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System 1, Part 14: Franschhoek and Ceres branches © C P Lewis


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The Franschhoek Branch

Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic was Erich Honecker. Apparently he was an absolute tyrant, but he was shrewd.  How is this relevant, you might well ask. When his railway managers came to him in the mid-1970s telling him they wanted to close their antiquated steam-operated branch lines he forbade it.  Honecker knew something the railway managers did not: those despised branches were attracting significant hard currency from the west.  Thus, seven narrow-gauge systems in East Germany were declared "national technical monuments to be preserved for tourism" in 1975.

The wall came down and the Deutsche Reichsbahn was incorporated into the Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB, today just "Deutsche Bahn").  Soon the DB started closing the old branch lines. But there was a problem: according to the re-unification treaty, East German national monuments - whether technical or not - could not be dismantled or closed down.  Besides, DB's plans to close the touristically important seven preserved ng systems caused an outcry from citizens of the former East Germany.  DB therefore was forced to find new operators for these lines if they wanted to get rid of them.  Eventually, after sometimes lengthy negotiations, DB disposed of the disputed branches to the new regional authorities, sometimes for the nominal sum of DM 1.00 per line. To cut a long tale short, for the seven lines under national monument protection and even a few more privately operated branches, this has been a huge success story. The local governments fund the infrastructure (with occasional help from the European Community) and for them and the regional tourist industries it has been kachinkachinka as German citizens and, especially, foreigners come each year in their tens of thousands to ride the trains.  For example, the Harz Mountain metre-gauge system counts its holidaymakers and tourists in the millions - check its website.

For a country like ours, with the Rand rapidly disappearing down a black hole, we need foreign currency.  This is one way to get it:  

 

1.  One of Honecker's rescue jobs in the former East Germany was the narrow-gauge line from Bad Doberan to the Baltic Sea coast.  In 1995 it was bought from the Deutsche Bundesbahn by the local authorities and has grown in popularity since, so much so that in 2009 they ordered a brand-new steam locomotive from Meiningen Works to cope with the increased demand. There are trains all year round but in the holiday season there are 14/day each way.  When I was there in 2011 every train was packed and this view shows customers queuing at the town stop, their train already having picked up most of its passengers at the main-line junction. 

Of course, it needs plenty of hard work and discipline to maintain such an intensive schedule but this 15km long branch line attracts millions of Euros, creating many more jobs than just on the railway itself and materially contributing to the region which it serves.  

For the historical information on the tourist and holidaymaker operations in the former East Germany we are indebted to Dr Reinhard Serchinger of Munich. 



2. The "Molli" as it is known, would make a good model for the Franschhoek Railway.  As you can see, it runs down the main street of Bad Doberan.  There are restaurants, cafes, craft shops, pensions or hotels on every corner.   

When I was in Franschhoek two Saturdays ago to gather material for this chapter I went to the station.  There is a restaurant there now, in the old station building.  I walked a few hundred yards along the railway and found the trackwork still intact but it was clear the townsfolk are hellbent on burying this potential goldmine in their midst - perhaps fearing that the railway would hinder their business rather than grow it.   

Someone needs to think outside the box - i.e. beyond wine cellars, golf estates, game farms and shopping malls - and champion an operation that would bring tens of thousands of additional visitors to spend their money in the valley.  Although intact, most of the railway has fallen into disuse, including the vital bit that takes it into the station in the heart of Franschhoek and I was told a wealthy landowner has decreed that no trains may pass through his farm.  The upshot has been the creation of a pathetically inadequate tram operation that starts a mile out of town and ends a mile further on - i.e. nowhere.  Even were it to catch on, the numbers would be insufficient to influence the economy of the town.  

By contrast, Bad Doberan manages to cope with a service of 28 trains/day of which 22 are full length ten-coach steam-hauled, each with a capacity of 400 tourists, holidaymakers and locals - hardly surprising therefore that the region served by the railway and once struggling under communist rule now reeks of prosperity. 

Check it out here: www.molli-bahn.de



What is so special about the Franschhoek valley? 

