The three dining cars, Nos. 198 “Umgeni”, 215 “Kowie” and 218 “Riet plus Kitchen Car no 253, which had stood for 35-years at Halfway House at Midrand as part of the well known Train Restaurant (remember crocodile steaks and elephant potjie amongst other dishes) which closed in 2003, have been moved off the site as part of their relocation to the Sandstone Heritage Trust in the Eastern Free State. The core of the structure comprised the four coaches listed above which saw long service in the restaurant and were a landmark in the history of the Halfway House area.
Reputedly the restaurant originally applied for permission to establish its business in the Johannesburg Metropolitan area but the authorities at the time were concerned that the apartheid laws of the day would not be properly enforced and refused to allow it to be built. They therefore moved out to what was effectively the platteland and built it in the village of Halfway House.
Obviously over the years it transformed itself from a semi-rural restaurant in a small town to something which became an anachronism in a heavily built up metropolitan and industrial area. Inevitably the area changed in character and this type of restaurant no longer found favour.
It was auctioned on two separate occasions but no satisfactory bids were received for the four dining cars. The Sandstone Heritage Trust who attended both auctions entered into negotiations with the owners and originally purchased them. As is often the case with items of this type the purchasing is the easy part; it is moving them that takes real expertise. Because there was a degree of urgency contracts were given out to Reyneke Transport and Vanhatten Lifting to lift the carriages. Significant rigging expertise was needed and two teams from the above companies arrived on site on Thursday, 4th March.
Rail laid by Goldfields Track, the Sandstone Heritage Trust rail contractors, enabled the coaches to be pulled out of the building where the huge 300-ton cane could gain access to them. They were then lifted skilfully onto very special rear steering bogies for the difficult trip to Boksburg through the industrial areas of Kempton Park and Isando.
Excellent cooperation was received from Spoornet who provided a loading facility at Boksburg East Station in the old shunting yard. This was a more user friendly environment to offload the carriages from the bogeys onto rail than had been the case at Midrand where considerable skill was needed by all concerned to extract the items safely.
Unfortunately the weather turned against the contractors on the Friday with cold drizzly and occasionally heavy rain for the 24-hour period. This extended right through Saturday but the teams persevered and the coaches were all safely loaded onto their bogies and onto rail by Saturday midday. Remarkably all the coaches’ bearings and brake systems were in excellent condition even after standing for over 30 years. A team from Spoornet’s Coach & Wagon Department were there on Saturday morning to prepare the coaches for their long journey to the Eastern Free State.
We pay tribute to these men who worked in cold, miserable conditions. They were highly effective and it took them less than two hours to get the first coach ready. A good example of if you want to get something done, give it to the professionals, which in fact was very much the approach throughout the operation. Arno Serfontein from Sandstone Estates and Hennie De Jager from Wille Projects agreed to stay with the coaches and took up residence in them while they were waiting to be railed.
Ron & Val Nell of Frameline filmed the entire movement and the historic lifting and bringing back to rail of these items will ultimately appear on a professional video covering the Sandstone Heritage 3’6” gauge operations.
The Kommandonek Siding has, in cooperation with Spoornet, been extended and the four coaches will take up occupancy of the siding where they will be fully restored immediately. It is hoped to have them as part of the inaugural David Shepherd special train from Ficksburg to Bloemfontein and back on 6th/7th November behind David’s own 15F, 3052 which is in the care of the Sandstone Heritage Trust.
Fortuitously another coach owned by Sandstone Heritage Trust purchased some years ago from ERPM Gold Mine in Boksburg was also loaded at the same time from the mine which is very close to the Boksburg East Siding where the four dining cars were loaded.This coach is a 2nd/3rd class suburban brake built in Durban in 1949.
These five units, which comprised a train of over 100-metres in length, arrived in Kommandonek, near Ficksburg on the 15th March.
Issued by Sandstone Estates (Pty) Ltd:
Read the Midrand Reporter press release: