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Part 11 - The Midland Main Line (3): Alicedale to Cradock ©

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 compilers of this series, Les Pivnic and Charlie Lewis. 

This is the third of a four-part series about the main line from Port Elizabeth to De Aar. 

Whereas the CGR would go to great lengths to avoid tunneling, the SAR was just the opposite as we shall see while we travel into the increasingly rugged countryside north of Alicedale. Bruno's maps show that the main line was extensively relocated between 1934 and 1959 in order to reduce the ruling gradient from 1-in-40 uncompensated to 1-in-80, while curvature was eased considerably from 5 chains to 30 chains (one chain = 66 feet or approximately 20 metres).  

As each new deviation was opened the CGR's alignment was abandoned and much of it converted into unsurfaced farm roads.  Today one can drive along the original formation most of the way from Alicedale to the N10 near Middleton - almost 25 miles.  

1. We finished off the last chapter with this marvellous photo by EH Short.  Since his work will be prominent all the way to De Aar it seems appropriate to start with the same photo that finished off the last chapter.  The CGR's station building on the left appears again in the next two illustrations but by that time (c 1940) it had been turned into a humble ganger's cottage and the island platform in this view had been widened to accommodate the new Alicedale offices. 

2. The Bushmans River is out of sight between the photographer and the railway.  In the left-hand corner is the pumphouse that provided water for the locomotives and the town.  The locomotive shed is beyond the station building, at the entrance to Boesmanspoort - later it was relocated at this end of the station to the left of the nearby dead-end roads.

3. Pierre has provided this very interesting view of Alicedale c 1940, taken by Driver Kok (father of a work colleague).  The stone engine shed is no more but part of the facade has been retained to support an overhead reservoir.  The main station building is now on a wider island platform although the original one is still standing behind it (see next picture).  What looks like a turning triangle is in the foreground and, since the old shed has been demolished, one must assume that by this time its replacement had been erected at the northern end of the yard as mentioned in the caption to photo 2.  The village has grown into a town. 

4. Another angle from Mr Kok shows the original station building with a big letter "A" painted on it.  What this means I dunno, but the building has lost most of its charm, the veranda is gone and the gable ends are no longer trimmed in white.  The new station looks more like a long goods shed. 

4a. In previous chapters of "Soul of A Railway" we have made reference to the epic journey of the Royal Family around Southern Africa, by train in 1947.  We are indebted to Mark Robinson for providing this striking Transnet Heritage Library photograph of the train being serviced in Alicedale. On its left is the pilot train that always ran ahead of the White Train and on its left is 18-up mixed to Cradock with a couple of NGR coaches and goods guards van.  On the far side of the platform is normal service train 20-up to De Aar. 

5. Still in service - just.  By mid-1969 PA Hyde's masterpiece had only a few months to live.  Even the disfiguring sealed-beam headlight couldn't hide the racing lines of CSAR's flagship -still there at age 65.  For a much better idea of how she looked in her prime I refer you to photo 18 in Part 2 of "The Springs Eastward Railway" subtitled "Modder-B to Springs and Nigel", Les's portrait taken at Springs on the eve of the transfer of the entire class to Port Elizabeth in December 1959.  Behind #745 is the side wall of Alicedale's engine shed,  shabby as it was already looking in 1969 it did at least continue in use for another 15 years. 

6. The 10s were impressive looking but even more so in performance.  When introduced in 1904 they were 20 years ahead of their time with long-lead, long-travel valves and straight-ported cylinders which gave them a business-like bark, more so after superheating c 1912-15.  During their last decade they were downgraded to humbler duties, here is 735 leaving Alicedale with 22-up T&P in February 1968. 

7. A striking combination of doubleheader, 15AR 1803+15F 2934, pausing for a breather at Alicedale in April 1968 with livestock empties for up country.  Note the station nameboard announcing that this was the junction for Grahamstown and Port Alfred.   

8. Having added a few dead-heading guards vans the same combination headed northwards.  The donkey cart had stopped where the flagman is standing, a bit removed from the action, so a few shekels induced the driver to come in a bit closer.  The donkeys were not amused. 

