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PART 24 KRUGERSDORP - ZEERUST - MAFEKING (Home Signal) (1) by Les Pivnic ©

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Having dealt with the Braamfontein Yard Complex in some detail it is now time to get out on the open lines again – this time West of Braamfontein and in particular, to follow the main line from Krugersdorp to Zeerust and Mafeking stopping short of that station at the Home Signal.  Mafeking itself will come under scrutiny when SoAR looks at the Cape Northern System.


The line from Krugersdorp to Zeerust was opened by the Central South African Railways in 1907 and extended to Buhrmannsdrif in 1911 under the auspices of the SAR.  In the meantime the Mafeking Municipality had built a Private Siding all the way to Buhrmannsdrif in 1904 which the Cape Government Railways acquired two years later in 1906.  So from 1911 it was possible to travel by rail from Johannesburg to Bulawayo without having to go all the way down to Fourteen Streams.  In fact, prior to 1907 when the Klerksdorp – Fourteen Streams section was opened, one would have travelled via Bloemfontein to Kimberley to join a train going north to Bulawayo!


The CSAR used class 8 locomotives to work the line to Zeerust and as far as is known, the trusty little 8s would have remained the mainstay of this line until the class GE Garratts were placed in service from 1925.  The GEs were joined by class GFs a couple of years later and they continued to work on that section for many years even after the GEs were transferred away to Natal.  In the mid-1930s the traffic capacity on this line needed to be increased and Theo Espitalier in his wonderful series written together with W.A.J.Day (CME), tells us how the SAR tackled this problem.  Theo wrote:-

The rapid growth of traffic on the Johannesburg – Mafeking line in 1938, necessitated some means of quickly increasing its capacity. This section is laid with 60lb rails. The Johannesburg – Zeerust section, a distance of 149 miles, is the more difficult as a considerable mileage consists of 1 in 40 grade and curves of 500ft radius. After leaving the Reef at an elevation of 5,700ft, the line at a point twenty miles away, falls to a level of 4,600ft whilst in the next eleven miles, it again rises to over 5000ft, to be followed by a drop to 3,585ft.

There was a proposal to electrify this line at least as far as Koster, but this would have taken a considerable time. Meanwhile the traffic position was becoming increasingly difficult and relief at the earliest possible date was imperative.

After discussions between the Chief Traffic Manager, Col. H.C. Cheadle and Mr Day, a proposed design for a “Garratt” type locomotive which was virtually two 19D locomotives, was submitted.  This design was rejected by the Chief Civil Engineer owing to what was considered excessive weight on the leading and trailing bogies of each unit.

This restriction might have condemned the scheme but it was eventually decided to cut the coal bunker capacity to 10 tons and to reduce the water tank to the small capacity of 1,600 gallons, to meet the axle load limitations fixed by the Chief Civil Engineer. This meant that a water tank (car) had to be permanently attached to the locomotive and so far as is known, is the first and only instance of such practice in the world.

In spite of criticisms and doubts expressed by a few, the auxiliary tanks have been satisfactory. The 1600 gallon tanks on the front units are only used when the auxiliary tanks are temporarily disconnected from the engines at running sheds.

Alternative tenders were called for six, twelve and sixteen engines, but sixteen were ordered.  Their use removed the difficulty of handling the traffic offering on this line, which although over difficult country, is probably the best maintained 60lb track in South Africa.

The sixteen class GM locomotives were built by Messrs Beyer Peacock & Co.Ltd., Manchester.  They were erected in the Durban Workshops and placed in service during 1938. The sixteen auxiliary water tanks were built at the Pietermaritzburg Workshops.

The gradient profile gives some idea of the difficulties faced by motive power bringing traffic up to the highveld from Groot Marico, lowest point between Mafeking and Krugersdorp: 

So the class GMs, having replaced the GEs that were transferred to Natal, became the main-stay engine power on this line assisted on lesser duties by the class GFs.  This arrangement continued until the arrival of the class GMAs from 1952.  While a batch of new GMAs was allocated to Braamfontein Loco to take over the main duties on this line including the passenger trains, the GMs were relegated to goods working which in turn released the GFs for use on other sections.  

