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Part 9 - Caledon line freight part 2: Elgin-Caledon and beyond

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Once again we express our indebtedness to Bruno Martin for the use of his impeccable maps.  Forgive me if I've said this before, and it should be clear anyway, but Bruno is a professional cartographer by training and profession.  If the line looks squiggly on the map this is because that is exactly what it is.  The longest straights between Sir Lowry's Pass and the termini at Bredasdorp and Protem are probably to be found only within the station precincts and even they can have kinks, e.g. Houwhoek, Krige, Rietpoel, and Protem. Almost every curve provides a different aspect of some of the most attractive landscapes in South Africa, so in what will inevitably be a vain attempt to do the Ruggens justice we have decided to split this chapter in two, beginning with the outward journey.  With our return to Elgin in the next chapter we shall leave the Caledon line and return to the Transvaal for some more intense railway action from Les and Peter.

1. The backs of the Hottentots Holland form a striking backdrop for this GEA on 253-down Caledon goods with its randomly marshalled consist of shorts and bogies.  April 1971.

Leaving Elgin eastbound freights are confronted with three miles at 1-in-40 from the Palmiet river up to Patryslaagte, home of Kromco the fruit-packing company whose website, without much supporting evidence, boasts that it is the largest such facility in the world!  They had extensive private sidings whence a consignment of export fruit once ran away down the hill to Elgin, running clean through the station to collide with the GEA of a goods drawing cautiously up to the down home signal.  Not cautiously enough.  The loaded O's ran up the wedge-shaped front of the Garratt and flew into the Palmiet River - a right merry apple pie.

2. The Kromco packing sheds and sidings are to the right, behind the Australian bluegums. The GEA entering the siding at Patryslaagte with 264-up Caledon - Cape Town goods (the one that operated as an unadvertised mixed on Fridays - see John's photo in our chapter on the Caledon line passenger services) is crossing a 14CRB engine-and-van which has just delivered mts to the private sidings and is about to return to Elgin where it will carry on making up trains and placing mts for loading in the fruit-load shelters there, in between banking turns up to Steenbras.  Shunt engine at Elgin was not a sinecure.  

From the trailing points in front of the GEA the line falls away steeply at 1-in-40.  To save time the loaded O wagons that ran away had been carelessly parked on this grade, on the main line, while the Elgin shunt engine and crew fetched another few loads from the sidings.  When coupling up again they bumped the wagons ever so slightly which set them rolling helter-skelter down the bank. "Meneer, die trokke het sommer op loop gegaan" was the way it was expressed by the shunter at the enquiry.

3. Approaching Groenrug (formerly Lebanon) is 4037 cl GEA with the mt FZs of 241-down, July 1975

4. 1997 cl 14CRB approaching Groenrug with 249-down, April 1974.  On the right is Mount Lebanon, named by Moravian missionaries on their way to and from the mission at Genadendal in the 17th century.  The reason why the name of the siding was changed from "Lebanon" to "Groenrug" by the Place Names Commission in the 1930s has been lost with time, but my father steadfastly refused to use the new name his entire life.

5. Surrounded by oaks, Houwhoek siding nestles unobtrusively in the exquisite Houwhoek valley.  It was the booked crossing place for 241-down and 264-up (on the left).

6. 241-down emerging from the gorge of the Houwhoek river, July 1975.

7. 1997 cl 14CRB again, exiting Houwhoek Pass with 249-down, April 1974.

8. Bot River, the GEA of 241-down has taken water and had her fire cleaned.  The driver is blowing the whistle to indicate to the station foreman that he is ready and anxious to go.  As soon as a late-running 264-up is in the clear and he has the tablet he will descend to the Bot river bridge before blasting up Langhoogte to the summit at De Vlei, whereafter it will be easy coastings all the way to Caledon. July 1975.

9. 253-down has crossed the Bot R and the slog up Langhoogte to De Vlei has begun. Blooming fields of sorrel and dandelions and budding vines indicate that Spring is not far off. September 1973.

10. About a mile from the Bot River crossing and 241-down is already 200 feet above the river - the precipice invisible immediately to the left of the locomotive.  Those lands are on the far side of the river, beyond them the line wending its way down to the bridge (out of sight on the right) and the rectangular white warning board for Bot River station (out of sight to the left).  July 1975.

