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Cape Town-Kraaifontein-Malmesbury-Bitterfontein by C P Lewis ©

Please note: All photographs, maps and text in Soul of a Railway are protected by copyright and may not be copied or reproduced in any way for further use without prior permission in writing from the authors. 

This chapter is presented with many thanks to Les Pivnic for factual input and corrections, Peter Micenko, the same (I finally got the spelling of dolomite right, Pete), Bruno Martin as usual for the superb map, Andrew Deacon for setting up the layout, Pierre de Wet for historical photos of the Road Motor Service in action in the 1920s, Harvey Metcalf for the story about driver Gert Bosman and major photographic contributions from John Carter, Piet Conradie (who also made the correction to the whereabouts of the ballast quarry at Klipheuwel as well as the cut-off - or lack of it - at Malmesbury), Org de Bruin, Geoff Hall, Google, Richard Lohse, Luca Lategan, Dick Manton, Wayne Nauschutz, Piet Nel and David Rodgers.        

At 289 miles this was SAR's longest branch.  Progressively from Kraaifontein it traversed territory that may conveniently be divided into three: the Swartland centred on Malmesbury; the Sandveld/Hardeveld centred on Klawer and Namaqualand, north of there with Bitterfontein on its southern boundary. 

This chapter will be split into three parts: Cape Town-Malmesbury; Malmesbury-Klawer and Klawer-Bitterfontein.

Part 1: the Swartland

The name "Swartland" (= Blackland) is a reference to Renosterbos, once prevalent in the area, which turns black in the dry summers.  Malmesbury, originally called Zwartlands, was laid out in 1745 at the heart of a fertile region cultivated by the Free Burghers (*)  who, from the latter half of the 17th century could transport their produce to the Dutch East India Company in Cape Town via the Diep River, frequently navigable by shallow barge almost to Kalabaskraal (ten miles from Malmesbury).  However, by the mid 18th century poor farming practices had caused the river to silt up, resulting in total dependence upon the oxwagon for more than 100 years until the railway came. 

By this time the Swartland had already become Cape Town's granary, more so than the Overberg (see the Caledon-line chapters) due to being closer and having no mountain barriers to cross.  It follows that the first rural branch line in South Africa was from Kraaifontein to Malmesbury, opened in November 1877. 

(*) farmers released from their Dutch East India Company employment contracts

1. To the right of the parachute tank is a class 14CRB on 301-down mixed to Malmesbury that will depart from Culemborg Goods with high-rated traffic as soon as No 1442 class 1B has cleared with its hauler from Bellville.  Public timetables advised that passengers were to travel to Bellville by EMU in order to catch 301 because there were no facilities for them at Culemborg.  It is interesting to record that before it was opened for rail traffic, the huge new shed (its flat gables just visible behind the Tenant St footbridge) was used as the exhibition hall for the 1952 Jan van Riebeeck exhibition in celebration of the 300th birthday of the mother city.

By the time this photo was made in January 1971 Culemborg was being run down preparatory to a move to the even bigger new depot at Bellville, despite having been opened barely 20 years previously.  This was a move that suited SAR well - no longer would it have to run expensive haulers from the marshalling yard at Bellville all the way into town.  Instead, the customers would have to go and fetch their consignments at Bellville, a time-consuming journey negotiating congested suburban roads to get there.  Within another 20 years the new, new facility at Bellville would be completely redundant because our railways had lost all the business.

On the left are the new carriage sidings with classes S2 (0-8-0 shunter) and 10CR (4-6-2) in attendance while the holding tracks for the goods shed are stuffed full of high-rated consignments including intermodal trailers (introduced by the progressive SAR in the early 1950s), parcel vans and the latest O-type fully-opening fruit vans.

2. By 1962, 309-down the mid-afternoon departure for Malmesbury had grown to six coaches on weekdays and eight on Fridays.  This was too much for the 6th classes and on the limit for the 5Bs.  Frequent performers at this time were class 15BRs, recently transferred from the Cape Midland.  There are still a couple of flat-sided CGR suburban carriages in the consist.

3. A class 19C with empty ballast wagons for the railway quarry at Klipheuwel emerging from the brand new Bellville marshalling yard in December 1954.  This was before the burrowing junctions had been completed so traffic to and from the yard had to cross the Stellenbosch/Somerset West and the north main lines on the level.  On the right, also brand new, is a class S2 shunter, one of 100 of these 0-8-0s built by Krupp in 1953.  They put a lot of older power - sixes, sevens and eights - out of business.  

This particular S2 was assigned to Bellville goods shed (neither the 1975 greater Cape Town goods shed south of Bellville nor the marshalling yard) which served the town at that time. With absolutely nil goods traffic today, it is hard to comprehend that the town once offered enough business to justify a full time shunting locomotive.

4. Piet Conradie made this interesting photo of a pair of class 35s with a consignment of granite blocks loaded at Bitterfontein about to head into the marshalling yard via the burrowing junction under the Stellenbosch/Somerset West line at Bellville.  The electric mast prominent on left is for the down departure road that burrows under all four lines as well as the head shunt to the goods yard referred to in photo 3.