9. It is hard to describe how busy the SAR was in the late fifties, throughout the sixties and seventies.  Those were the days when all goods had to go by rail by law and the private sidings were thriving.  The Midland Main Line was no exception, and when iron and manganese ore exports took off from the mid-fifties it was common to see trains stacked at crossing points, such as these two up goods at Alicedale in December 1965.  According to Leith the one on the left is doubleheaded with 15Fs 2966+3008.  Incidentally, this was the last year everything ran through old Alicedale.  A new cut-off for freight traffic was opened in 1966, which we shall see in the next picture. 

10. A southbound rail train on Alicedale's freight bypass in April 1969. The engines are 15Fs 2950+3111.  Note the garden-hose type gate valves set at exactly the right distance for doubleheaded 15Fs and, already building up after only three years, the heaps of ash which had increased greatly due to the policy of buying cheap low-grade, high-ash coal that was introduced during the 1960s.  One conspiracy theory holds that this was a deliberate strategy promoted by the Operating Department and the CME to convince government that they needed to buy diesels! 

11. 12AR 2129 piloting an unknown 15F on a northbound freight at Alicedale in June 1968.  As traffic grew it became increasingly common to find combinations of 15Fs with 12Rs, 12ARs and 15ARs as the supply of 15Fs became insufficient.  As we have seen, even inappropriate engines such as classes 16R/CR, 19D and 24 were roped in as things became more desperate.
In the background a train is departing via the old line and will thus overtake this one while it is being serviced. 

12. Northbound empties leaving Alicedale with 15Fs in 1965.  Tunnel No 2 is about 200 yards ahead (see Bruno's map). 

13. A higher elevation at the same location Victor used in photo 12.  The outer home and distant signals are for the junction to the new freight bypass which this northbound train has just left - you can see it in the middle distance, peeling off to the right with the original main line continuing straight.  Those with sharp eyes will spot a train at the far water columns on the bypass and a tiny feather of steam in the old station which is in among the Aussie gums. 

14. Outer home off, distant on, which in this case indicated that the 12R of this down goods was being diverted onto the freight bypass.  The engine is on the first of two crossings of the Bushmans River on the northern approach to Alicedale.  The CGR made a big effort to avoid these two bridges, as well as the tunnel from which this train is emerging, by hugging the right-hand bank of the river.  Its formation, now used as a road, is clearly visible on the other side of the plain occupied by the farm.  What is not so clear is that the CGR alignment was on a 1-in-40 gradient which was necessary to to avoid having to build the tunnel (see Bruno's map - NB this is not the tunnel shown in the next photo). 

15. About halfway between tunnel 2 and Doringkom siding is tunnel 3 - shortest on the line - built in 1957 by the SAR.  A few months before it was opened to traffic the SAR photographer found this 12R coming by on the old alignment with 118-up mixed.  Tunnel 3 is hardly worth mentioning - it is barely 50 yards long - except that neither the SA Trigonometric Survey Office nor Bruno deemed it worthy of being shown on their maps.  

16. Tunnel 3 pierced by a 15AR+15F in June 1968.  It is a bit of a mini-tunnel.  

17.  15F 2999 with Up empty B-bogies approaching Doringkom in December 1965.  The outer home and distant signals could be indicating that it will be taking the loop to cross a down working.  It could also mean that the station foreman has not yet got "line clear" for the section to Groenheuwels so the Van Schoor machine won't release the tablet (thank you Harry).   
The dirt road on the left is the continuation of the road northwards out of Alicedale that used the CGR's original track bed for much of the way. 

18. For steam, the ore workings were by far the most onerous.  15F 3008 had her reverser right in the corner as she blasted out of Doringkom with a down ore in December 1965. 

19. No 17-down T&P departing from Doringkom in charge of 10cl 739 on 31st December 1965.  From almost any angle the 10s were about the most graceful machines that ever ran on SAR metals.  By the mid 60s they had almost entirely been downgraded from passenger duties to handling the humble T&Ps between PE and Cradock.  In the background 118-up mixed, which had low priority, awaits another crossing.  

20. No 435, the Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth express rounding the curve into Doringkom on 31st December 1965 with maximum holiday lading.  What a terrific action shot: the train seems to be moving while you look at it!  Thank you Leith, for sharing it and providing the engine numbers: 2937+3120. 

