|28 tonne loco
|Working Phikwe #3 shaft
|Owned by BPC Standing at shed - not
So it was an all-Dolly operation. We learned that LO806 would be
going to Selebi North to load, and LO805 would be doing the stores
train. The stores loco left first, so we followed it around to the
smelter, where it picked up a solitary wagon and made for a
magnificent shot as it passed the smelter (see February's picture in
2002 - The Essence of Steam Calendar for a Garratt in the same
area). Another shot out the back gate of the mine (how do you get
that huge smelter chimney nicely into the shot?!), then we took up
position on the power station spur to shoot the train as it left.
As the loco reversed past, the fireman got off and came over to us.
It seemed that the crew had taken the wrong key for the power
station gate along with the wrong safeworking token, and the crew
for the Selebi North loco had the wrong one as well. So we dashed
off to the loco shed to swap them over, luckily the train for Selebi
North had not departed yet, so we were able to get the correct keys
to the correct locos!
After a bit of shunting, the Dolly departed the power station siding
with a long rake of empties and headed out towards the exchange
yards, with beautiful afternoon light shining on the loco as she
LO805 cruises past the smelting plant with an empty wagon whilst on
Back into the car and away to Selebi North, where the train was
still loading. Just as the loco whistled her departure, a number of
donkeys appeared out of the bush and stood on the line. Most of them
then walked away but one stood defiantly on the tracks facing the
loco. Having demonstrated his bravery, Mr. Donkey then stepped aside
for the train to pass. A weak glint as the loco passed, then we were
away to try and get another shot before the sun set. After a bit of
pacing we headed to the main road crossing for a dead-side-on which
was great, as the loco really moves along that stretch.
Then back to the house to freshen up, and a lovely dinner at the
local Spur which of course involved the usual draught beer, the name
of which we could not quite grasp from our waitress. Sounded like
Simdlos or Sindless or something. It was only on the way out that we
spotted the promotional flyer for "St. Louis" that we realised the
proper name! We had hoped for a cab ride after dinner (better than
dessert!) but on arrival at the shed we found that they'd run their
last train already, not at 9:00pm as planned. Oh well, a good excuse
for an early night.
Early on Sunday, LO806 was in steam, whilst LO805 was sitting under
the column with her fire dropped. The night crew were just coming
off duty. One of our requests to the mine management some time
before our trip was to turn a locomotive for the Sunday morning
trains. When the morning crew signed on,we took a ride with them to
the BPC triangle (on the old power station spur) to turn the loco.
There is a second triangle in the smelter area but it is usually
buried in dust and dirt from the many trucks using the area. Got
some interesting shots of the mine complex, especially by standing
in the tender and shooting over the loco roof and boiler with the
video camera as we rode through the complex.
Locomotives LO805 and LO806 standing on the loco servicing roads.
Back at the shed it was time for loco requirements, so they took
water and cleaned fire with Trainman getting involved in the hard
work. We noted that the smokebox front had burned through presumably
from the char accumulation. The crew saw us looking at this and
decided to clean it out. Quite a bit of ash and char was removed in
the process! The locos were quite clean but we asked the fireman to
hose the loco down with the hose pipe for that extra shine.
While the crew prepared for departure, we headed for our footbridge
shot which we had reconnoitred a year previously but didn't get. The
shot is quite nice, with the smelter, mine works and dumps in the
background, and an upgrade for the loco. Normally this is a tender
first working but we hoped that the "right way" working would make
the shot. It did. The 19D was working hard and making good smoke as
she slogged out of the mine complex and up towards us. The low speed
made for plenty of time for shots to be taken. The weather was a bit
grey, but the shot was brilliant.
After a leisurely drive through town, we caught up with LO806 along
the airport road and took a few pacing shots, and then set up on the
Selebi Nth. junction for a shot on the curve. We then waited at the
shaft for the train to load.
Whilst we waited, Graham undertook a scientific study into the
calorific value and volatility of certain semi natural fuels in the
area. Dried, processed and compressed grass nuggets a-la donkey were
set alight, and we were surprised by the heat of the fuel. The smoke
left something to be desired, especially when the entire car became
fumigated with the stuff. 3 weeks later you could still smell it!
But then it was a company car that has since been repossessed by the
liquidator, who is probably wondering what the stink is!!!
A reasonable tender-first departure, with the crew yelling and
waving at us, as the well-smouldering pile of donkey-doo near the
car made it appear that the car was burning. They
looked a bit perplexed as we laughed and shook our heads. The crew
seemed amazed at our flippant attitude towards our burning means of
While they off-loaded we returned to the house for a bacon & egg
brekky which was most appreciated, then packed up and found another
spot near the mine area. A pleasant curve with a nice tree beside
the line was chosen, but a couple of small shrubs needed removal
first. Shrubs?!?! They were the most vicious plants I've come
across! We tried to bend/break/kill/murder/savage them but to no
avail. We finally used concrete blocks to smash the branches off so
that I could cut them with my Leatherman saw before knocking them
over. After much blood and sweat (and torn clothing!) the spot was
Was the shot worth it? I don't know, my film isn't processed yet,
but the video was okay. (Just got the film back - the shot was a
wipeout - Trev) Next time we'll have a chain saw with us... A few
more pacing shots on the Selebi line, then a final shot of the loco
approaching the airport road crossing. We said cheers to the crew at
Selebi Shaft and gave them a video of what we took last year which
they were pretty pleased with.
Then the drive home, nice and easy, 15 minutes in total to get
through the border, and back home at a reasonable hour with the
smell of cremated donkey droppings ever-present to remind us of
All pictures Copyright © 2001 Trevor Staats