5. No 307-down, the Klawer Mail peeling away from the main line at Kraaifontein with 44-year-old 863 class 16D in charge, in December 1969. The bridge in the background carries the N1 over the Malmesbury line.  These mails were the last reasonably respectable duties for the Baldwin Pacifics, one of the finest types SAR ever had.  The reason for them surviving into the 1970s - and looking so good and running so well - is almost entirely due to the legendary Alec Watson, Assistant Locomotive Foreman at Paarden Eiland at the time. 

The ugly appendage hanging from the smokebox is Johannes Barnard's recently introduced, partially successful brainwave to combat fires in the wheatfields.  The idea was to direct char into this cinderbox instead of ejecting it through the chimney via the conventional Master Mechanics front end.

6. Crossing of 308-up with an unrecorded 15BR in charge, and late-running 323-down at Fisantekraal.  Note the variety of wagons on 308, first an OZ fruit van doubling as a parcels van, then a TZ for milk and cream followed by an OZ being used as a fruit van and a type LO reefer.  Out of sight at the rear is a solitary tri-compo carriage for passengers and the guard - 308 is described in the WTB as "Goods (Perishables), with coach attached", in other words, this was an important train.

7. By 1971 the 16Ds days in passenger service were numbered and service on any old train, including 304-up goods shown entering Fisantekraal, randomly marshalled pick-up workings predominated.  With empty shorts behind the engine followed by heavily-laden ballast wagons and grain trucks just about every rule in the General Appendix has been relaxed.  Well, I suppose it was only a few more miles to the marshalling yard at Bellville. Note the slightly different shape of Johannes Barnard's cinderbox.

8. The Klawer Mail was well patronised. On a Sunday evening in the autumn of 1969 this 15BR was talking loudly with a heavy load away from Fesantekraal (= Pheasant's Kraal).  Note the passengers towards the rear, heads out of windows, listening to the music.   During the night sleepers would be detached at Eendekuil (for Citrusdal), Graafwater (for Clanwilliam and the Hantam Karoo) and three coaches next morning at Klawer.  The remainder would go through to Bitterfontein on 373-down mixed.  Around 1970 the coach for Eendekuil was discontinued but the rest continued pretty much the same until the countrywide purge of long-distance trains in 1984.   The good thing about the intermediate stations was that one was allowed to sleep on until daybreak.   
9. The same train as in photo 5 coming into Klipheuwel.  It was a clear afternoon in January 1971 with the Simonsberg and Drakenstein mountains prominent in the background. It is interesting to note that the Kraaifontein-Malmesbury section was where the latest photographs of trains could be taken in sun on the SAR - 19:45 for about a fortnight either side of the summer solstice.

10. Strictly speaking this should have been in the Cape Town Outer Suburban Service chapter but it fits in here so what the heck.  An unrecorded class 19C approaching Klipheuwel on 303-down, the 13:30 Cape Town - Malmesbury, once one of my Dad's favourite trains (see aforementioned chapter).  From the end of 1963 it ran as empty stock from Culemborg carriage sidings to Bellville and passengers had to go to there by suburban electric to catch it. Again, passengers are leaning out of the windows.  I never went with the theory that the majority of folk didn't enjoy the soot and cinders. 

11.  The 100-year tradition of steam in the Swartland was drawing to a close when Piet Nel made this rare photo of a crossing of steam and diesel at Klipheuwel, late in 1976.  

To English speakers many Afrikaans proper nouns sound much more exotic than they really are, e.g. Klipheuwel (= Stone Hill), which was the hill that SAR mined for its ballast about a half mile west of the station.  The line to the quarry curved away just north of the station and the siding on the right of this picture leads to the new grain silos.  (Thanks to Messrs Conradie and Robinson for correcting my vrot memory here).

12. Late on a summer's afternoon in December 1971, 1829 class 15BR was hurrying through the vineyards near Wintervogel with 325-down empty DZs, either for the gypsum at Bitterfontein or the dolomite at Kliphoek, both products destined for PPC's cement works at De Hoek or Riebeek Kasteel. 

One thing not mentioned yet is the fact that Malmesbury was a dead-end station so all trains had to reverse direction - something that didn't matter so much in steam days because engines were changed there.  Nowadays the diesels just run around their trains (*).  In 1971, 15BRs were not permitted beyond Malmesbury because the track was still comprised of 60lb/yard rail.  However, an intensive relaying program had already started using hand-me-down 96lb material and it was not long before heavier power was allowed as far as De Hoek and by 1980 all the way to Klawer.

(*) Bearing in mind, of course, that nowadays trains consist only of bogie vehicles.  About 30 years ago some gent with an MBA degree advised that it would be a good idea to get rid of customer-friendly short wagons.  I think it was the same genius who figured that SATS (SAR's successor) could save R125million/year by getting rid of its own police force.

13. Wintervogel, April 1971.  864 class 16D on 323-down livestock empties.  Apart from general freight, of which there was a substantial amount, principal commodities conveyed on the Bitterfontein line were dolomite, gypsum, cement, wheat and other grains, citrus and other fruit, livestock, granite blocks, industrial sands and aggregate.  As usual there is a vineyard next to the railway.  It was common knowledge among winemakers that grapes exposed to locomotive coal smoke produced the best wines with the most subtle flavours.  

