Locohunter

 
 
 

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       Miniature Railways, Narrow Gauge Railways,  Tramways and Cableways in                                                                      Southern Africa

                       Can you provide additional information on any Mini Railway in South Africa.

                                                                          See page 3 for Miniature Railways

I am collecting any information and photos of miniature trains and mini railways in Southern Africa, past and present. Almost every town and Holiday Resort had a miniature railway at some stage. If you know the history about any, maybe your dad had one, or worked at one, or as a kid you rode on one or even know the present whereabouts of any not mentioned please inform us.

 Do you know what happened to the locomotives, do you have any old family photo's showing these old mini trains, please send them to me. It is part of our history and we owe it to these forgotten heroes that made so many children and adults smile. Ask your dad or granddad.....they may not have internet or e-mail, but they surely will remember them.

Click on "miniature Railway" at the top right hand corner of this page and see if you can help me with updating or collecting of additional information about these old heroes.

Thanks to Mr Charles Viljoen,  Mike Night,  Chris Ayres, Mike Stokes, Gerald Baxter and Les Pivnic for their input.

Please E-mail me if you have any photos or information.

Please send me your photos and information of  Mini railways and Miniature Trains in South Africa.

 Can anyone still remember the coin operated Miniature Locomotives that was on display at the major railway stations? Do you have one of them, or do you have a photo of one? If so, please send me a photo or information about its whereabouts.

 

Does anyone have any information about this 5

                                                                                                             The tale of the Baxter loco’s 

                                                     Ever heard of the 3 famous Miniature locos built in Maritzburg by the Baxter's?

In the late 40’s an Englishman with the name of Mr. Jonathon Minks gave Mr. Baxter and his father a few pencil drawings of the main components which they would need to build a two scale Pacific 4-6-2 steam locomotive, he also encouraged them to build it. So they decided to build their steam engine in a small wood and iron shed behind the old Whitehouse Hotel in Howick. Their aim was to establish a miniature railway in Pietermaritzburg. At that time the Baxters had a small Radio Repair business in PMB. Jonathon used to visit the Baxters frequently to further encourage them to build the loco. 

The Baxters only had an old lathe and a drill press and on various weekends they would go out to a farmers workshop in Bisley where they had the use of an old worn out belt driven lathe. It’s also where they built the boiler which had to be made in accordance with a government Boiler Inspection`s approval, the PMB Municipality insisted on this before they would be allowed to run the loco. This inspector was very nice and gave them a lot of help and advice on different matters. He also carried out monthly inspections of what was done. Even the rivets had to be inspected and tested by the Metallurgy dep't. of the University of Natal in Durban. Welding of any description was not allowed, it had to be fully riveted and made of 3/8in steel plate. 

The Baxters built the engine in about four years, during this time Gerald had also established an Engineering Business, Baxters Engineering in Pietermaritzburg, which was his true vocation. By 1954 they had received permission to open a miniature railway in Kershur Park on the bank of the Umsindusi river in PMB.

Mr Gerald Baxter and his father laid the track with 7 pound goolivaan track, all on wooden sleepers with correct "T" Fasteners.  They operated this mini railway for a while but having another business they soon found that the task was too enormous for my Mr Baxter Snr. and so sold the business to Mr. Buchanan who already had a small financial interest in the business. Mr. Buchanan operated it for a while then made a serious mistake by converting the loco to a petrol driven engine with a small Austin motor car engine. This destroyed its interest to kids so the business failed and at a liquidation sale Mike Harburn purchased the locomotive, and possibly also the track, as he wanted to extend his own 9.5in gauge track that he had on this property in Kloof, near Durban.  