Until the Beit Bridge-Rutenga connection was made, the Mafeking line was the sole connection between the Reef Industrial Complex and Rhodesia.  This made it one of the most important lines in the country and accounts in large measure for how busy it was. We already have many crossing photos (including a triple one) in Part 1 and, as we shall see, it is a feature of Part 2. This line was eventually and progressively re-laid with heavier rail which allowed the incursion of the diesel locomotive.  From 1969 I noticed class 31 diesels that had done so well on other sections, making an appearance on this line.  I am not aware of how far west they worked but certainly as far as Zeerust if not further. 

Class 33s replaced the 31s and eventually the class 34 diesel became the standard motive power on this line.  Even in the diesel era there were triple crossings which normally only happened when a route was getting close to saturation point.


From early times up until the late 1950s, steam worked the trains from Johannesburg to Mafeking even initially from the new station which hadn’t yet been completely decked-over. However, once the new booking hall deck covered over the platforms, the Chief Civil Engineer banned steam from Johannesburg Station and we had a relatively brief period while the new Krugersdorp Steam Depot was being built whereby class GMs and GMAs stabled at Braamfontein Loco were worked light engine to Krugersdorp where they would pick up their trains.  These trains were electrically-worked from Johannesburg to Krugersdorp.  As soon as the new steam depot opened at Krugersdorp, the need for light-engine working from Braamfontein obviously fell away.

1. We open with this historical photograph of Zeerust Station.  A class 8 is seen at the head of a passenger train before departure for Johannesburg.  The engine driver next to his steed is flanked by station staff and a hound wondering what all the fuss is about!

2. This is the first of a few random photos taken in the Steam Locomotive Depot at Krugersdorp.  The Depot was actually built to the west of the town near the Millsite railway halt.  This resulted in many people referring to “Millsite Depot” but the official name was “Krugersdorp Loco”.  In this 1961 scene, a GM is ready to go on duty while a few other engines are being prepared for their turns.

3. In November 1964 a class 16CR no.830 is seen working the coal stage.  In this broadside shot the 16CR looks quite precarious on the spindly ramp placing two type A hoppers on the stage to deposit their load of coal. 

4. A class S1 at Krugersdorp Loco: Whenever I saw a class S1 I always thought how pugnacious they looked – as if it were saying "give me a heavy train to shove and I will oblige!"  They certainly DID oblige in Germiston!  I often sat in the cafeteria on platform 3 & 4  eating a “railway pie and gravy” while listening to their powerful bark as several of them would shunt heavy loads making up trains for distant destinations.  

This GM is steaming out of the Depot to go to Krugersdorp Station where it would pick up its load for Zeerust.  It is a pity that the 60lb rail laid in earlier times on the Zeerust section resulted in these tank cars being permanently attached to the GMs.  It would have been interesting to see what a GM would have looked like in its original form on the drawing board with a bigger leading tank and coal bunker.

6. The class 4ARs were regular residents of Krugersdorp Loco. They could also be seen out on the line going to Zeerust where they were used on shunt duties.  In their original form as class 4A they were based on a CGR design but saw little service in the Cape.  They became real Transvalers!  

7.  The weathered sign board next to the gent in this photo reads: “oom Charlie se tuin” (= uncle Charlie's garden).  The man himself – Pensioner Driver Special Grade, Charles McLean is standing in a garden in the Depot that was named after him.  Charlie Mac as he was commonly known in Braamfontein Loco was an institution in the old Depot.  He was very active in the Locomotive Engineers Mutual Aid Society (LEMAS) and took an active part in Union matters and all aspects of life in the Depot.  Everybody knew oom Charlie and when the old Shed was moved out to Krugersdorp the staff decided to name a floral garden after him as a tribute for all that he had done to improve their working lives. With my own early visits to Braamfontein Loco in the late 1940s I got to know Charlie when he was the Running Shed Foreman and, as the years of our friendship flourished, I can honestly say that here was a man amongst men!  He was generous and kind and would go out of his way to help anyone in need of a favour.  In my case he often arranged for particular locos to work a particular passenger train at my request.  It is only fitting that he should be remembered through the medium of SoAR!

Back at Braamfontein Loco there was a standing joke about Charlie which he himself took in good spirit!  He was a very big and heavy man and if a 15F came in with repairs booked on the trailing bissel springs under the firebox/cab, then the fitters in the Depot used to say - "It must have been worked by Charlie McLean!" 

8. A GM heading out on the Zeerust line having just past Wes-Rand Halt.  The main line to Randfontein can be seen in the background with the electrification masts.  The old car on the right is a 1941 Ford which dates this photograph.  The large mine dump in the background was part of the West Rand Consolidated property.

