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System 3, The Port Elizabeth Narrow Gauge, Part 1 by Charlie Lewis ©

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Due west out of Port Elizabeth for 177 miles to the tiny hamlet of Avontuur, there meanders a 2’-0” gauge railway that for more than 80 years served the deciduous-fruit growing region known as the Langkloof.  Although the “kloof” part of its name – meaning “cleft” or “ravine” – implies that it is narrow, it is in fact a broad, well-watered valley, quite rugged in parts, between tall mountain ranges.  Until the completion of the metalled R62 in the mid-1960s the ‘Kloof was Arcadian in its isolation, only accessible by railway or corrugated dirt roads developed from crude wagon tracks that had served the region since the 18th century.  The arrival of the railway – albeit a narrow-gauge one – in 1906 was of huge benefit to farmers who hitherto had battled to get their produce to market by ox wagon.  Much closer to Port Elizabeth there was also an important branch that tapped the fertile vegetable lands and citrus groves of the Gamtoos valley.  In wild, largely unspoilt country to the east of this river are extensive deposits of a pure form of limestone, ideal for cement making.  During the 1920s a quarry with its own link to the SAR was established at Patensie by the Eastern Province Cement Company (EPCC – a subsidiary of Pretoria Portland Cement).  At Chelsea siding, 14 miles from PE, a 12-mile private line connected the EPCC factory at New Brighton.  Although the limestone quarry was later moved closer to Loerie its product became the base traffic of the narrow gauge and remained so for more than 70 years. 

By the 1920s the Avontuur line had become one of the busiest narrow-gauge systems – described in detail in Sydney Moir’s seminal “Twenty-four Inches Apart”, published by the Oakwood Press in 1963.  Rather than going over ground already well ploughed by Moir (he died some 20 years ago), the next five chapters of SoAR will mostly deal with the turbulent subsequent years.  We hope that much of this material will be made available in a proposed new book by David Payling. 

Post WWII the South African economy experienced 40 years of almost continuous growth, sweeping SAR along with it.  The Langkloof railway was affected slowly at first but by the early 1960s traffic had increased enough to warrant substantial investment in its infrastructure, rolling stock and locomotives.  After SAR became South African Transport Services (SATS) in 1981 expenditure on the narrow gauges continued unabated at first, but came to an abrupt end in 1985 – we shall see why in a moment.  

When this somewhat naïve, newly appointed Regional Engineer took up his post in PE in 1981, the narrow-gauge relaying and strengthening programme (a prerequisite for running diesels into Avontuur) was a predominant topic at our weekly meetings with the Regional Manager1.  This was ten years after SAR’s run-down of steam traction had been set in motion, so all the Locomotive Superintendent wanted to know was when he would be able to dispense with steam west of Assegaaibos.  In this he was eagerly supported by the Superintendent Operating (who actively hated steam) and the Regional Manager himself who had no emotional attachment to the machines that had faithfully served the Langkloof for 80 years.  This despite conclusive evidence that exhaust-steam and coal smoke were what gave Langkloof apples their much sought-after flavour! 

Just in time for the new fruit season, in February 1984 a process that had begun 15 years earlier was finished – 177 miles of 60lb rails had been laid right into Avontuur.  For the first time, packed fruit could run all the way from the Kloof to the cooling sheds in PE Harbour behind diesels.  There were no hiccups, except that there weren’t enough diesels to handle the peak traffic, so after a break of ten years (but only for a few weeks) pairs of NG15s helped haul in block-loaded crops from Assegaaibos – a job they had done with distinction until they were bumped aside by the class 91s.  However, the track-relaying programme was not the only project completed in that month.  At Twee Riviere, Misgund and Avontuur new fruit shelters, paved areas for fork-lift trucks and offices for the Deciduous Fruit Board (DFB) were handed over to the commercial division and the last of 220 new insulated OZ fruit wagons were delivered to the Operating Department. 

The 1984 season was spectacularly successful.  Never had the traffic been cleared so efficiently – and this with an all-time record 58,000 tons of export fruit in three months.  Cape Midland railwaymen from all departments were naturally proud of this achievement – even more so on 11th of May when a letter of congratulation arrived from prominent Misgund farmer, Mr M Kritzinger on behalf of the Langkloof producers, thanking the Regional Manager for the completely hassle-free clearance of the 1984 crop and looking forward to a similar joint operation in 1985.  I quote from this letter (translated): “We as the producers cannot let this opportunity pass to thank you for the truly outstanding service which we received from SATS during the past season.  The harvest eventually turned out to be much bigger than originally anticipated but we never experienced any difficulties in getting the export tonnages away smoothly.  We thank you [again].” 

But unbeknown to all on the region (I think it is fair to include the Regional Manager himself, unless he was a very good actor) storm clouds were gathering.  At the weekly meeting in September 1984 a letter from Assistant General Manager (AGM) (Commercial), Dr G J S Coetzee, informed us that the 1985 crop was to be handled by SATS’s in-house Road Motor Transport (RMT) division.  Additional lorries and trailers would be sent to cope with the surge in tonnage.  I was present at that meeting and can remember as if it were yesterday the gasps of disbelief and dismay around the long table.  

We knew instantly that this decision would have disastrous consequences – and so it proved.  Pandora's box had been opened.

