Union Limited Maluti - 4th August 2001 Photos and Report
Part I - Red Walls and Enchanted Water
Part 1: Friday 3rd August and 5 of us (Tony and James Attwell, Jean Dulez, Bob Bird and myself) left Jo'burg at 8:00pm hoping to meet the UL Maluti at Vlakteplaas near Oudtshoorn at around 7:00am on Saturday. It was quite a long drive, but with four drivers it wasn't too bad.
At around 4:20am we were somewhere near Graaff Reinet, and the book of CD's had pretty well been all played and we were down to the last page with a "Best of the 70's" CD playing. Just about then the classic Golden Earring song came on:
"I've been drivin' all night my hand's wet on
The timing was just right, but this time it was steam calling... Cloud, gloom and fog all around...
It was just getting light by the time we'd reached Vlakteplaas, sunrise time was uncertain due to the thick grey crud that covered the sky from horizon to horizon. We had a walk around the station area, I was surprised to see a brick-lined turntable pit at the Oudtshoorn end of the yard - I've never seen one in this country before (well except for the new one at Knysna). The station buildings were in a state of disrepair, the floorboards from the signal box long since burned in a fire somewhere, only leaving the pit that once held the semaphore frame. In the back room the smashed remains of a Van Schoor machine was kept company by the many piles of excrement left there by locals seeking a sheltered spot to sit and think.
A little later the sound of hardworking locos came echoing through the valley, and 24 3668 with 19D 3324 steamed around the bend, a hanging cloud of steam marking their passage. Going at a decent speed, they clattered through Vlakteplaas and on towards Snyberg. Their passing made a decent video shot but not good for much else. Then into the car and off in pursuit - no easy feat with the rough and windy road following the line, whilst the Dolly and 24 rode the high iron with their passengers enjoying a breakfast in the dining car, entertainment provided by yours truly trying to pilot the car through the dips, bumps and detours!
Then into Snyberg where locomotive requirements were satisfied. Fires were cleaned and tenders filled. During the process a goods ran through behind 34.001, 34.009 and 34.111. The passengers seemed to be mostly from the UK, with well-known Cape enthusiast Mark Robinson presiding over the runpast organisation. After the locos were ready, a false start was held in the continuing gloom. A little further on, a runpast was held at the famous Rooiwalle. The sky had brightened sufficiently for some reasonable shots by this stage.
Back on the train and a cup of tea later we were in Toorwaterpoort. Somebody was muttering something about Toorwaterpoort being in a global insurance exemption zone as we all clambered up the near sheer rocks to get the shot. The poort was a bit dim but the echo of the locos thundering through was certainly something! A few runpasts through this magnificent piece of natural stonework and the locos retreated to Toorwater station for servicing once more.
The pumps worked furiously to replenish the tender water from the tankers standing on the siding, but after a while we were ready to go again. Straight through Toorwaterpoort this time and out the other side, still no sunshine. Another runpast was held at Vondeling station, the previously well-kept station building and surrounds are in ruins, with the station windows all smashed and buildings vandalised. The visiting railfans improved the situation somewhat by removing weeds and bushes from the immediate area, such is the kind-hearted nature of these railfans. The added (but by far secondary) bonus was getting a clearer shot of the train. Tantalising glimpses of sunshine on the distant mountains did not help as the train steamed through in the gloom.
Back aboard once more and climbing towards Kranspoort. At the start of the poort another runpast was held, spectacular and quite moody in the prevailing weather conditions. The locos had their work cut out climbing through the gorge, but they did it in fine style and crested the summit at good speed. Every window in the train had a head sticking out of it as the passengers enjoyed the sight and sound of the climb.
Next stop was at Antonie where we crossed 34.027 and 34.019 on a lengthy goods before a final runpast was held. Soon afterwards we arrived at Willowmore where 34.115 and 34.123 took over. The station here had also been thoroughly vandalised - a great shame.
Back into the car again and off to Graaff Reinet and Bethesda Road. Gloomier weather set in, with heavy rain falling. We stopped at Graaff Reinet to see if the Lootsberg locos were there but the wet station yards were silent. Then onwards towards Bethesda Road, really strange weather. Freezing cold, super thick fog, rain, thunder and lightning! We eventually found the Goods Bottle Inn near Bethesda Road and checked in. The place was fairly basic but clean, and the lounge had a lovely open fire which we enjoyed after dinner.
All pictures Copyright © 2001 Trevor Staats
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