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The Midland Main Line - Part 2: Paterson to Alicedale ©

Please note: All photographs, maps and text in Soul of a Railway are protected by copyright and may not be copied or reproduced in any way for further use without prior permission in writing from the compilers of this series, Les Pivnic and Charlie Lewis.

Here follows the second of a four-part series about the main line from Port Elizabeth to De Aar: 
So many have helped with its compilation that a name at the masthead can't be justified.  In alphabetical order, special mentions and thanks are due to Eric Conradie (historical facts monitor and photos); Andrew Deacon (formatting the website); Allen Duff (historical photos); Chris Jeffery (our language monitor); Bruno Martin (the incomparable maps); Yolanda Meyer (the THL librarian, especially her ever-patient and efficient location of historical data); Peter Micenko (civil engineering and track-data monitor); Harry Ostrofsky (our new partner-in-crime and signalling monitor); Leith Paxton (photos); Les Pivnic (photos and historical facts monitor) and the Transnet Heritage Library, an absolute mine of information.

1. This undated print resides in the Transnet Heritage Library, presented here as it is preserved.  As you can see, it shows the Chief Land Surveyor Charles Metcalfe and his assistants probably around the early 1870s.  Metcalf later gained fame as the man who laid out the Benguela Railway which, when contemplated in the context of Bruno's map below, makes a lot of sense.  For Metcalfe must have been one of those who gave rise to the belief among old railwaymen that the surveyors were paid by the mile*.  The course chosen for the Midland Main Line from Sandflats onwards causes one to ponder whether in addition they weren't paid by the ton of Welsh coal consumed by the locomotives!  Assuming no corruption was involved, the lengths to which the surveyors went to to avoid tunnels and bridges is nevertheless astonishing.

* The original alignment of the Benguela Railway used to surmount the initial steep rise away from the coast resorted to a rack section which eventually was bypassed with a fairly substantial concrete viaduct.

Bruno's map shows an unaccountable piece of railway (mis)location between Sandflats and Tootabi as laid out c 1875 by the above gentlemen.  Note the 600+feet of rise and fall compared with the 1934 route, and the twisting and turning necessary to hold the climb to the ridge at Bellevue to a constant 1-in-35.  All this to avoid one 280-yard tunnel and some not-very-large crossings of the Bushmans River.  Presumably their remit was to design a route that would keep the cost of construction as low as possible regardless of subsequent operating expenses that such a constraint would generate. 

Observe that the N10 today uses part of Bellevue Bank's alignment on its approach to Olifantskop Pass.  Perhaps roads engineers also received a commission based upon how much tar they used? 

2.  Sandflats station, photographed by E H Short, as it appeared in 1896.  The station buildings were attractive which wasn't sufficient to save them from becoming redundant upon completion of the deviation through the Bushmans River Poort in 1934.  Also redundant after 1934 was the engine shed used to house the banking engines for Bellevue Bank (as it was known) which were no longer needed because of the reduction in gradient from 1-in-35 compensated to 1-in-80 compensated! 

During 1962 Sandflats station became "Paterson". Upon reading the several cuttings from the SAR&H magazine and newspapers kindly sent by the THL librarian Yolanda Meyer it becomes clear why the station at Sandflats had its name changed.  The first Paterson to become a railwayman was James, who joined the CGR as a clerk at Port Elizabeth in 1882.  After rising to many senior posts in the Operating department, in June 1913 Sir William Hoy appointed him as Divisional Superintendent at Kimberley where he retired in 1920.  Four generations and 180 cumulative years of service later the fourth generation (and sixth member) of the Paterson family joined what was by then SA Transport Services in Johannesburg.  

Chris Jeffery has provided some additional background: "Paterson ‘was laid out in 1879 and named after John Paterson (1822-1880), who established the town.  He was a Member of Parliament and founder of the Eastern Province Herald and of the Grey Institute for Boys’ (P E Raper New Dictionary of South African Place Names sv).  So it looks as if the railway was the reason for the ‘town’ in the first place".   