11. Only 150 yards further on from the previous photo, the higher vantage point shows Bot River village and station which 253-down Caledon goods had left a few minutes earlier.  That's the hotel and car park on the left-hand edge and the algemene handelaar (general dealer) between the car park and the station. July 1975. 

12. The crisp poppet-valve exhausts of this pair of 19Cs tackling Langhoogte puncture the still morning air just after a December sunrise in 1968.  273-down (all stations Bellville-Caledon), classified a T&P but effectively a mixed, was the working used to ferry Caledon engines to and from Paarden Eiland for their 21-day boiler washouts and servicing.

Passengers that boarded 273's tri-compo van at 22:30 last night probably would not have slept much with these sharply-barking 19Cs restarting from numerous stops not to mention toiling away up Sir Lowry's Pass.  The descent of Houwhoek pass after Groenrug would bring a few minutes of relative peace and quiet until the crossing of the Bot river, after which loud noises would ruin any chances of sleep for all but the desperate. Unless it was running late, the overnight mixed to Caledon could only be photographed around the summer solstice east of Bot River where it was scheduled to depart at 04:45. 

13. No revenue on 241-down today, just three mt DZs, three loads of locomotive coal for Caledon and a guards van.  The lazy shunters who made up the train have put the loads at the back, strictly against the rules laid down in the General Appendix. December 1973.

14. Not much revenue on this train either, with its two loads of ballast, two of sleepers and a couple of B bogies of coal for the loco depot at Caledon.

15. John was fortunate to encounter 273-down mixed running late on a beautiful January morning in 1975.  A giant smoke ring tells us the engines were still in good condition even though they had little more than a year to live.

16. Yet another tight reverse curve on 1-in-40 to test the stamina of 4015 cl GEA on 241-down, July 1975.  One thing I haven't mentioned is that on a 5-chain reverse curve (with which this line abounds), 1-in-40 equates to 1-in-33.


17. The wheat has been harvested and the lands are ready for ploughing.  There are a few loads of sleepers for the relaying that preceded dieselisation in the consist of 253-down Caledon goods forging steadily up Langhoogte bank with 4035 cl GEA in September 1973. 


18. Sorry guys!  It is hard to resist posting the beautiful views around almost every corner of this railway. 

19. Even in black and white the lighting is spectacular and the mountains imposing.  Note the DZs with railway sleepers.  Between 1973 and 1976 a major upgrading of the track preceded the arrival of the diesels in 1976.


20. The same train depicted in 17 with 4035 cl GEA, September 1973.

21. 253-down nearing the summit at De Vlei with 4035 in September 1973.  At 5,380ft Blokkop, in the right background, is still sheltering the last of the winter snows while the much higher Franschoek mountains to the left will carry theirs through to October.

As a boy living in Cape Town I remember vividly and with weeping nostalgia the views of the Drakenstein and Hottentots Holland ranges from the Newlands train.  From May to October they looked like the Swiss Alps.  As a general rule, above 6,000 feet the snow would last the winter, above 5,000ft snow lasted for weeks, 4,000ft only for days but down to 3,000 ft snow was rare, for example, on Table Mountain. 

22. The snow on the Riviersonderend mountains was down to the 3,000ft level after a spell of bad weather in July 1975.

23.  Crossing the Swartrivier just east of Mission (thank you Mark).  Note the randomly-marshalled shorts and bogies - in defiance of the General Appendix.

24. Geoff rode the whole line to both termini with his bashmate Peter "Bedford" Odell in December 1974.  At Mission on the way back their train, 244-up, 16:45 off Caledon with GEA No 4029 (on the left) crossed 253-down with the de-horned GEA No 4009 "Renoster".


25. At Caledon all trains changed engines. There was a shed and turntable here but as you can see, the coaling plant was somewhat elementary.  Until the arrival of Garratts in the mid twenties the service was handled by the very capable classes six, seven and eight.  Although it is possible that GDs (and GKs) then worked the whole line, there is little evidence that Garratts worked east of Caledon after 19Cs took over in the late 1930s.  Les's allocation lists show four 19Cs subshedded there through 1950, six through 1960 and some GEAs began to appear early in 1966. Thereafter a pattern emerges where the GEA allocation was increased (to a maximum of 4) during the fruit season.  Until the 1971 season there was cross-trip working with Paarden Eiland engines to the crossing point at Elgin where there was also a turntable.  Caledon also employed a solitary class 8 from mid 1966 until 1970 for shunting, but class 1 No 1442 was noted on these duties in January 1970.  Pete Rogers has pointed out Locomotive Superintendent Johannes Barnard's anti-spark apparatus prominent at the base of the smokebox.  Considering that the 19Cs were inflicted with these unsightly disfigurements for more than 10 years they must have been reasonably successful, but perhaps the most telling judgement on their effectiveness is that they began to disappear quite rapidly after he retired in 1970.