The stage for the tragedy – that is not too strong a word – had been set several years previously with the passing of the Road Transportation Act, Act 14 of 1977 (mentioned in SoAR chapter 1 part 5).  The curious thing is that railwaymen (including this writer) didn’t realise its implications at the time – in effect this landmark Bill removed the protection from road hauliers which SAR had enjoyed since the Motor Carrier Act of 1931.  Among various harmless provisions of the new Act, the killer was a sneaky clause that allowed private carriers to haul goods permit-free within a radius of 80km from their headquarters.  Soon, trucking garages were set up at 160km intervals between Durban and Johannesburg, and similar depots began to spread out along other main and branch lines.  Nor did the narrow-gauges escape.  Without us realising it, Act 14 had rendered almost every private siding, most of the branch lines and even main lines vulnerable to competition from subsidised private road hauliers, so that by the 1990s the railway map of South Africa was being altered forever.  In the nature of government-run bureaucracies it took years for the bad news to sink in.  While the number of SATS employees nationwide continued to increase from c 260 000 in 1977 to an all-time high of 278 000 in 1983, investment in the railways continued on a massive scale.  To illustrate this point a table of Capital and Betterment expenditure (adjusted for inflation) on the Port Elizabeth narrow gauge is reproduced below.  Many new B-bogies and OZ wagons ordered during 1982/3 and delivered in 1984/85 scarcely turned a wheel in revenue service.  Having stood idle for several years while most of their phosphor-bronze and whitemetal bearings were stolen, they were eventually scrapped where they stood. 

Suddenly, in the latter half of 1984, head office woke up.  With the willing concurrence of Minister of Transport Hendrik Schoeman (who owned a fleet of trucks already benefiting from Act 14), someone in Johannesburg decided that branch lines in general and the narrow-gauges in particular were to be phased out as quickly as possible – with cynical disregard for the consequences.  Expressed in today’s money, in two decades since the mid-sixties 1,3 billion rands had been spent on the Port Elizabeth narrow gauge – more than half on new rolling stock and track that would hardly begin to generate a return.  In euros at least it sounds less at Є110,000,000, or in sterling even less: £94,000,000 – barely enough for half a mile of HS2!  But in South Africa this was BIG money – given the casualness of the decision to close it could have been put to much better use elsewhere.  

Considering that the Langkloof railway was handling the traffic to the obvious satisfaction of its customers and a huge capital works plan had almost been completed, there seemed to be no logical reason for closure.  The announcement was greeted with indignation by local railwaymen, who demanded en masse (via the unions) that the decision be reversed.  But the Regional Manager was a fatalist who was reluctant to stand up to head office in spite of overwhelming evidence that this was what neither the customers nor railwaymen wanted – his favoured expression when referring to the narrow gauge became “die koeël is deur die kerk ” (the die is cast). 

At this stage there was no real threat from private road hauliers (no doubt they were sniffing around) but as it turned out there was a convenient reason for head office to abandon rail.  The underground cooling sheds in Port Elizabeth harbour were old and expensive to maintain (the first was built in 1934, the second in 1954) and needed to be rebuilt or replaced.  Dr Coetzee (Dr Faustus would have been more appropriate) decided to impose a R2/ton surcharge to recover the cost – here it should be mentioned that only a few years earlier, in SAR days, upgrading or replacing the precooling sheds would have been proposed by head office without much ado and funds rubber-stamped by Parliament with hardly a query.  But the government had got itself embroiled in the border wars with Angola and Mocambique which sucked up money that ought never to have been wasted on such disastrous escapades so there was much less available for the railways.  

Naturally the DFB objected to the surcharge and so the idea of encouraging farmers to erect their own cooling sheds on their farms was born.  This suited SATS management who, without consultation with the Regional office or its customers, had unilaterally submitted to the Minister of Transport a proposal that the narrow-gauge lines be closed.  Their recommendation, based upon a dissertation by Dr Coetzee2, made no mention of the new insulated wagons – a further excuse being that reefer lorries provided by SATS could preserve what was known as the “cold chain” but the slow narrow-gauge trains could not (in 1993 this proved to be a fallacy after tests by Alfred County Railway). 

The main reason for the DFB’s acceptance of the switch to road immediately after completion of the Capital and Betterment programme was the surcharge, again, imposed by Head Office without consultation either with the regional office or the customers.  In a letter to Dr Coetzee in September, 1984 the DFB emphasised that they were more concerned about the tariff than the mode of transport, but Coetzee obdurately refused to budge so they were forced to accept the road-haulage proposal.  

In November 1984 the Regional Manager, in a letter to Head Office, set out the Region’s objections to the proposal.  In referring to the fact that the AGM (Commercial) had encouraged the DFB to use road transport because “the narrow gauge was being worked uneconomically”, the letter provided figures which showed that operating costs were being covered, it was only when Head Office charges and capital redemption were included that the bottom line turned red.  It pointed out that if the plan to close the narrow gauge were executed these costs would simply be transferred to the remaining open lines, thus setting off a domino effect.  

