Soul of A Railway ©‎ > ‎System 3‎ > ‎

Part 15 - Bethesda Road to Rosmead: Lootsberg Pass by Charlie 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 compilers of this series, Les Pivnic and Charlie Lewis. 

In alphabetical order, thank yous to Eric Conradie, Talla Crouse (erstwhile Station Forman at Bethesda Road for details of the accident at Barendskraal), Andrew Deacon, (layout man and general watchdog), Graaff-Reinet museum (for the extract from the Graaff-Reinet Advertiser), Johannes Haarhoff, Geoff Hall, Greg Hart (for scans of the late Brian Couzens' photographs), Chris Jeffery (language monitor), Robert Kingwill, Anthony Lambert (custodian of the photographs of the late J B Snell, via Peter Lemmey), Robert Maidment-Wilson, Dick Manton, Bruno Martin (for the outstanding maps and diagrams), Yolanda Meyer (Transnet Heritage Library who has done much research for SoAR)Les Pivnic, David Rodgers.


It is difficult to capture railways-effects in words. You can see some poetic attempts by Rudyard Kipling among others in Lawrence Wright's excellent anthology 'Stimela'.  I shall do my best in prose and photographs which endeavour to tell you how much and why I, and many others, loved the line over the Lootsberg: imagine a giant amphitheatre of scrubby slopes and rock-strewn gullies reaching for the peaks of the Sneeuberg underneath an infinitely huge sky.  This is a landscape usually silent (except for the the wind) but the following pages describe a time when it was periodically invaded by the loud noises of wailing flanges, creaking carriages, banging couplings and, with a lilt entirely their own (rather like the difference between an English accent and a Saffa one), the characteristic exhaust beats of two 19Bs, very loud then soft and loud again, curving in and out of view, plunging into cuttings before reappearing with a triumphant crescendo as they breast the summit, whereupon the noises withered away until there's only the wind. These times are gone forever, thus this narrative and its photographs describe "a moment of lastness".

The line over Lootsberg was the second last of SAR's great mountain passes to use steam (Montagu Pass went completely diesel less than six months later).  A secondary trunk route which connected the southern Cape and the Little Karoo, i.e. Mossel Bay, Knysna, George and Oudtshoorn, to the Transvaal, it only succumbed to the diesel in 1979 and then only for 15 years before the route was closed.  Although it was re-opened (at great expense) in 2016 it has only been used by two trains since then and its future must surely remain uncertain.

Below is Bruno's enlargement of the mountain section from Bethesda Road to Rooihoogte:

The gradient profile tells us the climb to the summit at Lootsberg begins practically at Bethesda Road's trailing points - an easy 1-in-80 up to Blouwater and 1-in-40/45 thereafter.

1. Bethesda Road is conveniently about half way between Graaff-Reinet and Rosmead.  Strangely, even though it was a turn around point for engines of the daily pick-ups, there was no locomotive water here, the supplies at Koloniesplaas and Blouwater being used instead.  This Rosmead-based Garratt had just worked 367-down T&P over the pass and handed its load to a Graaff-Reinet engine before picking up its opposite number.

2. Because of their flexible schedules, the up and down T&Ps, 366 and 367, swapped engines at Bethesda Road. This was popular with crews because it meant they could sleep at home. After having turned, its fire cleaned and coal trimmed, Rosmead-based 19B 1411 was backing onto 366-up in October 1973.  Note the altitude on the nameboard - 4582ft.  Still another 1100ft of climbing to the summit.

3. On 31 May 1969 at Bethesda Road, 366-up was waiting on the main line while the station foreman was admitting 375-down into the loop with 19D 3333 working through to home base at Klipplaat.  From this vantage point you can clearly see the summit at Lootsberg - it is the dark saddle directly above the cab of 3333. Re 366-up: some three weeks earlier I had phoned Mr Harris, Loco Foreman at Rosmead to inquire about the schedule of the Graaff-Reinet shunter's washout turns.  Since the shunter was invariably a 6th class and it usually piloted a regular train to and from Rosmead it seemed like a good way of getting one of these venerable machines out on the road.