9. In the mid-1950s a class GO was sent to Braamfontein Loco for trials on the Zeerust line.  I got to hear of it at the last minute that the engine was booked to work 1398 to Mafeking.  I hastily arranged to nip out to Krugersdorp Station where I took this “grab shot” of her at the head of the train.  It was agonising not to have the time to chase her out on the line – a GO working 1398!  My boss was not too accommodating when it came to railway photography!  I didn’t even have time to get a decent shot of her departing Krugersdorp!  In later years when I realised the significance of this happening, I chastised myself for being overly conscientious regarding my employer!  I never saw a GO on the Rhodesian Mail ever again!

10. In the introduction I referred to the brief period where “light engine” working to Krugersdorp was laid on while the Garratts were still stabled at Braamfontein.  Here is a GMA in November 1960 leaving Braamfontein Yard for Krugersdorp where she would collect her train – the Rhodesian Mail.

11. The Rhodesian Mail being worked out to Krugersdorp by a class 5E and no, I didn’t ask for the smoke coming from the kitchen car! Note the SAR reserved saloon leading the set of Rhodesia Railways coaches.  The SAR dining car would also be replaced at Mafeking by a Rhodesian diner. 

12. In April 1961 I went out to Wes-Rand to capture a few Garratt photos on film.  First to appear was GMA 4138 working a goods train from Zeerust.

13. Next to appear was this pair – a GM and GMA running light to Krugersdorp to fetch their trains.  Light-engine working was still required even after Braamfontein Loco closed but over a much shorter distance.  The pairing of engines running light to Krugersdorp was common practice to simplify engine working.  

14. The GM had now collected its load and was on its way to Zeerust.

15.  The GMA had picked up 1398 the Rhodesian Mail at Krugersdorp and was also heading west to Zeerust and Mafeking.  On one occasion I took a train out as far as Koster and planned to return on the Rhodesian Mail 1399 heading in to Johannesburg.  As the train stopped at Koster I got on board, found an empty compartment in a pristine Rhodesian saloon and settled in for the return journey.  The ticket examiner came around and asked me if I simply walked into a hotel and straight up to a vacant room?  I sheepishly said “No”.  He then reminded me that such trains were “travelling hotels” and that I should first inquire whether there was room available.  I apologised and he clipped my return ticket and moved on.  I knew that there was no other train to Johannesburg that afternoon and I didn’t have money for a hotel room in Koster.  That is why I just boarded the Mail knowing full well that I should have first asked before boarding the train! 

16. In March ’65, I found a secondary road bridge that provided a good vantage point for photographs of trains on the Wes-Rand – Tarlton section of the Zeerust line.  Getting closer to my vantage point this GM was throwing her cinders high into the sky as she tackled the final grade before dropping down into Krugersdorp.  As I took this going-away shot the smoke was billowing from under the bridge partially obscuring the GM’s tank car. The exhaust beat was one continuous roar!  

17. Looking west from the same overpass on a later date, this GMA was seen working up the final grade to Wes-Rand. 

18. The GMA didn’t appear to be working as hard as her older sister on the same grade. Some years hence, this line would be deviated near this point but I never went back there to see the realignment.

19. In May 1961 I was again out on the Zeerust line and I took this shot of GM 2302 whistling for the level crossing on the outskirts of Magaliesburg.  She was working a goods train to Krugersdorp. 

20. White Train photographs are not common but here is a very fine one of GM 2303 hauling the Governor-General’s train away from Magaliesburg on the climb to Krugersdorp c 1950. The leading vehicle is a converted goods wagon carrying the GG’s cars.  

21. A class GM dropping downgrade towards Magaliesburg with 1398-up, the Rhodesian Mail, in the early 1950s.  In those days chimney-first working was not unusual.  It was only in later years that there was a tendency to work Garratts with the bunker leading.  As can be seen, the scenery around Magaliesburg was quite attractive.

22. The Rhodesian Mail (1398) with a GMA in charge approaches Magaliesburg from Krugersdorp.  The two SAR reserved saloons at the head of the consist was unusual – normally there was only one reserved saloon travelling as far as Mafeking. 

23. Things are not always what they appear to be!   Train 1398, the Rhodesian Mail, stopped at Magaliesburg has a Wegmann A-37/AA-38 dining car providing the catering as far as Mafeking.  Unfortunately, someone in Braamfontein Yard had forgotten to take off the “Trans Natal” name board off the dining car!

