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Part 4: Loerie - Assegaaibos ©

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As mentioned in the last chapter, I had intended to include the transcript of the meeting at Humansdorp in October 1985, called by the Kouga Regional Development Board Chairman, Mr Pieter van der Watt, to discuss the future of the narrow gauge after Dr Coetzee's disastrous decision to close it.  However, despite having shortened the English translation considerably it is still too long to include in the body text, so I will make it available to those on the circulation list as an attachment.  That way you can bin it or read it according to your patience.  If anyone not on the circulation list wants a copy I will send it on request. 


The Avontuur line divides quite naturally into four sections, namely Port Elizabeth-Loerie, Loerie-Assegaaibos, Assegaaibos-Avontuur and (Loerie) - Gamtoos - Patensie.  With today's emphasis on tourism, each section is a potential holidaymaker's delight, allowing for comfortable days out with plenty of interest along the way.  Of course it was not always like that.  Right into the noughties the narrow gauge was a serious freight-hauling railway with modern facilities and power.  Only the hegemony of the Road Freight Association has changed that.   

This chapter deals with a section of line that didn't attract visitors on a significant scale, mainly because it was dieselised before the hordes of overseas steam fans began to arrive in the mid 1970s.  By November 1973 steam haulage on the main line east of Assegaaibos was over.  There was also the mistaken perception that there was not much scenery or anything else of interest between these points.  Perhaps the 60-odd photos presented here will give cause for reflection.  Thanks to Messrs Brinkman, Buttrum, Hall, Jeffery, Martin, Paxton, Payling and Pivnic we are able to take you on the absorbing journey from Loerie to Assegaaibos.  
Let us start where we left off last time - in Loerie.


1. In spite of their slowness, 627-down T&P and opposite number 628 (in this picture) continued to operate as mixeds right through the 70s.  They were invariably well patronised - mainly because the patrons were too poor to afford motor cars and many of them lived in places that were only easily accessible by railway.  The platforms at departure time were often crowded with passengers and well-wishers chatting at the top of their decibel ranges.  The porter's barrow between the tracks was used to bring parcels from the goods shed (just off the picture to the right) and to transship stuff from the Patensie branch train to the main-line T&Ps (see next photo).  Also in this picture is a banked limestone working ready to depart.  As soon as the limestone is out of the way, 619 mixed ex Patensie will arrive (the photo will be in chapter six), discharge its passengers and parcels and clear out of track 2 to make way for the arrival of 627-down  T&P from Humansdorp (see  next photo).  Loerie was a busy place.


2. On the right is 628 T&P about to depart for Humansdorp, and on the left is its opposite number, 627- down just in from Humansdorp.  The same barrow as in photo 1 is now loaded with battered milk churns, sacks of potatoes, a streepsak of enormous Gamtoos-valley oranges and a mysterious cube-shaped wooden box, all recently arrived off the Patensie branch for onward transmission to PE.  The two gents closest on the right are the Transship Porters, having a chat with passengers on 628 instead of doing their thing loading the items on the barrow.  The other figures in this photo are all from the perway relaying gang, about to transfer their camp to Thornhill as described in the previous chapter. 


3. The same 628-up T&P as in the previous photo about to depart from Loerie for Humansdorp in charge of 143 cl NGG16, the last Garratt manufactured by Beyer Peacock and now in service on the Welsh Highland Railway. 


4. The archetypal narrow-gauge mixed load, 628-up T&P leaving Loerie.  The extra water-feeder tank for No 143 came from Beyer Peacock at the request of its original customer, the Tsumeb Corporation of South West Africa - they were designed without water in their rear tanks (ostensibly to keep their axleload down) which made them much clumsier as traffic machines.  When the Avontuur-line examples of the class were sent to Natal in 1964 the feeder tanks were dispensed with as watering points tended to be much closer together there as a consequence of the early use of tank engines on the Natal narrow-gauge branches.  Note the two wooden bogies of loco coal just behind the feeder tank, one for Humansdorp, the other for Assegaaibos.  This meant there were only three revenue-earning goods vehicles on this train!  On the right is the neatly-stacked PWI's yard.  How things have changed. 