21. From Doringkom serious climbing begins as the line transfers from the Bushmans River catchment to that of the Great Fish River (our pioneers were not noted for imaginative naming of geographical features - or towns for that matter).  Less than 200 yards ahead is Groenheuwels tunnel (No 4), 800 yards long on a slightly easier grade but generally not enjoyed by the crews owing to the prevailing following wind.  At night we would camp in a field overlooking this embankment.  About 3 o'clock one calm and frosty morning we awoke to the sound of a far away 15F climbing towards Groenheuwels siding, its steady, determined exhaust accelerating on the easier grade through the station then settling down to drag speed as the 1-in-80 bit into its momentum.  About 20 minutes after we first heard it the engine came crashing by.  Soon the noise got quenched by the tunnel.  It made a memorable recording.

22. From our campsite vantage point there was a constant parade of trains.  The class 10 is a joy forever but the same could not be said of the concrete culvert.  We have written before how customer-friendly those short wagons were.  However, they fell out of favour soon after Act 74 was promulgated in 1977 when small customers began deserting SAR in droves.

23. The Alicedale-Cookhouse road passed directly over the southern portal of Groenheuwels tunnel, a good place to watch hard-working northbound locomotives, in this case a 15F with empty AZD bottom-dumping manganese-ore trucks returning to Postmasburg. 

24. An up general freight approaching the Saltaire tunnel (No 6) in June 1968.  Note the mix of general freight followed by petroleum tankers then newly assembled motor cars.  They don't run trains like this any more. 

25. It is four miles from Groenheuwels to Saltaire of which 1½ miles is in three tunnels.  This freight has just emerged from the 800 yard long Saltaire bore with smoke still pouring out of the tunnel mouth.

26. SAR did not skimp when they rebuilt the Midland Main Line.  This is the enormous cutting in which new Saltaire is situated. Compare it with old Saltaire in the next view.
  Chris, our English monitor, has asked why the station was sited in this massive rock cutting instead of somewhere that would have been cheaper.  The answer is I don't know, but upon studying the 1:50,000 trigonometric survey map it seems likely that there is insufficient level countryside in the vicinity. 

27. Old Saltaire was about a mile away from the new one.  In their mission to avoid tunnels at all cost, from Saltaire to Commadagga (old spelling) the surveyors followed the Soutkloofspruit (a minor tributary of the Bushmans river) through Wittepoort, which cuts a course through a ridge that the later alignment tunnels through.  

28. A pleasant study of a 12R working goods through old Saltaire, c early fifties before the new alignment was opened in November 1954.  It was crossing the District Engineer's inspection trolley, a standard postwar Wickham.  There is a kind of lazy feel to this photo, it looks like a warm day with the trolley occupants enjoying the shade of the pepper tree.  
Scanned off an old print owned by Leith, the photo is thought to be by Arthur Arnold, one of the great photographers of the '30s, '40s and '50s.   

29. The twelfth-class tradition died hard on the Midland.  46 years after their introduction,  12R 1953 was approaching Aalwynspoort with up empties in April 1968.

30. The Kommadaggakop dominates this view of the same train entering Aalwynspoort.  

31. Immediately after leaving Aalwynspoort the line enters tunnel 7.  Prudently, SAR decided to put an intermediate home signal for southbound trains just outside the northern portal.  Just one more tunnel to go and this northbound 15AR+15F combination will have completed its hour-long slog out of the Bushmans River catchment.  

32. Old Commadagga (CGR spelling - see station nameboard) was situated on the watershed at an altitude of 1661ft.  
Quite how those intrepid land surveyors managed to avoid any tunnels at all between Paterson and Cookhouse is anybody's guess.  On horseback they found a way through the maze of tributaries and ridges forming the catchments of the Bushmans and Great Fish rivers without GPS, aerial reconnaissance or mechanical transport.   

33. Of course SAR built a tunnel through that ridge.  In April 1969, very late in the steam era on the Midland Main Line, this southbound rail train was approaching Kommadagga tunnel (No 8).  The rails were new 115lb/yard to accommodate class 34 diesels that were still only in the pipeline at this stage.  The locomotives were 15Fs 2950+3111.  