24. Class GM 2292 rolls into Magaliesburg with an Up goods bound for Zeerust and Mafeking, her fireman holding the tablet ready to hand over to the station foreman.  In time, Magaliesburg would become a regular destination for special passenger trains run by enthusiast groups. 

25. In May 1961 GMA 4083 drifts into Magaliesburg from Zeerust with another goods train.  The Station Foreman is seen handing the tablet holder to the fireman as the engine rolls past.  The elevated “pulpit” on the platform was provided for station staff to give hand signals if necessary, to a train standing stationary at the Home Signal on the western side which would be out of visual contact from platform level due to a curve in the line beyond the end of the platform.

26. Class GM 2294 heads out eastwards from Magaliesburg with a goods train from Zeerust to Krugersdorp.  This would be the very engine selected in years to come to represent the class on a special GM farewell trip which will be covered in the next chapter of SoAR.

27. Having arrived earlier, class 19D 2674 shunts the coaches of her train into a loop at  Magaliesburg off the branch from Pretoria.  The line to Pretoria via Hekpoort and Hercules was very scenic and well worth the price of a ticket.

28. The train from Pretoria seen earlier was now leaving Magaliesburg on its way back to the Capital.  However, a wayward cow thought that it would be good fun to look for some food inside the railway reserve.  I don’t know how it got past the cattle grids. When the train first approached the level crossing the cow was very close to the track and the driver shut-off while pulling on the whistle-cord!  The cow eventually obliged and moved to the side of the fence allowing the driver to get his train moving again. 

29. Magaliesburg was the first watering point generally used by footplate crews after leaving Krugersdorp.  In this shot we see GMA 4086 getting her tank car topped up.  The GMAs inherited the same problem regarding weight on 60lb rail and like their older sisters, also worked with permanently attached water tank cars.

30. Having doused the ashpit coals, a houseproud ashboy gives GMA 4117 a hosing down while it was waiting for a crossing at Magaliesburg in June 1968.

31. On the other side of Magaliesburg on the same day as photo 22, a GMA 4095 was working chimney-first en route to Zeerust. By this time the drivers generally preferred to work bunker-leading – much more comfortable in the cab! 

32. The westbound "Up" Rhodesian Mail, train No 1398, on the stretch of 1-in-40 leading to Syferbult siding (see also the next photo).  Why Mafeking shared the privilege, along with Cape Town, of having its Johannesburg services come "Up" to it seems to be lost in the past - one assumes it originated in CSAR days.  

By the time this photo was made in February 1970, Rhodesia Railways had invested in some rather ugly steel stock with inverted bathtub-shaped roofs.  Gone were the elegant clerestory day/sleeper carriages of yore.  At least the nice chocolate and cream livery stayed the same.  Note the even less elegant elliptical roofs of the SAR's wooden-bodied twin diner set, introduced in 1942/3 to the designs of Mr W A J Day.

33. On a Sunday in June 1968, GM 2298 was working ballast west to Koster on this tight stretch of 1-in-40 leading to Syferbult siding (originally: Cypherbult, i.e. a hill from which heliographs were transmitted during the Boer War). 

34. The same train, GM 2298 on up ballast, about to cross 4AR 1551 on 2019-down T&P, at Boons in June 1968

35. Having crossed the up ballast, 4AR class-leader 1551 exits Boons with 2019-down T&P in June 1968.  

These unsung engines were a successful development of Beattie's class 4 slide-valve 4-8-2s for the Cape Government Railways.  Only 10 were placed in service, all built by North British in 1913/4, as by this time D A Hendrie, SAR's redoubtable inaugural CME, was well into his program for standardised main-line power.  Nevertheless, the 4As (which became 4ARs upon being equipped with Watson's standard No 2 boiler in 1935) each gave more than 60 years road service.  It is worth mentioning that the 4As were the prototype for Rhodesia Railway's class 10, a scaled-down version that also gave long service.

36. Westbound out of Boons is GM 2298 on the same Koster ballast job in June 1968.  This is the train that had just crossed the class 4AR (photo 35).

37. GM 2298 on the same westbound ballast working en route to Koster sets foot out of Derby in June 1968. 

Our late lamented mate Dusty Durrant labelled this picture "Big goods at Derby".  Which is what it is, of course.  In truth, Dusty was being ironical.  He despised the locomotives of the old Midland Railway, he felt they were under-designed by incompetent Mechanical Engineers, and this was certainly true of the LMS's equivalent of SAR's contemporary Garratts.