In the late 50’s a former electrical contractor from Pretoria, a Mr. Greef approached the Baxters and after a discussion placed an order with them to build a similar loco but with 10.25 in rail gauge. He eventually established a miniature railway track at Scotborough but sadly his planning was all wrong and he grossly overvalued the potential of this seaside resort. He relocated to Muizenberg and eventually went out of business and we believe Mike Harburn purchased the loco at the sale. The rest of the railway may have been bought by a MR Wann. This 10.5 inch Gauge loco was refurbish by the late Dick Collyer and also had to be re-gauged to suit Mikes 9.5 inch gauge track. The loco was later sold to Mr John Hall-Cragg and taken to the Brightwalton Light Railway in the UK where it is known as the "Muizenberg Flyer” or just "The Flyer". Mr John Hall Craggs hasn't been back to South Africa since the 70's but confirmed with me in 2015 that the loco is one of the main locos at the Brightwalton Light Railway and still in use and in good condition. Sadly Mr John Hall Craggs passed away in 2020.

In he late 50’s the Rotary club of Bulawayo called to visit Mr Baxter and somewhat against his wishes asked him to build a loco for them to enable a charitable miniature railway to be established in Bulawayo. This they did and together with a number of rolling stock bogies for passenger use, it was railed off to Bulawayo. It was received with much annoyance because the Rhodesian government insisted that a duty of something like 300 pounds was payable. The Rotarians were so incensed that that they had to pay this, since it was for charitable reasons that the loco had been purchased. Anyway one of the Fuel Companies paid the sum as a first donation to the Rotarians and the miniature railway opened in Centenary Park on the 18th of August 1960. We understand that when Rhodesia lost its independence the railway soon fell apart and the last we heard about the Baxter loco is that it was lying on its side covered in rust in a shack next to the track on which it was used. 

Now back to Mike Harburn, after having received the loco he had purchased from the insolvent railway in Kershur Park he brought it back to Mr Baxter and asked if he would restore it back to first class order as a steamer. This the Baxters agreed to do only if they could locate the original boiler which had been previously sold. After adverts in the Natal Witness newspaperthey found that a farmer near Greytown had the boiler and was prepared to sell it. They bought it and then virtually rebuilt the loco for Mike Harburn where he ran it on his track in Kloof together with his 15F and class GCA Gerratt built by Dick Collyer. There is a possibility that this loco was later also moved to Bulawayo.

I also understand Mike Harburn used to teach at Glenwood High School and sadly passed away in 2013

*** Special thanks to Mr Gerald Baxter who was 89 years old in 2015 when he took the time and effort to provide me with the information for making this article possible.


      If you have any more information, or is aware of any incorrect facts, please contact me on the e-mail address below. 

                                                                                      

                                        I am sad to learn about the closure of the Albert Falls Miniature Railway.

                                  We will surely miss that great little Railway that Mr Rob Steiger worked so hard on to put smiles on peoples faces


                                                                                                               PRASA - Why do they still exist....?

           It also appears as if the entire Railway line between Johannesburg and Daveyton is also no longer in operation. I drove past part of  it  in 2021  and noticed  the overhead cables has been stolen and the Station building is completely "Africanized". It looks like the whole of PRASA had collapsed. Apparently the status of the railway lines in the Westrand is the same. The end of all trains and rail transportation in SA is approaching fast. If you see a train moving, record it to show your children......it may be the last one


                                                                   The Apple Express ran briefly again in 2017/2018 

                                                                                                      But it didn't last long.

   The famous 2Ft narrow gauge steam train, once known as the Apple Express in Port Elizabeth ran for a few days over the holiday season from December 2017 to January 2018 . Unfortunately politics crept in again and its name was changed, stripping it from its 114 year old heritage.

The train was fully booked for almost all trips in December 2017. Thanks to the friendly ticket office staff who managed to get me a space on Sunday the 14th of January 2018.   It was the last operating day of the December holiday season and I enjoyed every minute of the trip. The train departed from Kings Beach on a short return trip to a point near the Airport.  The return trip took about an hour and cost R75. The loco and couches were in good condition, clean,  and well kept. Unfortunately the onboard supervising personnel on the train was not very accommodating and wouldn't even let me stand on the balcony of the coach to take some photos. That is the whole idea of going on the train ride is for a photo shoot.   