It was a big disappointment to hear that the Graaff-Reinet shunting turns had been discontinued as from 1st April 1969 (after 40 years!) and henceforth all shunting at Graaff-Reinet would be done by the off-duty road engines.  "Not to worry", said Mr Harris: "these engines were usually ferried on 367-down and 366-up, the T&Ps, so we'll just do a fake one for you with the spare Rosmead shunter - when did you say you wanted to come?".  When the day arrived the weather was mixed but this didn't spoil a memorable chase out and back from Rosmead with Belpaire 6A 454.  Here she is piloting 24 cl 3604 (which had come up from Graaff-Reinet), about to depart from Bethesda Road on the return journey. 

4. Domeless 19D 2705 on 366-up T&P departing from Bethesda Road in July 1976. The layout here was rudimentary, consisting of a passing loop, a siding with goods shed and a triangle. There were also houses for the SM, his foreman and the goods clerk. They could hardly be more isolated. Normally the place was utterly silent but when an up train left and the prevailing north wind was gentle you could hear its engine/s toiling all the way to the summit more than an hour away.

5. Three-engine trains would have been rare on the Lootsberg.  In fact this one, the "Sunset Limited" of April 1979, here a mile out of Bethesda Road, was the only one I ever saw.  Class 24 No 3617 was leading 19D 3332 with 19D 2672 banking.  Not sure what the driver (fireman?) on the running board is doing but it could be he is just polishing 3617's boiler.

6. If you ever doubted that Rovos Rail are sometimes blessed with good fortune here is visual proof that they are, even though on this occasion the engine was struggling. 

The frustrations of operating steam railtours in the modern era are graphically described by Les: 
"In April 1990, I had the pleasure of being invited to participate in the first exploratory Rovos Rail trip from Pretoria to Cape Town.  Up until this time, Rovos was operating mainly to Graskop in the Eastern Transvaal.  Our motive power was the Rovos-owned class 19D 2702 named BIANCA.  We travelled down to Cape Town via Kimberley and spent a couple of days in the Mother City operating an excursion to Simonstown as well as another to Franschhoek.  We were booked to return from the Cape via the Garden Route calling at Knysna and George and then heading home up Montague Pass, through Oudtshoorn, Klipplaat, Graaff-Reinet and up Lootsberg to Middelburg – then Rosmead and Bloemfontein.  However, BIANCA was given very poor coal in the Cape and this led to steaming problems which resulted in calling for diesel assistance on several occasions on the way home.  We battled on Lootsberg on the 11th of April 1990 as well and this photo was taken just before we failed again due to the coal problem.  Finally at Bloemfontein, Rohan Vos asked me to arrange with Operating to get electric assistance from there all the way back to Pretoria.  This was duly done and we arrived in the Capital rather later than we had anticipated but it was not BIANCA’s fault – give an engine lousy food and she won’t feel like working and she didn’t!"

7. Almost twenty years earlier, 19B 1412 was having no problem powering 300 tons of 372-up goods up the mountain.  If anyone had said that nearly 50 years later this same engine would take me from Mossel Bay to Ceres (and without a hint of trouble) I would have said they were cuckoo.  She has been acquired by Derick du Toit, owner/operator of Ceres Rail, who have been successfully operating steam railtours and diesel fruit trains out of Ceres since last year's fruit season.  

You can book your trip here (highly recommended).  Be forewarned, the trips are well organised and popular, you have to book weeks in advance.

8. At Blouwater in February 1974, 19B 1407 with 373-down was in the siding for 19B 1402 on 372-up whose visible loads consist of a parcels van, a wagon of creosoted telegraph poles and a mechanical refrigerator from Table Top's private siding* at George containing frozen vegetables destined for Reef supermarkets. 

* now tarred over. 

9. The same 1300-up featured in Part 14: 24 No 3662 + 19B 1402, taking water at Blouwater with an unknown 19B taking siding with 391-down Sundays only goods to Graaff-Reinet. 

10. With sky becoming increasingly overcast we followed 454 and 3604 all the way back to Rosmead.  At Blouwater we had some luck.  366 arrived under a big cloud but two wagons of livestock from Mr Kingwill's farm had to be picked up.  During the 15 minutes of shunting the cloud moved on and covered the hill in the background, which allowed this curve to be bathed in magnificent light.  On the right horizon is Nardousberg, almost 8,000ft, at the eastern extremity of the Sneeuberg.
That stone culvert marks the start of the final pitch to Lootsberg, seven miles long at a constant 1-in-40/45, easing slightly on the many 5-chain reverse curves.  It was here that driver Piet Strauss took over the shovel during my footplate trip in 1969. 