14. A class 15F working an up goods near Wintervogel.  From 1973 onwards increasing numbers of 15Fs displaced by electrification and diesels elsewhere began to appear on the Bitterfontein line.  Their stay would be comparatively brief, barely three years as compared with 40 years for the 19Cs they were partially replacing.  To one who had grown up in awe of these massive main-line machines it seemed like an undignified comedown for them to have to work on what was only a branch line, albeit an important one.

15. The mixed train classification of 308-up (rather than a goods train with passenger accommodation) was supposed to be because in addition to passengers it conveyed high-rated traffic such as milk, fruit, livestock and road-rail trailers usually loaded with precious cargo.  The WTB specifically stated that it was not to be made up with short wagons, presumably to allow it to move faster than the 35mph limit decreed for trains containing shorts.  Like a few other SAR operating rules these could be honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Whenever I look at this photograph I regret that timidly venturing off the platform ends at Cape Town made it seem unnecessary to come all this way when the classes five and six were working these trains .

16. First Saturday after returning from four years in England in December 1967, my Dad (that's him on the extreme left) and I went on a turkey shoot, barely having time to draw breath between trains.  At Kalbaskraal  1973 class 15BR was departing with 308-up having picked up a few loads in the yard.

17. Please forgive the indulgence, but here is a better view of me old Da', to whom I owe entirely my love of trains.  I miss him a lot.

18. Two 15Fs on southbound (Up) trains at Kalbaskraal crossing a northbound. A striking photo by my Dad c 1974, taken on one of his numerous trips to the Malmesbury line.  

19. This was a Saturday and Western Province was due to take on their old enemy, Northern Transvaal at four pm.  The crew of 308-up T&P had been flagged down by the station foreman to attach some loads off the Saldanha branch.  This they did with bad grace, in fact if there wasn't a rule about passing signals at danger and a single-line token to catch they would have run clean through Kalbaskraal. 

After some ill-tempered shunting their train was made up to its full complement – 880 tons for 80 axles.  The officious foreman pulled off his starter and 308-up blasted out of the station in a way that would have gratified its customers. 

They probably missed the rugby......  

20. No 2486 on 309-down paused for passengers at Kalbaskraal in 1974.  An exemplary portrait by Geoff of the mainstay motive power of the Bitterfontein branch for more than 40 years.  The 19Cs were no-nonsense machines with a good North British-designed poppet valve gear and they got stuck into their daily tasks from day one.

21. A class 15F on 308-up T&P crossing a 19C on 309-down passenger in July 1975 - as David Morgan put it: "In deepest twilight of an unforgettable era".

22.  That's our ace photographer John Carter in the blue sweater on the footbridge steps.  For some reason he elected to shoot the train coming towards him.  It might have been more artistic, I've never seen the photo, but I don't think it was more interesting than facing this way.  On the left is 308-up T&P (note the mobile container in the ES truck), about to cross 309-down passenger and 323-down goods in the goods shed road on the right. There are actually five locomotives in this picture: in the left background, behind the water tower, is Kalbaskraal shed with two class 24s visible.  We'll visit the shed again in the chapter on the Saldanha branch.

To the right of the steps is an RMT bus.  This was a peculiar anomaly, a bus that ran between Cape Town and Malmesbury for many years, roughly in parallel with the train service.  Its justification was that it did call at several dorps not on the railway and it was a whole hour quicker!

23. Class 16D No 864 shunting Kalbaskraal in April 1971.  That's the Saldanha branch taking off to the right.  The splitting home signal is a splendid example of CGR railway architecture - the maker's plate says "McKenzie & Holland, Railway Signal Engineers, Worcester, England".  Three years later it was gone - replaced by the three-post home signal in Richard Lohse's photo 21. Kalbaskraal's main street (the only one) is on the right.  Kalbaskraal really was a one-bakkie dorp.   

24.  Torpedo-tendered 19Cs were normally used north of Malmesbury where water became much scarcer as one went northwards.  So it was unusual to find No 2435 on 309-down departing from Kalbaskraal in December 1967.  She had probably worked into Cape Town for a boiler washout or a 15M (*) at Paarden Eiland.

* 15,000-mile preventative maintenance - i.e. scheduled replacement of moving parts such as motion pins and bushes

25. Departing from Abbotsdale in December 1967 is 1764 class 14CRB on 308-up mixed.

26. 309-down coming past Malmesbury shed with half a mile to go to the end of its journey.  The fireman is holding the single-line token for the section from Kalbaskraal in readiness to hand over to the signalman standing outside his cabin about 100 yards ahead.  As mentioned, Malmesbury is a dead-end station and in steam days all trains changed engines here and were remarshalled to get shorts and the guards van to the back.  Much unnecessary work but it kept a lot of people in employment.  The train looks as if it's running wrong road on double track; in fact the track on the right is the line to Bitterfontein.