But what a contrast between Derby, the sleepy little dorp in the Western Transvaal, and Derby, heavy industrial town of the Midland and British Railways.  Somehow one can't imagine a fleet of GMs being manufactured here!

38. In case you've ever wondered what was in those big overhead tanks that used to be seen at intervals along the railway, it's water!  Heading for Koster, GM 2298 on the westbound ballast forging up the hill out of Derby in June 1968.

39. No 1398, the westbound Rhodesian Mail departing from its watering stop at Koster in February 1970.

40. GM 2293 arriving at Mazista with loaded cement wagons bound for the Reef from Slurry siding, west of Zeerust in February 1970.  Check the cute little 4w tank wagon parked off on the dead-end.  No, I don't know if it was for domestic water or diesel fuel but the chalked name on the tank says "Minnaar", a station between Witbank and Germiston.

41. GMA 4052 on 318-up all-stations Johannesburg-Zeerust, departing from Mazista in February 1970. A curiosity is that this train consists almost entirely of prewar Union Express/Union Limited luxury stock.  318 has just crossed the HTA special of 7th February 1970, of which more in Section 2 of the Mafeking-line chapter, while on the right, the eastbound freight with loaded cement wagons from Slurry (see previous picture) has been temporarily shunted into the goods-shed road.  Triple crossings can't have been all that common at Mazista!

Paarden Eiland near Cape Town wasn't just a loco depot.  Nearby was a big industrial complex with the same name.  It was serviced by several hundred private sidings, among which was that of the Mazista Slate Company which has supplied the Western Cape building industry for many decades.  To anyone who ever gave a thought to where all those slates came from, well, here it is - an insignificant siding between Zeerust and Magaliesburg - you can see two trailerloads waiting for wagons (they would have been type ES trucks, the 4-w short wagons despised by the operating department and accountants).  Nowadays the product all goes by road.

42. Swartruggens was one of the larger stations on the Krugersdorp – Zeerust line.  A class GF is awaiting departure for Krugersdorp with a string of empties c 1953.  The station name board tells us that the distance to Johannesburg is 104 ½ miles and that it is 4099ft above sea level.

43. The 1-in-40 starts almost straight off the eastern abutment of the Elands River bridge in Zwartruggens.  This GM made a brave show in the gloaming with a down goods in June 1968.

44. Vleidraai, just west of Zwartruggens: GM 2294 on an up goods in June 1968.

45. The same vantage point near Vleidraai looking west: 4085 GMA on a down goods, June 1968.

46. Between Vleidraai and Rondawel sidings a westbound load of power-station coal for Zeerust was drifting down towards the Marico in the evening light, June 1968

47. GMA 4069 on a down goods has just opened up for the short rise out of Wilgeboomspruit siding before dropping down to Groot Marico, the lowest point on this line.

48. Groot Marico, on the river of the same name, is the lowest point on the line between Mafeking and Johannesburg.  About a mile out of town, GM 2299 was pulling hard on a down goods in June 1968.  The ore-like cargo in the first wagon is intriguing - it must be dense else it would have been loaded higher.  Anybody got any ideas?

49. Groot Marico gets hot, even in winter.  You can just spot the crew of GM 2294 cooling off under the peppercorn trees on the right while a GMA rolls by with a down block-load of cement from the cement works at Slurry. The standpipe and balance weight probably date from CSAR days (note its operating handle a few feet on this side) while the modern water column is the standard SAR garden tap variety dating from the later years of steam traction.

50. A title for this image could be – “Mother and Daughter”.  A class GM and a GMA were noted in the sub-depot at Zeerust in April 1967.  Both engines were being prepared for duty working trains to Krugersdorp. 

51. The loco depot was situated plumb in the middle of the turning triangle at Zeerust, a major engine-changing point.  In this June 1968 view we are looking east. Curving away towards the west in the middle background is the main line to Mafeking while the station buildings are almost visible on the right-hand edge.

52. Beneath a threatening Highveld sky, GM 2294 (see photo 26) on the Historical Transport Association (HTA)'s excursion of 7th February 1970 made this fine silhouette near Tarlton.  

This photo leads in to one of the themes of the second part of the Mafeking-line chapter which will be continued in Part 2, due out very shortly.