11. At not much better than walking pace a pair of unrebuilt 8th class was pulling hard around the same curve out of Blouwater, possibly with 88-up, forerunner of 1300, c 1925.  The solid rake of Hendrie balcony day/sleepers was preceded by a bogie cattle wagon, two 4-wheel reefers (one short and one medium wheelbase) and a 4-wheel feeder tank similar to the ones in Part 14 (17). Three balconies were occupied by enthusiasts ... sorry, I mean passengers, and almost all the windows were open with many leaning out to take in the action. Come to think of it, this could have been an early "Round-in-Nine" tour with a supply of fresh meat in the cattle truck, fresh provisions in the reefers and beer in the tank wagon....... 

Please ignore the "THL" in the left hand corner.  This wonderful photo was provided by Allen Duff from his collection of historical photographs.  It was given to him by Ray Cairncross who died in his 90s last year.  The photo was taken by his father.  

In a previous chapter of Soul of A Railway we mentioned how SAR's policy of placing short trucks at the rear of main line trains led to countless millions being spent on marshalling yards throughout the country.  Peter Stow has finally tracked down the incident that caused the new rule:
"The use of short and bogie goods wagons on passenger and mixed trains is an interesting one. It is presumed that this picture was taken before 8 September 1938 because on this date train 88 hauled by Class 8 1090 hauling six saloons, one RX van number 2198 and trailing one 4- wheeled P-type truck (wagon in todays parlance) had a derailment between Graaff-Reinet and Rosmead.  It was the single short fish wagon marshalled at the rear of the train which had derailed. As a result it was decided to no longer attach the fish wagon to this particular train. This was quite a decision given that railways at this time the world over were often accused of giving priority to dead fish over first class passengers. Earlier in the year, following a derailment on 4 June 1938 near Ingogo of mixed train 247 from Volksrust to Durban hauled by class 1E’s 66 and 62 with 12 short and 2 bogie wagons and 5 passenger vehicles, the marshalling of short wagons on main line passenger and mixed trains was prohibited, although especially in terms of mixed trains this appears to have been left very much to the discretion of the local System Managers Office.

This ruling did not have anything to do with the marshalling of shorts and bogie wagons on goods trains". 

Peter's very interesting note seems to indicate that the Midland region, at least, disregarded this policy - see photo 12 in System 3, Part 13. 

12. 19B 1402 working 362-up goods on the 1-in-40/45 northwards out of Blouwater in October 1969.

13. A mile after Blouwater the line curves away from the main range, following the fledgling Sundays river up a side valley before rounding a wide horseshoe known locally as "Swartvark" (= "Black Pig") in order to gain altitude.  Since Blouwater we have been rising at 1-in-40/45. 

14.  Same spot, different engine, this time class leader GMA 4051 blasting up the grade (I lie. It was actually posing stationary for the photographers and we had asked for some smoke - hence the blowing off). 

15. 19Bs 1401+1403 coming around Swartvark in February 1968. A glance at Bruno's map will show you that moments after travelling due west this train, No 372-up goods, was on an easterly course, having rounded the horseshoe described above.   

16. An illustration from Dave's highly recommended "Southern African Reminiscences" Volume I showing 19Ds 2643+2704 coming out of Swartvark with 1300-up on 1 August 1975. 

17. See also picture 5.  The sparkling engines of the "Sunset Limited" railtour on Swartvark.

18. My father on the balcony of 1300-up in July 1962, enjoying the show.  Lifting their exhausts high, those 19Bs were clearly in the company notch. 

19. GMA 4051 on the same train depicted in photo 14. Even chimney-first, the GMAs weren't the most attractive SAR garratts, their lines spoilt by the ridiculously small front tank and the permanently-coupled feeder tank.  In design details they were good machines, with mechanical stokers, Commonwealth one-piece beds, roller-bearing axleboxes, mechanical lubrication throughout and self-adjusting pivots to name a few.  But as traffic machines they were hopeless, undoubtedly being a root cause of rapid main-line dieselisation in the sixties.  SAR had specified 15-ton axleloads meant for 60lb rails, a standard that was never needed in their entire careers. In order to keep the axle-load down bunker and tank capacity were restricted to 11 tons and 1650 gallons respectively. Whoever took the decision to specify the route availability is not known, but in the event the GMAs spent their lives running on track that could take 18 tons or more - the extra fuel and water capacity thus created would have made them much more useful and possibly prolonged their careers in the same way as the EAR class 59 Garratts which had 21-ton axle-loads.

