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System 7, Part 8, South eastwards as far as Volksrust by Les Pivnic ©

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We have now spent enough time in Germiston, it is time to move out onto the tracks leaving this “Railway City” of the past.

The first route we’ll follow is the main line to Natal which, upon leaving Germiston, takes the embankment to Elsburg, then onwards through Wattles to Union where we branch off to the south-east through to Roodekop (renamed Rooikop);  then on through Mapleton to old and new Heidelberg, Kraal, Balfour North and beyond until we reach Volksrust, just short of the Natal border at Charlestown.

Due to the large number of images available it is necessary to split this section into five segments – the first taking us to Wattles. For convenience I will include photos of trains to and from the Vereeniging line until we leave Union for Rooikop.  Due to the geographical order being followed please note that the photographs are not necessarily in chronological sequence. 

1.  Sometime in the early 1950s, Dave Parsons was on hand at Elsburg to photograph class 6J No 635 departing the yard with a light goods load for Germiston, probably with traffic to or from the myriad private sidings in the area.  If you look closely, behind the 6J there are two 15Fs waiting for their turn to depart the yard.  No 635 was allocated to Germiston shed and was extensively used on light goods working in the greater Germiston-Johannesburg area.  I used to see her regularly working the private sidings along the fifth track between Germiston and Johannesburg.

2.      This photo of Dave’s also from the early 1950s, presents something of a puzzle.  The class 10 appears to be working a local to either Angus or Kliprivier.  Some of these workings terminated at Angus while the odd service worked on to Kliprivier. The photo also appears to have been taken at Elsburg where the direct main line over the embankment and the suburban line via Victoria Lake combine before entering Elsburg station and yard.  The puzzling aspect is that there is no catenary rigged to the braced mast to the right of the 10’s tender.  This suggests that the train is on a temporary deviation due to construction work.   Comments to solve the puzzle will be gratefully received.

3.      The first Drakensberg Express set appeared on 22 December 1972 in a dark green livery that was officially termed “Brilliant Green”.  This livery was more of a deep bottle green with gold stripes bordering the windows.   Dr Kobus Loubser wanted to catch the December tourist traffic to Natal from the Transvaal – hence the train entering service just before Christmas 1972.  The second old Blue Train set went into shops for a complete rebuild whereas the set shown here in Dave’s photograph only had an exterior paint job.  When the second set entered service in the “Eau-de-Nil” light green livery in February 1974 the dark green set went into Shops for similar treatment. It is seen here approaching Elsburg.  The double main line in the foreground is the line from Elsburg to Germiston via Germiston Lake and the line in the cutting is the subsidised line from Simpan via lower Elsburg to Wadeville, Katlehong and Kwesine.  Please refer to Bruno's detailed map below.

4.  Elsburg 12/6/60.  A pair of class 1-DE diesels with D 714 leading were caught on camera passing through with a mixed load of empties. These locos were originally intended for shunting on the Reef but soon after trials on the open road they were rostered to work from their home depot in Germiston to Volksrust and Kroonstad working freight and top link passenger trains. 

5.      On the same day class 15F 3049 “Brakpan” came through Elsburg with a goods load heading south.  Note all the 4-wheel wagons correctly marshalled behind the tank car.  In the background is the old Elsburg signal cabin. 

6.      Sometime in 1960/1 Dave Parsons photographed the Trans Natal made up of a typical rake of clerestory stock, approaching Elsburg with two class 31s in charge.  The diesels would have picked up the train at Volksrust which from 1937 until 1964 was the end of the Natal Main Line electrification from Durban. I had several trips on the Trans Natal behind class 31s between Volksrust and Johannesburg and I must confess to being impressed by their performance.  I particularly noticed their ability to start a passenger train very gently and slowly – like steam.  The only drawback as a passenger was the smell of diesel exhaust fumes - not nearly as pleasant as coal smoke!

7.      No 3019, a Volksrust 15F, also photographed on 12 June 1960, coming through Elsburg with 196-up ex Natal.  Note the white edged running board.  This was a characteristic of Volksrust engines for several years.  All the Fs based there had their running boards white-edged which allowed one to identify a Volksrust engine at a glance. 

8.   In the early 1950s Dave Parsons also spent a lot of time around Elsburg.  Here is Dave’s shot of a 15F with passenger train heading past the old signal cabin en route to Germiston. The new concrete cabin under construction can be seen to the left of the train.  Note the 20mph speed restriction for the curve leading into the station from the Germiston side – referred to in the caption for photo13.

9.      Around this time Dave found this class 14CR+15F combination pulling out of Elsburg yard, heading for the main line with a heavy goods load.  Note Dave’s bicycle on the left - he told me that throughout his early years of railway photography he didn’t own a motor car – he cycled for miles around the greater Germiston area carrying his box camera with him.

10.      In June 1960 two class 61 diesel hydraulics, 61.002/006, came through running light on their way to their home depot in Germiston. Although it had been found that these diesel-hydraulics with Voith transmission were not entirely successful in line service, I did see a lot of them on the road in the early 1960s.  The SAR certainly persevered with them but in the end they were confined to shunting prior to their sale to Rhodesia Railways.

