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South-Eastwards as far as Volksrust (3rd part) by Les Pivnic ©

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Rooikop to Heidelberg

All maps courtesy Bruno Martin ©

Up until 1958 Rooikop offered a rather special happening and it happened every day at 5.20pm!

Train 199 the forerunner of the Trans Natal was worked by Volksrust-based 15Fs from Johannesburg to Volksrust - departing Johannesburg at 4.30pm.  After picking up the Pretoria saloons at Germiston (they would have come through attached to a normal EMU set, and the passengers would have remained seated while the shunting was in progress at Germiston), the 15F would set off at 4.56pm for Elsburg, Wattles, Union and pass Rooikop at exactly 5.20pm en route to its first stop at Heidelberg.

The timekeeping was so good that the train rarely ran late as it stormed up the grade past me towards Mapleton.  Looking across the valley towards Union at about 5.15pm one invariably saw the express like a snake in the distance rolling down grade through Wattles then on past Union and finally approaching Roodekop in silence.  As the train hit the bottom of the grade and entered the straight coming off the curve from Union, all hell would break loose as the driver opened his regulator wide!  The 15F would thrash past us, raising dust off the cattle grids and shaking the ground as it stormed by.  This crescendo would then be replaced by the smooth passage of the coaches including the dining car that was filling up with passengers for the first sitting for dinner.  It was a sight to be seen and savoured time and again in those unforgettable years! 

In 1958 the new class 1-DE diesels (later class 31) proved so successful that they were tried on train 199/192 to and from Volksrust and although steam would survive for several more years on these and especially the lesser passenger trains, it was now possible to find diesel power on the head-end as far as the express was concerned.  Class 32s also became prominent, hauling the Trans Natal to Volksrust from 1960.

From 1959 the schedule was speeded up with the train departing Johannesburg an hour later at 5.30pm. The 5.30pm departure caused havoc in the middle of the suburban peak hour traffic so in 1961 it was changed to 6pm. This meant that photos out at Rooikop would only be possible in the mid-summer months when there was still enough light.  

One of the SAR’s great steam spectacles at tiny Rooikop was coming to an end!

Let us now go down to that part of the world and see what was photographed there by the SAR official photographers, Dave Parsons and me.

1. On 30 March 1964 class 15F No 3038 worked 196-up from Volksrust to Germiston.  Two days later the wires were energised and it was all over for steam on this train!  If you look closely you will see a few extra passengers – clinging onto the outside of the coaches.  No Hi-Ace taxis those days!

2. Soon after the electrification was energised, I photographed this pair of 5E1s (E707 leading) with a goods train approaching Rooikop.  The driver’s assistant was not too happy with me and I don’t know what his problem was either!

3. In the early 1940s Dave Parsons cycled several miles from his home in Germiston to photograph this 15A on 196-up passing through Roodekop (later renamed Rooikop) en route to Germiston and Johannesburg.

4. Here is the scene I described in the introduction – a 15F with 199-down, the Durban Express – invariably on time, thrashing by on the long grade through Rooikop and on to Mapleton.  A 15F in full cry surging up the grade with a top-link passenger train never failed to give me gooseflesh – this was what repeatedly drew me back to Rooikop especially in the 1950s – I couldn’t get enough of it!

5. This is 199, the Trans Natal express running to the later, much tighter schedule, rushing through Rooikop with a 15F in charge on 15 April 1961. This is one of several photos of this train that I took in the early 1960s where a 15F was substituted for the usual diesels and curiously, on all these occasions the locomotive was not carrying the Trans-Natal headboard!  It is possible that the headboard bracket for diesel or electric locos was not suitable to hang on a smokebox door.

6. Another late evening shot of the Trans Natal with a 15F – this time in 1962 and again without a headboard.  Note the magnificent 4-doll lattice signal on the right.  This was the original gantry serving Rooikop – the secondary gantry on the left was erected to serve the new line from Springs. This line was specially built to expedite coal traffic from the Witbank area destined for the OFS via Rooikop and Natalspruit.

7. Back in September 1960 the sky was dark and ominous as two class 32 diesels with 192-up (Durban- Johannesburg Express) complete with glass-fibre headboard, passed the glorious spread of semaphore signals at the eastern approach to Rooikop.  One had to be here by 8am to get this train passing through en route to Germiston where it was due at 08:23.