There was no response to this letter and it soon became clear that removal of the fruit traffic was only the first step.  Dr Coetzee was aware that in order to close the narrow gauge he needed the co-operation of Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC), the owners of EPCC.  Within days of his tactical success with the DFB he approached Mr Luyt, CEO of PPC, with the object of persuading the company to transport its 380,000 annual tons of limestone from Loerie to New Brighton with lorries.  The GM Commercial was very persuasive – he suggested that a 60% tariff increase would cover what he claimed were SATS’s losses on hauling their product.  When this leaked out on the region it was realised that loss of the limestone would be a terminal blow – which of course was the whole idea.  This time however the GM Commercial had overstepped the mark.  He completely underestimated the uproar the proposal created in and around Algoa Bay, not only from railwaymen but from PPC’s subsidiary, EPCC (particularly the latter’s GM, Mr Bezuidenhout, who did not favour road haulage), heads of commerce and industry as well as environmentalists in Port Elizabeth.  Thus began a stressful year of sparring (in which I was heavily involved) between the regional office and a very determined Commercial department in Johannesburg.  The story of how the base traffic of the line was saved and the life of the Avontuur line extended for another 20 years will be told in Part 2 of the Port Elizabeth narrow-gauge story. 

Meanwhile, local railwaymen were delighted to find that they were not alone in their astonishment that “railway” managers in head office were promoting road haulage – ostensibly because the line was losing money and the DFB wanted to switch.  As word got out, influential municipalities, commercial organizations, customers and the media throughout the catchment of the narrow gauge joined forces to oppose its closure.  During the ensuing months meetings were held up and down the Kloof to counter the threat resulting from loss of the fruit traffic.  Many cases and strategic plans were submitted to SATS headquarters but all to no avail.  The political route was also tried but the pleas of producers fell on stony ground, one suspects mainly due to the road-oriented Minister of Transport. 

A year later, on 10 October 1985, matters came to a head when Dr Coetzee addressed business and local authorities in Humansdorp.  Faced with unanimous opposition to the proposed closure, this was where the wolf finally shed his sheep’s clothing.  After thanking the chairman for his warm welcome Dr Coetzee went on to say he hoped that after his speech he would be just as welcome at future meetings – he must have thought he was dealing with idiots.  The speech and his subsequent dismissive responses to numerous objections to the proposed closure were full of factual distortions, doublespeak and misleading “information” that would have done a politician proud.  

Fortunately, forewarned had been forearmed.  The chairman of the meeting, Mr N P R van der Watt turned out to be a real champion.  He had armed himself with traffic figures discreetly provided by Johan Marais the Regional Statistician – a worthy stalwart of the cause.  Including the rump of the Langkloof traffic – deciduous fruit – the 1984 tonnages made up an impressive total of 599,700 tons (note that small inbound tonnages are included) and the thrust of his argument was how the GM (Commercial) could justify putting all this business on road: 

  • Langkloof (mainly fruit): 50,700 tons
  • Assegaaibos (fruit, wheat and treated timber): 50,000 tons
  • Humansdorp (mainly grains): 70,000 tons
  • Patensie branch (citrus, grains, lucerne and vegetables): 45,000 tons
  • Loerie (almost all limestone): 384,000 tons

Mr van der Watt (head of the Kouga Regional Development Board, which included the Langkloof) went on to provide conservative figures based on new agricultural lands coming into cultivation that showed the total nett tonnage available to rail increasing by 13%, or 77,000 tons during the next five years. 

In spite of this, Dr Coetzee stubbornly refused to give an undertaking that the line might have a future after all.  It was pointed out to him that customers could not make investment decisions to use rail in the face of such uncertainty but he was unmoved, ducking and diving to avoid direct answers to questions and challenges in the most embarrassing way.  I have the full transcript of this meeting and in Part 3 a translation of it will be published which shows that important rail customers posed questions that remained unanswered or were misleadingly answered.  From time to time I will refer to this document in future parts of SoAR – beginning with the story of how the limestone, base traffic of the narrow gauge, was almost lost then retained due entirely to the initiative of the regional office.  

The reader will notice that many of the illustrations date back to the very early years covered by Sydney Moir.  This is either because Syd did not use them or some of you might not have a copy of “24 Inches Apart”. 

1 Upon formation of South African Transport Services (SATS) in 1981, “Systems” became “Regions”  

2 n Vervoerekonomiese beskouing van die Suid-Afrikaanse Vervoerdienste: bestuur volgens handelsbeginsels, deur Gerhard Jacobs Swart Coetzee.  271pp, published by the University of South Africa, 1981.  Translation of the title: A transport economics view of the South African Transport Services: management in accordance with business principles.

Map courtesy of Bruno Martin ©

2. In the beginning there were three construction engines on the Avontuur line, “Midget”, the Manning Wardle 0-4-0T now preserved at the Crown Mines museum in Johannesburg and this Krauss 0-6-0T which looks identical to half a Zwillinge as sent by the same firm to the State Northern Railway in German South West Africa in 1901.  It seems probable that the Avontuur engine was a run-on from the same order and thanks to John Middleton we have have a reasonable fix on it.  I quote: "[regarding] the photo of the Krauss 0-6-0WT, I think the Durban reference1 may be a bit of a red herring because the Krauss records just show it as to the order of Arthur Koppel, Durban. It may be that Koppels did not have a PE (or Cape) agency at the time so Durban was the nearest office. It may even have come straight to PE, the order just being referenced as Durban because the agency was there.  It seems to have been a one-off (4830 of 1902) although there were "Zwillinge" built both before and after this loco, but it doesn't have a "follow-on" works number. It was a Krauss type XXVIIab which was unique in South Africa as far as we know. The date seems to tie in with the start of earthworks construction on the narrow gauge in May 1902 [which suggests that] it came new."  