5. A westbound doubleheaded 628-up T&P leaving Loerie in October 1971 with an immaculate 134 cl NG15 leading. 


6. Leaving Loerie behind class NG15 No 119 (nowadays the only almost serviceable, but not yet operational NG15 at PE)  on 628-up on a trip all the way to Avontuur (sleeping over at Humansdorp), Bruce got this view of the limestone loading bins from his train.  The course of the twin cableway over the hills to Limebank quarry seven miles away can be followed by the line of the crude dirt maintenance road underneath it.
 


7. Occasionally the Apple Express excursions ran beyond Loerie, usually either to Patensie or Humansdorp but on this occasion only as far as Gamtoos where the whole train was turned to even tyre wear.  With well-known Apple Express driver 'Donkey' Nel at the throttle, 124 cl NG15 is making a spirited start up the short rise out of Loerie station before descending to the Loeriespruit at Melon siding.  This is the only photo I've seen that shows the business end of the limestone cableway.  Careful study of the hill in the background reveals three levels of the railway on its descent from Summit siding - 124 and train are actually on the lowest and fourth level. 

8. 628-up T&P on another day in May 1962 
crossing the Loerie-Gamtoos junction road with a slightly different consist,  as it drifts downgrade towards the bridge across the Loeriespruit at Melon. 


9. About a mile from Loerie and eleven years later, a brand-new class 91 was bringing 627-down T&P away from the Loeriespruit with loads of fruit.  Within a few weeks of the diesels arriving steam was replaced on all services between PE and Assegaaibos.  Not even locomotives working into Humewood Road for boiler washouts or other maintenance were allowed to haul trains. 


10. Back on the train to Humansdorp in January 1959, en route to Avontuur, we're passing a lovely bank of wild blue plumbago.  Ahead is the bridge over the Loeriespruit at Melon - the siding is just on the other side - the corrugated iron water tank is still on board!
 


11.  And here we are at Gamtoos, junction for the Patensie branch, where I had my first glimpse of the striking cliffs of enon conglomorate that glow with eerie luminescence when the sun shines on them.  This was a cloudy day but in the chapter on the Patensie branch we'll show you how they look when the sun is out.  With the help of the Guard and his porter, Driver Harry Edmonds was doing some shunting while his fireman, Agmat Gerber ran up the road to the local farmer to fetch a large box of fresh vegetables.  As already mentioned, after discontinuation of the advertised service it was no longer possible to make an unbroken journey to Avontuur, so that night I slept over in the Humansdorp Hotel, 10/6 dinner and bed (D, B&B would have been 12/6 but 634-up T&P was scheduled to depart at 05:00 am next morning).

Twenty years later floods covered the tracks more than 10ft deep in mud at this point , closing the line for weeks.  Wagons that had been standing here were buried - to save time, the System Engineer Alec Crombie, decided not to recover them and simply laid the replacement trackwork on the roofs of the buried wagons.  When I took over from Alec in October 1981, one of my first duties was to open the smart new station building.  It was used for only a few years before being closed as an operating station. 


12.  This was one of many fascinating aerial views of the railway taken by Bruce while on a Transnet assignment in 2005.  It shows the actual junction at Gamtoos, with the Patensie branch sliding off the bottom RH edge of the photo while the main line continues westward over the impressive bridge across the Gamtoos River.  As can be seen, it was a triangular junction, main reason being that when there were extra loads to be fetched from Patensie the engine could be turned here for the return journey.  After dieselisation of the main line, the branch loads would be left here for onward transmission to PE (to a lesser degree the practice had been introduced from very early on).  When ACR briefly took over operation of the Apple Express during 1994 and '95 we wasted no time organising a three-day excursion to Humansdorp involving use of the west leg of this triangle on the second day when the train was run from Patensie direct to Humansdorp. 

 
13.  We have to thank Chris Jeffery for finding a sharp version of this very famous photograph of a typical early mixed posing on the original Gamtoos timber trestle.  Or one assumes it was the original, for it was washed away a few times before eventually being replaced by the impressive arched steel truss in photos 16 and 17.  Again we can show you that the Bagnall class 40s shone like bottles in those balmy days before WWI.  The motor launch was used to ferry travellers down river to and from the Gamtoos Ferry Hotel on their weekend excursions.