 I cant find any schedule indicating further operations nor any evidence that the train is even still operating. To cause even more confusing it that there are several unofficial, outdated and abandoned websites for the Apple Express. Maybe the train should run a bit more often and get a regular operating schedule like once or twice a month during off peak times. Steam train rides are very popular and when there are people with money in hand willing to queue for a ride the opportunity should not slip you by, why not run longer days and more often. Holiday season is the ideal time to collect enough money to keep going. I suggest they work on their marketing and website a bit.. Im not aware of the current situation of the railway and battle to find any further information. I dont think the train ran since early January 2018

The plan was to eventually extend the trip up to Baywest in the future. I hope it will one day cross the Van Stadens River Bridge again. but sadly I personally think the Apple express wont be seen running again. It was the end of the Apple Express.


Due to the popularity of steam trains, why doesn't other holiday towns like Jeffery's bay also get a steam train. The now abandoned 2ft rail runs through a few towns and is still in a reasonable condition. You only need a 5 to 10 Km section to run a train. This will prove to be a big tourist attraction for those towns.


                                                                           

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                                                 Cableways in South Africa

As far as I can establish, apart from the temporary cableways used in large construction projects, there was only a few Cablecars in South Africa. Most were established on a commercial basis purely for entertainment value.

 A well known cablecar is the one on the beachfront in Durban. It operated on the Durban esplanade from as far back as the 70s. It runs parallel to Marine drive giving a view of the esplanade. and beach. The “Gondolas” consisted of a two seater bench with your feet hanging down unsupported. We use to enjoy watching people losing their flip-flops and sandals. Luckily there weren’t cell phones back then. In February 2019 a man managed to fall from the cable car and died when he stupidly tried to stand up on the seat.

At the old Milpark Rand showground was a cableway about 500 meters long running North / South over the main walkway giving an aerial view of the entire showground. This cableway proved very popular during the annual Rand Show. It operated until 1984 when the show was moved to NASREC. The historical cableway was unceremoniously removed in an effort to destroy historical landmarks when Wits took over the showground in the 80s. ( same happened to the miniature railway and the Milpark railway siding there) One of the original cablecar support pillars is still visible within the wits campus. Both Milpark and Durban beachfront cable ways was constructed on almost level ground. Have a look at this old clip from 1964. 

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVAAGTHFYECG48DIVQT85PEFX33M-SOUTH-AFRICA-RAND-SHOW-OPENS-AT-JOHANNESBURG  

Pretoria Zoo also had a cableway giving an aerial view of some of animal enclosures. Unlike the Milpark and Durban Beachfront cable cars, it was at a higher elevation on the northern side of the Zoo. I understand it is no longer in operation......another national treasure that has been “Africanized”

The Table Mountain cable way was proposed in the 1870’s but construction was delayed because of the Boer War. In 1912 the Cape Town City Council started looking at the proposal again, this time it was halted by the First World War. The Norwegian engineer, Trygve Stromsoe plans was accepted in 1926. The Former world leading wire ropeway company Adolf Bleichert & Co. from Germany was awarded the contract for construction. It was built over 4 year period and finally opened on the 4th of October 1929. It was upgraded a few times over the years and capacity increased from 25 passengers per car to 65 with both gondolas having 360 degree rotating floors. The ride takes about 4 to 5 minutes giving the cableway a capacity of 880 people per hour. The elevation difference between the bottom and top station is about 765 Meters. It is purely aimed at tourists, hence the outrages admission fees charged.