27. No 2477 on shed, July 1975. It was at Malmesbury that one usually first encountered the torpedo-tendered 19Cs.  As mentioned, they were intended to work northwards from here towards the thirstland.  Bitterfontein itself was a rare terminus; it had no locomotive water at all.  Engines had to work out from the last water stop at Lutzville and back, a round trip of 100 miles including climbing from almost sea level to an elevation of 1,100ft + at Bitterfontein and not inconsiderable amounts of shunting along the way.  If a normal-tendered 19C was used it had to take along a feeder tank. 

28. Malmesbury shed in July 1976.  With only weeks to go until the end of steam the state of the engines had visibly declined as you can see from the leaky state of the class 14CRB on shunting duties on the right.  

29. The weather was gloomy but this scene is no illusion.  As a terminus Malmesbury really was a busy place: class 19C No 2456 (did anyone remember this is "Takbok" with his antlers removed!) departing with livestock for the abattoir at Maitland while station pilot 2008 class 14CRB is standing by for its next round of truck bashing.  The two 19Cs in the background were just in off a load of cement from De Hoek.  The red lamp in the foreground is to remind shunters to go gahle down this road, there is a loaded wagon of dynamite for the cement works at De Hoek parked at the end of it.  By the way, the landing of the steps of the signal cabin on the left was used to photograph the incoming 309-down (photo 26).

30.  As a website pretending to be confined to the SAR era this photo ought not to be here but it is such a beauty I could not resist it.  In typical Rodgers sunshine No 1970 class 15A is departing Malmesbury on the Cape Town road with a railtour c 1990.  They haven't bothered to put the van at the rear - a good way of saving time, I don't know how, why or when it became bad practice on SAR.  As an additional aside, 15As never ventured onto the branch in SAR days.

31. It looks as if this 1967 photo was taken at midday in December, and it was, but it is included to show the dividing of the two lines into Malmesbury.  In the right background is the mainline to Kraaifontein and Cape Town while the freight is northbound to Klawer.  Just off the picture to the right is where a connecting link to avoid Malmesbury ought to be!

32.  A class 15F bringing 348-up T&P out of Koringberg in July 1975.  Or is it...........?? 
This and the next two pictures were actually made by Dick Manton on a Rodgers railtour in 2002.  Characteristics of a Rodgers railtour are that they generally look authentic (the 15A being an exception) and you are guaranteed sunshine.  Most are re-creations with little in them that you could not have seen 40 years earlier and they have the advantage that an organised photo runpast gives a lot more control over what goes into the picture.  If you or the clouds bomb it you can do the runpast again! 

These railtours brought so much goodwill into South Africa, as well as invaluable foreign currency, but it seems that neither the management of TFR nor the blasé South African tourism industry are interested. 

33.  The second in a series of three departures from Koringberg recorded in 2002 by Dick Manton.  Again, the illusion is complete. 

34.  No SAR history would be complete without a ghost-train.  Well this is it: emerging from the mist at Koringberg on a winter's morning in 2002, 348-up T&P was running late............ almost thirty years late in fact. 

35.  Well I never.........!  Is this why they're running so few trains these days - they take it all out in one go??  Wayne tells me it was a hefty load of bulk lime from the PPC factory at De Hoek for the Saldanha Steel works and rutile from Bitterfontein for the Namaqua Sands foundry, both at Saldanha Bay, shown here coming through Koringberg.  After reversing at Malmesbury this train would later use the new link directly onto the Saldanha Bay branch at Kalbaskraal.  

36.  The contrast between winter and summer and steam and diesel could hardly be greater, this is 348-up, the real deal, with a 19C climbing away from the Berg River in October 1975. 

37.  A summertime view of that same long drag out of the Berg River valley, with a torpedo-tendered 19C just south of Koringberg in 1975 

38. The Namaqualand end of the line may be kept busy with mineral traffic but in the Swartland it was and is grain. Back to winter on the same climb and the new wheat is Irish green. 

39. At the risk of incurring the wrath of my website partners I've allowed a bit of poetic license for the next three photos.  The accent is on the poetry because there's hardly another way to justify including pictures taken in the 21st century on a site that professes to be a history of SAR!  What these photos do (apart from making the others look ordinary) is give an idea of the extraordinary beauty of this part of the world in wintertime, and - when blessed with Dave's uncanny ability to attract sunlight - the extraordinary quality of the light.  This was his 2002 railtour climbing away from Moravia and there's hardly a better way of expressing how our authorities are losing out on tourist revenue.

40.  The same 2002 tour train a little further up the climb from Moravia 

41.  We are upstaged by Dick - again.  Another re-creation, in this instance by Derek Phillips; not so authentic mainly due to locomotive failures - the 15F has a 23-class tender and unless the up Klawer mail was running a couple of hours late and with a dining car, it wouldn't have been possible to see a passenger train in daylight between Moravia and Koringberg.   

But the comment about goodwill and foreign currency still holds - there is no doubt that those passengers were enjoying themselves immensely and would come again with many many more friends if given the opportunity. 

42.  The Berg River crossing at Moravia was unspoilt when this photo was made in July 1975.  The train was 354-up goods from Klawer. 