In 24 Inches Apart Moir refers to another Krauss that was used on construction and occasionally for single carriage chartered picnic excursions.  He also shows a photo of this engine hauling the "Medical Officer's" coach.  Again, John has given interesting pause for thought and, hopefully, someone might fill in the gap in our knowledge: "The other Krauss is the one that creates the greater confusion - the 0-4-0WT Krauss 2479 of 1891, so built a full 11 years before the narrow gauge was started, this was delivered to "Baare, Berlin, for Port Elizabeth". It certainly ended up on the Avontuur as the SAR Rolling Stock Registers conveniently give its works number, but what did it do from 1891-1902, perhaps a CGR civil engineers construction loco?". 

1 Paxton & Bourne: “Locomotives of the South African Railways” p111, Struik 1985

3. First road power on the Avontuur were two Manning Wardle 2-6-4Ts.  Numbered 1 & 2 upon delivery to CGR, the first seems to have been renumbered 31 by the CGR.  According to Paxton and Bourne the SAR numbers for the MWs could have been 26 & 27 although there isn't a 2-6-4T on their list, so this is also a mystery.  Curiously, they look similar to the Calthrop 2-6-4Ts built by MW’s neighbours in Leeds – Kitson and Co – for the Leek & Manifold railway.  Kitson eventually absorbed MW but one wonders whether there already was collaboration between the two firms at this early stage (perhaps I’m getting carried away!).  Moir tells us the Avontuur MWs were popular and strong, being rated at 100 tons on a 1-in-40 grade. 

4. A Manning Wardle with a heavy load of steel pipes.  Alan Buttrum informs us that they were most probably on their way to Van Stadens siding from where a temporary light rail system ran down to a pump station under construction in the gorge to connect a new reservoir intended for PE's water supply.  From information provided by John Middleton it seems possible that this light rail system might have been operated by "a very early FC Blake 2'-0" gauge petrol loco" bought by PE Municipality in 1904 and/or perhaps the Krauss 0-4-0WT mentioned in the caption to photo 2 above.  There were a number of dams that supplied PE, including two on the Van Stadens river.  Some of them could have used the railway to bring in material so this is an interesting photo that needs further research.  If anyone can throw some light on it we would like to publish it, meanwhile thanks to Alan and John for the details we do have.

5. The first of the Bagnall 4-6-0s in builder’s grey, given number 3 in sequence from the MW tanks.  It is hard to credit that a true-blue British firm produced such an American-looking machine but Moir provides a plausible explanation.  It seems the contract specification was based on the little Baldwin moguls supplied to the Hopefield line in 1901 but it in order to achieve better curving it was decided to fit a leading bogie which would be more stable on the Avontuur line’s tighter and more numerous curves.

6. In the days before motor cars and good roads it was a regular indulgence of Bay citizens to join the CGR’s weekend picnic excursions.  Who could resist such an attractive train?  The little Bagnall "shone like a bottle" to use Leith's apt phrase.  It was painted in accordance with the intricate and very Victorian specification dated 13th July 1903 shown below.  The carriages were varnished teak with lead-white roofs as can be seen – it must have been a job to keep them clean.  Note the "observation coach" at rear.  Like similar vehicles on Puffing Billy it has no protection from the weather.  Some time in the 1930s the oil lamps were replaced by 32-volt lighting.  My experience of electric carriage lights on the narrow gauge was that they were not very reliable – when I rode to Avontuur in 1959 we left Humansdorp before dawn and sat in the darkness while our NGG16 fussed away up front, occasionally slipping on the dewy rails.


7. By and large the populace enjoyed these trains.  But they were slow and there were complaints, though usually good-natured as indicated by this delightful postcard dated 2-11-1907, addressed to “The Priory, Emerald Hill” (image provided by John Carter).  Check some of the crew having a cricket match while the train crawls by!


8 & 9.  These little Bagnalls were built for the Walmer branch and supplied to the CGR in 1908.  Leith Paxton tells us they were tank versions of the Bagnall 4-6-0s, which makes sense but they were prettier while at the same time retaining the bar frames of the main-line engines.  Another change was Walschaert's instead of inside Stephenson’s valve gear.  Although the side-on view appears in “Twenty-four Inches Apart” as well as “Locomotives of the South African Railways”, for the sake of those who do not have these books it is reproduced here, along with a front view.  Both show their graceful lines to good effect.


9a. This wonderfully preserved image of the Walmer train in charge of one of the Bagnall tanks came to light thanks to Chris Jeffery's researches at the Port Elizabeth library. Note the well-turned out crossing keeper (even the lowliest wore uniforms in those disciplined days), the Cape carts and the Hansom cab outside the station building which, in spite of the addition of a 4th storey, remains little changed today although the grandness of the aspect is destroyed by the huge concrete pillars supporting the freeway in front of it.

10. There are no details for the location of this gem from the collection of Leith Paxton but it looks as if it is in the Walmer avenues, pre WWI judging by the Edwardian dresses.  Another clue is the unkempt state of the track, the maintenance of which was paid for by Walmer Municipality at that time.  Somehow one doubts whether CGR would have allowed the narrow-gauge main line to get into such a weed-grown state.  There is no shelter in view, which there weren’t in Walmer except at the 14th Avenue terminus, so this photo bears out a footnote in the timetable: “All trains will stop …… at all Avenues when required to pick up or set down passengers”.  There is a glimpse of a suburban garden on the right.  Imagine having a narrow-gauge steam train passing by several times/day and being prepared to stop right outside your front gate!