14.  No TV, no video games, very little sport so one had to make one's own amusement.  Everyone is immaculately attired and all have some sort of headgear.   The ferry has just collected a load of excursionists off the Humansdorp train and will shortly take them to the Hotel, about five miles downstream.


15.  Those Bagnalls were surely the cutest things.  Judging by the three wagonloads of sleepers, this photo dates to sometime between the line's opening to Humansdorp and its completion to Avontuur.  The sleepers on the bridge - probably Cape Yellowwood from the Knysna forest - and the trestle timbers look pretty new too. 


16.  Leith's shot of 91-002 crossing the Gamtoos River on the first test run to Humansdorp in September 1973.  In spite of its substantial appearance, the steel bridge was not a big improvement on the wooden trestle it replaced.  Its piers should have been, but weren't, taken down to bedrock, 90ft below, so they were continually subsiding.  Particularly after the Gamtoos's periodic flooding, packing had to be employed to keep the running top reasonably level.  Even so, there was a permanent speed restriction of 5 mph along its full length.  On the hazy horizon, just above the arch of the bridge, there is a glimpse of the Cockscomb, at 5640 feet the highest mountain in the Groot Winterhoek range.   


17. A classic photo unlikely ever to be repeated, showing 122 "Starking" piloting 124 "Granny Smith" on the Apple Express.  On 24 October 1986 the Apple Express was run to Humansdorp as part of a grand festival to promote the newly saved Avontuur line (as related in Chapter 2 of the PE ng story).  The following day there was a demonstration of new ideas to improve the productivity of the 2ft-gauge rolling stock - all emanating from the Cape Midland Region's Senior Engineering Technician, Frank Eckley.  Note the omnipresent Cockscomb peeping over the horizon in the top left-hand corner.


18. Heading for the export precoolers, an eastbound fruit block blasts out of Kabeljousrivier with a pair of NG15s, 19 leading.  Soon after their arrival from South West Africa in 1961 they became the preferred engines for this high-rated traffic.  At peak season there could be six or seven such workings every day which, with their corresponding mt turns would keep all 21 NG15s fully occupied.  As already mentioned, these wonderfully reliable machines regularly chalked up more than 3000 miles/month - that took some doing on 2ft gauge.


19.  On my way to take up a posting to PE early in 1962 I couldn't miss this giant hoarding advertising Comet 4 flights to "Europe, Britain, North & South America & the Far East", right alonside the N2.  A westbound freight was drawing into Kablejousrivier (then named Buurman) to take water.  It seemed a good idea to get the ultramodern juxtaposed with old techology but there was some tall Port Jackson in the way so I asked the driver of the NGG16 if he could give me a few minutes to get the worst of them out of the way, which he duly did.  Unfortunately it would have taken too long to clear it completely.  Little did I realise at the time that within a few years modern technology would replace the beautiful Union Castle mailships, and not much later the venerable Garratts would be gone as well.


20. Crossing at Kabeljousrivier between Bruce's train, 628-up T&P and 629-down goods, with its guards van blowing off furiously.  From Kabeljousrivier there were long slogs both ways, the westbound one severer with a couple of tight horseshoe curves on grade needed to rise 300ft between here and Jeffreys Bay (see extract from the topo map below).  With a long train the van would be travelling parallel to the engine but in the opposite direction.  The small facebrick kiosk on the left is the building that housed the Van Schoor token dispenser.  The tablet system replaced paper orders and telephones in sections more or less corresponding with our chapter's geographical limits during the 1970s - first to be converted was Humewood Road - Loerie in 1965.  It has to be acknowledged that this was safer than paper orders but it was less flexible and much more time-consuming - seven minutes were allowed for tablets to be exchanged at unmanned stations.




21.  This extract from the 1-in-50,000 Humansdorp topo-cadastral map shows two of the horseshoes situated on the steep climb out of the Kabeljousrivier estuary referred to in photo 20.  I think the first one (coming from Kabeljousrivier) over the Rinasrustspruit features in photo 23.  A series of tight curves on this climb is necessary to surmount the 300ft rise in 3-1/2  miles between Kabeljous and Jeffreys Bay.