43. The arrival of thirty class DE1s (later classified class 31) in 1958 followed by 115 class 32s from 1959 was an indicator of things to come.  From the mid sixties there began a relentless procession of the smelly machines.  But was not only diesels, electrification was making inroads as well. One by one the remaining steam fortresses fell, releasing so many of the newer types that tank engines and classes 1, 6, 7 and 8 were almost all gone by the end of the decade and the countrywide use of these venerable machines as station pilots was almost history. 

That the practice lingered so long in the Western Cape was probably due to the influence of Alec Watson at Paarden Eiland.  Towards the end of an era at Klawer, 1243 class 8FW was returning across the Berg River at Moravia on its way to Paarden Eiland for a boiler washout and pedicure in April 1969. 

44.  The proximity of the Berg River ensured that Moravia was one water stop that never ran dry.   

45. Torpedo-tender 19C on a short goods leaving Moravia on a cool morning in July 1975. 

46. The old 60lb rail has already been replaced with 96lb rail and a good bed of ballast in anticipation of the diesels.  Once this much stronger track had settled down, enginemen dubbed it "die teerpad" (= the tar road).  This was 347-down T&P coming up the hill from Moravia towards De Hoek in July 1975.  

47. A solid revenue load of general goods, including fuel tankers, essays the bank up to De Hoek from Moravia in July 1975. 

48. At the PPC cementworks this pair of 19Cs has just dropped off a batch of empty DZs for loading in the shed on the right.  In the middle distance is De Hoek station and in the background the line can be seen wending its way up the hill from Moravia.  On the left horizon is Riebeek Kasteel mountain at the foot of which lies the other remaining Western Cape cement works, located on the Porterville branch. 

49. Backhaul for the wagons that convey PPC's dolomite to Saldanha Steel is provided by slag from its furnaces.  A trainload of the stuff has just arrived and is being parked for offloading. 

50. A single engineload of wheat from the silos at Pools coasting into De Hoek behind 2484 cl 19C in July 1975.  From here on as we travel northwards the mighty Cedarberg will be increasingly dominant on the eastern horizon.  Between the railway and the mountains are the most northerly reaches of the Swartland. 

51. Unless it was gold bricks there wasn't much payload on this short piece of overtime working between Piketberg and De Hoek 

52. Approximately 40 years earlier, 1243 class 8FW (ex-CSAR) was working 354-up goods into Pools looking very arid at the end of summer, 1969.  That's the Piketberg in the background. 

53. A consignment of export oranges with a bit of general freight leaving Eendekuil in July 1971.  North of here the railway moves out of the Swartland into the Sandveld, a much dryer region where the emphasis shifts to livestock farming.  Inside the curve of the railway is a typical langhuis of the Sandveld. According to the 1:50 000 topo maps the name of the farm is "Eendekuil" which could well make it the original dwelling in this area and more than 200 years old. The owner appears to be a Mr Abri Richter and if anyone knows this gent I would be very grateful for his contact particulars. 

Eendekuil was the end of the line for many years until the extension to Klawer was completed in 1915.  As Lawrence Green put it: "It was a terminus where Clanwilliam and Calvinia people had to take the to the road.  Travellers came by Cape cart and post wagon to join the train at Eendekuil."  The dorp and station are just the other side of the bluegums in the middle distance while in the background looms the front range of the Cedarberg, known as the Olifantsrivierberge.  The two almost parallel scars running up to the nek on the left-hand edge mark the routes of the present day Piekenierskloof Pass (the upper scar - named after the original wagon road) and Greys Pass (steeper and lower).  Greys Pass represents the more impressive feat as it was built in 1865 in accordance with the surveys and under the supervision of the great roads engineer, Thomas Bain, long before bulldozers and road graders were thought of.

On the other side of the mountain lies Citrusdal (pronounced "Sittergisdal" with a soft g in the dialect of Swartlanders and Namakwalanders) which lies on the Olifants River at the foot of the Cedarberg.  Although the town itself is barely 100 years old, farming has been going on for much longer - for example, the most delicious oranges have been grown along the banks of the Olifants for more than 300 years. 

54. Quite a rare beast, domeless 19C No2480 - the only one, bringing 358-up mixed out of Eendekuil in July 1972.  

The passes visible in the previous picture are off to the right, but this view of the reverse curve leading to Eendekuil station shows clearly the Olifantsrivierberge, the much lower front range, while the Cedarberg peaks behind rise over 6000ft.  The Olifants River drains a fertile valley between the front range and the main mountains, rather like the Langkloof. 

Behind the train, at the end of the reverse curve is the station warning board.  Since a railway was never built to Citrusdal, produce from the region was brought into Eendekuil by SAR's Road Motor Service, a service which must have commenced in the mid-twenties.  It was certainly well established by February 1929, the oldest date for which I have a timetable. 

55.  The mixed has just left and crammed full of passengers and goods a 1928 Thornycroft Dual prepares to leave Eendekuil. 

56. A Thornycroft Dual negotiates Thomas Bain's 1865 road through the Piekenierskloof between Citrusdal and Eendekuil.  That's the original wagon road on the right.