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis IV in 1685 had an everlasting effect on our country.  The resulting religious persecution caused thousands of protestant French to flee to northern Europe, especially Holland.  But they had had to abandon all their worldly belongings and jobs in the Netherlands were scarce so in 1688 the first batches of French Huguenots embarked for the Cape, their numbers eventually exceeding 270.  As to their qualities, Wikipedia puts it well:  "In practice, the revocation caused France to suffer a kind of early brain drain, as it lost large numbers of skilled craftsmen."  They brought with them nothing except their Protestant French culture and a profound knowledge of agriculture, artisan trades and winemaking.  Governor Simon van der Stel (a bit of a wino himself) allocated land to some of the families in the fertile Franschhoek valley.  They immediately set about building farmhouses and planting crops, fruit trees and vines.  Although viticulture at the Cape had been started by Jan van Riebeek more than 30 years earlier, it was the French who laid the foundation for what would become one of South Africa's most renowned export products. 

Over the centuries the well-watered valley began to flourish, its production capacity only limited by poor roads to its markets - Cape Town and the increasing number of ships that called at the Cape.  The clamour for a railway began in the mid-nineteenth century but it was not until 1863 that rails reached Paarl at the western end of the valley.  From then on farmers rapidly increased their production, especially fruit and wine.  When the branch line to Franschhoek was completed in 1904 the fertile valley began to reach its full potential.  The newly proclaimed town of Franschhoek (its station was called "French Hoek" by the CGR!) came into its own, served by two trains each way every day to the main-line junction at Paarl.

Although not immediately apparent, the Road Transportation Act, Act 14 of 1977 eventually caused all such lines in South Africa to wither and die.  Within 15 years the railway became redundant as lorries took all the business.  For a few years longer popular railtours called regularly at Franschhoek but by 2002 even these had ceased - killed off because of overcharging by the rail authorities (note the similarity with the Deutsche Bundesbahn).  What it needs is for the town dignitaries to take the bull by the horns and pay Transnet R1,00 for it! 



3. The first railtour on record to visit Franschhoek departed from Rondebosch on 2nd September 1963.  The sold-out train is seen here entering Stellenbosch.  Note the bulk wine wagons on the left - those were the days when everything went by rail.



4. The tour was organised by the Cape Town Society of Model & Experimental Engineers (CTSMEE) who set up a committee (of which I was a member) with chairman David Douglas, a Cape Times journalist.  Knowing the route quite well, I had suggested that photographic stops - four each way - between Paarl and Franschhoek would be appreciated by the passengers ("runpasts" were unknown in RSA then).  This was whittled down to two each way.  Then came the big shock: somebody's wife was a graphic designer who had undertaken to design a headboard.  Although vehemently opposed to this I was outnumbered three to one in the vote, so we got the ghastly carbuncle you see on the front buffer beam - in colour it was a sickly powder blue with a black mountain.  

We had no influence on the appointment of the locomotive crew and loco inspector - the driver was renowned as a gnome at Paarden Eiland and the inspector as a self-important strutter. On top of that, the fireman had never worked on a narrow-firebox engine except on shunts, so the omens were not good.  By the time we reached Stellenbosch we were 20 minutes down on an easy schedule and none of the footplatemen seemed concerned.  Take a look at the driver with his oilcan - he ought to have "GNOME" printed on his back. 

In 1963 Stellenbosch still had a steam local every weekday, the 14:15 Cape Town-Wellington illustrated in System 1 - Part 6 and its return working the following morning; hence the complicated switchgear on the water column (you couldn't get any water out until you had thrown the circuit switch) to ensure that firemen didn't electrocute themselves.  



5. The turntable at Paarl hadn't seen use since the class 24s arrived at the Cape from South West Africa in 1961 - a week before there was enough grass in the pit and its surroundings to feed a hundred hungry horses.  Fortunately SAR cleaned it up, so with a bit of grease and plenty of elbow grease we managed to turn our engine - class 6A No 451.  That is our loco inspector in his white (!) dust jacket on the left.   