34. Monday 1st June 1981, one hundred years to the day after the opening of the railway to Cradock, found the returning Centenary Special coming through Kommadagga.  The train had run to Cradock the previous day in order to maximise bookings. This successful and popular excursion was organised by the Port Elizabeth RSSA under guidance of Bruce Brinkman in collaboration with the Operating department and the late Ray Enslin, Regional Mechanical Engineer, whose department ensured that 12R 1505 performed immaculately.   

35. A number of modellers tune into Soul of A Railway so for your benefit here is a typical SAR country goods shed of the latest pattern, turned out like sausages in the fifties and sixties.  Not exactly an architectural masterpiece but there you are.  Those that survive are derelict, most of the others have vanished - carried away, brick by brick.  

36. Here I was, waiting for this southbound freight to come by when a loud whirring noise, accompanied by lots of dust, disturbed the hitherto tranquil scene.  A couple of weird-looking creatures leapt out and one climbed onto the roof of his craft, the likes of which I had never seen before.  Upon spotting me they pulled out something that looked like an I-pad (in 1968 this was also something never seen before) and spoke into it quite unintelligibly.  They showed me what they had said, which the computer miraculously had translated into basic English. Since every other sentence finished with the word "mate" I recognised it immediately as a primitive form known as Strine.  They said they were visiting from planet Expurgandum in a distant galaxy which had wiped out its steam operations eons ago.  While waiting for the train to come they asked whether the unused culvert and formation was a closed branch line so I explained that it was the original trackbed which had been abandoned when the new embankment was opened about ten years previously. 
As soon as the train had passed, and had been recorded with what seemed like an excess of interstellar state-of-the-art equipment, they were off in a frenzy of whirrs and dust.............  

37. Another of EH Short's photographs taken on his 1896 trip.  A southbound goods is drawing into Ripon while the trackgang (with push trolley) look on.  

38. Somehow word always seemed to get ahead that Mr Short was on his way with his camera.  Be that as it may, almost every one of his photographs show the CGR staff in uniform and/or themselves, wives and children in Sunday best.  This looks like ganger's cottage 27 or perhaps the pumper's accommodation at Ripon.  They lived miles from shops and schools so the weekly T&P brought supplies and home learning was the norm.  In the background is a rare structure, the CGR's bridge over the Little Fish river.  

39. The SAR's bridge over the Little Fish River (!) looked a lot more substantial.  This 15F was leaving Ripon with a northbound mixed goods in June 1967.  

40.  Old Sheldon really was in a Karoo wilderness.  What a place for little children to be raised in.  Once again we can see the CGR's architects were much superior to their SAR successors.  

41. Seventy years on and, except for a solitary horse, new Sheldon looks just as deserted.  We followed this class 10 on 17-down T&P for many miles in May 1968.

42. 12R 1505 with the returning Cradock Centenary Special coming out of tunnel 9 just south of Middleton on Monday 1st June 1981.  This was a public holiday which probably accounts for the fact that the train was fully booked weeks in advance.  The countryside still looks deserted but the electricity pylon is a harbinger.  It was part of the national grid that spun its web around South Africa in the '70s and '80s and put paid to countless block loads of coal that SAR moved to power plants in almost every city, town and dorp in the land.  

43. A hand-written inscription on this print tells us the occasion was the arrival of the official first train at Middleton on 1st August 1879.  As we can see the number 2 on its auxiliary tender, the engine would appear to be Cape 2nd-class No 2, a 2-6-2T+T as described by Frank Holland on page 24 of Volume I of "Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways".  

44. Almost 20 years later, EH Short passed through Middleton on his photographic odyssey.  It is much the same as in the first view above.  Compare this with the next photo.  

45. Another 70 years on found 12AR 2129 bringing 119-down, the daily Cradock-PE all-stations mixed, through Middleton on the new main line completed in May 1954 (see Bruno's map).  The hotel is still there as is the original station building, by this time converted into a Police Station (hence the Union flag).  On the inside of the curve, at a lower level is the trackless CGR alignment with its much sharper curve, now converted into a farm road (not the surfaced road disappearing over the hill in the left background - that's the N10).  Incidentally, the new station is not visible in this picture, it is situated about a mile north of old Middleton (clearly SAR weren't too worried about the potential for passenger business here).