Part 2: the Sandveld and the Hardeveld

Almost imperceptibly the railway leaves the Swartland behind and the veld becomes noticeably drier and sandier. The Sandveld stretches westward all the way to the Atlantic coast while the railway runs along the western edge of the Hardeveld, characterised by the towering, tormented and unforgettable crags of the Cedarberg.   

57. Beyond Eendekuil the climate becomes drier and the wheatfields thin out.  When there are good rains in July or August and the flowers bloom the fynbos gets too beautiful to describe, either in words or photographs.  During these months the train crews are treated to these sights daily so are probably immune to them.  This was an up goods coming out of the horseshoe between Droëryskloof and Eendekuil - the only place where the engines of Up (i.e. southbound) trains got sun on their smokeboxes.  The train is bringing dolomite for PPC at De Hoek, a couple of O vans probably loaded with citrus and some short vehicles, contents unknown, properly marshalled just ahead of the guards van.

58.  Het Kruis lies 600m ahead as indicated by its warning board halfway along 339-down with its cargo of liquid fuel and power-station coal (those were the days before the national grid). 

Note the newly-relaid track with its 96lb rail, continuously welded, concrete sleepers, Pandrol clips and a ballast bed that makes one suspect that the platelayer was getting a rake-off from the quarry owner. 

59.  That's Grootkop (3,200 feet) looking down on the departure of 339-down from Het Kruis. 

60. With the Piketberg now receding into the distance a ballast train heads for the end of the "teerpad" which at this time was about a mile beyond Velorevlei (see picture 67) 

61. Either the farmer treated his bywoners very badly or they were there without his permission.  When it does rain in the Sandveld it can rain quite hard so it couldn't have been pleasant under that leaky-looking thatch.  In July 1975 the southbound train was passing this ancient and decrepit trekboer farmhouse about three miles north of Het Kruis.

62. I think this was the farmer with the derelict but occupied cottage, it was quite close by.  1243 class 8FW was piloting 2446 class 19C en route to its boiler washout at Paarden Eiland in April 1969.  We were slightly disappointed to have missed the class 1 that had been doing the station shunt job at Klawer the previous month.  By 1970 these workings had ceased.  

63. A southbound goods taking water at Paleisheuwel (= Palace Hill, one of the more descriptive names) with limestone for De Hoek, empty B bogies and livestock wagons empty or full. 

64. The countryside around Paleisheuwel is quite attractive and you can see where the Sandveld got its name.  This is also vlei country, characterised by the myriad clumps of thatching reed.  Paradoxically the folk nowadays prefer corrugated iron to the stuff you can get for nothing.  Heading north towards Velorevlei siding is 351-down with three DZ-loads of locomotive coal for Klawer.  

65. We're now about half-way between Paleisheuwel and the next siding - Velorevlei (= lost lake) which always reminds me how remote this part of the world was, thanks to tar roads much less so today.  That's the "Paleis" of Paleisheuwel in the background and there's a lot of fynbos in and around the railway reserve. 

66.  By their very nature, steam railways were always busier than their latter-day successors.  Loads were restricted by the tractive effort of the engines and the availability of crews for doubleheaders so as business increased it meant more trains.  At the remote siding of Velorevlei three trains crossed in the final year of steam to Namaqualand. 

67.  Mechanisation never reached the branch lines, it was a very labour-intensive and back-breaking process, especially with concrete sleepers that weighed 220kg each.  In July 1975 this was the end of the "teerpad" - about a mile north of Velorevlei.  From here on it was still 60lb/yard all the way to Bitterfontein.  335-down was crawling along at about 2mph over the unballasted and almost unfastened track (note the Pandrol clips only attached to every fourth sleeper). 

68. Beyond Velorevlei was the tiny village of Graafwater, the closest station to Clanwilliam and also the starting point for the Road Motor Services to the Hantam Karoo.  This fine railway photo made c 1928 shows another Thornycroft Dual negotiating Pakhuis Pass between Clanwilliam and Calvinia.  It is along here in the mountains that the great Afrikaans poet C. Louis Leipoldt is buried.  

69. Skurfkop was a desolate siding in the sandflats to the west of the Olifants River with hardly anything to recommend it other than that it was the scheduled crossing place for 354-up and 335-down just rolling in from the south.  The latter will pick up the solitary milk churn and deliver it to Klawer (= clover; rhymes with carver).   

70. Southwards from Klawer there is a hilly section that quite taxed our combination of 8th class and 19C even though the load was light. 

71. Another look at the Rodgers 2002 railtour, this time at a fine viewpoint on the southbound climb out of the Olifants River valley with the Gifberg in the background. 

72.  Crossing the Olifants River at Klawer on a rickety-looking screw-pile structure similar to those on the Natal South Coast, were class 8FW No1243 and 19C No2446, both returning to Paarden Eiland for boiler washouts in April 1969.  Although we had been warned these workings were about to end, we did not appreciate how close this was.  Early in 1970 the washout trips were discontinued - so many engines were becoming available because of the influx of new diesels that it proved more economical just to use the local road power for pilot duties. 