Notice how the 6th class just fits.  The same applied to the one at Franschhoek, so when the 24s arrived the only solution was to come back with the engine in reverse.  In fact, this day might have been the last time both turntables turned an engine - they had been in use for more than 50 years so must have paid their way. 



6. The special overstayed its welcome at Paarl by some 20 minutes so that by the time we left we were 40 minutes down on schedule and the train organiser decreed that the two planned photostops on the way to Franschhoek would be abandoned, but perhaps if time could be made up, the two planned for the return journey would take place.  In the absence of photostops, much less runpasts, we were forced to take pictures of our labouring 6th class from the carriage window - extreme frustration on a glorious Spring day.   



7.  By Wemmershoek No 451 was struggling for steam so we stopped for a blow up.  That's the tour organiser instructing the driver not to listen to the pleas of the photographers to allow just one photo without the hideous headboard, an injunction with which the gnome was content to comply.  Leaning out of the first compartment window is Donald Bradley, a well-known Cape Town railway enthusiast and modeler. 



8. Thanks to Photoshop I was able to get my revenge on the train organiser, but it took more than 50 years!  Yes, I confess, the artistic headboard has been blotted out.  On the left is a local klonkie asking what all the fuss is about and on the right, Don Bradley taking photos. This was moments before we set off again - now almost an hour late.  The siding in the foreground served the co-op and also the stores of Wimpey & Co, the builders of Cape Town's huge new reservoir, the Wemmershoek dam 1953-58. 



9. By the time we reached Franschhoek we were an hour down.  In front of the engine is the long-gone, one-engine shed which became redundant in 1961 after the workings were taken over by class 24s working out and back from Dal Josaphat. 



10. One of the other organising committee members, Ralph Knott, chatting to our driver busy greasing round.  The headboard obdurately dominates the picture.  If anyone can put me in touch with Ralph or his family I would be ever-grateful. 



11. Being so late it was decided to cancel photo stops on the return journey as well.  So we have selected a few historical views to make up for them - much better than an excursion train anyway.    This one provides proof that the CGR's name for Franschhoek Station was, appropriately, "French Hoek"!   The museum has not attributed this photo to anyone but it bears the stamp of T D Ravenscroft - a master photographer if ever there was one.  For the scans we are indebted to Lizelle at "Paper Chefs", Franschhoek.  



12. It is hard to believe that even in those days when no other transport was available the branch could support a full passenger train like this one, so perhaps it was an early excursion, thus giving the lie to my claim that the CTSMEE special was the first.  Maybe they even had photostops and runpasts!  The engine is a CGR 3rd class and look Ma, no headboard. 



13. Between Wemmershoek and Lategan the railway crosses the Berg River.  The museum's centenary brochure states that this is believed to be the first train from Franschoek to Paarl.  We are still looking for a decent print of this wonderful photo showing a CGR 3rd Class 4-4-0 on quite a substantial train. 



14. Cecil John Rhodes was a friend and patron of Sir Herbert Baker, designer of the Union Buildings and Pretoria station among his many achievements in South Africa and co-designer with Lutyens of the Imperial seat of government in Delhi.  Can you believe that Sir Herbert also designed the humble station buildings of Simondium, a halt that served Rhodes's fruit farms! Dick Manton will provide us with a better view of the station building with its unmistakable stamp of the famous architect in picture 20 below. 

The stationmaster, his wife and children, the train personnel and an arriving customer (perhaps a taxi) with his Cape cart provide this glimpse of rural Edwardian life as the evening mixed from Franschhoek calls at Simondium c 1912. 



15. A final look at the CTSMEE excursion as we sat in Paarl waiting for 118-up EMU from Wellington to Bellville to come through.  That is 209-down, the Durban-bound Orange Express, drawing in on the right.  We were hoping for a nice brisk homeward run along the main line (we were scheduled to go via Kraaifontein) and we did at least have some excitement after Muldersvlei.  The stretch up Klapmuts bank was a struggle but once over the summit the gnome at last gave #451* some leash, coaxing her up to 60mph twice before Bellville.  In the end, our old 6A's day ended in ignominy, not through any fault of her own.  We conked out at Goodwood with a full firebox and clogged spark arrestor.  We were rescued by a passing 3BR that at least gave us some loud exhaust to listen to.  The long trip ended after dark in Cape Town (it was supposed to have been Rondebosch), almost three hours late while the special's crew, whose day had started two hours before ours, still had almost an hour before they could sign off at Paarden Eiland. 