11. The only run-around loop in Walmer was at the 14th Avenue terminus, shown here with one of the 4-6-0s of class NG9 supplied by Baldwin in 1915.  Leith Paxton tells us that after closure of the Walmer branch three of these machines were scrapped along with the 2 Bagnall tank engines shown in photos 8&9.  The other 3 went to Upington to work the new 2ft branch to Kakamas, and when that branch was converted to Cape gauge they were sold on to Angola.  An interesting postscript is that they were found out of use but still reasonably intact at Sá da Bandeira in September 1970. It is thought that this photo was taken on 26th November 1928 and therefore depicts the last train.  If this is the case then what is definitely the last train (see next photo) must have left a coach behind when it pulled out.

12. On 26th November 1928 the last train to Walmer departed from the rudimentary narrow-gauge terminus in Station St, Port Elizabeth.  The formation was a CGR passenger brake 1st followed by two Walmer coaches (they had longitudinal seats down the sides) tailed by a standard Avontuur-line balcony carriage as survived to be used on the Apple Express.  Only the latter still had its oil lamps.  It seems likely that this vehicle was left behind when the train pulled out, probably due to lack of passengers, thus showing an almost complete apathy from the general public about the fact that this was the last train.  Thank goodness Frank Neave was there to record the scene. 

The service had lasted just over 20 years but succumbed to bus competition, hardly surprising as the schedule allowed 30 minutes from 14th Avenue to the city compared with 16 minutes for the bus which used a more direct route.    Moir tells us the fares were the same and for most of the time Walmer enjoyed remarkably good rail service for such a small township.  In 1924 there were 12 trains in each direction on weekdays, the first leaving at 6:20 a.m. and the last arriving back in PE at one minute to midnight.  Theatregoers could catch a late evening train back to Walmer at 10:50 p.m. and we are told that if the show was running over its time the train staff could be persuaded to wait – something you can’t do today in Cape Town on Metrorail – there’s not even a service at that time of night, let alone a courteous official!

13. Following directly on from the NG9 and scarcely a year later was class NG10, a Baldwin 4-6-2 with Belpaire firebox but similar in character to the NG9.  In contrast to the NG9s however, they had a long and successful career with SAR, lasting in line service until the NG15s came from South West Africa in 1961/2.  No 65 was photographed by Les at Humewood Rd in 1958.


14. Take some time to study this one by the late F W Neave.  Having just departed from the Station Street terminus (in the far background), No. 63 cl NG10 is passing the Baakens River goods shed, rapidly building momentum for the 1-in-40 ramp up the wooden trestle to Humewood Road.  Judging by the position of the sun the service looks like the 09:45 PE-Humansdorp c 1925.  It consists of nine well-filled carriages – when this glorious old print is enlarged it shows plenty of heads peering out of the windows.

15. F W Neave’s fine portrait of No 77, first of the Avontuur-line Garratts, on broad-gauge1 transporter wagons in its way to Uitenhage shops.  The arrival of NGG13s at Humewood Road in 1928 came soon after the Avontuur line’s transition from a lightly-trafficked developmental line, hardly taken seriously by the General Manager’s office and looked upon with paternalistic indulgence by Cape Midland railwaymen, to a narrow-gauge heavy hauler when the new cement works at New Brighton came on stream.  Being able to take almost double the load of a NG10 they soon settled down on the limestone traffic, but also were employed up and down the Kloof.

How Garratts, originally a Beyer Peacock patent, came to be designed and built by the excellent German firm of Hanomag needs explaining.  In 1924 the Pact government came into power.  This was a coalition between Afrikaner nationalists and Labour unions formed to oust the old South African Party of Generals Botha and Smuts, considered by blue collar and rural elements of the electorate to favour the Randlord industrialists.  Afrikaners in the new government were still fighting the Boer war and so began several years during which state-run SAR avoided buying British whenever possible. 

Be that as it may, the NGG13s were sound engines – all gave more than 40 years service.  Unfortunately they had some important but rectifiable faults: the cabs were too small and unbearably hot in summer – the heat made worse because the designer/manufacturer put the steam turret, vacuum-brake ejector and sight-feed lubricator inside the cab; the cylinders had old-fashioned short-travel valves with Z-ported cylinders and the plain bearings on the inner carrying wheels were inclined to run hot.  The poor cylinder design was a feature of CME Collin’s tenure and probably ought not to be blamed on Hanomag but the cramped cab surely stemmed from the designer’s lack of familiarity with South African conditions – of course the CME’s office should have realised this before they approved the drawings. 

1 Whereas “broad” in Britain meant 7’-0”, in South Africa after standard gauge disappeared in the 1880s it meant 3’-6” gauge!

16.  The daily Humansdorp passenger departing from Station St.  Thanks to my old mate Jumbo Ward we can put a rough date on this photo because he has identified a 1935 Ford and a 1936 Hudson standing outside the main station.  Since Frank Neave often aimed his camera at railway subjects on special occasions there is speculation that this was the last departure from the original narrow-gauge terminus before the opening of the new purpose-built platform on the Indian ocean side of the main station. 

Into the 1960s, communities in the Langkloof and Gamtoos valleys could only be reached by primitive dirt roads or by train so the passenger service was popular from the beginning.  By the late 1920s the timetable offered departures to Humansdorp at 09:45 on six days/week, with a second departure at 13:25 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  On these days the 09:45 connected with the mixed from Gamtoos to Patensie.  The journeys were not rapid.  Humansdorp schedules allowed 6 hrs 23 minutes for the 70 miles (it was all stations!).  The van behind the engine was used for parcels, mail and passenger’s luggage.

17. The new narrow-gauge platform, still a bit of an afterthought, across from the broad-gauge New Brighton platform.  Even though it is tucked away behind PE’s venerable old station there are things to appreciate in this photo - it seems to convey a joyful optimism for the future of the narrow-gauge.  Everything looks so tidy this departure must be soon after the new platform was opened – note the light ballast showing hardly any dark stains from lubrication-oil spillage.  If you look carefully, in the far background there is a train smoking down the main line towards North End.  One of the 3’-6” gauge sidings on the right has a new ashpit under construction, this would have been for suburban engines to clean fire between runs.  In later years a turntable and water column were added.

18. The Carriage-and-Wagon examiner with his ping-hammer is on his way to the driver to tell him all is well, and soon immaculate No 81, cl NGG13 will be heading for Humansdorp.  Note the Walmer carriage, fourth from the engine, which had seats along its sides – as Moir succinctly puts it: “its passengers [gazed] grimly at their fellows sitting on the opposite longitudinal seat”.  By this time (c late 1936) the coaches had lost their paraffin lamps, but there seems to be a varnished-teak vehicle just after the Walmer coach. Water tanks on the roofs were for the lavatories.  Three coaches seem to have destination boards.

19. The Avontuur-line platform was No. 6 – the van of a New Brighton train can be seen in platform 5.  By this time (date of photo not known) the new platform was well used as borne out by the discolouration of the ballast.  There is a mystery surrounding the passenger service.  The 1941 timetable shows a daily SuX train to Humansdorp departing at 09:30 with connection at Gamtoos for the Patensie train with an overnight train all the way to Avontuur on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays – leaving PE at 21:30 and arriving at 16:59 (!!) the next day.  There were corresponding return workings.  Timetables up to 1943 show the full service but my 1949 timetable shows no rail service with the bland note that “passengers between Port Elizabeth and Avontuur are conveyed by Road Motor”.  If anyone can tell us the actual date or year when the advertised trains were suppressed we would like to hear from them. 

Remarkably, in spite of what the timetables said, or did not say, the daily transship and pick-up workings on the main line and the branch continued to cater for passengers for another 40 years . Although unadvertised, this practice was common knowledge among locals who continued to support the service until the end.  These daily SuX narrow-gauge mixed trains will be well illustrated in coming chapters of “Soul of A Railway”.

20. For how long use of class NG10s on the Humansdorp passenger continued is unclear, but we are fortunate that Frank Neave recorded No. 62 with its crew, seemingly about to depart – presumably soon after the changeover (a less romantic view is that by this time the Baldwin had been downgraded to yard pilot and was merely making up the train).


21. Frank Holland made this superb portrait of No. 81 cl NGG13 about to depart with the 09:30 to Humansdorp shown in photo 17 above.  Note new position of the sand box on top of the front tank and compare with the original position in photo 15.  Although the engines thus converted kept their sand-boxes in this position for many years, the post-war NGG16s reverted to the original arrangement on the front of the tank.  

22. No. 5, cl NG3 came to Humewood Road from Natal in 1939 as recorded in “Locomotives of the South African Railways”.  According to Leith she replaced No. 45, the NG9 that had been yard pilot at Humewood for several years before being sent to join her two sisters, No’s. 44 and 46 on the Upington-Kakamas branch.  The chunky ex NGR engine remained at Humewood until 1946 when she was sold out of service.

23. The first South African Garratt, No. 51 class NGG11, seen here in this lovely colour portrait made in April 1961 near the end of her life by Leith Paxton.  Having spent most of her career in Natal she was transferred to Humewood Road in 1946 to take up the yard pilot duties vacated by the departure of No. 5.

24. We have to thank Leith for this rare view of No 51 at work shunting the Baakens River goods shed immediately on the other side of the bridge.  Incidentally, I think 23 & 24 might be the only colour photos ever taken of South Africa's pioneer Garratt.

25. The first of the South West African class NG15s being offloaded in Port Elizabeth in April, 1961.  Note that it still has its single central buffer and side chains, the preferred draw gear on the ex-German lines.

26. The Tsumeb Garratts (No’s 141, 142 and 143), delivered early in 1959 (see photo 28) had only increased Humewood’s roster by three but from April 1961, after completion of the Otavi line's gauge widening, a flood of NG15s from South West Africa swamped the depot.  From a total of 23 engines in March 1961 (of which four were sub-shedded at Loerie) the tally almost doubled to 43 by July!  There was no room, let alone work for them all, so that by July 1962 all but one of the NG10s and No 51 had officially been retired.  A few months after Leith photographed her in colour,  a forlorn No 51 was at the end of a line of staged NG10s and NG15s – the latter still awaiting turning facilities at outlying stations.  Unexpectedly, the first of its class, NG10 No. 61 remained on the books until November 1962. 