20. A 19B on 372-up goods approaching the cutting that gives access to the final approach to the summit, from where the views are spacious and not recommended for anyone afraid of heights.   Note the tidy track, a feature that ended with mechanisation of track maintenance along this route in the late 1970s. 

21. The same cutting mentioned above, with 1300-up about to emerge onto the shelf overlooking the Sundays River headwaters.  Can you see the driver (fireman?) polishing his regular engine, 19BR 1410 while in charge of a passenger train?!  Health and Safety would not approve - these days we're not even allowed to stand on the balconies.

22. A Klipplaat 19D has just come through the cutting with 360-up, an important train normally worked by Klipplaat engines.  This is the note in the WTB: "Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays conveys saloon of passengers for De Aar arriving on Train No 10 at Klipplaat, and must be expedited. Connects with No 322 at Klipplaat for livestock and perishable traffic for destinations north of Graaff-Reinet". Given the absence of a "saloon of passengers" this must have been a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or most likely, a Saturday. 

23. The solitary 19BR 1410 rounding the 5-chain radius checkrailed curve leading into the final winding stretch up the escarpment to Lootsberg. February 1968. 

24. 1300-up headed by 19Bs 1412+1403 rounding the same tight curve that leads into the final pitch to the summit in February 1968.  Imagine watching and listening to this, with no other sound to spoil it.

25. 19D 2714+12R 1505 leading the Cape Venturer railtour up the last mile to Lootsberg summit, April 1986. 

26. This is ridiculous I know; this photo somehow conjures up visions of a wildly hirsute version of Lenin on the train from Zurich to Petrograd.  There must have been a connection somewhere because this chap was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "A luta continua" long before it was officially adopted by Frelimo, the Mozambican freedom movement, in the 1970s. Also, it was obviously before the apartheid stasi cottoned on, otherwise it is doubtful whether he would have been wearing it. The locomotives were 19Bs 1410 & 1413 and the train is the same one depicted in photos 14 and 17 above. July 1962. 

27. A pair of 19Bs with 1300-up on the second of the four tight reverse curves leading up to the summit, April 1968. Far below, the original main road over the pass can be spotted coming in from the right.  It was replaced by the second road pass in the 1940s (see map) but then brought back into use in 1957/58 while the new route was tarred. 

28. An illustration from John Snell's last masterwork "Mixed Gauges"; a magical selection of his own photographs with captions and text (including the usual Snellian humour) gathered from his global travels. This one goes well with John's description of a journey on 1300-up, the Mossel Bay - Johannesburg express in October 1969.  Imagine sitting in that dining car having lunch while a pair of 19Bs toiled noisily up front. 

29. Doubleheaded 372-up goods with 19Bs 1404 leading 1412 on the last curve before Lootsberg.  That's the old road, now clearly visible and well known to railway photographers.  Just above where it disappears around the hill you can see the dead-end siding leading off the main line at the summit.  It was used for crossing trains, an awkward manoeuvre (see Bruno's large-scale map of the summit layout below). 

30. This is the same No 362-up shown departing from Koloniesplaas in Part 14.  The locomotives are 19Bs 1408+1404 and to my shame I had tuned the firemen for a bit of smoke as the train rounded the curve only a coupla hundred yards before the summit (sorry Les).  Note the checkrailed 5-chain radius curve.  On the RSSA's excursion in August 1982, 15AR 1798 loudly objected to being forced around these tight curves. 

31. The same train depicted in photos 1 and 10 above the high dressed-stone retaining wall about 200 yards before the summit.  Old 454 gave no trouble at all on the way up. 

32.  The summit at last. The train was a late-running 360-up with the through Klipplaat-De Aar coach in its consist.  Note the warning sign at the start of the downgrade!  Facing this way, 240 miles 75 chains is a mile or so on the Bethesda Road side of Blouwater i.e. nine miles from here.

The level dead-end at the bottom of the diagram is the one you can see on the mountainside in photos 25 and 33.  The procedure for crossings was that down trains would take the level dead-end and when the up train had passed it would reverse onto the triangle (the left-hand leg of which was also level), before heading on its way.  Up trains that got here first would go into the triangle and once the crossing had been completed it would reverse into the level dead-end before heading northwards again.  1305-down, the Mossel Bay express, was scheduled to cross 366-up T&P here and on occasions when 366 was running late this would cause real consternation as the passenger train would have to complete the shunting moves described for down trains above.  This happened once when I was stationed at PE.  I was called out to a derailment of 1305 at the summit, caused by an over-eager guard who threw the tumbler while the train was passing over the points.  Little damage but plenty of embarrassment. 

