Visit to Sandstone Estate
By Bob Baker
Sandstone Estate is a 7000 hectare wheat producing farm in Eastern Free State South Africa. It is also home to the Sandstone Heritage Trust and contains a 2ft gauge light railway of 26.5 route km, over 700 tractors (mostly in working order) and a selection of military machinery.
In 2009 Sandstone Estate called for expressions of interest for "MEGAPOWER 2010" a week long event showcasing its heritage equipment. After 300 expressions of interest were received it was decided to run the event, however it was later cancelled when only 33 paid a deposit. As an act of good faith to those who had paid the deposit, Wilfred Mole (the owner of Sandstone Estate) decided to run a smaller private vent just highlighting the railway.
In an attempt to keep the costs down, Wilfred elected to use volunteer train crews made up from the event guests to run the trains. Paul WIllemse and I forwarded our qualifications, including the BBR steam instruments. These were accepted by the Rail Safety Authorities in South Africa for operating at Sandstone. As a result of the Iceland Volcano eruption, 10 members of Welsh Highland Railway, who were to make up the majority of the crews, were marooned in UK and could not attend leavng only 4 visiting crew members supplemented by the workshops staff at Sandstone. Paul and I were 2 of those crew members.
During the week all 17 working steam locomotives at Sandstone were in steam at some time. The locomotives ranged from small 0-4-0 tank locomotives, to NG15 and 4 NGG16 Garratts. Sandstone has a working example of NGG Garratt from each of the manufacturers. Paul and I were able to drive and/or fire 10 of the locomotives during the event. It was steam heaven.
Highlights included double-headed running of Garratts and 2 trips around the Vailima Loop, a 4.2km section of line with a rulling grade of 1:20 using one Garrat and a consist of 6 wagons expertly driven by Gert, the steam operations manager at Sandstone, and a fitter, Derik, as his fireman. Train consists of up to 14 wagons were made up during the event. Photographers made up the majority of the guests and run parts were organised for each train that ran. Unfortunately Paul and I were unable to obtain a lot of photos or video of the train run pasts due to our participation on the footplate, (but who's complaining) however Wilfred is arranging a collage of the best 1000 photographs by the photographers to be forwarded.
The hospitality at Sandstone was magnificent. Paul and I were treated like kings.
Should another similar event be run at Sandstone, we thoroughly recommend a visit to what is conceivably the best collection of working narrow gauge steam locomotives in the world running in such a picturesque setting. If we get the chance again, we will be there!
For further photographs from the event go to www.sandstone-estates.com and click on the article “private steam week”.
Training for Young Adults
For the young adults who work on the Friday nights or would like to attend a training session, we will be running short courses on the last Friday of each month at the Workshop.
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