South Africa’s first Garratt may have been filed and forgotten, but not by Leith who, in collaboration with the Port Elizabeth museum, made a determined – but in the end, sadly thwarted – effort to save No 51 in the face of complete apathy from SAR officials.  Leith had more success with No 61, the pioneer NG10, which today survives at Sandstone Estates – with a bit of luck she might one day run again.

27. From late 1961, newly overhauled NG15s equipped with Avontuur-line couplers were soon coming in from Uitenhage shops to take up their duties in the Langkloof.  This was No 120,  which some 30 years later was purchased for use on the WHR and originally stored at Gelerts Farm on the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway but now, hopefully, undergoing restoration somewhere in the south of England.

28. No 134 cl NG15 being prepared for the road at Humewood Road in June 1962.  She too is fortunate to have survived and happily is in an advanced stage of restoration on the Welsh Highland Railway.

29. The last three Beyer Peacock Garratts, SAR class NGG16 No’s 141, 142 and 143 were allocated to Humewood Road in January 1959.  The story of how this came about has been told in “24 Inches Apart” and “Steam Locomotives of the South African Railways”.  In February 1962, three years after I first saw her new out of the box, No 143 – the last Garratt made by Beyer Peacock and now in service on the WHR - was being prepared for a trip to Assegaaibos where she and sister No 142 were to be stationed during the fruit season.  A year later all three were sent to join their four sisters, No’s 137 – 140 in Natal. 


30. While Garratts still featured, the NG15s with their spacious cabs soon became the
enginemen’s pets.  Free-steaming, fast and feisty, there was little difference in hauling capacity and the improved comfort levels more than made up for this.  Before long the NG15s and their crews were doing round trips – just over 200 miles – in one shift to Assegaaibos and back, unprecedented in Garratt days.  In the fruit season the “Kalaharis” were chalking up >3,000 miles/month with regularity, that would have been respectable even on the broad gauge.  This June 1962 view of the north end of Humewood’s ramshackle mpd bears out the extent to which the NG15s had begun to dominate – five of them are visible, with only two Garratts.

31. The south end of Humewood Road shed on the same day with two Garratts but NG15s predominate.  That the narrow-gauge was but an orphan child of the SAR could hardly be doubted after a visit to Humewood Road loco.  Over the years, random wood and iron structures (and later, asbestos) simply sprang up as the need for shelters grew.  Even the machine shop looked as though a mild storm could blow it down.  The only brick building in the place was the shithouse. 


32. During 1964 the two NGG11s from Beyer Peacock’s second batch – No’s 54 and 55 were transferred from Estcourt to Humewood Road in exchange for two class NGG13s.  With piston valves and larger cabs they were a slight improvement on the first batch.  At Port Elizabeth they were used as shed and yard pilots and also on hauler duties between the docks and Humewood Road.

33. No 54 cl NGG11 on the docks hauler with a string of mt OZs passing the Campanile on its way to Humewood Road in May 1973.  The building on the right is the Customs shed (demolished in 1981) and in the background behind the tower is PE’s main station.

34. The same hauler about to pass the System Manager’s office (the pink granite structure on the extreme left).  The attractive white building on the right was the previous headquarters of System Managers, known as the Fleming Building, which itself was the second building to house the offices of the Cape Midland head honcho.  The brown dressed-stone building in the middle background (with the clock) was the General Post Office and to the right of it is the back of the City Hall.  Behind the GPO is the Feathermarket Hall and just sticking out its nose is a double-decker diesel bus of the Port Elizabeth Tramway Company with its distinctive lime-green and cream livery, the same as used for decades by its sister company – City Tramways of Cape Town.1  This whole panorama was destroyed a few years later when the new multi-lane concrete freeway junked everything in its path. 

Rollo Dickson has corrected my reference to the PE Tramway Company and also, kindly filled in the details of the bus in the photo.  It is "identifiable by the dropped lower edge of the driver's side window - it was a full-fronted, Gardner-engine-at-the-rear, Daimler Fleetline with 79-seat, forward-entrance bodywork by Busaf of PE. As at May 1973 (date of photo), there were 17 of these in service".


35. Last view of the same hauler climbing the 1-in-40 away from the Baakens River up to Humewood Road.  The steel spans and concrete piers of the viaduct replaced the original wooden trestle in the late 1950s.  3688 cl 24 on broad-gauge hauler duties (docks to Deal Party) is awaiting her next call of duty.

36. Christmas for the narrow gauge came earlier than usual in 1973 – in September in fact and without traditional Santa Claus wrapping.  Nevertheless it was a red-letter day for the Operating Department albeit a black one for us steam lovers.  If ever there were signs that Head Office was beginning to take the narrow gauge seriously it was the order for the 20 class 91s delivered by General Electric in the last quarter of 1973.  But this was during the tenure of Kobus Loubser, who might well be considered the last of the really competent General Managers.

37. 91-002, unwrapped and being fitted onto her specially designed bogies.  As it turned out only 20 of these GE model UM6Bs were ever built.  Their Caterpillar D-379 engines developed 700 horsepower.  Their 40 tons of adhesion gave them a starting tractive effort marginally better than a class NGG13 or NGG16.

38. And here is 91-001, almost ready for the road.  The 91s excelled themselves with the limestone traffic so we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in Part 2 of the PE ng story.

39. On the 22nd September 1973, 91-001 and 91-002 were ready to take a special Apple Express for the top brass and important customers on a trip to Loerie.