8. In April 1961 a class 15F rolled downgrade into Rooikop with a goods train from Volksrust.  If you look closely, on the right-hand side you will see a typical ganger’s push-trolley ready for its next turn of duty on the road with the local length gang – these were the days before mechanisation of track maintenance.

9. In August 1960, three class 1-DE diesels are seen approaching Rooikop from Mapleton with a coal train. This train presents something of a puzzle – it is a block-load of coal and is approaching on the main line from Mapleton – not Springs!  These coal drags invariably came through Rooikop on the direct line from Springs.....strange! 

10. Rooikop home signals at sunset – June 1962.  As you will have gathered, they held endless fascination for me! This peaceful scene belies the fact that at that time 15Fs still came blasting up the grade towards Mapleton!

11. By 1963 colour-light signalling had replaced the mechanical semaphores.  This 15F is approaching Rooikop from Springs with a block load of coal bound for the OFS.  Those beautiful gantries were now history!

12. GMAM 4100 with a load of empties waits for the signal at Rooikop before setting off for Springs - photo taken in 1958. Class GMAMs were used extensively in the late 1950s to move the rapidly growing coal traffic from the greater Witbank area to the OFS and the Reef. There were not enough 15Fs to move the tonnages required before the Welgedag – Witbank section was electrified in 1961.

13. On 15 April 1961, No 3042 class 15F departs Rooikop with train 191-down Saturdays-only all-stations to Volksrust.

14. In December 1963 a 15F rolls down grade into Rooikop from Volksrust and Natal with train 196.  Rooikop was a good place to hang around with a camera – especially after the link lines to Springs and Natalspruit had been commissioned. 

15. This SAR photo shows to good advantage a 15F with the original two large 3 & 1/2in Ross pop safety valves – one blowing off – as it climbs up the grade from Rooikop to Mapleton with the Saturdays-only all stations to Volksrust.  Those two angled Ross-pops were replaced by four smaller ones on top of the boiler to prevent steam being trapped under station roof canopies thereby providing any passengers waiting on the platforms with a hot shower of filthy water.

16. Using the same vantage point as the SAR photographer, in August 1960, I photted this 15F at the same spot heading for Mapleton and Volksrust with a goods train.  Note that in my photograph, the electrified line from Springs is now in place running parallel to the Volksrust main line.

17. A sunny day in December 1963 provided an opportunity to photograph this unusual lash-up of four class 1-DE diesels with a goods load near Mapleton.  Usually they worked in pairs.  It was quite a feather in GE’s cap that these locos were an immediate success on open line work.  I have previously mentioned that the original intention was to use them on transfer and shunting duties only.

18. Another 15F in August 1960 working 191-down to Volksrust.  Note the side-door coach to cater for local passenger traffic on this all-stations train. In those days Rooikop was still very much a rural area with small-holdings and farms.  In later years it would become heavily industrialised and the establishment of several black townships nearby, starting with Spruitview, added considerably to local passenger traffic.

19. Still in August 1960 and moving down the line to Mapleton, this 12A was quietly shunting the westbound pick-up heading for Rooikop and Germiston. Among Hendrie's finest, the class 12As were not a common sight along here in the late 1950s, early 1960s.  This one was probably standing in for the more usual 15AR.

20. The main line to Natal in September 1960, just east of the Mapleton Home signal gantry.  It is incredible to consider that as late as the 1960s an intensive steam-hauled goods and passenger service was maintained on this single track linking the Transvaal to Natal and the country’s principal port at Durban. 

21. 15F No 2961 steaming up the grade towards Mapleton with train 196 on the same day in September 1960.  Note the venerable old CGR day/sleeper downgraded to 3rd class immediately behind the engine.  On this particular day I was out with Frank Garrison in his classic Citroen Light-15 saloon that had the gear-stick sticking out of the dashboard. Being used to British and American cars, I was fascinated watching him change gear when we were on the move – it looked so strange to see a driver manipulating a chromed rod with a black knob that disappeared into the dashboard. 

22. In May 1964 a group of rugby enthusiasts hired the Blue Train to take them to Durban to see a Test Match.  Here is the special near Mapleton on the return leg of that trip.  The leading 5E1 was No 683.  Unfortunately the Blue Train’s classic clerestory profile was broken by the new Union Carriage lounge car in the consist.

23. The following month I was back at the same spot just east of Mapleton when these two 15Fs came storming up the grade from Heidelberg with a mixed goods load from Natal.  In those days traffic was booming and double-heading of goods trains was starting to increase in frequency – we were seeing more of them every time we went out.