73.  In a photo only possible in mid-summer, a class 19C brings the up Klawer Mail over the Olifants river. Although summer is the dry season in the Western Cape, which has a Mediterranean climate, the river had been reduced to a trickle by an unusually long dry spell and draw-offs for irrigation.  The second coach is probably as far from its native territory as it is possible to get on the SAR - before 1910 it was a fancy vehicle on the NGR's Corridor Express, overnight between Durban and Johannesburg.  

Part 3: into Namaqualand

In 1685, Governor Simon van der Stel led an expedition northwards from Cape Town to the region that became known as Namaqualand after the original peoples that lived there.  His goal was to find the fabled mineral wealth of the region.  What he actually found was copper.  This was only mined seriously from the mid-nineteenth century and was the reason why, in 1869, construction of a narrow-gauge railway (2'-6") was commenced to eliminate ox-wagon haulage of copper quartz from Okiep to Port Nolloth.  Completed in 1876, the story of this railway, with emphasis on its motive power, has been comprehensively recounted by Peter Bagshawe in his "Locomotives of the Namaqualand Railway and Copper Mines" (highly recommended: 

Last remnants of the Namaqualand Railway, in the immediate surrounds of Port Nolloth, continued in operation until 2006, more than 135 years after the first locomotive was landed at Port Nolloth, but long before that, at the end of 1941, through running from Okiep to the port had been discontinued.  This was due to road competion!  When the railhead at Bitterfontein was reached in 1927, SAR immediately introduced its newly established Road Motor Service between there and Springbok.  However, this was found to be uneconomical and discontinued in 1930.  But private enterprise, as ever, was willing to fill the gap.  A garage proprietor and long-established businessman from Springbok, Joe Jowell, teamed up with J D du Plessis to form Jowells Transport.  They started with an old Buick car converted into a lorry. They had spotted that the Namaqualand Railway would be vulnerable to an alternative outlet for copper quartz to Cape Town by road to Bitterfontein and SAR rail from there, so before long a fleet of lorries was steadily eroding the Namaqualand railway's business. This was not hard, almost the entire payload of one of their trains could be carried on two lorries.  It is interesting to record that Jowells Transport eventually became Trencor, taking away much of the national railway's general freight business and making huge inroads into bulk commodity transport as well. 

74. The Up Klawer Mail ready to depart in January 1962.  The ex "Corridor Express" coach is clearly visible second behind the engine.  Also, you can see that we are now in desert country.

For more than a decade after the railway reached it in 1915, the small town of Klawer was the terminus.  It served a vast hinterland so that by the mid twenties it had become imperative to provide more substantial outlets for irrigation farmers downstream of the confluence of the Olifants and Doorn rivers.  The extension reached Lutzville in 1926 from where it was extended due north to its present-day terminus at Bitterfontein.  However, it was just at this time that Sir William Hoy, SAR's outstanding General Manager from 1910 until 1929, was discovering how much cheaper it was to provide RMS lorries to serve outlying communities than build and operate a railway (an additional advantage for SAR's RMS was that it did not have to pay vehicle licence fees until the road lobby finally put an end to this in 1990). 

75.  One of SAR's more remote sheds was at Klawer, with quite an adequate allocation of 19Cs. 

76.  The Gifberg (= Poison Mountain) looms menacingly over the town and locoshed of Klawer.  The name refers to the poison gathered from plants in these mountains by Bushmen for their arrow tips.

77.  A last look at the steam depot, taken on my work trip to Klawer in 1962. 

78.  This is how it is in the diesel era, everything spic and span and no labourers pushing wheelbarrows full of ash. 

79.  In January 1962 I was sent to do a job near Klawer.  This is another one-bakkie town.  There was net mooi nothing to do in the evenings except get drunk or stroll down to the station and watch the activities there - that was when I got this picture of a 19C assembling the Up Mail.   

The big event of the week was bioscope on Wednesdays in the NG Kerksaal, attended by all in the town.  When I was there they showed an Afrikaans film, an excellent one, funny but full of tension, about IDB (illicit diamond buying) - very topical in that part of the world.  After half an hour, with the audience completely absorbed in the film, it suddenly stopped.  The lights came on and  the projectionist stuck his head through the square hole in the wall at the back to make an announcement (in Afrikaans - everybody speaks it around here): "Ladies & Gentlemen, Oom Kasper Niewoudt and Tant Susanne have just arrived from Van Rhynsdorp so we're going to start again from the beginning".  Nobody complained.  

80. A dolomite train working hard up the short grade from Vredendal to Steilhoogte towards the very end of steam in 1976.  

Harvey Metcalf tells a story related to him by driver Gert Bosman, now sadly deceased, about the dolomite working on Saturday mornings.  Gert's fireman was a keen rugby player and on Saturday afternoons there would invariably be a league match against neighbouring towns.  Normally, seven and a half mt bogies would be taken out of Klawer twice/day to the limestone quarry at Holrivier, last siding before Lutzville.  The wagons would be staged in the quarry while the engine ran light to Lutzville for water.  To save time on a Saturday, they would take the equivalent of 15 empty bogies and park half of them in the quarry sidings.  When loaded they would be cleared to Holfontein and the remaining empties pushed into the quarry siding.  Now the first loads would be carted up the hill to Liebendal and parked off while the engine went on to Lutzville for a much-needed drink before returning to pick up the remaining loads, charge the hill to Liebendal, attach the first loads and bring it all back into Klawer in one shot.  If things went according to plan, Gert's mate could get to rugby in time.  The full load did need a short upgrade out of Vredendal to be charged (shown in John's photo), somewhat hair-raising as there was a sharp curve at the start of the climb.  Needs must.............. 