11.     On 16 July 1960 this 15AR with a pick-up goods was seen approaching Wattles. 15ARs were a common sight on the Western Transvaal System in the 1950s/60s.  They were stabled at Braamfontein from where they were deployed extensively on passenger services especially the locals to Vereeniging*.   But they could also be seen working turns normally allocated to 15Fs.  On one trip on 4-up I joined the train at Vereeniging – the 15AR up front had worked from Kroonstad and she gave me a thrash to Germiston via Kliprivier that rivalled similar trips behind classes 16DA and 16E!  On that trip while enjoying a beer in the dining car I heard the Chief Steward remarking how “die klein lokomotiefie” ry soos ‘n 15F!!”  I must say that she climbed the grades away from the Vaal like a real champion!

Braamfontein Loco also provided the motive power for the passenger services to Breyten and Witbank.  This caused some dissatisfaction with the Germiston men who handled most of the goods workings.  The System Manager apparently relented and told Operating to allocate some passenger workings to the GMR men.  These men were tired of their Braamfontein colleagues thrashing past them on the main line while they languished in a loop road at a wayside station.  One wonders who had the last laugh because the Germiston men certainly earned more overtime waiting in the loops! 

12.      In the early 1950s I was almost bowled over by this 15F racing through Dallas with 4-up from Bloemfontein.  Dallas is a passenger halt between Elsburg and Wattles.

13.      Imperious! is perhaps the best way to describe this Volksrust 15F charging through Wattles on 16 July 1960 with 196-up ex Natal.  Passing Wattles was the last opportunity for these drivers to let rip before shutting off for the 20mph curve through Elsburg.

14.      In November 1961 this freight was rolling down-grade near Dallas on its way to Volksrust.  In the 1950s/60s I spent a lot of time around Elsburg, Wattles and Union (see Bruno’s map).  It offered the opportunity to photograph workings to and from Volksrust as well as Vereeniging and Kroonstad.  In those days even on a Sunday there was no shortage of trains to photograph – they came thick and fast!

15.      Another Volksrust F working up the grade through Wattles with a mixed goods load.  Note that the Siding signal is off – indicating that this train was going into Elsburg Yard and not directly to Germiston.

16.      On a sunny afternoon some time in the mid-1950s this 15F was drifting downgrade towards Wattles with a livestock train. In those days not all the engines were pristine – this was due to engine-pooling which was in full force to get maximum mileage per locomotive per month.

17.      We said goodbye to steam on the section to Kroonstad late in 1959.  A few months later, on 17 July 1960 this pair of 5Es carrying the Centenary Crest headboard overtook a northbound freight in the up loop in Wattles on its way to Germiston and Johannesburg with train 434-up ex Bloemfontein and East London.  The electrification had a severe effect on Braamfontein loco which was the “passenger depot” as opposed to Germiston that provided more motive power for goods workings.

18.      Ten years earlier, steam was still ruling the roost with passenger trains passing Wattles from either Natal or the OFS on their final leg to Germiston and Johannesburg.  Pretoria-bound coaches would be shunted off at Germiston (with their passengers in them – please note Mr Rail Safety Regulator!!!) and attached to an appropriate EMU set.  Note the board across the tracks: it is bilingual notice which says: “Wadeville private sidings.  It is prohibited to clean locomotive fires along this siding”.  This was the siding that served Scaw Metals - they supplied tens of thousands of bogie castings to SAR (see photo 32).

19.     On 19 March 1961 this 15F assisted an ailing GF garratt and her goods train through Wattles.  The train was signalled into the Yard at Elsburg where the GF could be released from the load to work light engine to Germiston for repairs.  These garratts were used on regular turns between Germiston and Frankfort on the line from Balfour North to Bethlehem via Frankfort and Reitz.

20.      At the end of November 1959 when the Kroonstad electrification was energised, the locals from Johannesburg to Vereeniging went over to electric haulage using the existing steam coach sets.  It would be some time before EMUs would take over these services.  Here is class 3E No 193 passing Wattles with a local from Vereeniging to Johannesburg.

21.      The 19th of March 1961 saw 15F 3023 thrashing past Wattles with train 196 in tow.  Note one of the early red and grey paint jobs and, even more interesting, an ex CGR flat-sided day/sleeper still in long-distance, main-line service after almost 60 years. 15Fs ruled the roost between Germiston and Volksrust on all passenger turns until the diesels arrived in 1958/9.  The Fs were then confined to lesser passenger trains (like 193/6) while the diesels handled 199/192 - the Trans Natal.

22.      In the mid-1950s one of Hendrie’s sturdy and ever-reliable class 16 pacifics (in her rebuilt form as class 16CR No 831) with a Vereeniging – Johannesburg local sets off for Elsburg after stopping at Wattles.  Braamfontein shed had a stud of 16CRs which, in their later years, worked lesser passenger services like the locals to Vereeniging – sharing these duties with 15ARs.