26. Class 1B No 1442 on the Caledon shunt, 3rd January 1970. Note the tri-compo van used for the Bredasdorp run on the right.

27. On Caledon's solitary platform the passengers that came in from Cape Town on 213-down are waiting patiently to board the Bredasdorp mixed, also 213-down but a different consist altogether.  Its 19C has just picked up the tri-compo van in the yard and is about to draw out onto the main line before backing the whole assembly into the platform road for its scheduled 14:03 departure. It had been several decades since the complete journey to Bredasdorp was made by one train, in 1930. After that the SAR-built railcar No 16 (see Part 7 "The Caledon Train") worked the Bredasdorp service until 1943 when it was withdrawn and replaced with the mixed. In case you are curious, a journey that one could do in about 2-1/2 hours by car took nine hours by rail in 1960, half-an-hour more than the train/railbus combination in 1940.  Incidentally, this picture reminds me very much of Bob Wilson's classics from rural Victoria.

28. The Saturday Bredasdorp goods, 255-down, leaving Caledon in September 1973.  If the Australian wattle wasn't such a voracious invader one would have to say it is beautiful when in bloom.  

29.  On weekdays, 255-down goods went to Protem, here it is just a little further on from picture 29.  Regular components of this train (and the Bredasdorp one) were two parcels vans, fuel, shorts with general freight and a TZ or two for milk and cream.  April 1971.

30. Having stopped for passengers at Drayton this pair of 19Cs were restarting 255-down Protem goods with vigour to attack the steeply curving grade away from the halt in July 1975.

32. In dry years the carting of locomotive feeder tank wagons became common practice which of course meant one less revenue load - all the more reason to dieselise.  The second tank was for domestic water for remote station staff and lineside trackworker's cottages.  July 1975.  

33.  Arriving at Krige in September 1973. Those are the tracks to the grain silos on the right.

34. Between Krige and Jongensklip, July 1975.

35. Between Krige and Jongensklip, July 1975 with Babilonstoring (Tower of Babel) prominent on the skyline.  The pristine green wheatfields would soon turn yellow and dry and the farmer's nightmare with fires started by sparks from the steam locos would begin.  Old Johannes Barnard devoted much of his career to solving the problem but he never managed it completely satisfactorily before he retired.  It should be mentioned that the problem was greatly exacerbated by SAR's policy of buying the cheapest coal from the mid sixties onwards.  If ever there was a false economy that was it.

36. Side on view of the locomotives from the same train.

37. Rietpoel wasn't the scheduled crossing place for 255-down and 262-up but the latter tended to run ahead of time on a Saturday so that the crews could get home early. 

38. Some glorious views of the Riviersonderend range open up between Rietpoel and the junction at Klipdale.

39. A winter view at the same location, August 1975.  On this occasion John seems to have been travelling with the author of popular railway books such as "Iron Dinosaurs"......etc

40.  And here we are, finally at the southernmost station on SAR and, as the board boasts, in Africa!  This was the train ridden by Geoff and Peter.  The engine is 2443 which had been doubleheaded with 2438 both class 19C and the train was 251-down, 04:00 off Caledon. 

41. No 2445 shunts the silos at Protem. This was originally intended to be a temporary terminus before the line was continued onwards to Swellendam, which at this point is only 30 miles away.  It has been said that this was the reason for the station to be named "Protem".  However, Braam Matthee's father was born in the Swellendam district on the farm Protem which was in existence long before the extension of the railway was even contemplated (Braam was chairman of Alfred County Railway for seventeen years). 

42,43,44 & 45: Extracts from the SAR&H Magazine for September 1915, kindly forwarded by Lionel Penning.

That concludes Part 9 of the System 1 story.  Part 10 will cover the return journey from Klipdale to Elgin. 

But BEFORE YOU GO...............

How many of you recognise the location and the photographer?

In the next chapter, which hopefully will be out by the end of next week, I'll tell you about one of the finest books to come my way in recent years.  Its author is in the photograph and the title of his latest book is "A Steam Odyssey".