81.  Beyond Klawer (this is Vredendal) paper orders was still the operating method on Geoff's trip to Bitterfontein in April 1974. 

82. 373-down goods departing from Vredendal in April 1974.  With a short-tendered 19C the feeder tank was essential.  As previously mentioned, the round trip of 100 miles from Lutzville to Bitterfontein had no locomotive watering points. 

83. This was the Namaqualander railtour in April 1994, with 3321 class 19D (named Marieta after the wife of Louis du Toit, the Regional Manager at Cape Town) passing under the Sishen-Saldanha heavy-haul line at Knersvlakte loop where there is a link with the Bitterfontein line used by block loads of rutile from Bitterfontein to Saldanha for the Namaqua Sands Company.

84. Robert, a visitor to South Africa, rode all the way to Namaqualand with a Union Limited.  Until recently, these tours had been exceptionally well managed and run by Ian Pretorius.  However this tour set the Union Limited down a slippery slope to its final demise.  Let him tell you in his own words what happened:  

"This was the Union Limited, Hantam ( 7th July-21st July 2002 ) and it was supposed to also visit Calvinia and possibly Sakrivier in order to live up to its name. Reportedly, Spoornet went to a lot of trouble and expense to fettle the track to bring it up to standard for the passenger train to use it, then tried to bill THF.....for the work. THF, lacking funds for such extravagance, declined to cough up and, so the tour ran Cape Town-Bredasdorp-Bellville-Hermon-Porterville-Hermon-Worcester-Hartenbos-George-Oudtshoorn-PE (Loerie-Assegaaibos)-Willowmore-George ( Kaaimans )-Bellville-Kraaifontein-Bitterfontein-Cape Town.
Ian Pretorius had retired by then and a ‘gentleman’ who had been affirmatively acquired from his former job as a booking clerk at a Gauteng suburban station, was nominally in charge. He spent the entire trip as a ‘jolly’, to be found in one of two places on the train: either in his bed asleep or propping up the bar in the lounge car, with a drink in his hand and a gormless expression on his face. He had no comprehension of what the tour/train were about and certainly no understanding of why 50 or so white men and women would spend many thousands of their hard-earned foreign currency to be there and benefit his country’s economy. The only surprise is that the Union Limited managed to limp on for another four years."
The Bitterfontein pictures were taken on arrival on the evening of 18 July 2002. The train set off very early the next morning, with the first photos being taken between Komkans and Waterklip.  The engines were class 19Ds No's 3321 and 3323. 

85. The triangle at Bitterfontein probably doesn't get used much these days, but the two 19Ds certainly made good use of it. 

86. The 3321 was posed in front of a load of granite blocks, as if about to set off for Klawer in 2002!  So we have come full circle - see Piet's photo No 4 above. 

87.  The end of the line.  Google has kindly provided this overall view of the facilities at Bitterfontein.  It would be quite a challenge to handle all the business there nowadays with steam but it could have been done, probably only with condensers.   

Just before closing: when researching for this chapter I tried to find a poem from C. Louis Leipoldt that had relevance to the Bitterfontein line.  Although he grew up in these parts I found nothing that specifically referred to it, although Luca Lategan did find one of his poems that takes us back to times when railways hadn't yet reached the platteland:

‘Nee, regtig, oubaas speel met ons die gek!

'n Ding wat sonder voete loop op spore, 

Met vuur en vlam en vonke in sy bek?

Nog nooit het ek daarvan gehoor tevore!


'n Ding wat vol met water word gestop,

Wat mense dra, en perde ook, en skape? 

Baas het ons swartvolk baiemaal gefop -

Vertel nou maar dié storie aan die ape

Translating the amusing skepticism of a farm labourer when told about the coming of the railway to [these parts?] needs more skill than my crude sporietaal allows but Wouter Roggen of Durbanville has come to the rescue.  This is actually an extract from a much longer poem, delightfully told.



No, really; Master’s playing us for fools:

a thing  that has no feet but walks on rails?

Within its belly, flame and fire rules;

ne’er have I heard such fancy tales!


A thing that’s filled with water to the brim,

and carries people, horses, sheep?

Master’s oft fooled us workers; shame on him!

This story he must rather keep!

Thank you, thank you Wouter, for this exquisite translation.  While on the subject of railways in poetry I was introduced by Peter Spargo to Laurence Wright, the editor and compiler of "Stimela" an excellent anthology of South African poems about railways.  From time to time I hope to publish extracts on "Soul of A Railway".

Meanwhile, the anthology is highly recommended and can be obtained directly from:  Echoing Green Press CC, P.O. Box 12194, Empangeni, 3880, and the link to their website is at: 
Thanks for bearing with us, our next chapter covers the New Cape Central Railway (NCCR) as far as Riversdale, boundary of the Cape Western system.