* No 451, SAR class 6A, was built by Dubs & Co (originally Cape sixth class No 171), survived this day to reach her 70th birthday in 1965.  She was finally withdrawn in February 1966. 



16. Paarden Eiland's allocation of 24s exiled from South West Africa arrived during 1961. Thus after more than 50 years, 6th class operation of the Franschhoek branch came to an end. As already mentioned, the turntables at both ends were too small for a 24 and so the practice of working out from Dal Josaphat chimney first and back tender first began.  On this particular day in July 1975 I was lucky to find #3675, the 2000th engine supplied by the North British Locomotive Co to SAR, about to depart with 446-up mixed.  In the background, the granite rocks for which Paarl is named, shimmer like giant pearls when it has rained.  They are part of an igneous rock system that reaches across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro where they are, of course, considerably more spectacular and famous.  Visible above the tender is Paarl's old CGR signal cabin which is still in use in 2015 (a better view in photo 15). 



17. A close-up of the commemorative plate on #3675's running board. 



18. By 1975 it had become rare to find two scheduled steam trains on the main line but this was still a regular daily occurrence at the time, albeit with barely a year to go. No 3675 has got the road (you can see the starting dolly signal in the off position) and waiting to shunt the goods shed sidings is 1834 class 15BR on 178-up, the Wellington - Bellville pick-up. 


19. From here on we'll try and make up for some of those photostops we missed in 1963.  With little more than a month to go before the boxes arrived, 3661 class 24 was approaching Cillie halt on the 08:40 Paarl-Franschhoek goods with passenger accommodation in July 1976.  



20.   The same train departing from Simondium.  On the left is a better view of Sir Herbert Baker's simple but elegant station building, the design of which was commissioned by Cecil John Rhodes and referred to in the caption to photo 14 above. 



21.  Not much to see between Simondium and Groot Drakenstein so we'll dally a while at this hub of the Franschhoek branch which served some important and very old farms in the area, from Boschendal to Meerlust and Bien Donne.  You can just see the SM in a shitty brown uniform watching the train roll in (the traditional black uniform was replaced in the early 70s). Above the engine Drakenstein Peak, the intimidating wall of sandstone overlooking Boschendal, rises sheer to almost 5,000 feet. 



22.  Thirteen years earlier, in May 1963 I rode the line with Dad on our first exploratory trip for the photo stops that never happened.  As you can see from Dick's photo, the overall scene didn't change much in the interim, if anything the station was neater in 1976. 



23. In the much more dignified pre-1970 uniform that had been mandatory since the formation of SAR in 1910, the SM and transship porter share a lighter moment while the crew up front seem anxious to get moving. 



24. After an extended gossip we finally got going, rocking from side to side alarmingly as we rattled over the trailing points.  The Rhodes Fruit Farms loading shed siding stands empty, waiting for next season's deciduous fruit crop.  Is that a Zephyr alongside the office building? 



25. The next siding after Groot Drakenstein was Lategan (this is not a misspelling!) and Dick's train blasted out of there in fine style. 



26. To maintain grade from Lategan the line corkscrews downhill towards the Berg River crossing at Wemmershoek and the mountains begin to close in on the railway.  The Franschoek valley is very much like a gigantic box canyon formed by its two main rivers, the Berg and the Wemmer. 



27. The daily mixed with 3686 class 24 in charge crossing the Berg River half a mile before Wemmershoek siding in July 1975.  To the right of the smoke is the rear of Drakenstein Peak. 



28. So much for global warming!  A year later Dick had a much colder morning when 3661 was slogging away from the Berg River bridge and around the corner into Wemmershoek. 



29.  To maintain a sort of geographical sequence rather than a chronological one, this is 3686 again, entering Wemmershoek siding in July 1975. 