3. Michael Stephens' class 7 was the 15F of its generation.  For 30 years they handled most trains between PE and Cradock and many other of the main lines besides.  What the CGR did to move traffic over the Bellevue bank, not to mention the rest of the Midland Main Line until the 7s came, is hard to imagine but certainly the largest power available before their arrival (Cape 4th class 4-6-0s which had a third less tractive effort) would have been severely inadequate.  Note the two different types of bogie wheelsets, spoked in front and disc behind! 

4. Hendrie was one of SAR's best known CMEs.  He produced a wide range of long-lived and successful locomotives - in fact there was scarcely a dud among them.  However, one has to question the number of different types with minor variations that were produced during his jurisdiction.  For instance, classes 12 and 14 were introduced simultaneously from 1912.  Both were outstanding designs that gave exemplary service but why two types identical in purpose and dimensionally similar with but a 3" difference in driving wheel diameter?  Only Hendrie himself, or perhaps the Chief Civil Engineer, could have explained (SAR Civil Engineers were painfully pedantic and inclined to lord it over the Mechanical Engineers). 
At rest at North End running shed in 1932, 12B 1948 in original format with non-combustion-chambered Belpaire firebox.  Designed specifically for the Midland and introduced in 1920, for almost 40 years the Main Line was entrusted to these tough-as-nails machines.  As you've probably gathered, the reason for including these portraits at this juncture is that after years of searching we have turned up not a solitary usable photo of either of these types at work on the Bellevue bank.  Surely somebody somewhere has a good negative or print that would relieve our embarrassment? 

5. Bellevue station, looking North East towards the outrunners of the Zuurberg in the 1890s.  What the tents were for is unknown but it might have been temporary accomodation for the track gang (see photo 7).  There are two trains in the station, both with class 7s.  The one on the left would be about to descend to Tootabi while the one in the middle seems to have just banked a train from Tootabi.  Banking was resorted to from both sides of Bellevue. 

6.  One crossing loop and a siding was all the accommodation available for trains at Bellevue in 1896 when E H Short visited.  The loop, nestling in a saddle in a Zuurberg ridge that is penetrated by the Bushmans River about 3 miles to the east, was more than 600 feet higher than Sandflats and Tootabi, which made banking a necessity from both sides.  One imagines that at times this lonely-looking place must have got exceedingly busy. 

7. This letter was unearthed by Yolanda Meyer, to whom we should all be grateful.  Concerning paragraph 2, in the chapter on the railway to Graaff-Reinet we shall post further correspondence between Mr Rabone and the SAR museum.

7a. Accompanying Mr Rabone's letter was this record of the CGR's stalwarts at Bellevue in 1898.  A few of the names are handwritten very faintly on the mounting board, so we know that Mr Rabone's father is the youthful-looking fellow in the middle in cloth cap and tie.  To the right of him, dozing off, is night-shift Foreman Kemp, and the man with the scout hat holding the young boy is Platelayer Rees.  The two gents in Voortrekker beards are Humans, they look like the platelayer's flagmen to me.  One must assume that some of the men depicted were track labourers working under Rees (the CGR provided uniforms for station staff who might have contact with the public but its munificence did not extend to platelayers, flagmen or track labourers). 

8. For nigh on 60 years the Bellevue bank was a formidable coal-consuming obstacle between Port Elizabeth and Alicedale.  As shown on Bruno's map, the simple deviation along the Bushmans River, completed in 1934, eliminated 600 feet of rise and fall and reduced gradients each way from 1-in-35 to 1-in-80. 

This block load of new motor cars had just entered the gorge after passing through Boesmanspoort siding and was descending towards the first bridge over the Bushmans River.  With steam haulage it was stipulated that runner wagons be inserted between the cars and the locomotive to prevent soot and cinders from spoiling the paintwork. 

9.  Southbound away from the first bridge is 27-down all stations SaO with 15F 2937.   This is the same curve as in photo 8 looking the other way and the bridge is located at the foot of the vertical sandstone cliff behind the train. 

10. We are now well and truly in the Bushmans River gorge, more commonly known by its Afrikaans name of Boesmanspoort.  To get to this point the railway has made a huge detour around the ridge in the background.  A straight line from the back of the train would bring it to Paterson if there was a tunnel (see map).  The train is carrying yet another load of cars destined for the Witwatersrand and there are an unusual number of runners between the 15F and the cars - they must have been Fairlanes and Mustangs.