46. Class 10 No 734 with 17-down T&P in May 1968.  Behind the train is the original CGR alignment replaced in May 1954 and on the left is Middleton's 
St Michael's and All Angel's Church built in 1903.  

47.  We had been following the Centenary Special all the way from PE and had stopped in the sylvan setting of Long Hope for another photo.  For some reason the train had been delayed and Justin, noticing that the SM seemed to be getting a little anxious, snapped this just as he came out for visual confirmation that the train still was not in sight.  Perhaps he was beginning to wonder if he had spent all that time trimming his beard, ironing his trousers and polishing his shoes in vain.   

48.  Checking his watch again, two minutes late and still no sign of the special - now he really was getting worried. 

49. At Long Hope, thirteen years earlier, we found 10 class 734 departing with 17-down T&P.  

50. Having crossed an up goods, these 15Fs were lugging their heavy load back onto the main line at Sun Valley in April 1968.  Sun Valley and Long Hope are only two miles apart but in the years before Act 74 of 1977 it was common to find both sidings clogged with traffic awaiting crossings.  

51. And so we arrive at Cookhouse, junction for East London, Kingwilliamstown and Somerset East.  Perhaps unwittingly, Short has left his trademark here (again!) - the open door of his carriage.  Either he would forget to close it or he needed to leave it open to get out the heavy 10"X 8" camera and tripod, not to mention the glass plates.   

52. That must be Short's train in the middle with its 7th class taking water.  Standing outside the shed is a nice clean CGR class 5, probably about to take a train down to East London.    

53. No prizes for guessing the staple traffic being shipped out of Cookhouse at this time: those are bales of wool loading at the goods shed siding.  The sign on the warehouse on the left reads "W M Schofield, Forwarding and Commission Agent".  These three photos are probably all that E H Short made at Cookhouse; after all, he was shooting on 10X8 glass plates.  Hard to imagine how many he would have taken had he lived to the digital age.  

54.  Another photo scanned off a print loaned by Leith.  This time the author's name was on the back but not much else so the following is guesswork.  Date: 1933 - 36 (before reboilering and there is still at least one varnished teak coach), place: Cookhouse, train: 435-down, engine number: 15B 1973.  The tender appears to be full which surely means that 1973 was about to take 435 on to Port Elizabeth, so it was interesting to find this evidence that the 15Bs once worked the whole main line.   

55. In SAR days Cookhouse was a busy junction requiring east and west yard shunts 24/7.  This class 11 was sorting wagons that earlier had come in from the East London line.  The west yard was used to make up northbound trains and the east yard was for southbound traffic.  Northbound traffic was always heavier so the west shunt employed bigger power while the east yard was shunting heaven for classes 6, 7 and 8 almost into the 1970s. The next eight photos were all taken in Cookhouse.  

56. Slightly in the wrong order here.  An 11 on the west shunt bashes away while a 15F on a down goods waits to follow the doubleheader in the next picture.  

57. A pair of 15Fs threading their way to the main line with a mixed load of ore and ballast.  The class 33 diesels had just brought in a PE-bound freight off the heavily-graded East London line and a 15F was already coupled onto it (see previous photo). April 1969.  

58. Cookhouse shed in SAR days was never very big, the most senior staff member being a chargehand fitter.  But most of the time it had a wide range of classes to serve the main line, the Somerset East branch and the east and west shunts.  In addition it entertained Cape Eastern engines off the East London line.  By the time this photo was made the shed had physically shrunk with one road (where the 15AR is standing) losing its roof.  But on 31st May 1968 there was a goodly selection on display; from the left: 8W (for the east shunt), 24 (for the Somerset East branch), 6th class (spare for the east shunt), 15F (for the main line), behind it a spare class 11 for the west shunt and I've already mentioned the 15AR.

59.  P A Hyde's redoubtable freight engine, class 11, was also 20 years ahead of its time and as effective in freight service as his class 10 was on passenger duties.  In their twilight years they saw out their SAR days on shunting and trip working, but they still had plenty of life in them when several were sold to gold and coal mines in the seventies, some achieving more than 90 years of service.  No 917 was on standby for the west shunts at Cookhouse in March 1960.  