Another mountain top cable way is the one at Hartebeespoort dam. It was built in 1973 and operated until 2005 when it fell into disrepair. I went for a ride on it in 1994 or 95 and was concerned about the safety aspect of it then. Luckily it was renovated and re opened again in 2010. The headgear and cabling was also replaced and now has an “auto cabin spacing system.” The gondolas were also replaced with 14 new modern enclosed ones and can transport up to 300 people per hour.  I understand it is well maintained and in good condition now

The Kwazulu Natal Government is planning a 7Km long cableway for the Drakensberg Park. Its still to be seen if this project ever will take off...it sounds to me more like a move to create another opportunity for more corruption.  Staying in Natal, even more outrageous is the proposal of an Urban Regeneration Specialist, Johnny Friedman. His idea to transform Durban by his "Blue Sky" project is to build a cable car network to connect The Point to South Beach and Florida rd. (See link below)

 https://bereamail.co.za/174547/cable-car-transportation-plan-durban/

The forgotten Baberton aerial cable way was the longest cable way in Arica with a distance of 20,36 Km consisted of 52 pylons. The longest unsupported span was 1 207 m and the highest point above the ground being 189 m. It operated between Baberton in South Africa and the Havelock mine at Bulembu in Swaziland. It was known as the Bulembu-Barberton Mining Cableway and was built between 1936 and 1939 to carry asbestos from the mine in Swaziland to the Baberton Railway line. The German Engineers from Adolf Bleichert & Co who was building the cableway was fortunate enough to make it home just before the outbreak of the 2nd World War.  Each gondola could carry up to 200Kg and the line moved at 11KM/h giving it a capacity of about 13 tons per hour.  No passengers were permitted on it but the occasional “border jumper” stole a ride in it. This was very risky as the cable way was shut down outside working hours as well as for faults and routine maintenance. This resulted in a few poor souls trapped on it for up to several days... It was also the only Cableway that crossed an international Border and the longest outside Europe. It stopped operating in 2001 when the mine closed down and in 2011 metal thieves caused a large section of the cableway to collapse. The rest of the cables were removed in June 2019. I'm sure with a bit of re-engineering it could have been turned into an adventure tourist attraction.

Another forgotten Cable was in Simon's Town and was known as the Simon's Town Aerial Ropeway. It was designed by Bullivant & Co. LTD and operated between 1904 and 1934 carrying supplies, patients and personnel between the Western Dockyard across Main Road and St Georges Street up to Royal Naval Hospital and Sanatorium and Red Hill. Its route was also across three houses of which the owners was paid an annual " right of pass" fee. Apart from a long walk, this was the only other way to the hospital and Red Hill as there were no road up there at the time. After several Brush fires the original 17 wooden pylons were replaced with metal ones of which some is still visible today. One of the metal pylons is still visible from Chapel Ln / Chapel Close. or Cornwell Street. (GPS position 34°11'34.33" S 18°25'39.05" E). The cable car had 6 cars/Gondolas and took 15 minutes to carry a load up the hill. It had two Stops, or landing stations, as it was known then, the Navel  Hospital and at the summit of Red Hill. The lower station was next to Sail Loft in the West Dockyard. The cable way was first driven by a Diesel engine but was later replaced by an electric motor. The Cableway closed down in 1934 after a road was built up there in 1932. This can be a popular tourist attraction if it can be re built but sadly it won't happen.

In Mombasa in Kenya a 1300 Meter cable way known as the Likoni Channel Project is supposed to be under construction. It will connect Mombasa island to the Sun Coast. Construction was set to start in August 2018 but it seems nothing has started yet.

In Lagos Nigeria a planned 275 Million$ 12,8Km long cableway will connect Lagos Island to the mainland. This is known as the Lagos Sky Bus. This cableway is designed for mass transportation and will have capacities of well into the 10 000’s per day. The project was planned in 2013 but by 2018 no work has started yet. I don’t know the current status of this project or if it even got off the ground.

The Ubudo Mountain / Ranch resort in Nigeria also have a cableway. Construction started in 2004 and it started operating the next year. The cableway climbs 870 Meters in elevation from the base to the top of the plateau. It was built to ferry tourist to the resort.

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