Soul of A Railway ©‎ > ‎System 3‎ > ‎

Port Elizabeth - Loerie: the Limestone Traffic © Charlie Lewis

The historical information in this chapter relies heavily on the writing and researches of David Payling and Leith Paxton as presented in their monograph “Narrow-gauge Super Power” published in 2005.  What follows is a slightly shortened and edited version of David’s text.  The section headed “Problems for the Modernised Traffic” has been largely re-written to take into account the maneuverings of SATS’s head-office mandarins in their efforts to shut down the narrow gauge entirely (see Part 1 of the PE narrow gauge story).  

Starting Up 

The Eastern Province Cement Company (EPCC) opened its manufacturing operations in 1927.  Their new factory was located in the New Brighton industrial area to the North of Port Elizabeth (PE).  In those early days limestone, a vital ingredient in making cement, was obtained from a quarry at Patensie in the Gamtoos River valley.  Patensie was already rail connected, being the terminus of a 19 mile branch from Gamtoos Junction, some 36¾ miles from Chelsea on the Western edge of the city.  Rail connection of quarry and factory was completed by the building of a 12 mile long Private Siding from Chelsea down the winding Papenkuils River valley to the new cement factory, an overall journey of some 68 miles.  All Private Sidings with access to SAR were numbered, the EPCC siding at Chelsea being identified as No. 340499.

Little is known of the first trains whose journey started in the quarry at Patensie.  The wagons were almost certainly SAR’s D or DZ wagons, about 6 tons tare, equipped with fully opening three-part, bottom hinged sides, each capable of carrying 15 tons of stone.  There were no serious grades against loaded trains coming down the Gamtoos valley from Patensie but at Loerie, 5 miles east of Gamtoos junction, the most formidable obstacle to eastbound trains was encountered.  This was the winding section which lifted trains 650 feet in eight miles at a ruling gradient of 1 in 40 to a siding aptly named “Summit”. Loerie Bank, as it was known, was a key factor in train operating throughout the lifetime of the limestone trains.  After 1954 these were the subject of special instructions in each edition of the SAR Private Working Time Books (WTBs). 

Motive power available in the late 1920s included the Baldwin NG9 4-6-0 and NG10 4-6-2 tender engines (or, as Moir describes them, the “Forties” and the “Sixties”).  WTBs of the period reveal that the maximum permitted loads for these engines up the bank were 100 tons for the former and 150 tons for the latter, equivalent to a brake van and four or six wagons respectively.  It must have been a relief to the operating department when the powerful new NG/G13 Garratt locomotives arrived from Hanomag in 1928.  Interestingly the WTBs show that timings for the eight mile climb from Loerie to Summit scarcely varied, despite the later introduction of more powerful motive power.  The time allowed varied from 48 minutes to about 55 minutes, start to stop, calling for a speed up the bank of little more than 10 mph.  The new Garratts were permitted a maximum of 215 tons up the bank, equivalent to ten of the early patterns of DZ wagons plus a van.  In “24 Inches Apart” SM Moir relates that after the arrival of the Garratts the smaller engines were used only to bring stone as far as Gamtoos Junction.  The Garratts took over the load here for Chelsea Junction.  This was the exchange point where a cement company locomotive took over the train for the journey down the private siding to the factory [please see Bruno Martin’s map].

Trains Working from Loerie to Chelsea 

1. The loading bins at Loerie

Arrangements changed in 1934 when the quarry at Patensie became worked out.  A new quarry, Limebank, was opened in the hills some seven miles from Loerie.  Here the quarried stone was crushed and loaded into buckets (or skips) carried on an overhead ropeway.  This consisted of a fixed rope to support the skips which were hauled to the bunkers at Loerie by an endless moving cable.  The photo by Vic Mitchell of this facility was taken in March 1997 and used in the superb coverage of the South African 2ft-gauge lines by the late Hugh Ballantyne published by the Middleton Press (it is still in print).  A new Private Siding at the East end of Loerie station became No. 341053.  Sited at a lower level than the main line, there was a stiff climb for loaded trains to leave the new siding and reach the station loop lines.  It soon became known to train crews as “The Hole.”  The Garratts were now able to take the loaded trains from the bunker and complete the journey to the exchange sidings at Chelsea without a change of motive power on the way.  As the railway grew more busy from the 1940s to the 1960s various operating practices were tried out to prevent the section between Loerie and Summit becoming a bottleneck.  The remarkable growth in annual tonnages of limestone carried during this period is shown in the table.

2. Terry has been unable to remember the source of this incredibly rare photo of an NG10 assisting a limestone train up Loerie bank.  However, the author of "24 Inches Apart" is not remembered for his photographic skills so, judging by its fuzziness it seems likely that this is the work of the late Sydney Moir.

In 1954 the cement company doubled its quarry output capacity by the introduction of a second parallel ropeway.  Unlike the earlier ropeway the new one consisted of a single rope to both support and haul the buckets of limestone.  A limitation in the capacity of the stone trains throughout the steam haulage era was that double heading by Garratt locomotives was not permitted.  This was to protect their pivots from excessive stresses and hence from costly maintenance and repair.  It therefore became common practice to run heavier Garratt headed trains of up to 14 wagons with a Baldwin 4-6-2 cut in to the train some eight to ten trucks back.  From the passing loop at Summit the Garratt would continue to Chelsea unassisted whilst the Baldwin returned down the hill to Loerie to make ready for the next train. 

3. In January 1959, Class NG10 No 62 was awaiting its next banking assignment out of Loerie while class NGG13 No 81 rolled in with empty ng DZs.

4. In 1961 the NG15s arrived from Usakos in South West Africa and the Baldwin NG10s were retired.  The NG15s took over the banking turns, being cut into a train of limestone in the same way as the NG10s.  However, with 14 loads this more powerful combination is handling one less wagon than the NGG13 + NG10 - a big and unaccountable loss in productivity.  The later reduction to single-engine trains with only eight loads is even more inexplicable - unless it is related to the overturning accident at the eastern end of Van Stadens bridge, c 1969 - caused it is said by an over-zealous driver charging the short and reverse-curving 1-in-51/45/44 off the bridge and into Van Stadens station.

In the late 1960s the running was simplified, ostensibly in an attempt to increase the effective capacity of the stone traffic.  The WTB for 1971 shows this final pattern of train working by steam.  Up to nine trains of eight DZ wagons and a guards van, a modest load for a NG/G13 or NG/G16, would climb the eight mile long bank each day.  This permitted load of eight wagons or 195 tons applied to the later, heavier wagons (types DZ-9/10/11 – tare weight 6.3t, load 19t) being built during this period (up to 1972).