60. Neilson, Reid & Co 6B 503 was carrying her age well in March 1960.  The class 6's, designed by H M Beatty of the CGR, were outstanding performers.  One can't improve on Frank Holland's eulogy on page 44 of Volume I of "Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways" so I won't even try.  

61.  SAR junctions were always interesting places and Cookhouse was no exception.  Wandering around between trains in March 1960, to my great surprise I saw this ex NGR Corridor Express day/sleeper saloon of around 1904 still in main-line service.  

62. Les travelled on 435-down, the Port Elizabeth Express, in the early fifties before 15Fs began arriving to ease the chronic heavy-power shortage on the Midland Main Line.  This was at Cookhouse with 12R 1954 and a 19D and it must have been enjoyable listening to the syncopated beat of a doubleheader with two different wheel diameters on the few adverse grades. 

63. In later years there were seldom opportunities to photograph two of P A Hyde's finest in one place and least expected, at Cookhouse, but here in March 1960 was 10 cl 734, newly transferred from Springs mpd, working 19-down T&P and we've already seen 11 cl 917 on shed on the same day.
As you can see, SAR's staff were like coiled springs full of energy, customer's needs uppermost in their minds.....  An American enthusiast told me that on any US railroad they would have been fired on the spot.  Perhaps that's one of the differences between a state-run railway and a private one. 

64. In January 1955 I rode by train from Cookhouse to Noupoort.  Fortunately most of the journey, including Cookhouse-Witmos-Dassiedeur and Sherborne-Carlton-Noupoort, was still on the CGR's original alignment.  After taking this portrait of 12A 1521 at Cookhouse, I asked the guard of the up goods train it was about to work whether I could ride to Cradock in his van, whereupon he volunteered to ask the driver if I could ride on the footplate.  The latter had no objection so soon I was embarked on one of the most memorable journeys imaginable.  

65. The late Alan Clarke ran several successful railtours for SAR/SATS in the late seventies and early eighties.  This was 12R 1505 on the Eastern Flier of April 1981 approaching Slagtersnek siding.  That's Wildehondkop (= Wild Dog Peak) in the background and the train is on a newly-opened curve easement completed in 1980.  

65a. The two previous locations at this point can be seen in the background, immediately to the right of the train (the original CGR formation is at a higher level).  

66. From Cookhouse it is a fairly constant slog all the way to Cradock.  It was not always so.  Before completion of the deviated main line in 1957 the gradient eased off considerably at Slagtersnek (its formation followed the line of the telegraph poles high above the cutting, on the right), and of course at Dassiedeur tunnel from where it was actually downhill at 1-in-40 for a coupla miles.  This cutting, which cut out about 50 feet of rise and fall, is at the summit of the first long bank out of Cookhouse, built to maintain the 1-in-80 compensated between Slagtersnek and Thorngrove. Engine loads, obviously, were adapted to the new ruling grade so they had to work just as hard.  

67. This is the northern approach to the summit cutting at Slagtersnek - in the down direction (from Thorngrove) it presented a short stretch of 1-in-100 against loaded trains, in this case a southbound consignment of power-station coal.

As we have mentioned before, the Afrikaans word "nek" translates literally as "neck" but in a geographical context it means "col" or saddle between two mountain peaks.  Slagtersnek is thus the saddle between Wildehondekop and Verraaierskop (Traitors Peak), the last named recalling a tragic incident in the history of the Afrikaner nation, one that is said to have been an initial spark that led to the Great Trek of 1838.  Very briefly, in 1815 a series of misunderstandings, very bad decisions and even worse actions by the colonial authorities resulted in the murder of two local farmers.  This caused 32 farmers to rise in what became known as "The Slagtersnek Rebellion", whereupon six of their number were eventually rounded up and completely unjustifiably hanged for treason.  

68. E H Short's special train posing for photos at Thorngrove in 1896. 
The CGR surveyors managed to avoid all crossings of the Great Fish River, with only one tunnel through a high ridge at Witmos.  The SAR, having spared no expense, opened their new alignment in 1956.  A glance at Bruno's map will show you that new Thorngrove is more than a mile away from here, on the opposite bank. In the 23 miles between Slagtersnek and Drennan there are seven substantial arch bridges and three tunnels necessitated by meanders of the Great Fish River.  