30. The transship porter has uncoupled just behind the covered van in order to fetch a coupla empty B-bogies parked in the siding, so no hurry yet.  Prominent in the background are the eastern buttresses of the Simonsberg, which is to Bolanders what Table Mountain is to Kapenaars.  On the right is an interesting rocky outcrop known as Kanonkop where the Dutch parked a cannon some 300 years earlier, to be fired when the guards on watch spotted marauding Hottentots.  To answer your question Briggs, at night they used infrared equipment.  The west face of the Simonsberg overlooks Stellenbosch and you can see it in the background of photo No 3 together with a much better view of Kanonkop.  What also should be mentioned is that the latter lends its name to a very fine local wine - look out for it.  

Last but not least, you can just see my old man silhouetted against the goods shed. 



31. The same train, with 3686 galloping past the cottages along the line between Wemmershoek and La Motte.
 


32. About a 100 yards ahead of the engine is the terminus of the present-day tram operation, the only use this fabulous line is getting now.  It is barely a one mile run. 



33. And here we are, in Franschhoek again, looking at a scene photographed many times by my father.  How this has changed.  The vacant ground on the left, the turntable and the trees in the middle distance have all gone, replaced by several small businesses and a supermarket.  The platform is now bedecked with the tables and chairs of the restaurant - nothing wrong with that but it still needs trains to bring it to life. 



34.  Shunting the goods sheds at Franschhoek, both of which have now been replaced by a shopping centre.  To the left of the engine, where the washing line and the oaks were, is where the supermarket now stands as well as "Paper Chefs", the charming small business that did our historical scans.  
 


35.  Looking more-or-less 180 degrees the other way from where photo 33 was taken.  This scene is pretty much unrecognisable today.  The furrow passing under the engine is still there and the two deck spans but the tracks have gone.  Ahead of the engine is the water tank we saw in photo 9, also gone and out of sight behind the trees on the right is the old engine shed, at that time out of use but still standing. 



36. And so we move into the era of the steam railtour at Franschhoek.  This was the "Kei Explorer" countrywide railtour of March 1989, about to depart with a packed trainload of tourists, holidaymakers and railway enthusiasts. 


37.  Having spent all their money, another trainload of happy holidaymakers heads back to Cape Town behind preserved class 19C No 2439.  This was a "Steam & Safaris" rail tour organised from the UK by Messrs Middleton and Phillips in May 1993.  What a pity Transnet began to overcharge for use of this magnificent railway. 



38. Slightly different angle, completely different train.  Yet another excursion departs Franschhoek for the big city.  This fine photo is one of many in Dennis's book on the Cape Western "Byways", thoroughly recommended and obtainable directly from the photographer/publisher, Dennis himself: www.blurb.com/b/5148172  



39. The "Kei Explorer" again with a train that would have been too heavy for a class 24 (!) with GMA 4072 working upgrade away from the Berg River bridge.  Just to the right of the engine's front water tank is a scar on the mountain marking the route of Franschhoek Pass, the hair-raising road through the mountains leading to the beaches at Hermanus. 



40.  Climbing away from the Berg River amidst the winter-dormant vineyards of the Bellingham wine estate. 



41. If this isn't a beautiful photograph I've yet to see one.  No 2439, the last remaining class 19C, firing on all cylinders up to Lategan. On this high note we'll say goodbye to the Franschhoek branch, perhaps not forever.


The Ceres Branch 



Bruno's map tells us the branch from the mainline junction at Wolseley was built as far as Ceres in 1912 and the extension to Prince Alfred's Hamlet only in 1929.  The section through the Witzenberg range more or less followed the route of the road pass, completed by Andrew Geddes Bain in 1848.  However, it did require that rare phenomenon on a Cape Western branch line - a tunnel which takes the railway through to the Ceres basin. 

The same arguments for use of the line to Ceres as used above for the moribund Franschoek branch apply.  However, there are some important differences:
  • The Ceres branch has better scenery
  • It has an advanced plan for tourism which, we are told, is about to be brought to fruition by a seriously good operator.
  • Ceres is much further from Cape Town than Franschoek
  • Ceres is not yet as adept as Franschoek in the art of separating tourists from their money
I'm afraid that in the absence of historical photographs for this section we have only pretty pictures, some are very pretty - for which we thank the contributors.  As usual we would be extremely grateful if anyone can come up with a pre WWII photo or two! 



