Saturday, January 25, 2014

A place of rest for the royalty of the rail tracks.

An old steamer resting in the African sun

This post is again a departure from my usual watery ways and looks back to my previous life in South Africa. I was reminded by the lovely Lynn Moorhouse of the wonders of steam train travel. Her recent blog is a beautifully evocative account of train journeys she has experienced on steam trains in both Africa and India, and she weaves this account around photos she has taken in both countries alongside quotes from her captivating novel, Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man (also set mainly in South Africa). I am reading her book at the moment and am completely immersed in the images, scents and atmosphere of South Africa again. It is a very special book.

On sidings for all the world as if they could belch out the steam
and  rumble into life again

Anyhow, back to the trains. When I lived in Krugersdorp, a town on the outskirts of Johannesburg, we were very close to the steam train graveyard and it was a place we visited a number of times. The last time was in 2006 when I took Koos there. He was equally smitten and saddened by this haunting place, for it is where hundreds of old and magnificent steam trains have been put to rest.

Their graveyard is mostly well maintained these days
We both took a heap of photos. Now I look at mine, I see flaws in the photos themselves, but even so, they are a fond reminder of a place I loved to wander round. It sparked my own imagination about stories of travel in the days when children used to spend several days on the school train from northern Zambia to Queenstown in South Africa at the beginning and end of each term. Back in the fifties and sixties and probably even before, children living in Zambia or Zimbabwe were often sent to boarding school in South Africa. The train took around five days in total, and friendships - often for life - were made on these journeys.

But this is the state of the train's maintenance - a rainbow
of rust

There are probably more than a hundred of them in this
highveld plain

Now when I see these wonderful stately old hulks lying at rest in the African highveld sun, I wonder what dreams and ambitions they have witnessed in the making. If they could only talk…

The photos above and below are most of those that I took on our last visit. For those of you who love old steamers, I hope you enjoy them.

Even old carriages are rested up here

The driver's cab. I wonder who was the last to sit here

What power these engines had - all those wheels to drive

Koos doing what Koos has always loved best

As if they had a future

How many dreams and ambitions have been formed in
these old carriages here,


  1. Wow - what an amazing place - like a piece of living history

  2. It is, Chris. Thank you. I loved going there, and hope to visit again in March if it's still possible. Last time I went, we had to speak very sweetly to the guards to let us in. The time before that there were no guards, so I'll see!

  3. How utterly poignant these photos are. The rusted close ups especially. I can just imagine the open windows, the occasional blast of soot, the seemingly endless childhood journeys to school. Thank you!

  4. Val, this is a particularly sad post for me. Such strikingly beautiful images. I wonder how many of those engines pulled the carriages I have travelled in? I have lost count of the number of steam train journeys I did as a child all over South Africa and to the Copperbelt in Zambia in the 50s and 60s. So many memories. I was also fortunate to travel on the Nairobi - Mombasa route. Thanks for this post, Val.

  5. Beautiful photos, Val. They remind me of old trains I saw at a museum we were in during a visit to Savannah Georgia a few years back. They had all sorts of old railway cars, and travelling back in time was just so incredible.

  6. Thank you, Valerie. I like the images you evoke with your words too!

    Lynn, it is a sad place, yes, but somehow very dignified too. It's as if the old steamers are dreaming in their fields. I wonder too if you have travelled on any of them. One or two are still in use on the mines, and of course the beautiful Magaliesberg express still runs for the tourists. I would so love to have travelled by train as much as you did. Apart from the Red train to Natal, I only did one other train journey, and that was to Grahamstown in 2000. It was quite an experience! I shared a sleeper compartment with several charming African ladies and a couple of chickens.

    Anne-Marie, that sounds lovely too. Old rail cars are so evocative! Thanks for popping by, dear!

  7. So interesting Val, I think I would love to see these old trains too. They have so much character, and are so evocative of an era largely gone now. The British Empire was largely opened up by the building of railways and these amazing old trains.

  8. Your images are great reminders of the journeys I made in my youth and of being hit in the eyes by smut when I leaned out of the carriage windows.

    They also provoked memories of having seen passenger carriages standing in fields and being used as homes during the late 1940's and early 50's.

    Thank you for reviving my memories Val.

  9. So sad to see rusting engines! I remember steam trains from when I was growing up in the 1950's. The smell of the smoke ..the chunch chunch of the pistons. We were lucky enough that The Flying Scotsman passed through Welwyn on its way from Edinburgh to Kings Cross ...a memorable and magnificent sight.

  10. I remember hiding behind my mother in the 50's on a very noisy London platform waiting to board the steam train. And the clickety,click noise going along in the slidy door carriages with their wooden framed, plush and roomy seats on our way to the seaside. And that was in 2nd class.

  11. Patricia, I thought of you when I wrote this as I know you have the most wonderful old railways in Australia as well. Do you still have steam trains?

    Mel, I remember the old steamers too. We used to travel to Wales when I was small on the steam trains, and I think that we may still have had steam on the route to the west country when I first started going to Dorset, but I'm not sure about that now. They were wonderful.

    Anne, they arouse such memories for us all, don't they? Those of us of a certain age that is :-) I think we all loved trains in those days. Not like the featureless modern trains we have now - although I still love travelling by train!

    Carol, it is sad. I get quite choked with emotion when I see them lying there, but in a way, they are still cared for. They look like dreaming giants.

  12. It's always sad when old technology gives way to new, especially when the old is more friendly. Steam trains will always have a special place in our hearts but I don't think we'd love them as much if they were to replace the modern diesel trains.

  13. Ros, you're right, there's a lot of nostalgia involved in steam, but I do think the old steamers had more personality - if you can call it that! We all loved them, but today's trains seem a bit featureless and anonymous. I can't imagine someone writing Thomas the Tank Engine about the Eurostar somehow. They just don't have that friendliness about them.

  14. Val, your post took me away to my imagination of times gone by.( Not my times) but for those who rode on those trains. I love your photos, and am glad to read that the 'graveyard' is maintained. Were you able to 'board' the trains? or just wander about the outside of them?
    I do not know why my blog told you closed for comments. I have not changed anything there, except for not posting, sadly. I wonder if you can get there after I post here.

  15. Hi Val - this was a lovely reminder of my SA days .. and India .. my uncle was involved, bridge building, in the railways in SA - as an engineer from England .. and mentioned a few trips .. I can't remember much, sadly. My grandfather designed Victoria Falls Bridge and is remembered on a plaque on the Zimbabwe side.

    My mother when she was ill talked about going across India from Bombay to Calcutta (as they were) with her brothers in about 1935 ... and they took the P&O boat out and back presumably!

    Can so relate to this post .. and thoroughly enjoyed it! - cheers Hilary

  16. Oh Hilary, that is really some special history you have there! Wonderful! I have not yet made it to Victoria Falls, but oddly, we were just looking at a video of the falls this morning, probably taken from that very bridge! Fantastic!

  17. Fascinating photos of an era gone by. It's sad that the steam trains are laid to rest in a graveyard.


  18. I am a bit of a sucker for old trains and ruins and I always love these kind of steam engine junkyards. So I really loved this post!

  19. Thank you, Julie and Jenny. These old trains seem to strike a chord with many of us,

  20. It's sad to see them just standing there with no place to go.Children these days love steam train thanks to Thomas The Tank Engine. I have watched programmes on tv where the carriages have been turned into eating places,at least they would be used again. Photos are great.


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