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System 7, Part 7, Germiston Steam and Diesel Running Sheds (2nd section) by Les Pivnic ©

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With this segment we are still visiting the Germiston Locomotive Depots – steam and diesel but with emphasis on the steam side.  The photos that follow take us through to the dying days of a shed that was once the biggest steam Running Shed in South Africa.

1.                  In this May 1964 photo we find the little fellow “Stormberg” standing dead outside the 15M Shop, awaiting refurbishment before being taken down to East London for plinthing.  This caused some controversy due to the fact that she originally worked for the Department of Water Affairs in dam construction and not the SAR.  In any event, she was mounted at the Station as a monument.

2.                  On the same day in May 1964, two old Cape veterans – class 7 no.981 and a class 6 discuss the good old days in the Cape.  Engine 981 was only recently transferred to Germiston from Keetmanshoop in South West Africa.

3.                  Also in May 1964, Driver Esterhuysen had class 16R 793 as his regular engine doing Station Pilot duty at Germiston Station.  He and his fireman maintained this loco in pristine condition for an extended period.

4.  Here is 793 from another angle, just before going on duty.

5.                  In October 1964 I found a 12A waiting to go on duty with 15F 2922 lurking in the background.  That was the last of the German-built 15Fs placed in traffic in 1938.

6.                  Class 7 No. 981 at Germiston again in October 1964.  This old “Suidwester” really looked smart in her final years of service at Germiston.  Note the two cleaners getting in on the act!

7.                  Class 8B no.1155 was still at Germiston Loco in November 1964 but she was later transferred to Krugersdorp (Millsite) Loco.

8.                  On the same visit I photographed another class 8 alongside the breakdown train.  This one was still fitted with an original oil headlamp which looked quite appropriate on an engine built in 1902. If you look closely you can see the breakdown train on an adjoining road outside the shed with the ex Union Limited mail van in the set.

9.                  A quick visit to the Diesel Depot provided this view of class 32.107 in November 1964.  This indicated that some class 32s remained at work in the Transvaal long after being placed in service.

10.  This full broadside of 32.107 clearly shows the unusual wheel arrangement with a pony-truck at each end.

11.  In May 1965 this class 24 no.3644 is seen coming off-duty with cleaners loading the kit onto a wheelbarrow before the shedman took her down to the ashpits for fire-cleaning (note that the fireman has removed the headlight globe for safekeeping!).  3644 was a Windhoek engine for many years – Germiston seemed to be making a habit of attracting previous “Suidwesters” to the Reef!  She was later transferred again to Springs Loco.

12.  On the same visit to Germiston, this 15F No. 3049 was at the coal stage, having recently been transferred from Volksrust upon completion of the electrification of the Natal Main Line.

13.  Germiston generally kept its engines reasonably clean which says something for the resident Loco Foreman because these pooled engines were kept very busy out on the road and footplate staff couldn’t be expected to polish them.

14.  Although class 6B No. 498 was originally a “Kapenaar”, she spent a large part of her working life stationed at Germiston.  Here she is on the northern side of the Running Shed.

15.  Further evidence of how clean Germiston locos were in the mid-1960s  – the pooled 15F in the background looks almost as clean as Esterhuysen’s regular 16R No. 793 nearest the camera!

16.  A class 15F waits quietly for her next turn of duty.  By this time sealed-beams had replaced the earlier and much more handsome headlamps that used screw-in bulbs.  The Pyle National, Golden Glow and Stones Tonum E headlamps were now history! The millions unnecessarily spent on replacing them all helped convince management that steam was uneconomical.

17.  During the course of this Series I have made several references to the ex-Union Limited steel mail van that had become part of the Germiston breakdown train.  Here it is at Germiston in December 1965.

18.  Inside the Running Shed in December 1965, a class S2 simmers quietly behind a 12R with a 15F on the left.

19.  In this late December 1965 scene on the western side of the Running Shed, all was peaceful.  Classes 12A, 15F and 12R were all waiting patiently to go on duty with Christmas just around the corner.  A diminutive class 6 on the left just managed to get into the picture. 

20.  Germiston Loco also had staging roads for electric locos.  Here a line-up of class 3Es and 5Es were awaiting their next assignments.  These units were maintained and serviced in the ERS at Braamfontein.


21. A Union Carriage and Wagon (UCW)-built 5E1 and a couple of 3Es take a break between duties at Germiston Loco.  The livery on the 5E1 shows the full body-side striping which was later modified with the stripes curtailed just past the entrance doors.

22.  Class 8 no.1090 was on coalstage duty in March 1966.  It was enjoyable to watch these shed pilots pushing hoppers up the ramp onto the coalstage.  I would hold my breath when they came storming up the ramp hoping that they would stop in time – more often than not they did!