33. 19B 1413+19D 2649 arriving at Lootsberg with 372-up conveying permanently-coupled empty rail wagons in July 1975.  Note that the big warning board shown in the previous photo has gone, replaced by a simplified metricated one showing a 40 kmh speed restriction to km 113.2 (after metrication in 1971 it was measured from Rosmead). 

Some of the length gang's paraphernalia is scattered around: on the left edge is a push trolley and drums of grease for the track lubricators while on the right are a few spare wooden sleepers and some small steel frames, known as "birdcages", used for temporarily propping up bridges that had been damaged by floods.  

34.  369-down goods crossing 362-up at Lootsberg.  369, facing due south, is on the "level dead-end" and on this day consisted of an engine feeder tank and several DZs loaded with sleepers, chairs and other track materials that were to be offloaded on the pass.  Although crossings at the summit were a daily occurrence this is the only photo I ever made of one, and considering how much better it could have been just by adopting a higher vantage point, it doesn't deserve to be here.  

35. Late afternoon crossing at Jagpoort in May 1969 with 375-down goods on the left and its guard exchanging orders with the crew of 372-up on the right.  The guard of 372-up will also receive a copy. 

36. GMA 4068 on a late-running 367-down T&P (due to the earlier failure of its booked engine No 4057 at Middelburg) crossing 19D 2705 on 366-up T&P at Jagpoort* in July 1976. 

* These trains normally crossed at Bethesda Road.

37. A chartered freight run in 2001 produced this wonderful impression of a northbound "goods" leaving Jagpoort.  Probably the last such photo ever taken here - real or imagined. 

38. The 19Bs of 1300-up starting up the short stretch of 1-in-80 between Jagpoort and Rooihoogte in July 1971. 

39. Between Lootsberg and Rosmead the only adverse grade of any significance is a mile of 1-in-80 beginning at this culvert between Jagpoort and Rooihoogte. 

40. 19D 2705 coming through Rooihoogte on 10th July 1976, five days after the worst tragedy to befall the tiny, close-knit railway community of Rosmead.  

41. At Rooihoogte on Sunday, 4th July 1976, a few of us took the last photo of a train being worked by Driver Piet Strauss.  It shows a very late running 1305-dn, the Mossel Bay express. The extent of its lateness can be gauged by the fact that GMA 4053 on 366-up T&P, which 1305 was supposed to cross at Jagpoort, can be seen blowing off in the background.  I spoke to Driver Strauss when his train got to Jagpoort.  He said the time had all been lost since they left Rosmead, GMA 4059 was steaming badly as the coal wouldn't burn and they were having a nightmare trip. His fireman, P. Els, was battling with pricker and rake to clear a firebox clogged with clinker.  By the time 1305 was ready to resume its journey it was dark; it had taken more than an hour to get the fire back into shape and build up enough steam to resume the climb to Lootsberg summit.

It was the last time we saw Driver Strauss or Fireman Els. 

42. Readers attuned to what is going on here will have noticed that we have reversed direction; instead of continuing towards Rosmead, we are suddenly heading back to Graaff-Reinet. This is the penultimate photo of 1305-down being worked by driver Strauss and fireman Els, included because the location is little more than 100 yards from where they met their untimely end less than 12 hours later. 

A crucial factor was that being a Sunday, both Rooihoogte and Middelburg were closed.  At 00:30 the following morning the station foreman at Bethesda Road issued the crew of 376-up goods (supposed to be 21:00 off Graaff-Reinet but running late because of the delays on the down run of 1305) the usual order for this train to proceed to Dwarsvlei to cross 371-down goods which was scheduled to leave Rosmead at 01:00. Only one problem: 376-up was running 35 minutes late and the foreman at Rosmead had earlier decided to alter the crossing point to Rooihoogte.  He had informed the foreman at Bethesda Road who promptly forgot and wrote out the order for the normal crossing at Dwarsvlei. 

43.  We had left Jagpoort with Driver Strauss and Fireman Els still battling to get their fire into shape.  Sitting in my office the next morning the phone rang with the dreadful news of their demise in a head-on crash near Barendskraal.  The following Saturday I went back to where the accident had happened.  The engines had met in a vertical-sided rock cutting, (see next picture), the only place between Rooihoogte and Rosmead where the engine's headlights could not have given a forewarning of catastrophe.  Reinhard Serchinger calls it the irony of fate. 