24. A 15F simmers in the loop at Mapleton while a sister drifts in on the main with an up passenger. The majestic presence of the approaching engine is palpable - you can almost hear the thud of SAR's premier main-line machine hitting the 40ft rail joints. To me this photo beautifully illustrates the common SAR practice of single-track main lines with stations every 8-10 miles to facilitate crossing trains while at the same time providing rail access to farmers along the way.  Note the ploegbaas and his gang doing some tidying up on the right - stationmasters were house-proud in those days.

25. Mapleton had a strong association with the military.  In fact, just in case Hitler decided to head south instead of east in 1941(!), an armoured train was stationed at the SADF camp there during WW2.  The resident locomotive was class 4AR no.1554 seen here in her armoured dress in this SAR photo. 

Mapleton was the well-known military camp where the SAR&H Brigade trained before going “Up-North” to the Middle East where they performed magnificently in running existing and building new railways for the Allied Command.  Perhaps their greatest achievement was in Italy where, in record time, they rebuilt the main lines that had been completely destroyed from the south to Rome – a job that was urgently necessary for the resumption of rail traffic after the Nazis had blown up all the tunnels and bridges as they retreated.  The SAR book “We Fought the Miles” tells of their wonderful exploits in the Middle East and Italy in the latter stages of WW2.

26. Yet another 15F working a goods train through Mapleton on her way to Germiston with a goods load from Natal.  When I last visited Mapleton Camp – now many years ago, it was derelict – another chapter of proud South African Military history dumped and forgotten!

27. An archetypal SAR long-distance all-clerestory day/sleeper express, 199-down – the future Trans Natal – heading into a high-veld thunderstorm, drifting down-grade to Mapleton on its way to Heidelberg, first stop after leaving Germiston.  Photographing this train here was almost an anti-climax after the excitement of Rooikop just a few miles back with the 15F in full flight!  Correct me if I’m wrong, you Aussies, but is there not a great deal of similarity between the look of this train and the classic SAR/VR “Overland” in the days of Commisioner Webb?

28. On 28 August 1960 this 15AR was working a  pick-up goods near Mapleton.  Although 15Fs dominated this line at this time, 15ARs were also regularly seen on pick-up goods work.

29. Still at Mapleton on the same day, this 15F came by with goods for the Reef.  Being the most important stretch of single line on the SAR, one didn’t have to wait very long between trains.  This freight had hardly disappeared over the horizon when the rustle of the signal wires alerted us that another was on its way. In fact the engine of the following train - a Germiston-bound pick-up - is just visible to the left of the tree trunk.

30. On the east side of Mapleton a month later, Frank and I photographed this 15F working a pick-up to Germiston.  Very little smoke – the sign of a fireman who knew his business!  Outer home off and distant on indicated that the driver must be prepared to be diverted onto another track at the home signals (this was a pick-up goods after all).

31. While the NZASM spent skimpily on its trains, it spent lavishly and tastefully on its station buildings.  Here is the NZASM’s Heidelberg Station in its days of glory – a harmoniously-proportioned sandstone building, unfortunately disfigured by the signal lever frame enclosure added at a later date.  SAR never allowed aesthetics to stand in the way of progress.

32. In August 1960 I photographed the same building from the road access side during its final years of service.  It would soon be replaced by a brand new station on a totally new alignment.

33. Two class 32 diesels working a goods train for Natal on 28 August 1960 passed by on the vicious curve heading out of the old station towards Kraal (please see Bruno’s detail of the deviation that replaced the old loop through Heidelberg).  Diesels were now finding their way onto goods trains as well as working the Trans Natal.

34. A month later, I was at that same curve when 15F No 3042 came by with a goods train heading for the Reef.  This shot was taken not long before the new alignment and station were brought into use.

35. Some 10 years earlier I found this 15F approaching old Heidelberg with a mixed goods for Natal.  The new alignment with its new station wasn’t even mooted at this stage.  In fact, the CCE’s surveyors would, in due course, find a new direct route from Kaydale to Fortuna bypassing Heidelberg altogether but the MP for Heidelberg was having none of that!  When he heard of the intention to bypass his town, he talked to the Minister of Transport and the proposed direct route was abandoned even though the new formation via Heidelberg required the boring of a new tunnel through to new Kraal Station.  A lot of extra expense to satisfy political ends!

In the next instalment we will resume our trip down memory lane here at old Heidelberg before looking at the new station and moving on further down the line.