22. There are few places where the Avontuur line can be photographed with the Indian Ocean in the background, but Alan found the best one for his dreamy study of class leader, NG15 No 17 (now at the Sandstone Railway), on the westbound Avontuur Adventurer climbing away from Kabeljousrivier through a relatively unspoilt stand of coastal fynbos in September 2005.  The Gamtoos River mouth is at the extreme left-hand reach of the bay.


23.  "Midget", the 0-4-0T (MW 1583) construction engine bought new by the CGR in 1902, in action on the work that she was originally contracted to do.  This may be a long shot, but the terrain and the tightness of the curve make me think that it depicts the horse-shoe referred to in the caption to the Topo map extract above.  As is the case with all the minor wooden trestles, this one was filled in very early on.  As for Midget's further career one can hardly do better than to quote from Paxton and Bourne's 'Locomotives of the South African Railways':  "The locomotive was not only supplied for shunting but in keeping with the theory propagated for light railways, it was hoped that this engine, coupled to two coaches, would reduce running costs of the larger locomotives by 50%.  Remarkably she survives in running order today.  Initially she was sold to West Rand Consolidated Mines in 1921 were she was used for a variety of purposes before being withdrawn and stored.  With the establishment of the Crown Mines museum she was restored and placed in service there as 'Taffy' ".  Regrettably she is again in storage at the museum.


24.  No 119 class NG15 on 628-up T&P, paused for parcels and milk churns at the optimistically-named Jeffreys Bay siding on a glorious April day in 1962.  When the line was surveyed there were strong representations to get it diverted via the embryo township on what was later to become a world-famous surfing bay.  At the time however, all the engineers could think of was that to divert the line via the village would add more than two miles to the distance to Humansdorp so the station ended up where it is today - about 4 miles from the beach.  Small wonder then that I never saw a surfboard on the train.


25.  On another day, 628-up T&P making like an express through Drie Werwe ("Three Yards" - as in farmyards), a halt that was not deemed worthy of platform or shelter.  Doubtless it did see the odd customer, but I never saw one here.


26. Doubleheaded with 132 + 147 on this day, Geoff found 628-up running through the outer "suburbs" of Humansdorp on 24 May 1973, six months before the NG15s were replaced by diesels on this section.


27. At last, after almost 7 hours on the road, 628-up is at the facing points for Humansdorp - only to be told that it is to be diverted onto track 2 because track 1 is occupied.  The passengers will just have to stumble over the rails on their way to the platform.  Note only hand tumblers and hand signals - no fancy signalling here (in fact none at all on the narrow gauge - ever). 


28.  A nice clean NGG13 making up 627-down T&P for its 11:25 departure from Humansdorp in January 1960.  Note the driver's trommel (the large one) and the fireman's trommel (the small one) on the front running board.  The two galvanised canisters on the left contained spare sand - hence their name in footplate jargon: "sand bottles".

 
29. Until the arrival of the NG15s and the upgrading of Assegaaibos shed in the mid-sixties, Humansdorp was an important engine-changing shed, almost completely belied by the rickety nature of its wood-and-iron structure.  How it was never blown down is a mystery but it did have some angled wooden struts on the lee side to protect it from the prevailing westerlies.  It doesn't look like it but there was room for four Garratts inside and there were inspection pits, though this was before anyone thought of putting the rails over narrow-gauge pits on pedestals to give the inspector some room to move around.  These unlit claustrophobic slits were only about 18" wide - not recommended for fat drivers - see below.


30.  My outward trip to PE in January 1959 was by car, accompanied by mates that had no interest in railways.  I did persuade them to give me five minutes at Humansdorp to take a coupla photos.  On shed was No 127, one of the 1951 batch of Beyer Peacock-built Garratts, a fine engine recently bought by the Puffing Billy railway in Victoria, Australia.  Bruce Brinkman has kindly provided some reliable dope on Humansdorp shed:

"A point of interest is that in the late sixties and up to June 1973 the Class NGG16 Garratts were stationed as follows:

a.      Assegaaibos = 109, 110, 111 – only two at a time the third on washout / maintenance at Humewood Road  with changeover every 21 days.

b.      Humansdorp = 125, 126, 127 – only two at a time the third on washout / maintenance at Humewood Road  with changeover every 21 days.