11. We're looking down at the first crossing of the Bushmans River from the top of that vertical sandstone cliff mentioned in the caption for photo 9.  The train appears to be a block load of locomotive coal (it was generally much coarser than power-station coal). 

12. The same cliff from the other side in the late afternoon with the rare combination of class 16CR piloting a 15F on a block consignment of fuel for the Northern Cape.  The Pacific had recently been transferred from Greyville shed in Durban upon completion of the first stage of the South Coast electrification (to Umkomaas) in 1968.  Its use on the main line on an important train at this late stage is an indication of how traffic had increased beyond expectations in the late sixties. 

13. In mid-1968 steam was still very much in the majority on the Midland Main Line, with only 435/438 "fast passengers" and a few ore workings by class 33s on loan from the Cape Eastern system.  

14.  On this single-track mountain railway there were between 60 and 70 trains every 24 hours, which meant you were practically guaranteed to see 30-odd trains in daylight depending upon the time of year.  So it was fun to picnic in this gorge and just watch the trains going by. 

15.  Forging uphill towards tunnel No 1, barely a mile ahead. 

15a. Northbound goods about to enter the southern portal of tunnel 1.

16.  Evening in Boesmanspoort, perhaps the last train before we lose the sun.  Anyone care for a glass of wine with their chop?  (But don't forget to turn on the tape recorder). 

17.  Hold that corkscrew, here comes another one...............!  The sun had gone but this 15F was making a lot of noise dragging all those AZDs and B-bogies up the hill.  The mouth of tunnel 1 is only about 200 yards ahead, it is the tightest tunnel on the main line now that Dassiedeur has been bypassed (this will be in Part 3) and when built in 1934 no one on SAR could have visualised that within a few years locomotives would fill the loading gauge thus leaving little room for smoke to escape. 

18. A down consignment of export manganese (the heaviest ore) approaching the north portal of Tunnel No 1.  There is only half a mile of 1-in-80 between Eagles Crag and the tunnel but it was sufficient to bring this loudly protesting doubleheader of 24+15F down to walking pace - with not a slip mind you but even so they barely made it over the hump.  Like the 16CR on the petroleum train the use of a class 24 on ore traffic shows how desperate the operating staff were at this time.  The 24 was probably a Somerset East branch engine returning to Sydenham for attention.  Have I ever mentioned the sound made by a doubleheader of engines with different driving-wheel diameters (in this case, the 24 with 4ft-3" and the 15F with 5'-0" drivers): Chooka Chooka Chookachookachooka.............., One! Two! Cha Cha Cha...... 

19. An Up goods has cleared the tunnel and with Eagles Crag not far away its 15F has already opened up for the 6-mile grade to Alicedale. 

20. In December 1965 Leith found 15F 3008 approaching Eagles Crag with up empty DZs.  Note the tunnel mouth just visible through the smoke.  This was the tunnel and that is the ridge  that scared off the surveyors of the original route via Bellevue.  It was actually a pisswilly little tunnel only 280 yards long, that avoided a big loop with the river (see map).  

21. Eagles Crag in July 1956 with 12R 1931 on 435 "fast passenger" whizzing by at all of 30mph.  If this picture looks blurred do not adjust your bifocals, it was taken on Kodachrome I with which, if the weather was bad as in this case, it was hard to stop anything doing more than 10 mph. 

22.  When a railway starts using passenger locomotives on ore traffic you know things are getting desperate.  Such was increasingly the case in 1968 as manganese export orders piled up and diesels on order had not been delivered.  We have already shown a 16CR assisting an up petroleum train.  Even more incongruously, here is one on a down block load of manganese in B-bogies crossing the Bushmans River into Eagles Crag, in October 1968.  The Pacific was 16CR 821 but the only things known about the 15F is that it was a Cradock engine and a Beyer-Peacock of the wartime series. 

23.  During the course of several visits to the Midland Main Line in 1968/9 we seemed to accumulate a lot of awful pictures of the Bushmans River bridge at Eagles Crag.  Ag, let me re-phrase that: an awful lot of pictures..... (doesn't really sound much better!).  This was 15F 3087 with 119-down mixed all-stations from Cradock to PE in October 1968.  It was a very slow train, just about everything took priority over it, but a journey on it had its rewards. 