5. A class NGG 16 with only eight loaded ng DZs, just beyond the hairpin bend known as Waaihoek (Windy Corner).  Observers of these stone trains, even after the reduction of the trailing load, recall the roar of the exhaust as the locomotives attacked the bank, albeit only achieving 10-12 mph on the climb.  At Van Stadens Station, almost the highest point in the journey, the train would be left in the loop whilst the locomotive and guards van returned down the bank to bring up eight more wagons.  Meanwhile a second train of eight loaded wagons would climb the bank and the eight wagons in the loop would be added to make up a sixteen wagon train for the gently falling gradients to Chelsea.  In this way four loaded sixteen car trains could be delivered to the exchange sidings each working day.  There was a degree of flexibility – on days when nine trains were dispatched from Loerie the ninth (which left Loerie at 20:15) would park off its load at Van Stadens and these eight wagons would be used to make up 18 car sets for onward transmission to Chelsea.  In this way the steam service could clear up to 380,000 tons/year.

Perspective can be gained for UK readers by comparison with Garratt haulage on today’s Welsh Highland Railway between Dinas and Tryfan Junction (or Beddgelert and Pont Cae’r Gors).  The eight loaded wagons and guards van on the 1 in 40 gradient of Loerie Bank would be roughly equivalent to loading a Garratt on the 1 in 40 gradients above Dinas or Beddgelert with as many as twenty five WHR coaches (before modest reduction to allow for the number of axles)!  

6. Having made up its load to 18 bogies and a van, or about 430 tons, at Van Stadens, this NGG13 was roaring across the old Cape Road at Witteklip in January 1955.  Note the elementary signage that was considered necessary on this, the N2 - the main road to Cape Town!
7. Busy times at Loerie (a steam railway was always busy).  No 82 cl NGG13, the Garratt of 627 mixed (daily SuX from Humansdorp) has moved forward off its load for a fire-clean and a drink. On the left, another NGG13 (No 83) and an unknown NG15 were taking on coal and water in July 1962, both almost ready for another limestone working which would follow after 627-down had resumed its journey to Humewood Road.  In the latter days of steam - after the NG15s had been taken off limestone service - five train crews were based at Loerie (driver, fireman and guard) together with their five NG/G13s.  Early duty started at 3.30am and the last train of empties would arrive at Loerie at 10.30pm.  The late Andre Steyn, who was a young fireman on the trains at this time, recalled that every twenty-one days the steam locomotives would receive a boiler wash out and other maintenance.  On the day of its scheduled washout the locomotive would leave its loaded train at Chelsea whilst it then proceeded light engine to Humewood Road steam depot for attention.  At Humewood the crew fetched a newly serviced locomotive and returned to Chelsea to pick up empties. 
8. A last glimpse of the old way of doing things before we move on to the modernised operation (don't worry chaps, see further on!).  Note the brand-new steel sleepers awaiting installation, this was part of the epic relaying, strengthening and ballasting programme of the 70s and 80s.  It was enormously expensive (see the table in part one) and was completed to Avontuur just in time for the 1984 fruit season after which SATS management decided they did not want the deciduous fruit on rail after all.

Modernisation of the Service

In the 1960s it was expected that the post war growth of the stone traffic would continue in parallel with the economic development of the Eastern Cape.  However, paths available for stone trains on the busy single track main line between Loerie and Port Elizabeth were already approaching saturation.  During the fruit season as many as sixty trains per day were scheduled on the bank and the capacity available for stone trains was becoming inadequate for the needs of the factory at New Brighton.  This forced the use of expensive supplementary road transport.  Increasing the capacity of the line by doubling the track on Loerie bank would be difficult owing to the hilly nature and tortuous curvature of the route.  Against this background SAR decided to make a major investment at Port Elizabeth.  This gesture of confidence in the long term future of the narrow gauge included authority in 1973 to purchase a fleet of twenty 600 hp Class 91 diesel electric locomotives from General Electric of the USA, together with the construction of a major depot and servicing facility at PE.  The whole of the 177 miles of the main line would be renewed and upgraded to take the heavier axle load and structure clearance of the new locomotives and a fleet of new narrow gauge hopper cars would be built to carry the large volumes of ballast which would be required for this.  

9. Line-up of class 91s at the almost clinically clean Humewood Diesel Depot on a Sunday morning in April 1980.  

The new class 91s were delivered during September and October 1973 and soon after, all but two of the NG/G13s were retired from service (Nos. 77 and 78 were sent for further service in Natal).  The diesels immediately took over the stone trains from Loerie to Chelsea, initially taking the same load of eight DZ wagons and a van.  Train weights were soon increased, however, exploiting the greater power output of the Class 91s and their ability to work in multiple.  Another of Andre Steyn’s memories comes from this period.  The level crossing at Waaihoek was at a particularly steep point on the bank.  On his first run as second man to driver Burr the train began to slow at this point.  It was very dark and raining hard.  After much slipping the train eventually stalled, an unusual occurrence with the diesels.  There was no vacuum and the locomotive’s exhauster could be heard running hard to recreate vacuum.  Stumbling back down the train in the dark he found that the couplings had parted, losing the last wagon and the guards van.  Eventually the guard, a Mr. Muller, was discovered a mile back down the bank, fast asleep in his van.

10. First test run of the 91-002 in September 1973.  Four DZs of locomotive coal and five of ash together with the Locomotive Inspector's caboose and a whole bunch of officials made up the load which was taken as far as Humansdorp.  Note the huge size of this 2ft-gauge diesel - this caused problems at the locomotive watering points where the cab roof was foul of the loose-hanging entraining spouts - see next picture.

11. The old order changeth....... or the day Loerie station lost its virginity.  First test train arrives to cross NG15 No 124 on 627 down mixed, September 1973.

In 1976-1977 a fleet of 200 C-class fixed side tippler wagons was built by Dorbyl Industries in the Eastern Cape, designed specifically for the limestone traffic.  They appeared in two batches.  Based on a central longitudinal load bearing spine rather than the traditional underframe of solebars braced by cross members their tare weight was 6.1 tons, about half a ton lighter than the later builds of DZ wagons, but still able to carry the same permitted load of 18.7 tons of stone.  Stays were attached to the top of each side to span the wagon and prevent the sides bulging outwards under load.  All were finished in red oxide although in recent times many have been repainted in a light grey livery.  Lettering was white and the grab handle and foot loop at the right hand end of each side were painted yellow.  

Construction of the new wagon fleet was part of a plan formulated jointly by SAR and Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC), the successors of EPCC, to automate and speed the handling of the loaded wagons at the factory.  For their part PPC were to upgrade the twelve-mile private siding and install a rotary tippler at the New Brighton factory to empty the wagons.  Previously the DZ wagons had been emptied into the bunker by dropping the sides and manually shovelling out the stone (the track serving the bunker was steeply canted towards it).  The new locomotives and wagons were therefore all fitted with the American Willison automatic coupler.  This speeded up the unloading process by allowing uncoupling from the trackside through handles on the wagon ends which released the locking pin on the knuckle coupling.  Wagons were uncoupled and hauled one by one into the tippler using electric capstans before the empty wagons were released into a fan of sidings ready for the return to Loerie.  In recent years the C wagons have undergone modifications, the tall centrally placed vacuum pipe standard replaced by a low level side-mounted fitting for convenience of uncoupling at the PPC tippler.  The maximum load was later revised up from 18.7 tons to 20.4 tons.  The grab handles and foot loop were removed from both sides.

Dieselisation and the building of an automatically coupled wagon fleet set the pattern of operating the stone traffic from 1974 to 1986.  The WTB for December 1976 showed the Class 91s allowed some ten laden DZ wagons, or twenty working double headed under multiple control, accompanied by the obligatory guards van.  The tables also made provision for mixed trains of the two types of wagon although a coupling adaptor would be required at each point where the two met.  With all this new equipment and plant in place the limestone traffic settled down to a dozen years of stability although tonnages did not grow as much as had been anticipated.  However this was not due to logistical constraints but capacity and demand for cement from the New Brighton factory. 

Bruno's map of the railway as far as Chelsea is reproduced again here as it is entirely relevant to the next few paragraphs of the limestone story

Problems for the Modernised Traffic 

In 1981 SAR became a part of South African Transport Services (SATS), a change which, combined with the Road Transportation Act of 1977 (see Part 1), heralded a much less rail-friendly transport environment for South Africa.  Sharp price rises for rail services followed and, as customers began deserting in droves, a directive to shut down the narrow gauge along with a host of other lines identified as uneconomic was issued by the General Manager.  In Part 1 we saw how this led to the transfer by the Langkloof deciduous fruit growers of their traffic to road haulage from 1985, only a year after the completion of the very expensive relaying of the track and upgrading of fruit-handling infrastructure in the valley.  It is perhaps less well known that this was almost the fate of the limestone traffic too. 

In September 1984, when the Cape Midland Region was told by the Assistant General Manager (AGM) Commercial, Dr G J S Coetzee, that the 1985 fruit crop was to go by SATS’s Road Motor Transport (RMT) division, its customer, the Deciduous Fruit Board (DFB) had not yet been advised of the decision – it was purely a SATS one, the first salvo in a concerted plan to close the narrow gauge.  The proposed change was only tabled at a meeting on 25th October 1984 between the AGM Commercial and representatives of the Board of Control for the Export of Perishables, the DFB and the Citrus Board.  Part 1 of the narrow-gauge story was critical of the Regional Manager (RM), saying that he could have done more to retain the deciduous fruit traffic.  To be fair, he didn’t simply throw his hands in the air.  As recounted in Part 1, after notification of the switch he called his departmental heads in and asked for an assessment of the cost implications as well as the loss of revenue for rail.  He then instructed the Assistant Regional Manager (ARM), Neil Oosthuizen to draft a letter setting out the Region’s concerns – a translation of this potent document will be published in Part 4. 

Obviously the principal revenue earner for the narrow gauge was the limestone.  We have seen how, in order to progress the plan to shut down the narrow gauge, Dr Coetzee had to convince PPC to use lorries.  Soon after persuading the DFB to use the SATS’s RMT service to transport the 1985 export crop, PPC were told that a sixty percent tariff hike (from R5.27/ton to R8.46/ton) would be imposed on limestone from 1st April 1985.  The justification was that the increase was necessary in order to eliminate losses on carrying the limestone.   Predictably, this prompted an incredulous CEO of PPC, Mr G R Luyt to initiate discussions with road hauliers and rumours of these discussions spread rapidly to the Regional Management. 

With alarm bells clanging ever louder, on a morning in May 1985 I set off on the mandatory bi-annual trolley inspection of the narrow gauge.  Having departed from Humewood Road we were hardly under way when we were looped for a crossing at Emerald Hill where, after about 15 minutes, the opposing “train” came in – two class 91 diesels and a guard’s van.  As had been the practice for the past dozen years – i.e. ever since the diesels arrived, they had dropped off their load of limestone at the Chelsea interchange sidings some 14 miles out of town.  This seemed a bit wasteful so, back in the office, I investigated further. Things turned out to be much worse than expected.

Upon dieselisation major inefficiencies had been allowed to appear in the operation of the trains.  One of these was the move away from the steam timetable which had concentrated operations onto the line between Loerie and Chelsea (see the 1971 trainsworking diagram).  In steam days locomotives were out-stationed at Loerie, being returned to Humewood Road depot only for periodic boiler washouts and maintenance – about once every three weeks.  The 1981 WTB shows the pattern of services which had evolved since dieselisation.  Each pair of diesels and a van was diagrammed for one round trip to Loerie and back on weekdays.  Full shift for a crew (driver, assistant, guard) was: run light from Humewood Rd to Chelsea; pick up 18 empty C-wagons; proceed to Loerie; drop off the empties and pick up 18 loads; take them to Chelsea; leave the loads in the exchange sidings; go back light to Humewood Road.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays four trainloads with corresponding empty workings ran between Loerie and Chelsea while on Tuesdays and Thursdays five such cycles were worked – about 7,500 nett tons/week or >360,000 tons/year at traffic levels then prevailing, involving eight or ten diesels plus four or five guard’s vans each day with associated staff.  The light running between Humewood Rd and Chelsea took an hour each way, which meant paying four or five crews for two hours of unproductive “work” each weekday, not to mention wasted fuel and maintenance of locomotives and track.

For the cement company there was the annual cost of operating twelve miles of track plus three locomotives and staff for both maintenance and train working.  At the same time their motive power was barely capable of handling the traffic on the private siding.   A major effort had been made to increase the capacity of their line.  This included the purchase of a powerful Hunslet Taylor six-wheel diesel mechanical locomotive, plus two Funkey B-B diesel mechanical locomotives, as well as the retirement of the steam fleet.  The two Funkeys had also been fitted with a pneumatic system for multiple working.  However any failure or availability problem with one of the three diesels obliged the company to hire a locomotive from SAR.  This was usually a NG15, now fortunately becoming more available except during the peak fruit season, owing to the new diesel-electric fleet.  At this juncture it should be recorded that after diesels took over the limestone trains in 1973, Ray Enslin, the widely respected Locomotive Superintendent at Port Elizabeth, had suggested that SAR take over operations through to the cement works but the idea was rejected by head office without anyone bothering to investigate the situation in loco (no pun intended).

By 1985 no one, either in head office or the region, seemed to be questioning whether a more effective and/or economical way of delivering the limestone was possible (the excellent Assistant RM, Neil Oosthuizen had been transferred away, his probing letter of 24 November 1984 filed and, for the moment, forgotten). It was accepted as inevitable that the limestone business would be lost and the narrow gauge would close.  This was confirmed in the most casual way by the General Manager’s letter RGN 31/57 of 20th September 1985, addressed to the Regional Manager, which announced that the Minister had approved in principle the closure of the Avontuur line, adding almost as an afterthought the throwaway line: “the limestone (360,000 tons [per annum]) is going over to road”

However, there WAS a way to make things more economical. As Ray Enslin had pointed out more than a decade earlier: eliminate the unproductive workings by taking over operation of the private line and perform the daily locomotive inspections at PPC’s depot in New Brighton. This was not impractical because the servicing staff could be brought in from Swartkops Diesel Depot on the broad gauge, only half a mile away.  Without the knowledge of SATS head office, a low-key approach to PPC’s local management was made and the idea put to them.  It was greeted with enthusiasm – we discovered they were keen to keep the limestone on rail.  They told us it cost R600,000/year to operate and maintain their line (about R1.50/ton), plus another R2.67/ton for the aerial ropeway from the quarry to Loerie station.  These costs could be eliminated by using road transport direct from the quarry to the factory. But they also let slip that expensive adaptations would have to be made for loading lorries at the quarry and offloading them at the plant

Cue the Regional Statistician, Johan Marais.  He calculated that by eliminating the light-engine and van workings, SATS could deliver limestone direct to PPC’s rotary tippler at a lower cost than dropping it off at Chelsea (see the map).  Complicating the issue was a one-off R750,000 amount facing the cement company for rehabilitation of their line – it had received no major attention since it was built 60 years previously.  A trolley inspection accompanied by another champion of the narrow gauge – my colleague Chris Müller, the Regional Track Engineer, was quickly arranged.  Within days Chris had a reliable fix on upgrading the PPC line – less than half the amount quoted by the private contractor – as well as an attractive annual maintenance charge.  But it was one thing coming up with a plan to save the limestone traffic but it would be an altogether different exercise getting it past Dr Coetzee.  With the concurrence of the Regional Manager, we formed a small group dedicated to keeping the railway in business: Regional Statistician, Johan Marais; Assistant Regional Mechanical Engineer, Tim Fox; Regional Track Engineer, Chris Müller; Senior Superintendent Commercial, Blackie Swart (who bravely joined our group – Dr Coetzee was his boss!); Charlie Lewis, Regional Engineer. After checking and re-checking the figures, and a trial run down to the factory we drafted a letter requesting that our group be allowed to present the proposal to Dr Coetzee in person.  Our case was well set out by Johan Marais but the first hurdle was to get the Regional Manager to sign it!

To our delight the AGM Commercial agreed to a meeting (perhaps he had no choice) so on the 9th of October 1985 a streamlined delegation consisting of Johan Marais, Blackie Swart, the newly-appointed Assistant Regional Manager, Wicus Pretorius (a shiny-suited egocentric who had taken over from Neil Oosthuizen) and I, set off for the ivory palace known as Paul Kruger Building in Johannesburg.  The meeting was bizarre.  Dr Coetzee flatly refused to believe that it was possible to run to the New Brighton factory for less than the tariff for the present method of working – i.e. that we could charge R8.00/ton from Loerie to the factory instead of R8.46/ton from Loerie to Chelsea and still cover all costs.  Luckily his own right-hand man, André Heydenrych – who was present, saw the logic so the meeting closed on a guardedly optimistic note.

Nine days later, on 18th October 1985, the big meeting to discuss the future of the railway (referred to in Part 1) took place in Humansdorp.  We attended, anticipating that our plan for the limestone would be adopted and that retention of this key commodity would enable the railway to be saved.  Instead, Dr Coetzee made no mention of it and continued to prevaricate when pressed for definite answers.  This is how he broached the subject (recorded at the meeting): “As far as the limestone is concerned, Mr Luyt has done his sums [based upon the 60% rate increase proposed by the AGM !] and has come to the conclusion that the overall cost of conveying the limestone by road is lower than the cost … with his ropeway, our railway and his siding”.  Mr Luyt responded by telling [Chairman Piet van der Watt] that in view of the tariff increase, PPC had no choice but to enter into negotiations with road hauliers.  However, when questioned by the Chairman he made it clear that this was not a solution that he favoured, rather it was one that had been forced upon him: “when we are faced with cold economic facts we also have a business to run”.  Crucially, Mr Luyt went on to say “our decision is not irrevocable, but whatever conclusion we come to, what we are looking for is a long-term solution ” [my italics].  For the umpteenth time, Dr Coetzee repeated that he could give no assurance about the future of the railway [one cannot over-emphasise the damage to customer relations that was caused by this prevarication].  Eventually, under unrelenting pressure from those in attendance, he was forced to back down and appoint an action group to “re-evaluate the economic viability of the narrow gauge”.  This, of course, wasn’t the end of the story. 

On the Region everything that had been done to save the limestone business seemed to be in vain.  Nonetheless things actually were beginning to happen – albeit slowly and not in the way that Dr Coetzee planned it.  He circulated our proposal to the relevant departments in head office: Operating, Planning, Technical (CCE and CME) and Financial. We were so sure that our plan was sound that depression began to be displaced by optimism as we waited for feedback.  When it eventually came, optimism was dashed to the ground – through working into the factory had again been emphatically vetoed by Dr Coetzee.  His letter dated 4 March 1986 made it clear that our proposal, along with its meticulously presented calculations, had been ignored – there is no reference to it at all until the last line which says: “PPC have already been advised that the proposed method of working is not acceptable”.

I will spare you the full transcript of this letter.  Suffice it to say that it consists of six paragraphs, each one giving an invalid, if not ludicrous argument for preserving the status quo and therefore not providing our customer with any reason to stay with rail.

But Dr Coetzee had made a strategic mistake – accompanying his letter was the feedback from the various heads of departments.  Even after all these years, the casualness with which these senior officials sitting behind their comfortable desks in Johannesburg were prepared to throw away valuable assets based upon wrong assumptions about cost and income allocations, let alone the geography of the area, is startling. 

Based on this crude sketch, and ignoring advice from the GM Technical’s CME and CCE that the proposal be adopted, Dr Coetzee chose to follow the recommendations of the GM (Operating) and GM (Financial).  In commenting on our proposal, the GM (Operating) drew the sketch and then proceeded to draw all the wrong conclusions from it!  He started by showing PPC’s line branching off to the south – i.e. straight into the Indian Ocean, instead of to the north (see Bruno Martin’s map).  He then compounded the error by saying that costs would increase because the SATS diesels would have to travel light from Humewood Rd to Chelsea then down to the factory to pick up the empties, work them through to Loerie, pick up the loads and drop them off at the factory before returning light to Humewood Rd to complete the day’s work.  He doubted whether this could be done within a 12-hour shift which, he said, would require an extra set of men.  Additional costs would also be incurred to drive a shunter and C&W examiner the 78km (!) there and back to the factory every day (yes, he took the rail distance from Humewood Road to the factory via Chelsea and doubled it).  The GM (Operating) submitted his interpretation of our proposal to the GM (Financial) who, unsurprisingly, calculated that on this basis it would be R2.38/ton more expensive to work into the factory.  On these grounds both of these departments rejected our proposal.  The AGM (Commercial) accepted their rejection with alacrity.  Nobody from either department took the trouble to come and see what the actual situation was on site, nor did they consult their corresponding departments on the Region. 

It had taken head office several months to reach this conclusion.  Meanwhile, PPC was experimenting with road transport using vehicles provided by Jowells Transport – an uncanny irony seeing that 40 years previously Jowells had put paid to the Cape Copper Company’s 2’-6” gauge railway to Port Nolloth by starting up a road haulage service from O’kiep to the SAR railhead at Bitterfontein. 

In spite of all these setbacks, and the negative attitude of head office, Tim Fox, the Assistant Regional Mechanical Engineer had been quietly carrying out experiments with through working to the cement factory.  He found that 21-wagon guardless trains were feasible with two diesels (as opposed to the then standard 18 loaded C-wagons and van).  More importantly, with assistance from the CME’s testing staff, Tim found that 30-wagon trains with three class 91s in multiple were feasible (prior approval for the latter had been obtained from the bridge office).  Arising from these tests, a reply to the AGM Commercial’s rejection letter was sent, pointing out the mistakes which had led to him reaching the wrong conclusion.  The RM based his reply on a through tariff of R8.00/ton from Loerie to the cement works (as opposed to the R8.46/ton imposed by Dr Coetzee).  It showed that working into the factory with 21-wagon trains would show a surplus of R2.78/ton and that 30-wagon trains would generate a surplus of R3.85/ton.  Note that these figures excluded capital redemption and head office charges – when they were included, 30 truck trains still covered all costs but interestingly, they were based upon a tariff of R8.00/ton from Loerie to the factory which, when PPC’s costs for the aerial ropeway were added in, the RM felt would be competitive with a road haulier from the quarry to the factory (compare this with Dr Coetzee’s unrealistic rate of R8.46/ton for Loerie to Chelsea).  This crucial information, with detailed costings and all relevant calculations, was sent to the AGM Commercial on 25 March 1986 with a follow up on 14 April.  Nothing happened. 

By 21 April PPC’s patience finally ran out:

I remember the day this telex arrived.  It seemed that after 80 years it really was all over for the Avontuur line.  That evening there was an emergency meeting of the Action Group.  I was invited to attend.  The main topic was the silence in head office over our concerns with Dr Coetzee’s misguided letter and the Region’s carefully worded response to it.  It seemed already too late but the SATS members in the group discussed whether to disclose our sums to PPC and let them apply pressure on Dr Coetzee from their side.  Knowing that PPC's local management did not favour road transport it was agreed that it should be done. The new Assistant Regional Manager refused to do it so I volunteered to be the fall guy.  The following day, armed with Johan Marais’ calculations, I met Messrs Bezuidenhout and Marshall, the GM and AGM of PPC New Brighton, at the factory and gave them our figures, suggesting that they use them discreetly to persuade the GM Commercial to agree to through working.

At the same time, Piet van der Watt, Chairman, called an urgent meeting of the Kouga Regional Development board and all interested parties at Humansdorp, to take place on 28 April 1986.  He intended to use the costing information he had been apprised of at the Action Group gathering the previous week.  This was done, and under unrelenting fire from the delegates, Dr Coetzee finally crumbled. In his address to the meeting he at last began to spout the things we had been telling him for the past 12 months, for instance that by eliminating the unproductive light locomotive working between Chelsea and Humewood Road it was possible to provide PPC with service right into their factory for no extra charge!  He was not gracious in this revelation, he made no reference at all to the region’s part in it and he could not resist adding another fifty cents onto our proposed tariff.  We did not care, we had won. 

To his credit, but probably only because it had become so desperately urgent, the AGM Commercial wasted no time in communicating with PPC when he got back to Jo’burg.  The latter’s reaction was immediate.  The letter reproduced above arrived on 1st May.  There was elation on the region - on a personal note, I felt that I knew how those who had saved so many branch lines in other countries must have felt. 

Final Pattern of Services 

A transition in arrangements now began.  A single Class 91 was based at the cement factory and was diagrammed to meet stone trains at Chelsea, taking them down the valley to the factory ten wagons at a time.  This of course spelled the end for PPC’s two Funkeys and the Hunslet Taylor six-wheeler.  The three were removed to storage at Humewood depot to make space for the newcomer at the factory loco depot.  These arrangements were not a complete success, however, the journey down the twelve mile siding still taking fifty two minutes each way.  Moreover the efforts of the dynamic braking system to control the descent of the heavy train, combined with the slog back up the valley with the empty wagons, led to the uneconomically high fuel consumption of 1.1 miles per gallon. 

12.  One of the first - if not the first - of the triple-headed runs up Loerie bank

Fortunately a further opportunity to enhance working economies had been triggered by the approval of the civil engineer, given on 27 January 1986, for triple headed trains to cross the bridge at van Stadens, the previous limit having been double headed Class 91s.  This led to the establishment of a pattern of operation which would last until the middle 1990s.  Van Stadens was a more favourable location than Summit to reduce the motive power of a down train as there was a sharp climb from the bridge up to the loops at the station.  From this point onwards the journey to Chelsea was on a continuously falling gradient.  Over a period of some three weeks trials were carried out with trains of 29 wagons (542 tons of limestone) hauled by three locomotives in multiple working mode.  The findings were that fuel used per wagon was comparable with the figures for two locomotives hauling 18 wagons (337 tons of stone).  This allowed the immediate introduction of the triple headed 29 wagon trains and indeed the load was soon raised to thirty wagons (the requirement to include a guards van now having been dropped).  This final arrangement is shown in the Working Timetable Train Diagram for 1988.  The gross train weight of the thirty cars and three locomotives now approximated to an impressive 873 tons.

At van Stadens Station (or Witteklip) the triple headed loaded trains would meet double headed trains of empties heading in the opposite direction.  The handover procedure was for the empty train to stop short of the station loop lines, allowing the locomotives to detach from the train and move into the empty loop.  The locomotives of the loaded train standing in the second loop line would then uncouple and move forward to attach to the empties whilst the other pair attached to the loaded train.  With one of its diesel engines now shut down the empty triple headed train continued its journey down to the loading bunkers at Loerie.  Meanwhile the now double headed loaded train set out for Chelsea.  Here, the final refinement of the service was the elimination of uneconomical single locomotive working of the private siding, the whole train of some thirty loaded wagons and two locomotives now continuing down the siding all the way to the factory.  The only subsequent change to this was the increase of the load to thirty three wagons from 1996, bringing the gross train weight to a heroic 1003 tons, the wagon load having been raised from 18.7 tons to 20.4 tons. 

13. Triple-heading is what saved the limestone traffic.  It would keep the limestone on rail for another 20 years, until the quarry at Limebank was played out in 2005.  Class 91s Nos 007, 005 and 015 making up their 33 loads in the "Hole" at Loerie, showing the two loading bins.

The financial savings brought about by these changes were enormous.  Engine crews for the service (including one PPC crew) were reduced from five to two.  The requirement for 13 locomotives (including three PPC engines) was reduced to six.  The use of five guards was reduced to zero whilst the guards van was replaced by an additional loaded wagon!  At the cement factory three locomotive maintenance staff jobs were eliminated.  

 Working the PPC Private Siding 

Down the years PPC owned and operated at least six locomotives at its Port Elizabeth plant.  They shunted the cement factory sidings.  They also assembled and then hauled the trains of empty wagons back up the Papenkuils Valley to Chelsea.  The first locomotive depot had been built about one kilometre from Chelsea and consisted of a water tower, a brick built running shed and two staff houses.  This facility must have been abandoned at an early point in operations however, certainly by the early 1960s (according to SM Moir), in favour of a new three-road engine shed within the cement works complex. 

In steam days the trains of empty wagons were worked by locomotives up the valley to Chelsea where the practice was for a train of empties to run into the East side line of the triple loop.  The locomotive was then detached to stand in one of the other two loop lines.  When the SAR train of loaded wagons arrived it would stop short of the loop lines, the SAR locomotive then being detached to run forward to couple up to the waiting line of empties.  Meanwhile the PPC locomotive could now run forward to attach to the loaded train.   The SAR guard handed over his waybill to the PPC engine crew.  The crew consisted of a driver and fireman, plus a third man responsible for shunting, coupling and point changing.  Since this was a private siding no guards van or tail lamp was legally required.  The loaded train could now set out down the valley, pausing only to uncouple and leave the SAR guards van in the loop.  The Garratt hauled train of empties would then set back to collect the guards van from the loop before setting out for Loerie.  On the journey down the private siding the shunter/coupler rode on one of the last wagons.  An important duty for him was to keep the local children away from one of their favourite games which was to pull the vacuum pipe of the last wagon off its plug.  This of course brought the train to a grinding halt and had been known to block either the Old Cape Road or Standford Road which was crossed on the level about half way through the journey.  In recent times Hennie van Rooyen, now the senior diesel driver at Humewood, made headlines in the Eastern Cape Herald as one of that rare kind of railwayman, a train driver who had been given a traffic offence ticket for allowing his train to obstruct a main road!

PPC Steam Locomotives

14. Little is known of the cement factory’s first locomotives.  They are believed locally to have been one or more of the Kerr Stuart Wren class tank engines built during World War One (this superb image of a Wren, possibly the one employed on the Sundays River dam, comes from the Port Elizabeth library via Chris Jeffery).  Interestingly, a General Arrangement drawing for a Wren was included in a package of drawings of EPCC locomotives sent by the company to Leith Paxton in response to a request for help.  They are thought to have been employed in the construction of the 12 mile private siding from Chelsea and may also have worked later in the quarry at Patensie until 1934, assembling trains to hand over to a SAR locomotive for the journey down to Gamtoos Junction.  Although Hunslet records show the company as having supplied a replacement boiler for one of them to EPCC in 1935, a year after the closure of the Patensie quarry, their fate is unrecorded.  Meanwhile, powerful motive power was required for the opening of the Private Siding from Chelsea Junction to New Brighton.  The frugal factory management were able to acquire a second-hand engine from SAR.  This was Bagnall B Class 4-6-0 No. 27, one of the first engines to serve on the Avontuur Branch in Edwardian times.  

15. The well-worn Bagnall was clearly insufficient for a reliable service and as early as 1930 a new Baldwin 4-6-2 locomotive was purchased.  It was more or less identical in design to SAR class NG10.   Despite its similarity in leading dimensions to the six NG10 pacifics working the Avontuur Branch the EPCC engine carried American style boiler-top mounted sand boxes, a stove pipe chimney and an electric headlight.  It looked the part, but was rather disfigured in 1949 when it was reboilered and given a Hunslet makeover. As the trains grew heavier during the post war years the Baldwin began to feel the strain.  Observers in the 1960s remember its need to stop on the way up to Chelsea for a blow up before the journey could continue.

16. A further upgrading of the PPC motive power took place in 1949 when Hunslet supplied a 2-8-2 tender locomotive to meet the post-war growth of traffic then being experienced.  Hunslet was “asked to produce an engine capable of handling double the loads currently possible” (with the Baldwin), according to the then managing director, Mr JF Alcock, in his presidential address to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in 1962.  This was achieved by adaptation of a Kerr Stuart design of 1928 for the Gwalior Railway in India, the redesigned, enlarged boiler contributing to a tractive force of some 13,500 lb.  Hunslet also supplied a new boiler for the Baldwin.  This was equipped with a balloon-stack spark-arresting chimney and a smokebox door hung similarly to the Hunslet 2-8-2, giving the two PPC locomotives of the time a superficially similar appearance.  Their livery was at first dark green with a bright red valance running from the front to the rear buffer beams, which were also red.  Lettering was yellow.  In the 1960s however the growing frequency of traffic incidents on the level crossing with the Standford Road led to the change of this livery to a more high visibility all-over pinkish red colour.

PPC Diesel Locomotives 

17. In 1964 Hunslet Taylor of Johannesburg built a six-wheel diesel mechanical locomotive to the cement company’s specification.  Leith remembers its arrival at Port Elizabeth in the red livery then current for the steam engines.  It had been designed to replace the 50 ton Hunslet 2-8-2 of 1949.  The new 26ton locomotive achieved this, powered by a 377hp Rolls Royce engine driving through a mechanical transmission.  This consisted of a torque converter and a main gearbox which drove final reduction gears on each of the three axles.  There was a surprisingly long fixed wheelbase of some ten feet!  The locomotive had air brakes and was equipped with graduated vacuum brakes for train control.  On Monday August 20th 1973 the Baldwin 4-6-2, by then serving as reserve motive power, came to grief on the stop blocks outside the factory engine shed, having moved while unattended.  In the collision the engine suffered damage to its running gear and was put up for sale for scrap.  Fortunately two 1968-built Funkey diesel mechanical locomotives had just become available.  Their owners, Consolidated Diamond Mines of Namibia, had replaced their internal rail operations by dumper trucks and accordingly put the locomotives up for sale.  The arrival date for the locomotives is uncertain, although they were at work on the line in PE by 1975 and were soon fitted for multiple working coupled bonnet to bonnet.  They had been built without any provision for train brakes for their work in the diamond fields.  This would clearly be impracticable on the PPC private siding where their work would involve controlling the descent of heavy trains on a 1 in 40 inclined private siding with an unprotected main road level crossing near its mid-point!  At first, vacuum for braking Funkey-hauled trains was generated by a vacuum exhauster directly coupled to a Deutz diesel engine towed on a permanently coupled four wheel trolley.  The driver controlled the train pipe vacuum by opening and shutting a crude flap valve to allow ingress of air.  The diesel engine and ejector were eventually mounted inside the front compartment of the locomotive bonnet although the primitive operating valve remained. 