The Humansdorp engines working the T&P to Avontuur and back.   Humewood Road Locomotives worked PE to Humansdorp (either NGG16 or NG15).

In July 1973 the Garratts were relocated to Humewood Road and NG15s stationed at Humansdorp and Assegaaibos – the Humansdorp engines (NG15) still working the T&P to Avontuur and back.

At the end of 1973 this was changed and Humansdorp shed was closed with the engines being relocated to Assegaaibos and the T&P workings changed so that the class 91 Diesels worked from Humewood Road to Assegaaibos and the class NG15s from Assegaaibos to Avontuur.

When I rode the line in October 1973 it was still steam throughout with NG15s the locos being changed at Humansdorp."


31.  By 1962 a triangle had been built at Humansdorp and NG15s were to be found in increasing numbers on the T&P workings.  Bruce has confirmed that until the diesels arrived late in 1973 the NG15s took over over the T&Ps entirely "except when Garratts were going to or from servicing at Humewood Road".   By this time, the old loco at Humansdorp was looking increasingly unkempt with scattered piles of ash and clinker and locomotive coal fouling the tracks.  This NG15 was being readied for a return working to Port Elizabeth in September 1962.

32. A pair of NG15s, No 18 leading, about to depart eastbound from Humansdorp c 1970 when the station had been completely remodelled with more tracks, an overhead water gantry (with narrow-gauge delivery pipes) and the original wood-and-iron station building replaced with a standard face-brick structure designed by the Chief Civil Engineer's Architectural Division - not always noted for its respect for old things.

33. Class NG15s Nos 118 + 123 departing eastbound from Humansdorp on 23 May 1973.  What the solitary DZ was doing in the middle of the consist is not known but let's put it down to lazy shunting or engine crews in a hurry to get home. The new face-brick station with its corrugated asbestos roof is mercifully partially hidden from view by the OZ-type fruit wagons on their way to the coast. 

34.  There is much to see and talk about in Bruce's aerial view taken in 2005.  At the top is what looks like Humansdorp's Stately Pleasure Dome where one would almost expect to find old Kubla Khan himself sitting cross-legged with a hookah, surrounded by damsels with dulcimers.  (Ok, I got a bit carried away).  This carbuncle must have sprung up comparatively recently as it wasn't there in 1995.  The main road through town, once the N2, is on the right, not so busy since they built the bypass about 40 years ago.  

In the station yard there are signs of timber traffic, but the main point of interest is the grain silo on the left with five articulated lorries in its loading area .  As can be seen, it is a fair distance from the yard tracks, so you might be forgiven for thinking that it wasn't designed to serve trains but rather lorries - and you would be right.  In the early 1980s, before it was built, the Humansdorp Co-op approached SATS's commercial division in Johannesburg for advice on positioning the structure.  They wanted it rail-served but thought it prudent to check with SATS before committing so much expenditure, as sites close to the railway were more expensive.  The commercial division, upon hearing that initial planning was for it to handle 70,000 tons/year, told the Co-op that this could be handled by SATS RMT so there was no need for rail access.  That is why the silo was built so far from the station yard.  At the meeting in Humansdorp in October 1985 the delegates were told by Dr Coetzee that the Co-op had opted for road transport - yet another reason for closing the line.    However, to Dr Coetzee's embarrassment, Mr Theron, General Manager of the Co-op, stood up and vehemently denied this, making it clear that they had wanted rail transport and still preferred it, but had been led up the garden path by  the commercial division (this incident comes out clearly in the transcript of the meeting).  He went on to say that the Co-op had installed, at its own expense, a long delivery pipe from the grain elevator to the station so that bulk grain could go by rail. 

On its side,  the System Manager's staff in Port Elizabeth - mainly Frank Eckley - did not want to lose the grain traffic (it had previously all been bagged, an increasingly laborious method in the late 20th century) so a handy gadget called a Vacuvator was installed at Baakens River for rapid mechanical transfer of the bulk grain into broad-gauge FZ wagons.  Score at this stage: Dr Coetzee 1 (the apples); Cape Midland 1 (the wheat).