24. Leith seems to have specialised in double-headed photos of 435-down and 438-up ("fast passengers"), something that most ordinary mortals missed out on. 15Fs 2937+3120 were approaching Eagles Crag with 435-down in December 1965. 

25. 15As and 15ARs were strangers to the Cape Midland System until late 1965 when Queenstown locomotives displaced by the Cape Eastern main-line dieselisation began to arrive at Sydenham.  Although mainly employed on the Klipplaat and Graaff-Reinet services they were also roped in to ease the situation developing on the main line, frequently doubleheading with 15Fs as here departing Eagles Crag on northbound livestock empties in October 1968 (yet another angle on what was quite a photogenic bridge!). 

26.  This is stretching my luck I know, so please tell me which of these bridge photos I shoulda left out.  Bottom-dumping AZD ore empties heading for the Northern Cape behind 15F 2985 in October 1968. 

27. Northbound goods re-entering Boesmanspoort after leaving Tootabi [1] (the station is just behind the train) in October 1968.  Tootabi is where the 1934 deviation rejoins the original route via Bellevue bank. Upon its closure, much of the latter was converted into a well-graded road providing vehicular access to Alicedale - it enters Tootabi via the valley between the krantzes on the right and the hills in the left background (see Bruno's map) [2]. 

[1] The name means "brackish spring" in Khoikhoi according to Prof Chris Jeffery.
[2] The CGR's formation which was used for the Alicedale road from 1934 until well into the '70s has been abandoned altogether and replaced with a tarred road according to Allen Duff and Chris Jeffery. When precisely this was done is not known. 

28. Just south of Alicedale in December 1965 is 15F 3003 with a down goods crawling over the CGR's three-arch masonry viaduct which had been showing signs of distress for some time. Already almost 90 years old it had simply not been designed to carry the traffic that was using it by the sixties.  Conveniently situated right by Alicedale's outer home signal which was put permanently on so that all northbound trains had to stop and restart here, while southbound trains were faced with a 5mph speed restriction that was applied until strengthening work had been completed during 1968. 

29.  The repairs were carried out by the simple expedient of filling in two of the arches and repairing the third, probably because the very minor tributary of the Bushmans River never was known to carry more than a trickle.  15F 2985 with Up empty AZDs was restarting at Alicedale's permanently on outer-home signal in October 1968.  By December the speed restriction had been lifted and south-side workings into Alicedale reverted to normal after almost five years! 

30. Boesmanspoort at its best.  The domeless 19D is working 30-up northbound T&P, one of the duties of which was to provide domestic water to outlying stations between Swartkops and Alicedale - hence the tankwagons. 

31. The 12Rs still helped out until well into 1969 by which time the arrival of new class 33 diesels brought almost 40 years of main-line service to an end.  They were wonderful engines, borne out by the fact that the entire class gave more than 50 years of service before the first was withdrawn.  It has been mentioned that the Midland 12Rs were originally 12Bs before reboilering.  All 30 members of the class were allocated to the Cape Midland from the start and spent most of their working lives there. 

32. Southbound ore leaving Alicedale behind 15F 3005, June 1968.  

33. After taking loco in Alicedale's new sidings, this 12R was departing with a lengthy down goods in October 1968.  With major remodelling in progress at the time, Alicedale had its signals disconnected and points on hand tumblers, hence the yard foreman admitting the train to the main line. 

34. Having stopped and restarted at Alicedale's outer home this northbound general freight was about to enter the new sidings to take loco.  Why the crew elected to commit blowing down before cleaning their fire is not known.  As we shall see, the new yard at Alicedale (completed just in time for the announcement that the main line was to be dieselised) had pairs of garden-hose type gate valves spaced exactly for two 15Fs with standard tenders.  This enabled them to complete their ablutions in 20 minutes instead of 40.  Fast-watering columns would have done the job in 3 minutes. 

35. While remodelling was in progress all northbound trains had to be hand-flagged into the yards.  This was an Up rake of empty AZDs about to enter the new yard in October 1968. 

36. We've reached our destination for this chapter now so we'll finish off with some interesting views of Alicedale taken around the turn of the 19th century, starting with this one, probably by E H Short looking down Boesmanspoort before the road was built.  Compare this with Allen's photo 30. 