42. The daily pick-up from Worcester North to Wolseley, 150-up, ran earlier on Saturdays, which worked out well for John on a spanking Spring morning in September 1973.  At Wolseley this engine and crew would marshal traffic off the Ceres branch for 177-down back to Worcester and 162-up P&T to Bellville - the latter usually, but not always, electric hauled. 



43. We generally try (usually unsuccessfully) to avoid using railtour photos but in the case of the Ceres branch this would be doing viewers a disservice.  In June 1997 Dave ran a tour that included haulage by the last surviving class 4E, No E218 down the main line and a trip with 19D 3321 on a "mixed" to Prince Alfred Hamlet, here about to depart from Wolseley.  


44. The Ceres branch became popular mainly because of the scenery.  This was a make-believe mixed organised by "Steam & Safaris" entering Michell's Pass with 19D 3321 in May 1993. 



45. Dave was back in 1998, this time with a pure passenger train of suburban steam stock.  



46. We are progressing up the pass geographically rather than chronologically.  Here is #3321 a bit further on doing a runpast with the June 1997 rail tour.  This very engine is one of three that have been selected and are being overhauled for the Ceres tourist and holidaymaker trains (see closing paragraphs). 


47. Here follows a four-picture sequence of one of the last rail tours to Ceres, by "Steam & Safaris" in June 2001 with 19D 3334, arranged to depart from Wolseley before sunrise to get first light deep in the pass.   


48.  Looking lost in the wilderness, oil-fired 3334 dodges the early morning shadows........... 


49...........and emerges into the full fresh sun. 



50. That it was successful I leave you to judge, but for me this runpast produced the most inspiring pictures I have seen of Michell's Pass - talk about ending on a high note! 



51. From sublime to sad.  Thirty years previously the Dwars River gorge was comprehensively burnt by one of the most devastating fires they have had in the Witzenberg.  There was not a green bush in sight.  Trees, shrubs and fynbos all suffered equally and it took several years for the vegetation to recover.  Of course SAR was blamed.  No 3643 was working a goods through the devastation in April 1971. 

  

52. By April 1976 the fynbos was recovering, mainly due to its Ayesha-like ability to rejuvenate itself after fire. 



53. The 1976 season was the Ceres Basin's last call on steam but diesels would have barely 10 years on the fruit traffic before it was lost to road haulage.  This was 473-down goods, 08:00 SO Wolseley-Prince Alfred's Hamlet which was a sort of T&P.  The TZ milk van and container wagons would come off at New Ceres whereas most of the O-type fruit vans with their fully opening sides would go through to the terminus.  On the right is Andrew Geddes Bain's road through Michell's pass, built in 1848 and given a concrete surface in 1938. 



54. From the summit tunnel the line emerges onto the municipal golf course, part of which can be seen on the right. The facing points of old Ceres station (now "Demeter") are less than 200 yards ahead.  In this April 1971 photo the prominent white scars on Ceres Peak are from rockfalls caused by the 1969 earthquake. 



55. Storming through the original Ceres station (now "Demeter") is oil-fired #3334 with its re-constituted "mixed" on the June 2001 railtour.  



56. Back to the draught days, with class 24 No 3643 shunting new Ceres in September 1973.  The Mostertshoek Twins with late snow dominate the skyline. 



57. These are so nice I couldn't choose between them so here they are both.   



58. In the draught days we're at Prince Alfred Hamlet, which in 1971 was a busy place, especially in the fruit season.  No 3643 has turned on the triangle and will soon head back to Wolseley for another batch of empty O vans.
 


59. #3643 has done all her shunting and were ready to follow her back to Wolseley.  As you can see, Ceres and Prince Alfred Hamlet are completely surrounded by mountains. 



60. Back to make-believe, with #3321 performing as spectacular an exit from Prince Alfred Hamlet as we were never able to manage in the draught days!  