35.  In October 1986 the PE Regional Office of SATS staged a "Narrow-gauge Revival Day" in Humansdorp.  Free train rides to Kruisfontein were offered and several innovative items of rolling stock were put on display - all featured the ideas of Frank Eckley, the senior Mechanical Engineering Technician at PE.


36. 
When Dr Coetzee put the deciduous fruit on road (even before the final batch of 250 new, insulated OZ trucks had been delivered) there was suddenly a huge surplus of OZs.  Frank Eckley and the Midland Commercial division headed by Blackie Swart, decided to turn disaster into opportunity as best they could by experimentally converting the new wagons into bulk grain carriers.  The experiment, when combined with the Vacuvator transshipper at Baakens River, was wholly successful so further wagons were converted and bulk grain went by rail for another 15 years until private road haulier rates got so ridiculously low it was impossible to compete.  The first converted OZ was on display at the Narrow Gauge Open Day in Humansdorp in October 1986 - it was a simple job, just three hatches in the roof and a ladder so that the Vacuvator operator could get up there to move the delivery pipe from one hole to the next.


37. This was to show that most farming implements could also go by narrow gauge. 

 
38. It may have happened elsewhere, possibly on the sugar railways of Queensland, but in South Africa, Frank Eckley certainly was the first to realise that the narrow narrow gauge could handle loads 8ft wide, thus, a standard international 40ft container.  This was a big step forward.  After a series of tests it wasn't long before flat wagons were fitted with twist-locks for standard containers and, as in this photo, the new mini-containers which worked exceptionally well for parcels and small consignments for a few years until road hauliers priced the railway out of the market once again.  

39. An innovation that came in the nick of time to save the citrus traffic was the conversion of OZ wagons so that the palletised fruit could easily be loaded with forklifts by removing the sides and simply widening the bed (this was actually a flat truck, we'll show the converted OZs in the chapter featuring the Patensie branch).  Score: Dr Coetzee 1; Cape Midland 2. 

40. At Humansdorp I took the last photo at the end of a memorable first day on the narrow gauge.  We had drawn in alongside an eastbound goods comprising mostly fruit wagons but backed up with a 3rd-class brake and parcels combo and a first-class ditto (this ace photographer was too slow to get the last of the parcels being loaded - the porter's two empty barrows are on the right).  The socially conscious among us will have noted that the 3rd class had no toilet but the 1st did - as can be deduced from the water tank on its roof.  What is more, judging by the crazily-leaning chimney, it also had a stove for heating.  

  
41. After Humansdorp the railway winds steadily uphill through Kruisfontein, making a further rise of 300ft to the watershed between the Kabeljous and Krom Rivers at Kerkplaas (811 feet above sea level) before losing all that hard won altitude and more in the descent through Billson to a tributary of the Krom River at Howley (320ft).  However, westbound trains approaching Billson do have a short stretch of uphill where the crew of the Avontuur Adventurer staged a runpast for passengers.  Here the railway first encounters the easternmost outriggers of the Kouga range that it will follow all the way to Avontuur.


 42.  Coming up from Howley, in the opposite direction to the previous photo, an eastbound fruit block is approaching the acute horseshoe curve just before entering Billson, in April 1973.  Ten years later, Terry Smith, the Senior Footplateman at Humerail Diesel Depot, was bringing a harbour-bound fruit special up the same twisting stretch from Howley at 3:00 am.  Billson is on a hump, followed, for eastbound trains, by a tight left-hand turn (see photo 42a below) on the brief downgrade mentioned in the previous caption.  At the inquiry it was stated that the vigilance control was working, neither could it be overridden, so we will never know what actually happened but somehow Terry (an extremely highly-regarded man) dozed off just long enough to lose control of his train at the change of grade, and the whole lot turned over on that curve.  Tragically, Terry lost his life.