69. CGR's Klipfontein was quite cut off and its main function would have been purely operational.  That's the Great Fish River (!) on the left and there's not much room for anything but the railway between the river and the mountain.  Nowadays a fairly well-maintained unsurfaced road uses the old formation, providing access to several isolated farms along this stretch of the river.  

70.  This cutting would have been close to the vantage point used by Short for the previous picture.  Note the trade-mark open door on his special carriage.  

71.  At Witmoss (note the CGR's spelling!) the locomotives of all up trains stopped for a fire-clean and a drink.  This ritual continued until the new deviation was opened in September 1957, thus it is interesting to reflect that the old alignment was in use for almost 80 years, considerably more than the new one. 
On my footplate ride in 1955 we stopped here to perform these rites.  We had been on the road for more than an hour since leaving Cookhouse and, surprisingly, had not crossed a single train.  So I was taken by surprise when a doubleheader came rolling in from the north with a combination I had never seen before, nor since: 12AR piloting a 12R.  Caught off guard I managed to fluff what would have been a very interesting photo showing classes 12A and 12AR+12R involved in a crossing. 
Chagrin was soon forgotten, for right from the trailing points at Witmos we were faced with the 1-in-40 uncompensated climb to Dassiedeur tunnel.  The distance was only four miles but it took > 30 minutes to get there.   On the the final horseshoe before the summit we slowed to walking pace - guards van almost parallel to the engine but moving in the opposite direction. Our guard was a bit of a wag and I vividly remember him out on the ballast pretending to bank our train as we crawled around the horseshoe.  In the cutting before the tunnel mouth the fireman dunked his towel in a pail, squeezed it out and offered it to me to put around my face.  I stupidly said "No thanks, you use it".  At that we entered the tunnel, and I immediately regretted not having any protection, it truly seemed as if the end was nigh.  As the last bit of oxygen ran out I suddenly felt a blast of cool air - we had reached the summit, the driver had shut off and put his engine into full forward gear.  At last we were drifting down the other side.  

72. The summit tunnel is barely 300 yards ahead of this 12A battling up the hill with 26-up c 1940.  

73. Chris Jeffery and I explored the tunnel and its approaches in 2012.  This is how the southern portal looked and you could still drive through it.  The change in gradient from 1-in-40 up to 1-in-40 down is noticeable.  

74. The northern portal as it looked in 2012.  That's Chris giving some scale to the place.  

75. A wide-angle view of the riparian lands along the Great Fish River that greeted passengers almost immediately after leaving the tunnel.  Actually, they would not have seen much agricultural activity.  Those rich pastures only became possible after completion of the Orange-Fish tunnel and its associated dams and irrigation canals in the mid 1970s. 
The deviated railway runs diagonally across the picture along the tree-lined left bank in the far distance.  The old line descended from the tunnel at 1-in-40 around several 5-chain reverse curves - I remember being quite nervous as we swayed around those tight corners but the crew's only concern seemed to be to finish their shift in Cradock as quickly as possible.   

76. Dassiedeur siding was not quite at the bottom of the bank on the Cradock side.  In the background of this excellent EH Short photo showing his 7th class and train posing for yet another exposure, you can see the line snaking up the side of the hill towards the tunnel.  Just off the left-hand edge of the picture is where we took the previous picture.  

77. As previously mentioned, between Slagtersnek and Drennan the new alignment was generally quite far from the old - more than 2 miles at Nelland siding.  This was the Eastern Flyer crossing the bridge between new Klipfontein and Witmos.  

78. Southbound doubleheaded 15Fs leaving new Witmos in May 1968.  

79. The first of many farewell to steam railtours over the next decade, this was the "Sunset Limited" of 1979 coming through new Witmos with 12A 1547, one of Alec Watson's pet engines at De Aar. On the far side of the Great Fish River the station buildings of old Witmos, now converted into civilian dwellings, are visible above the engine; right of the refrigerator truck you can see the formation of the old line heading for Dassiedeur tunnel.    