In a curious turn of events, subsequent to their withdrawal from service, no fewer than four of the six PPC locomotives have been purchased by railways in Wales.  Three of them can be seen hard at work today.  They include the two Funkey B-B diesels on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways and the Baldwin pacific steam locomotive which is a mainstay of the Brecon Mountain Railway.  The Hunslet Taylor diesel mechanical was also bought by the Ffestiniog Railway (as part of the package deal to purchase the two Funkeys) but was donated to the Apple Express Society in Port Elizabeth.  Unfortunately its gear box had been removed for repairs at some stage before its storage.  The locomotive stood out of use for many years outside Humewood Road steam depot.


Today, limestone trains still run to the New Brighton factory.  Now, however, Cape-gauge hoppers have replaced the twenty four inch gauge tippler cars.  The new stone trains run from a loading point not far from the new quarries near Addo.  On the narrow gauge, by May 2002, the wagon tippler had been scrapped.  Track on the private siding had been lifted to within 1¼ miles of the former Chelsea junction.  At Loerie the buckets, the aerial ropeways and their pylons and the loading bunkers had all disappeared by September 2005 leaving nothing visible to show they had ever existed.  All that remained of “The Hole” was the grass-covered Spoornet sidings.  

The capital investment and modernisation of the narrow gauge at Port Elizabeth had been designed to increase the overall capacity of the service and allow for long term traffic growth.  With hindsight it proved to offer a life-saving basis for making the operating economies in the traffic that served, over a period of many years, to prevent its transfer to road haulage.  The table of annual stone tonnage for the operation shows that the traffic peaked in weight carried during the late 1970s to 1980s, the later transport developments serving to carry a traffic which fluctuated from year to year but was no longer growing significantly. 

In the end, renewal and re-alignment of the Langkloof road (R62) and the main road to Patensie, larger lorries (whose owners paid less than 15% of their road-usage costs), combined with the greed of the railway unions and management (resulting in unsustainable tariff hikes) had put paid to all the narrow-gauge traffic.  We shall develop this theme further in the course of the next four parts of the PE narrow-gauge story.

The limestone business at work
18. In the last year of steam operation a NGG13 brings the later standard eight wagons and a van up the winding grade out of Loerie to Summit.  Amazing how Spanish practices persisted into the 1970s on SAR.  That van could have been replaced by a loaded limestone wagon, increasing payload by 12.5%, a big difference, but the unions wouldn't have it. The telephoto lens has brought the Cockscomb much closer than it really is.  Between the mountain and the railway was a quilted wilderness of hills and hidden valleys with clear flowing streams.  No wonder when PPC's Limebank quarry was worked out, environmentalists were adamant that no new quarrying would be permitted.  Although I couldn't swear to it, I think the second scar (i.e. the one further away) in the hills on the left is in fact the quarry.  There seems to be a road leading to it.
19. After the diesels arrived Loerie became much quieter, the only regular steam being the Patensie branch engines that slept there.  On the 2nd October 1973 there were only a few days remaining for scenes like these.  On the left, 125 cl NGG16 has ballast for the upgrading and strengthening of the line into the Langkloof - even though the diesels arrived in 1973 and the relaying had been completed as far as Humansdorp, it would be another ten + years before the full main line was ready for them.  On the right, 110 cl NGG16 has just fetched some DZs of limestone from "die Gat " (the Hole), the local name for the sidings that served the loading bins. 

20. Pride in the railway.  That was something that persisted until the dying days of SAR.  Just look at the immaculate station and yard and compare with the years post 1985 when the "businessmen" began to sink their teeth into our national railway system.   This view of Loerie from the top of the water tank, looking towards Gamtoos was taken in June 1962.  In the background the limestone loading bunkers can just be seen, also a few of the pylons that supported the overhead ropeways to the quarry, some 7 miles away.   Note the goods office clerk's bicycle leaning against the goods shed, probably unlocked, and the barrow for transshipping parcels and baggage between branch- and main-line trains standing at the ready between the loop and the platform road.  A limestone train is coupled up and almost ready to go, banker cut in as usual while in the platform road, 628-up Transship and Pick-up (T&P) - in reality a mixed - has just arrived.  Note all the passenger activity on the platform - almost 20 years after advertised passenger trains were discontinued. 

21. In Loerie station a NG15 draws its four DZs up towards the ten wagons forming the remainder of its train.  Soon the banked combination will thunder out of the little village of Loerie as it shifts another load of limestone up the 8-mile hill to Summit.  In the goods shed road is a ngDZ loaded with portable huts for trackworkers.

22. During 1962, after the NG15s arrived, it became popular to run 12-wagon trains up the hill to Summit.  After a year or so the practice was discontinued owing to the loss of two wagons per precious train path - according to the WTBs of the time there could be more than sixty workings/day (including returning bankers) on this hill during the fruit season.  The sign on the left directed you to "B Beyers Shop and Butchery".  Lamb was quite expensive there - I remember paying 3/6 for a pound of best chump chops to braai alongside Loerie Bank.  The frequency of the trains soon took the pain away.

23. The more conventional formation of a Garratt trailing ten loads followed by an NG15 and four loads plus van, charging the hill out of Loerie in June 1962.  The most curious aspect of this photograph becomes apparent when comparing it with photo 2 which shows a Garratt and NG10 handling fifteen loads and a van, despite the lower tractive effort of the combination.   Above the cab roof you can just make out two scars on the hillside.  The steeper one is the old Thornhill - Loerie - Patensie road, the flatter one is the 1-in-40 incline of the line approaching Waaihoek (Windy Corner) which is exactly behind the steam from the safety valves of the NG15.

24. And here we are, with two NG15s on a 12-wagon banked load actually approaching the hairpin bend around the knoll behind the train.  Approximately where the guards van is in this photo, it was possible to jump off, run up the hillside to the right and wait for the train to catch up.

25. This one's for you, Geoff.  Check the moulding on the hills - the locals say there's a thousand of them!  A typical 14 wagon formation of the sixties wends its way up Loerie bank on a late afternoon working in June 1962, not long after the NG15s had taken over banking duties from the NG10 Pacifics.  The old Patensie road was adequate and inconspicuous, discreetly out of sight on the left - the new road carves an angry swathe slap through the middle of this view.  Why God didn't stick with rail I shall never understand.

In March 1962 the guard of an opposing train (see next photo) admits a banked limestone working into Summit station. Note the exhaust steam of the following train on the right-hand edge of the picture.  Permissive working ("visual interval with smoke signals" see the Aussie comment further on) was allowed before the introduction of the Van Schoor token system on this section. 