42a.  This aerial view of Billson siding, looking west, came from Bruce too late for a sequential number.  It shows the sharp curve immediately this side of the siding where the late Terry Smith came unstuck with 1831-down special export fruit in April 1983.  The spot where David Payling stood to get photo 41 is on the straight before the curve - the Avontuur Adventurer was, of course, coming from the opposite direction, heading towards Billson.  Looking like a sea monster in the right background
 are the first humps of the Kareedouwberge which, travelling westwards, become the taller and much more impressive Tsitsikammas soon after Kareedouw village.


43. A pair of NG15s - 124 leading - on eastbound fruit restarting from the water stop at Howley, faced with a rise of just over 500ft in the nine miles to Kerkplaas.  On the way they will drag their precious cargo around no fewer than six minimum-radius horse-shoe curves.  This is the same train as in photo 52.


44.  The same caption as for photo 43 could have been written for Nos 117 and 135 charging out of Howley, taking fruit bound for the export precoolers over the Dieprivier (= Deep River - a bit of a misnomer) just upstream from big Churchill Dam, in April 1973.


45.  Shortly after sunrise on my journey to Avontuur in January 1959 we arrived at Howley.  Today the engine was Humansdorp-based 114 class NGG16 (3rd series, 1939, first batch to be built by Beyer Peacock). The consist of 634-up T&P was different but that circular corrugated-iron water tank was still there.  Take a good look at the first two fruit vans behind the engine, we'll hear more about them in the next chapter.


46.  The lovely countryside as one approaches the Langkloof improves with every hill.  As part of the festivities at Humansdorp, there was an excursion to Assegaaibos in October 1986 during which class NG15 No122 "Starking" performed for the cameras during a photo runpast over the Dieprivier bridge at Howley.


47.  Two Streams.  That's my train on the left - we're back to January 1959 and there's been some real climbing since we left Howley nearly an hour ago.  Exactly 600 feet in nearly 7 miles.  We crossed 627-down goods in charge of 127 cl NGG16, now happily in good care in preparation for major surgery on the Puffing Billy Railway after a stint with ACR at Port Shepstone.


48.  Leith's beautiful photo of an inbound fruit special between Essenbos and Two Streams, where the Kareedouwberge, forerunners to the Tsitsikammas, start to close in on the left.  Continuing westwards we'll soon have the Tsitsikammas to the south and the Kougaberge to the north - the Langkloof is finally becoming a kloof.


49.  You can tell it's out of season by the fact that there is only one coach on 634-up T&P between Two Streams and Essenbos in August 1962.  The engine was almost-new 142 cl NGG16.


50. Cls NG15 Nos 18+124 bringing empty AYs up the steep stretch away from the confines of the Krom River valley between Majoorskraal and Essenbos in May 1977.  Reballasting the Avontuur railway, when there wasn't much to begin with, was a job almost on a scale with building the Roman aqueducts (well, all right, perhaps I exaggerate but it was nevertheless a huge undertaking that cost a king's ransom).  It was started in the late 60's, more or less when it was decided to dieselise (diesels always had the best of everything) and finished in February 1984 just in time for the '84 fruit season.  We've already told youse what happened after that!  Year in and out NG15s in double harness worked the new narrow-gauge AY trucks into the 'Kloof and, of course, brought back the corresponding empties.


51.  The NG15s capacity for work was far superior to the Garratts.  As mentioned previously, during the fruit season they regularly ran more than 3000 miles/month but there weren't enough to go around, so not every block load of fruit could be doubleheaded.  In April 1971 No 145 was running a harbour-bound fruit consignment down the Krom River just east of Majoorskraal (the actual stream is hidden by the Australian invader black wattle that has caused so much devastation along RSA rivers).


52.  Little more than a mile out of Assegaaibos this pair of NG15s - 124 leading - was getting a wheel on a precious cargo of export fruit in May 1973.  If you think I was exaggerating about the seriousness of the black wattle invasion, believe it or not, the line here hugs the left bank of the Krom River, now completely invisible behind the thick undergrowth.  A decade or so previously there were beautiful views of the river along here.