44. As might well be imagined, the instant loss of two of its GMAs created a motive-power crisis in Rosmead.  As a stop-gap four 19Ds were drafted in, including No 3332 above, from Klipplaat, its torpedo tender being temporarily replaced with a type MP which was 20 tons lighter, thus giving more payload over the mountain.  That's Tollie Nel at the throttle cautiously bringing 375-down over the repaired track through the wreckage of GMA 4059. 

Allen Duff arrived at the scene early on the Monday morning and has sent us this note:
"With an off-duty shunter from Noupoort, I arrived at the scene on the morning of the accident. The bodies had been removed an hour or so earlier. Saw the SAR detectives drinking coffee, but didn’t immediately approach them. Worked my way round the other side taking photos. There a black constable approached me. “Die baas soek jou” [The boss wants you]. They wanted to confiscate my camera, but upon my pleading said OK, but destroy the film. “Want môre verskyn jou foto in ‘n koerant met die opskrif : ANC verwoes treine” [because tomorrow your photo (will) appear in a newspaper with the headline "ANC destroys trains"]. They caught me rather by surprise as I had always in the past talked my way out of being where I shouldn’t have been without permission.

The next day I was at De Aar shed where Alec Watson told me that one of the Garratts involved in the accident [GMA 4064] had just come out of Salt River after an overhaul and I should have told the Blompotte that the photos were for him [Alec]!"

45.  Happier times, at Middelburg in June 1968 19B 1402 + 19BR 1410 with 362-up crossing 24 cl 3617 with 367-down T&P. 

46. Class 24 No 3700 with 360-up drawing away from Middelburg on the last lap to Rosmead in June 1975.  360-up was classified "goods" but three times/week it really was a "mixed", as you can see by the previously mentioned through coach from Klipplaat to De Aar in its consist.  Travel in it in winter could not have been much fun.  Although footwarmers were provided at Klipplaat and Rosmead they wouldn't have been too effective during the small hours or while coming over the Lootsberg at dawn when temperatures would be nudging -15°C. 

Peter Stow, who was for many years the engineer in charge of all carriage affairs, including new acquisitions, repairs and maintenance, has sent this information concerning footwarmers:

"I think what is mentioned below would apply to our railway as well: 

Before railway carriage heating was introduced, McLaren patent foot warmers were placed on the floor of New South Wales government railway carriages from 1891 to provide a little passenger comfort. The rectangular steel container worked a bit like a hot water bottle but instead of water contained six and a half kilograms of loosely-packed salt crystals, (concentrated crystalline hydrated sodium acetate). This was permanently sealed  inside the container with a soldered cap. 

After the foot warmer was heated in vat of boiling water for about one and a quarter hours the crystals became a hot liquid. (The melting point for sodium acetate is 58 degrees). There was a whole infrastructure of special furnaces set up at stations for the daily heating of foot warmers. By 1914 the Victorian railways had 4,000 foot warmers in service and by 1935 there were 33 furnaces at principal stations to heat them.

After about 10 hours the container was picked up by the handle and given a good vertical shake which helped the cooled liquid reform into a solid mass of hot crystals. Staff or sometimes passengers shook them en route when the foot warmers began to get cold. However, as they were heavy this was only possible by fit and agile passengers. At the end of the journey the containers were boiled again for reuse on the next trip. 

Sodium acetate railway foot warmers were introduced in Victoria in 1889, Adelaide to Melbourne express in 1899. "Shaking up" on this service took place at Murray Bridge and Stawell on the tip to Melbourne and at Ballarat and Serviceton on the trip to Adelaide. The use of foot warmers began to decline in New South Wales from the 1930s with the first trial of carriage air-conditioning in 1936, steam heating from 1948 ad LP gas heating from 1961. By the early 1960s the main services using foot warmers were the overnight mail trains. 

It is thought that the last foot warmer heating plant to be built in Australia was at Canberra railway station in 1963. It was probably unique in that it was electrically-heated rather coal and coke-fired. Foot warmers finished being used in New South Wales in 1982 and the heating plants at Canberra, Glen Innes, Grafton, Junee, Moree, Parkes and Sydney Central stations were in use until the end. An excellent example still survives at Tumut. 