61. By May 1993 when this photo was made the line was already moribund and it was almost a decade since the rails had hummed to the huge seasonal fruit traffic surge.  Fenced off from the station are the large wooden crates used for harvesting the apples and pears. 



62. Class 19D 3334 and photographers creating havoc at a schools hockey match immediately west of old Ceres.  Another spectacular runpast on the "Steam & Safaris" tour of June 2001. 



63. In April 1976 3643 class 24 heads back to Wolseley to fetch another batch of O-trucks.  The summit tunnel is just out of sight around the corner and as you can see, the summit of Michell's Pass has recovered well from the fire. 
 


64. A downhill freight coming around one of the numerous bends below the red kranses of Ceres Peak in April 1976.  Vegetation has begun to take hold again after the great fire of 1971 and scars on the slopes of the peak, caused by the 1968 rockfalls, have by now almost vanished.  



65. A beauty from Dennis's book on Western Cape Byways, details of which are given in the caption to photo 39. 



66. 99-down passenger, 08:00 SO Wolseley-Worcester, the return working of 100-up, about to depart from Wolseley in September 1976.  But not before.......... 



67. ........a brief ceremonial posing at Wolseley before the big farewell bash for Driver (Special Grade) Stan Meyerdricks at Worcester.  I have lost the particulars of Stan's fireman on this day but if any members of his family should see this I would be extremely grateful if they would get in touch with me.  Alternatively, if any of our readers recognise him, please let me know.  For the details about driver Stan's last trip we are deeply grateful to Mr Pieter van Rooyen who kindly sent the cuttings from "Die Voetplaat"........


68. Upon the arrival of 99-down at Worcester there were amazing scenes at the station as half the town turned up to welcome Oom Stan and present bouquets to Mrs Meyeridricks.



And so, where to now?  The good news is that we can finish this chapter on a high note! 



69.  The first goods train in more than two decades negotiating Michells Pass on a test run on 3rd August 2015.  The event falls outside the scope of our SAR history but it is so significant it seemed right to share it with our readers.

The photographer has unintentionally given us an example of the insane amounts of money spent on road infrastructure in RSA.  The first crossing over the Dwars river on the Ceres-Bainskloof road was a wooden structure known for a 100 years as "the White Bridge".  It was replaced in 1938 with the narrow (single lane) concrete one on the left which was perfectly adequate when it was in turn replaced with the new double-lane one on a grand prix-style sweeping curve in the 1970s. 
 

70. The test train, approaching new Ceres on 3rd August 2015
 
Track and other infrastructure of the Ceres branch has been re-instated, Ian Pretorius, the founder and boss of Atlantic Rail has joined up with Derick du Toit, MD of Ceres Golf Estates (a big shot in the Ceres Basin), to restart the fruit traffic and the first test train, with a pair of class 35s, ran on 03 August 2015.  A consignment of fruit in a full-length train will be tested all the way from Ceres to Table Bay Harbour on 27 August 2015. Unlike Franschhoek which could support a purely tourist operation, in the case of Ceres the freight and passenger businesses should eventually prove mutually supportive.
 
More good news: refurbishing of passenger stock from the Union Limited (which was run by Ian until it was summarily given the chop by Transnet - an unimaginably harmful blow to the RSA tourism industry) is at an advanced stage in Worcester, the locomotives are being overhauled at Voorbaai and the first tourist trains since 2001 are planned for November/December.  

Details of Atlantic Rail's services (they run regular steam-hauled passenger trains) can be found on their website.  Note that due to popular demand it is necessary to book considerably in advance! 

In closing I must thank the following, without whose inputs it would have been impossible to put it together: firstly, my long-suffering partner Les Pivnic, John Carter, Dave Rodgers,  Peter Rogers, Hennie Heymans, Dick Manton, Bruno Martin, Dennis Moore (publisher of many steam books which can be browsed and ordered online), Paper Chefs (Franschhoek), Ian Pretorius, Reinhard Serchinger, Jan-Louis Spoelstra and Pieter van Rooyen.  If anyone has been omitted I offer my humble apologies.