23.  No.1851 saw out her full service as a 15A.  She was a Queenstown engine in the 1940s and 50s but after dieselisation of the East London main line between October 1965 and January 1966 she was transferred to Germiston. The white paint on her rods was applied to check for fractures in the metal. In 1947 during the Royal Tour, she was one of the engines used to work the Pilot Train from Queenstown to Burgersdorp.

24, 25 & 26.  Outside the 15M Shop at Germiston one would invariably see wheelsets that had been removed for reprofiling on the wheel lathe.  This fascinated me and I loved photographing the various combinations of wheels to be seen.



27. Germiston had another original 15A on its roster – No. 1845.  Actually, she moved around quite a bit – in the 1940s and 50s she was also at Queenstown and then came up to Germiston where I photographed her in March 1966. However, she would soon be transferred again – by 1967 she was at Sydenham Loco in Port Elizabeth. 

The grace and dignity of a 15A is apparent in this portrait of one of Hendrie’s finest almost in its original format with four-window cab, combustion-chambered Belpaire boiler, Ramsbottom safety valves, characteristic shapely chimney and Hendrie steam reverser but with standard SAR top feed, clacks and bypass valves.  The 15As looked quite similar to the 800 class 4-8-2s of the metre-gauge Belgrano system in Argentina.  In fact the Belgrano’s 1300 class and especially the 1400 class 2-10-2s look uncannily like Hendrie’s 2-10-2 which was never built.


28.  On 4th of June 1967 I shot this busy scene down at the ashpits with several classes in one frame. 


29. Class 15A No. 1851 on the ashpits with No. 1952 class 12R, an ex Port Elizabeth engine displaced by 15Fs in 1957, on the adjoining road.  The ashpits and coalstage saw a never-ending stream of engines coming in off the road and having their bunkers filled and fires cleaned. 

30.  In 1968 there was still good reason to visit the Loco – no shortage of engines waiting to have their portraits taken!  Here, two 15Fs line up with a 12A in the middle.


31. I’ve already mentioned that after a bleak spell at Capital Park, just prior to ending her active days at Germiston the solitary class 5R No. 781 was afforded the dignity appropriate to a famous locomotive.  Here in April 1967 she was receiving the pampering that she deserved.  Having replaced 16R 793 as Station Pilot she stood tall and proud even when relegated to shunting duty!

32. 15F, 15A, 12Rs and an S2 in June 1967 at the ashpits having their fires cleaned – all of 45 years ago!

33.  One of the six 15As that never went through the reboilering programme, 15A No. 1851 was also having her fire cleaned on that June day 45 years ago. 


34.  My visit to Germiston on 4th of June 1967 also produced a surprise visitor in the shape of class 4AR No. 1554.  These engines were stabled at Braamfontein and later at Krugersdorp (Millsite) – so one can only assume that she had worked a goods load through to Germiston before returning to her home depot.

35. On 27th of January 1968, I visited Germiston Loco at night.  Here is one of my shots of a 15F and 12A, with an S1 almost getting into the picture, in the Running Shed.  Loco depots take on an entirely different atmosphere at night – the engines look bigger and more menacing under the murky shed lighting!


36. In these closing images we leap forward in time to 1991.  23 years after taking photo 34 I was again visiting GMR Loco and found 25NC 3472 having her rods and motion steam-cleaned.  3472 had worked in the 1950s as a condenser stationed at Touws River.  Later she spent several years at Beaconsfield as a worshond 25NC.  Here at Germiston she was used for a while as a prestige locomotive hauling the Amatola from Johannesburg to Kroonstad on a similar basis to the concession given to Braamfontein Electric Running Shed to work the Trans Karoo on Fridays/Saturdays to and from Klerksdorp with sister locomotives 3476, 3404 and 3422. She also had the odd turn on the Trans Karoo.  The origin of these very special workings which were well received by the travelling public and tourists from overseas is not known for sure.  But it is likely that the inspiration behind them came from Assistant General Manager Helmuth Hagen, by a country mile the most competent member of the immediate pre-ANC management team.

37. Here she is again carrying her special headboard and the name Lilly. Piet Steenkamp was her regular driver.

38. On the same day – 2nd of January 1991, there was a lot of activity at GMR Loco – here three big engines are receiving attention – steam cleaning for Lilly, boiler washout for a 15F on the right and a fitter attending to a smokebox problem on another 15F in the middle.

39.  Moving back for a wider angle on the action, we see the three locos referred to in the previous photo and with this scene we bid Germiston Loco farewell.  Once the greatest steam centre in South Africa – we will remember you as you were!

HOWEVER, it is not all doom and gloom!  On the contrary, the Reefsteamers preservation group has kept the old 15M Shop and surrounding area alive.  Not only have they kept it alive but continue to maintain their lease-lend locomotives in working order for the working of special trains.  So actual locomotive repair activity is still happening in that famous shed and in particular, in the old 15M Shop.  Long may their activities continue!