Heritage locomotive saved from the scrap yard

P Munro Transport have successfully moved a 160 ton 30m long GMAM-class Garratt locomotive from Bloemfontein to Ficksburg. It took the mighty movers a day to cover the 210km journey.

In what is believed to be an industry first, the team had to lay rail tracks on one trailer and use it as a ramp to move the locomotive onto the special 19-axle lowbed trailer.

Two Volvo FH16 610 8 x 6 trucks were tasked to push and haul the massive load to its destination at a farm in Ficksburg.

It was a free spectacle for motorists on the N1 and N5 as the lengthy haul negotiated its way to its destination on Wednesday. The owners, Sandstone Heritage Trust, have a private collection of locomotives and vehicles based at the farm near Ficksburg.

Sandstone marketing manager Dave Richardson said they opted to move the locomotive by road even though there was a railway between the two cities for two reasons.

“We didn’t believe that the railway line between Bloemfontein and Ficksburg was really open for use,” said Richardson. “And even getting to the farm, it would still be 3km from the nearest siding. We would still have had to have all these trucks anyway.”

The last Sandstone locomotive has left Transnet’s Bloemfontein Depot and has arrived at Sandstone Estates near Ficksburg. This is a 11th Class number 929

The locomotive, one of four owned by the Sandstone Heritage Trust, a private collection of locomotives and vehicles based on a farm near Ficksburg, was heading to its new home on the farm after two decades of languishing outside Bloemfontein’s former steam locomotive depot.

While Transnet’s national collection of heritage locomotives and other rolling stock is kept at Bloemfontein behind locked gates, the four locomotives were outside the property and vulnerable to scrap thieves, said Sandstone marketing manager Dave Richardson.

“We felt the assets would be safer at the farm,” he said.

With their copper pipes, brass controls and other valuable metal components, many of SA’s surviving steam locomotives have been stripped for scrap by metal thieves in recent years. In 2013, locomotives owned by the now-defunct SA National Rail and Steam Museum, kept at unprotected sites near Krugersdorp, had to be scrapped after suffering irreparable damage at the hands of metal thieves.

While three of the four engines could be disassembled into more manageable components by separating the locomotive from its coal and water tender, moving the 30m long GMAM-class Garratt locomotive presented the owners with a technical headache.

Garratts are articulated locomotives with the boiler and cab connected by pivots to an engine unit at each end. Designed by P.A. Hyde for the Central South African Railways (CSAR), these engines of the “Mikado” wheel arrangement were the only such type to run on the Cape gauge in South Africa apart from two experimental engines on the Cape Government Railways. The last examples were withdrawn by 1975. Nevertheless many were sold to mining operations both in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Sandstone’s No. 929 became Freegold’s President Steyn Mine No. 6. In 1991, records show it “out of use” so it is possible it saw little if any service during that period. No. 929 was acquired from the President Steyn Mine by the Transnet Foundation in the early ‘90s and was subsequently sold to the UK-based North British Locomotive Preservation Group. Plans to export the loco to the UK fell through and Sandstone acquired the locomotive in 2013.

Sandstone has no plans to restore and operate the four locomotives in the near future. While the farm has a 24km long working railway, it is a different gauge to the 1 065mm gauge used by the four engines.