A narrow narrow gauge section of single line with more than 60 movements/24hrs as was the case between Loerie and Summit is hard to imagine today, but this really was the situation between February and April each year during the deciduous fruit season (the citrus season only started in May but was not quite as frenetic).  Threading the limestone workings into all this was quite a feat and demanded discipline and timing.  Matters were helped by the fact that the dreaded ashpits had not yet made their appearance on open lines so firemen could clean their fires on the run - as is happening here with the NGG13 seen in the previous picture entering Summit siding with its load of limestone.  The opposing train was a solid block consignment of fertilizer for the farmers in the Gamtoos Valley - everything went by rail in those halcyon days.

28. The calmness is deceptive.  While the Garratt with its 14 wagons of limestone has departed (its smoke just visible on the left) the driver of the NG15 banker is in the Station Foreman's office collecting his paper order to permit him to take his engine back down the hill to Loerie - this was in the days before the Van Schoor token system was introduced on this line.  The banker will follow hot on the heels of the newly departed up fertilizer train.  And I've just noticed something.  Look at those holes in the back bumper of the tender.  One of them would have been for the steam line for passenger-train heating which would have been necessary in South West Africa, but not here where passenger trains never had heating as far as I know - even though up in the Langkloof it can get pretty chilly on a winter's night.

29. A quieter moment at Summit in May 1962. By May things were usually calming down as the deciduous season tailed off and the citrus was only beginning.  The Station Foreman is holding the paper order for the limestone train while he chats to its driver.  Meanwhile the fireman is giving the ashpan of 110 cl NGG16 a good rake, although how such a mountain of ash (I was standing on it) could build up only 8 miles out of Loerie is a mystery.  When the limestone has cleared, the  banker, 119 cl NG15 will head back down to Loerie.

30. In July 1962 at Thornhill, 78 cl  NGG13 on down empties was crossing 134 cl NG15 with 12 loads of limestone.  Compared with the Garratts the NG15s were lighter on fuel and maintenance, hence their popularity.  Their use on limestone workings was, I think, during periods when traffic was down because they were only allowed to haul 12 loads as opposed to 14 for a Garratt.

An NGG13 brings a long string of empty DZs past where Thornhill's outer-home signal would be if it had one.  Instead of the outer-home, the proximity of the station is marked by the two ordure bins on the left.  Yes, even in the 1960s, Thornhill still had bucket-and-splash toilets.  Vot a stensch!

32. In May 1973 during the last year of steam working this NGG16 with eight loads was charging the curving 1-in-44 grade up to Van Stadens station.  It is said that the 254ft-high bridge was originally built to accommodate a future gauge widening - something that is unlikely to happen now.  

At this point I would like to hand the microphone to two Australian gentlemen, Graham Watsford and Lindsay Crow who visited the Avontuur line in April 1970 when the fruit season was in full swing (note, for "down" read "up" and vice versa):

"About 27 miles from PE is a deep rift in the countryside which the narrow gauge jumps over on a spidery steel trestle.  This is Van Stadens Gorge and we [stationed ourselves] at the neighbouring station.  We started about 10:30 a.m. and finally got away about 2 p.m., after photographing action solidly in the interval.  The most spectacular effort was a quadruple cross, with trimmings.  An up stone train with a Garratt was the first to arrive and he proceeded to build up his load from some cars in the yard.  The driver warned us  there were two trains coming on the down, and soon they did - nose to tail!  The first was a Garratt with about 30 empty opens and about 100 yards behind his van was a 2-8-2 with 7 coal trucks.........It is supposed to be tabled with time-interval working superimposed, but it's more like visual interval with smoke signals.  The culmination of the affair was with another Garratt arriving on the up with a load of stone.  With the preliminaries and a bit of shunting it took about 2 hours for all this to disperse, and then the Station Foreman announced that he had an up double-headed fast fruit (note fruit not freight) due.  This duly stormed in, up into the yard and when in the clear the fireman of the second engine hit the ground, leapt up on the rear tender step, kicked the chopper out of the truck behind and the train coasted to a halt with a soft slurp of the vacuum brakes as the two 2-8-2's headed over the up end points to pick up some more loading.  When they move traffic they really move it."

"The next stop was Loerie, the originating point for the stone traffic and foot of the fearsome Loerie Bank, 647 ft in 8 miles.  Almost the whole of the climb is visible as the line dives up valleys and around hills to gain altitude.  We arrived just in time to witness a Garratt departing on a goods train with a 2-8-2 sitting behind him on a stone train.  From our vantage point we could also see the aforementioned 2-8-2 and coal train from Van Stadens descending the hill.  Swift consultation of 'Twenty-four Inches Apart' gave us the heartening information that there was a crossing loop up there.  The two trains disappeared from view behind a hill and quiet descended on the valley - except for a Garratt and van rumbling down the hill.  Somewhere up the hill they sorted out that triple cross and we were able to go into action with our cameras.  The alignment used to gain altitude is little short of fantastic [see Bruno's map] and, as the direct road distance is only about 2 miles, you can appreciate the twists and turns."

33. A NG15 approaching Chelsea with twelve loads

34. In January 1959 at Chelsea, 81 cl NGG13 branches away from the main line (visible on the left) with 15 loads of limestone.  The locomotive still carries its Stone’s Tonum headlight, flared-top chimney and its sand box mounted on top of the front water tank.  The “chopper” of the coupler was customarily carried only at the Port Elizabeth end of locomotives.  The exchange sidings with EPCC are about 150 yards in front of the engine. 

35. An extremely rare photo of EPCC's  Hunslet at work bringing a batch of empties across the Cape Road just before reaching the Chelsea exchange sidings, c 1965.

36. The Hunsletified Baldwin shoving loads onto the limestone staithes in the shed in the background from where the stone would be conveyed to the cement works on the right.

37. Another extremely rare photo - this time EPCC's Baldwin in action, bringing empties up the Papenkuils River valley on their way to Chelsea exchange sidings in June 1968.

38. In the first half of the 20th century the EPCC's railway was almost entirely in wilderness until inevitable urban sprawl began to catch up with it in the sixties.  When EPCC locomotives were unavailable it was the practice to operate the Private Siding with hired SAR locomotives.  Here an NG15 deputises for the crashed Baldwin Pacific on a train of empties heading for Chelsea in October 1974.

39. On a morning in May 1962, EPCC's Baldwin gets a little attention to her left-hand piston gland before heading up the line to Chelsea.

40. Here she is, even if a bit blurred, heading under the Uitenhage road with a long train of empties in May 1962.

That's all for this chapter.  It was getting too long so we decided to split PE-Loerie in two.  The next will deal with the passenger services (both draught and tourist), fruit traffic and general freight.  Don't miss the next EXCITING episode of Superrrr SoAR!!!!