80. Only reason for the bridge just north of Witmos to be mentioned in the same breath as Landwasser Viaduct on the Rhaetian is they both emerge from tunnels straight onto viaducts. The similarity, alas, ends there.  But it was nice to be able to photograph real steam on this one almost to the end of the sixties.  It was unusual to find the Great Fish River (!) with more than a trickle of brackish water - in fact it was scarcely great, there weren't many fish in it and it was hardly a river but I suppose to thirsty Boers trekking through the Karoo it must have looked like the Rhine.  

81. A northbound goods approaching new Dassiedeur tunnel in May 1968.  

82. Fast forward to 1981 when the Cradock Centenary Special was homeward bound.  By this time the Orange-Fish tunnel had been opened and a new dam built a mile or two upstream that ensured a constant flow of sweet water for riparian landowners.   No apologies for including three views of this bridge, I liked it very much.    

83. There was a short sharp bank after Mortimer up to Limebank halt, from where the line was practically in level territory for the final 12 miles into Cradock.  Note the masonry-mounted overhead tank.  In its determination to ensure that its engines did not run out of water the CGR erected one of these about every 20 miles.  

84.  Old Mortimer as seen by EH Short (lucky blighter) on his 1896 official trip up the main line.  For once he has given us a better view of the trusty 7th, still quite new, that hauled his train and as we have come to expect, the station staff are immaculately turned out.  Observe the Road Service in the form of an oxwagon for freight and Cape cart for passengers.  

85. Cradock station as it looked soon after its opening in June 1881.  Although the town is out of sight to the right, it is nevertheless astonishing that the station precinct was so spartan. Note the large masonry engine shed.  The CGR was such a penny pincher it is surprising that they built these substantial structures at almost every junction and engine-changing point. By the way, this is not an EH Short photo, although the library doesn't give credit to any individual. 
Also of interest is the preponderance of the prickly pear invader plant. Prickly pear was probably introduced into the south-western Cape via India by the Dutch East India Company.  It was only after its introduction to the warmer eastern Cape in approximately 1750 that it reached pest status.  It  is now successfully controlled by the prickly pear cochineal and the prickly pear moth (Plant Invaders 3rd ed. 1983, 112-4).  (Thank you Chris.) 

86.  By the time EH Short got there 15 years later, Cradock station was looking decidedly more homely.  Note the similarity between the main building and the one at Alicedale.  Whether the architect of these attractive buildings was Mr Bisset of Cape Town or Mr Sherwood of Port Elizabeth is not known but we will continue to research this intriguing conundrum.  

87. When Cradock's stone loco shed was replaced by SAR's utilitarian "run-through" model is not known but by mid 1968, with steam scheduled to be replaced within the next 12 months, it was clear that the authorities had given up on it.  Nevertheless, when we went there in June it was still just about as busy as it had ever been.  Those derailed cocopans had been used at one time to convey coal from stockpile to coaling platform.  There was no impressive coaling stage here.  

88. The freight F's at Cradock worked an interesting diagram.  The cycle would start with a northbound working to Noupoort, then back down the mainline as far as Cookhouse then back to Noupoort and so on.  Remanning was done at Cradock and the engines would come in for washout after a three week cycle unless repairs were needed before then.  Towards the end this method was put to severe test by the introduction of low-grade coal in the late sixties.  This F had brought from Noupoort a load of locomotive coal for PE and would haul it to Cookhouse where a Sydenham engine would take over.  Only the footplate crew were changed here - they, and the engine, would work a round trip to Cookhouse.  When exactly Cradock began painting the four-star motif on its engine's smokeboxes is not known.  Note the hostler bringing bottles of lub oil, Marfak guns and other paraphernalia to the driver busy greasing round.  

89. Having dropped off 3 loads for Cradock the same train as in photo 86 departed ahead of a diesel-hauled block-ore with its cl 33s stopped for crew changing.  We were surprised that Operating allowed steam out ahead of the diesel, but the way that F blasted out of town gave the impression its crew were intent on keeping it that way - at least as far as Cookhouse.   

90. And so we bid farewell to the down block coal (it looks like good quality stuff by the way).  From here we'll turn around and head northwards again, dallying for a while in Cradock. But that's for the next chapter....

 In the next part we'll present the section from Cradock to De Aar.