37. Another E H Short shows that Alicedale's shed was originally at the southern end of the yard.  Later it was replaced by a not nearly so imposing structure situated where the wagons are clustered together in the far left background beneath the hill. The track layout also changed substantially in the intervening years.  Our permanent-way monitor, Peter Micenko, has pointed out the unusual accumulation of equal-split turnouts at this end of the island platform.  Note also the turntable and coal-stage and while on the subject of coal, it ought to be mentioned that by 1895 the CGR was experimenting seriously with the produce of Cape Collieries in the north east of the Colony - hence the enormous lumps mixed with dust and sand which was characteristic of the low-grade, high ash local product (unit cost of the local product in pennies/British Thermal Unit was probably not much lower than imported Welsh Coal). 
 Fortunately, by this time much better coal had been discovered in the Transvaal Republic and in Natal so relief for CGR's long-suffering engines was just the other side of the Boer War.
Some time between 1895 and 1956 when I first went to Alicedale the imposing main station building disappeared along with the double platform road that appears to serve the Grahamstown branch (you can see its home signal above the roof of the main-line station).  Later, the whole of old Alicedale was abandoned and a (very ugly) new facebrick station erected close to the new sidings referred to above. 
Despite heroic efforts by the citizens of Grahamstown to keep their line open it was finally shut down by a destructive railway management in 2008.  Since then the new station has succumbed entirely to vandals. 

38.  A guess as to the date of this photo kindly sent by Allen Duff would be c 1910.  It is clearly much later than Short's photo No 37 above.  Later, upgraded station buildings on the island platform now seem to be the main buildings and the platform itself is raised and more substantial.  You can see the main line veering off to the left while the Grahamstown branch is also visible, heading off to the right.  The engine shed is still in the same place it was in 1895 and there are at least ten engines visible.  The reason for so much motive power is that until 1934 Alicedale was a banking station for both southbound (Down) trains for the Bellevue bank and northbound (Up) trains for the first three miles out of town.  After 1934 northbound banking was still necessary until tunnel 2 and its associated deviation had been completed in 1940.   

39. According to Allen, who gained his information (and the photo) from the Cape Archives the old CGR "horsebox" had been converted to a GAL (Government Analytical Laboratory) coach and put at the disposal of Dr Juritz who was travelling around the Cape Colony taking soil samples.  The photo was made at Alicedale in June 1903 and in reply to my query as to whether he was related to John Juritz, the well-known bassoonist at the Cape Town orchestra, here is a note from SoAR reader David Werbeloff: 
"John and June Juritz and their three kids were our neighbors in Fresnaye.  John is no longer with us, having joined Bump Middleton and Reg Clay (my two teachers) in the Eternal Wind Section.  John was not only a very talented musician, but his "day job" was Senior Lecturer in the UCT Physics Department. Surely you were in his class as a student?  In addition to being a bassoonist, he played the harpsichord, and owned a big, double manual instrument made by the English shop of Robert Goble and Sons.  It was certainly an inspiration for me.  I was in awe of the man and his intellect".

"Here is a quote from Marischal Murray's "Under Lion's Head", the authoritative work on the history of Sea Point:  "The Juritzes were for long among the best-known of the old families in these parts, Jan P Faure Juritz being a son of Carl F Juritz, who came from Prussian Poland in 1825, eventually settling in Cape Town".  Following the time line, I suspect that the Dr Juritz (Charles Frederick, 1864-1945), whom you mention collecting soil samples in 1903 must have been our Professor Juritz's grandfather, great uncle or possibly father/uncle. (John Juritz's obit from 2008)"  

Thank you David!

40. Another E H Short masterpiece. The ladies in the photo seem to be in their Sunday kit so there likely was advance notice that the photographer was on his way.  The grand station building looks even more imposing from this angle and check those beer barrels awaiting transshipment into a Grahamstown-bound train.  A three-year old CGR class 6 as designed by Michael Stephens is on the right and to the right of it a couple of oxwagons.

This photo of a north-facing train (possibly the one used by Short on his 1895 photo-gathering expedition) is a suitable one to end Part 2.  In the next part we'll present the section from Alicedale to Cradock.