RN 24 - Sandstone Steam Weekend November 2004The Eastern Free State of South Africa resounded to the sound of working steam locomotives in early November as Sandstone Steam Railroad held one of its now renowned steam weekends. Situated next to the long lamented Bloemfontein to Bethlehem Cape gauge line where the mighty class 25NCs once ruled, Sandstone’s 2ft narrow gauge line provided more spectacle in two days than most railways can provide in a year.
Coinciding with the return to steam of class NGG13 Garratt no: 49 to service after a long restoration under the hand of Lukas Nel and his wife Anna at the Sandstone Bloemfontein workshops, it was decided to stage a spectacle that probably has never been seen before on the narrow gauge, triple headed Garratts!
With the assistance of master photographer, Dennis Moore, a programme of train movements was worked out for the two days culminating in the triple header. In addition Beira Railway no: 7 Lawley 4-4-0 was rostered on”Hands On” driving experience duties for the weekend.
Saturday the 6th saw the debut of No: 49 on a short mixed train with a run to Grootdraai and back to warm up the cameras while NG 15 no: 17 and NGG16s nos; 113 & 153 prepared for a triple header to Vailima.. On arrival there, the two Garratts took a photographic charter up the new extension to Vailima Halt which is characterised by extreme gradients and sharp curves.
Following lunch, as the high midday South African sun slid lower in the sky enhancing the photographic conditions, the Garratt triple header was prepared with No: 49 leading 113 & 153. Although no: 49 was giving some teething problems, Sandstone loco foreman, Gert Jubileus, had the loco ready in time for a momentous run to Vailima. Dark skies were threatening as the train left Hoekfontein and some classic sun and rain shots were captured. Soon after arrival at Vailima No: 49 was officially launched into service by Anna Nel, wife of Lukas Nel. This husband and wife team together with Leon Myburgh having been responsible for its restoration. No: 49 was then stood down for the day for attention to a steam leak while 113 & 153 headed up to Vailima Halt. Photography was very mixed as the sky darkened and the heavens opened bringing some welcome rain to this very dry area.
Although the photographers looked glum, the Sandstone Estates farm managers where the railway is situated were extremely pleased as this area, as is a lot of the agricultural land in South Africa, subject to ever increasing drought conditions.
Following a slightly soggy ride home all the invited guests enjoyed a typical South African braai (barbecue) which rounded off a great day. Most people were early to bed as photography the next day was timed for a dawn start.
Luckily next morning awoke with clear skies as NGG13 no: 49 performed a number of runpasts near Hoekfontein station as the sun rose. Kalahari NG15 no: 17 then ran through to Grootdraai followed by no: 49. Dennis Moore had worked out a combination of shots never done before whereby two trains could be photographed against the spectacular Maluti Mountains back drop. To add to the fun, the Sandstone collection of military vehicles were also paraded for some shots and then pressed into service as photographic vantage points, further adding to some new photo opportunities.
This signified the end of organised photo action and the trains returned to Hoekfontein. A final run to Vailima with NGG15 No:113 rounded off the weekend’s events.
Of course while all this was going on the “Hands On” participants were having fun driving the 1895 Falcon built Lawley. The loco was confined to the Grootdraai section and only ran when the main photographic train was in the Vailima section. 16 participants enjoyed themselves including some females who were learning what makes their train mad partners tick!
As the Sandstone collection is not only confined to rail, a number of vintage tractors were on display, plus an ex Wales AEC bus, the military vehicles and a span of Oxen. Throughout the weekend the flexibility of Sandstone operating enabled all of these to be used as photographic props when required.
Nearly 200 people attended throughout the weekend, not all rail enthusiasts when they arrived but certainly well on their way to becoming hooked on steam when they left.