This foot warmer is an item of railway ephemera which relates to an aspect of the social and technological history of rail travel in New South Wales from the late 19th century to the second half of the 20th century. It is a tangible reminder of country and interstate rail travel prior to the introduction of heating and air-conditioning to our trains. 

Sodium acetate or hot ice is still used today (2012) in heat packs for foot and hand warmers. 


Banger, Chris, Foot warmers on Australian Government Railways (with an emphasis on South Australia and Victoria) in ARHS Bulletin, April 2000, pp.123-137

Simmons, Jack, The railways of retain: An Historical Introduction, Macmillan, London, 1968, p.145."

47. Generally we try to avoid posting railtours in these columns, but the "Sunset Limited" was so grand and dignified coming into Rosmead in April 1979 I couldn't resist the temptation of showing you all how it looked. 

48. Generally we try to avoid posting railtours in these columns, but...... OK, OK.  This is class leader 34-001 + 34-051 about to take over the "Union Limited" from 19B 1412 + GMA 4122 at Rosmead in August 2001.  At least we have the regulatory diesel photo out of the way. 

49. Steam over the Lootsberg ended in July 1979 but engines off the Stormberg run continued to call here until the mid-eighties. Before that Rosmead was like a beehive, as you can see from Dick's 1976 view of the north (station) end of the shed.  Apart from a brief reversion to non-articulated power after the collision in July, 1976 was the changeover year from rod engines to Garratts.  Although the traditional Rosmead shunting classes 6 and 11 had gone, one could find classes GMA, 15AR, 19D and 24 moving in and out, around the clock, seven days/week. When the diesels (and electrics) finally took over, the community of Rosmead comprehensively passed away and Middelburg was almost done for as well. 

50. A year before the Garratts arrived the shed was even busier with that many more locomotives and trains to service.  The arrangements for coaling engines and ash disposal were quite effective although labour intensive.  Note how the empty coal wagons could be shunted into position alongside the ashpit.  The narrow-gauge track in the left foreground is a pushbahn for cocopans between the locomotive coal staging sidings and the bridge over the tracks on the left.  

51.  Garratts being prepared for the mountain while a 15AR just visiting from Burgersdorp sits awaiting its booked turn on the Cape Eastern System's 445-down T&P to Stormberg. 

52. Probably on the last occasion that non-articulated power was assigned to the Mossel Bay express, 19Ds 2672 and 3340 ready to move off shed in July 1978. 

53. Old locomotive depots were full of surprises and contrivances.  This was the home-made lighting-up furnace at Rosmead.  Kept burning 24/7 the well-alight coals would be piled into the wheelbarrow and taken to an engine to have its fire started. 

54. Knee-deep in the romance of steam.  The ashpit at Rosmead c 1978. 

55. The coaling arrangements were even more primitive, being a function of cocopans, muscle-power and sweat. 

56. Thanks Dick.  How romantic.......... 

57.  19Ds 2672 and 3340 backing onto 1305-down, the Mossel Bay express.  Notwithstanding the leaking regulator gland, Dave informs us that 3340 was ex Bloemfontein Works and was working back to her home shed at Klipplaat. 

58. The 19Bs 1412+1409 are coupled up and ready to go with a completely clerestory 1305 as late as 1969.  Peter was lucky enough to catch a footplate ride on 1409 from Koloniesplaas.

59. On a murky morning in October 1961 this class 24 piloted a 19B on 369-down, the 07:00 goods to Graaff-Reinet.


60. The lower advance starter is off, indicating the points are set for the Klipplaat road.  Making a definite impression on the passengers and probably trying to impress their womenfolk as well (they all lived right alongside the yard), the Rosmead crews had their 19Bs wide open and loud as we lurched away from the main line.  July 1962. 

61. Sending the Graaff-Reinet shunter back from its washout in Rosmead on regular-scheduled trains was a longstanding tradition.  The Belpaire 6th class and a 19B (numbers unknown) were working a heavy-looking 369-down in January 1955.  This time the smoke was not by arrangement and neither was the working.  

The three starter signals are interesting.  The top one obviously is for the main line to Cradock and PE, the second one is for the Klipplaat line and the lowest one is for the cross-country line to Stormberg Junction on the Cape Eastern. By 1962 the Stormberg line had been re-aligned to come into the down platform on its own track, hence only two starters in photo 68.

That's all for now folks.  After visits to the Natal Main Lines out of Durban we'll retrace our steps to Bethesda Road in autumn and winter.