23.      On 22 May 1960 two class 1-DE diesel electrics came through Wattles with 196-up ex Volksrust.  At that time, this particular working was rostered for Volksrust 15Fs so, judging by the fact that there is a steam-heating van in the consist this must have been either a test trip or the diagrammed engine might have failed in Volksrust, necessitating its replacement by these two diesels.

24.      On the same day 3E 202 worked a Vereeniging local to Johannesburg. She is seen here pulling away from Wattles en route to Elsburg and Germiston.  This was “super power” for the relatively light 9-coach set.

25.      Prior to the Kroonstad line electrification, Braamfontein provided power for the steam-hauled locals between Johannesburg and Vereeniging.  Some time prior to November 1959 this Braamfontein 15AR was trundling down towards Wattles en route to Vereeniging.  An interesting engine that was also allocated to Braamfontein was Class 15A No 1970, which would become the well-known shed pilot at De Aar in later years.  During the fifties she worked turn and turn about with 15ARs in this service as we shall see later in this series.

26.      A pair of class 1-De’s in their original rather garish livery with a down goods passing Wattles home signal southbound to either Volksrust or Kroonstad.

27.      Another Vereeniging local heading south – this time with a Braamfontein class 16CR in charge.  I often travelled on these trains but due to the comfortable timings there were very few spirited performances.  It was better to travel counter-clockwise, leaving Johannesburg via Midway and returning via Kliprivier.  This offered more excitement as the “white” coaches were immediately behind the tender with some hill-climbing needed in both directions.

28.      A 2M2 motor coach with that wonderful torsion-bar suspension arrives at Wattles with the Germiston push-pull shuttle.  These trains operated via Victoria Lake providing a service to Germiston’s southern suburbs.  The 2M2 motor coaches like their 4M sisters in the Cape gave a very comfortable ride – even smoother than the later 5Ms and 5M2As.

29.      Another Germiston – Wattles shuttle – this time with driving trailer leading.  Close scrutiny of this photo will reveal that the second coach behind the driving trailer is mounted on Day bogies.  It is a type L-38-T.  These trailer coaches were originally built for service on the Johannesburg – Pretoria buffet car expresses and had tables fitted in all the blind bays to allow one to enjoy a cup of railway coffee served by the buffet car steward.

30.      This is again a Germiston – Wattles shuttle but the clock has moved on to 1963, by which time Union Carriage stock was in use.  Standardisation with the 5M and 5M2A stock on the Reef meant a lot less variety in our photographs.

31.      On 1st of April 1964 train 196-up ex Natal was electrically worked over the Volksrust – Union section for the first time.  5Es 361 and 348 had the honour.  By now steam on passenger trains was disappearing fast on the Reef and goods workings to Volksrust would soon follow suit.  As can be seen, the units had not been specially cleaned for the occasion.  In fact the changeover took place without any fuss or ceremony at all!  With the advantage of hindsight, it does seem strange that nothing special was organised for the occasion.  I remember getting permission from my boss to have time off work to go and photograph the final steam workings and the first electric workings on 196-up and I was not aware of the actual changeover, nothing on the locomotives would have suggested that anything special was taking place.

32.      Class 5E 361 enjoyed the limelight! Here she is again - back in December 1963 she was photographed approaching Wattles with a local from Vereeniging to Johannesburg.  To the left of the locomotive the Scaw Metals factory can be seen in the far background.

33.      15F 2921 is seen approaching Wattles on 16 October 1960 with a pick-up goods from Leeuhof near Vereeniging.  Germiston-based engines did a fair amount of hauler work between those two points. The haulers were worked by 12ARs and especially by 15Fs.  These workings added considerably to the amount of steam on this section and further down the line as we shall see in later instalments.

34.      An unidentified 5E accelerates away from Wattles with a local passenger train for Vereeniging.  Braamfontein ERS provided the motive power for these turns.

35.      Block loads of petrol and diesel were common on the Natal main line before the first oil pipeline from Durban to the Transvaal opened in 1965.  The 1st of April 1964 also saw this petrol train passing Wattles with two class 31s in charge, No’s 36 and 45 – the latter still in original livery. Note the runner trucks still in use in spite of diesel traction.  Electric traction would soon take over all duties on the Natal Main Line.

36.      Not all the Vereeniging locals were booked to stop at Wattles.  In October 1960, 5E 341 was passing Wattles non-stop on the main line with a local from Vereeniging to Johannesburg.  The Germiston push-pull shuttle on the left provided a stopper service into Germiston.

37.      Two 5Es with a down goods pass the neat little station building at Wattles in October 1960.  At this time it was easy to know if a train was coming through from the Free State – steam still ruled the Natal Main line as far as Volksrust with the exception of 199/192 – the Trans Natal – which was diesel hauled.

With the next instalment we will resume our visit to Wattles before moving on to Union where the main lines to Natal and the OFS go their separate ways.