53.  On a typically damp day in April 1962, No 83 cl NGG13 was bringing 633-down T&P out of Assegaaibos, bound for Humansdorp where the engine was based.  In case you are wondering how a 2ft-gauge railway could remain competitive so deeply into the 20th Century, here is a clue.  Until the 1960s this railway, this road and another even more tortuous track over the Kareedouw Pass provided the only access to the Langkloof from the Port Elizabeth end.  At the western end where the railway terminated, the roads were just as bad.  As part of my job at the time I made the journey by road into the 'kloof many times and can confirm that its surface was invariably corrugated, full of potholes and in wet weather was treacherous in the extreme.  During the mid-to-late sixties the Langkloof main road was completely re-aligned and tarred, becoming the R62 in the process, thus setting the stage for eventual road competition.

 
54.  This is what the Langkloof main road looked like in colour on a sunny day.  Did I mention that it was narrow - like the railway?  Or that Langkloof farmers seemed to take a compulsive delight in the chicken game?  Incidentally, that's 634-up coming out of the Krom River gorge (seen in photo 53) with a few hundred yards to go to Assegaaibos station.



55. The same train as in photo 49 arriving at Assegaaibos with engine 142 and 634-up T&P in August 1962.  During the mid 1960s the nice old standard CGR wood-and-iron station building was replaced by a standard SAR facebrick monstrosity.  And dig that old-fashioned tickey box - I can confirm that it offered only a painfully slow "nommer asseblief" ("number please") service.


56. My January 1959 trip eventually arrived at Assegaaibos.  Before anything else 114 was given water, then had her fire cleaned and was oiled all round.  When I innocently inquired whether we were now ready to go, driver Meyer looked surprised and told me 634 was allowed 48 minutes in Assegaaibos.  I wasn't specially timing the train but I did notice we eventually spent just over an hour there.


57. We're still in Assegaaibos with 634 T&P.  After the first service we did some leisurely shunting then moved to the hand-operated coal stage.  Topping up the coal occupied about another 20 minutes whereupon we re-coupled onto our load.  Yay! we're off, I thought.  But no, we had to top up the water - again.  Steam - ahhhhh!

 
58.  After taking water for the second time there was still time for a chat with one of the locals before the off - about twelve minutes late, but who's counting?  To the right of the engine next to the goods shed you can see dozens of oil drums.  That's how the 'kloof got all its petrol, diesel and lub oil supplies in those days - by rail, of course.  And it would always go by rail?  Of course it would.


59. This was Assegaaibos from off the water tower in May 1962 - it looks busy but chaotic, and probably was.  Class NGG13 No 77 was being coaled for an Assegaaibos-Humansdorp turn.  The coaling facilities were primitive and labour intensive to say the least.  First the coal had to be shovelled upwards off the DZ then shovelled upwards again into the bunkers.  The dirt road on the right was the Langkloof main road to PE.


60.  General view of Assegaaibos "loco" in June 1962 with NG15 No 134 (now on the WHR) and NGG16 No 142 basking in the late afternoon sunshine.  That water tank was a beautiful piece of Victorian furniture, imported as a kit when the railway was new.  It survived long after its removal from Assegaaibos in a dismantled state in PE Harbour. When ACR won the contract to operate the PE ng in 1994 we made plans to install it at Thornhill - our preferred terminus for the Apple Express - but with the cancellation of the contract such dreams evaporated and it has long since been scrapped.


61.  From sublime to ridiculous (or is it the other way around?)!  In the mid-sixties work started on building a modern steam shed at Assegaaibos that would do the NG15s justice, complete with turntable, pedestal-pitted shed roads and a state-of-the-art coal stage (compare the new one with the old one in photo 59).  Even the facebrick crew barracks were like a five-star hotel compared to the old wood-and-iron one which was unheated in winter and like an oven in summer.

62. General view of the new Assegaaibos loco in April 1974 with the usual fruit-season line-up of NG15s and a solitary NGG13, No 79 temporarily based at Assegaaibos to work engineer's trains icw the relaying to Avontuur.


63. Bruce took this photo on an appropriately gloomy day in 2006 - these Assegaian stables will take a lot of cleaning.   Somehow my pessimistic nature says it will never be done, in spite of the heroic efforts of a few Bay folk and a couple more from further north.


You'll be relieved to hear that's all for now.  In the next issue we will post a few more pictures of Assegaaibos old and new before we take you all the way to Avontuur.