40. First signs of the radical changes ahead were that after 45 years, Garratts were no longer required on the Avontuur.  All but two of the NGG13s were retired and NGG16s transferred to Natal.  Here is 109 cl NGG16 packed and ready to go.  Her cab, dome and chimney have been removed to avoid fouling the overhead catenary in OFS and Natal.  In the background an NG15 brings some loads of fruit down to the harbour while one of the class S2 harbour shunters has a drink on the loco servicing track.  No 109 has fallen victim to the UK recession, else she would probably already be at work again.  She was bought from the Exmoor Steam Railway (who had bought it from SATS) by Pete Waterman who had intended to lease it to the WHR upon completion of its overhaul by engineering apprentices at Crewe under a government sponsorship programme.   This has now been suspended due the new government's "austerity" programme.  It is greatly to be hoped that it will not be too long before work on 109 is recommenced and she is fully restored and working as a coal burner on the WHR.  Thanks to David Payling for this information and it should also be mentioned that the photo was originally published in David's “Garratts and Kalaharis of the Welsh Highland Railway”, published by the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways – highly recommended.

41.  The diesels were so big they tended to bump into things.  There was no way they could safely enter the old Humewood loco with its restricted clearances, hence a sign was erected to gladden any steam-lover’s heart.  They didn’t need to go in there anyway. The new diesel shed across the road was state-of-the-art, as clean as a hospital, with wide pits and platforms at running-board level to assist with servicing and repairs – not that anything heavy was attempted.  The saying amongst the diesel fitters (who always wore the cleanest overalls) was that with steam it took five minutes to find the fault and all day to repair it whereas with the diesels it took all day to find the fault and five minutes to repair it - usually having the faulty component replaced with a new one manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania instead of Humewood, Port Elizabeth.

42. An idea of their size can be gauged from this shot of 91-014 coupled to an Apple Express coach.  On the first test runs their towering cabs caused havoc at water columns.

43. In the third issue of “Soul of A Railway” we will have extensive coverage of the Apple Express, courtesy of David Payling, but in the meantime we include a few glimpses of this world-famous train.  By the late 1960s it had become a popular attraction for Bay citizens and up-country holidaymakers – perhaps unwittingly recreating the CGR picnic excursions earlier in the century.  When Leith made this photo of No 109 cl NGG16 leaving Humewood Road with the Express – looking remarkably similar to a scheduled passenger train from the prewar years (except for the carriage livery and the headlight) – the train was already becoming a popular drawcard for visitors from overseas.

44. The manipulations of Head Office to shut down the narrow gauge had a remarkable effect on local railwaymen.  Improved service to customers became a primary concern and there were a concerted efforts to make the public aware that their railway was under threat.  Towards the end of 1986 it was decided to make a splash of the 80th anniversary of the opening of the line.  These NG15s, numbers 122 and 124 were repainted at Humewood diesel depot in the fitting staff and enginemen’s own time – many of the diesel staff had not lost their affection for steam and helped with the brushwork.  With valuable publicity from the media, the spectacular (if garish) paint schemes were unveiled during open days at Humewood and Humansdorp.  No 124, the green engine, was named “Granny Smith” and 122, the red one, inevitably “Starking”.  A fully-booked special doubleheader was run to Humansdorp where several new customer-friendly innovations designed by Mechanical Engineering Technician Frank Eckley were on display – more of this in Part 4.

45.  No 124 in full cry up the bank towards Valley Junction and Emerald Hill in May 1984.  About a mile further on there was a level crossing over the Airport road.  It was our custom to stand at this crossing on Saturday mornings to watch the Express come pounding through.   This was an inspiring sight, the little NG15 sounded like a main line engine at 70 mph while the clickety clack of tiny carriage wheels echoed off the railjoints with incredible rapidity.

46.  Once a year, usually over the Kruger-day weekend in October, the “Great Train Race” was staged, where relays of athletes tried to beat the train from Humewood to Loerie.  What with a bit of dalliance at water and fire-cleaning stops coupled with raids by lineside bandits, the athletes frequently won!

47.  I took part in the race only once – this was the view of our competitor that I remember most clearly.

48.  The next year I rode the train and spent a large part of the journey in the tuck shop which as you can see, catered for any emergency.  For example, if you needed to do some carbo-loading, chunks of fudge were on sale for 50 cents – money was still worth something then.

49.  Broad and narrow-gauge dock haulers at work late in July 1986.  No 124 cl NG15, one of the Apple Express engines, has just fetched a string of mts from the new Citrus pre-cooling shed, situated above ground on the Charl Malan quay – something that could easily have been done for the deciduous-fruit traffic.  If you can bear with us, we will tell you a whole lot more about how the citrus traffic was saved in Part 5 of this PE narrow-gauge story – again thanks solely to the efforts of Cape Midland railwaymen. 

50.  The Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in Birmingham found a good customer in CGR, they supplied the passenger stock with which the Avontuur line got under way.  Originally the carriage livery was varnished teak with white roofs and oil lamps.  By 1958 when Les found these two 3rd-class day sitters awaiting their next trip, their match-boarded sides had long since been painted over with SAR’s standard “Imperial” brown and electric lighting had replaced the oil lamps. 


And that brings Part 1 to a close.  Part Two will cover Humewood Road to Loerie and deal in detail with the Limestone traffic and the Apple Express.  Please let us know if you would like more pictures of the rolling stock.  We have many and will gladly include them if you wish.