Sandstone Heritage Trust - News

HTN 87 - Current news flashes

4th May 2005

Sandstone News April 2006.
April was the busiest period that the Sandstone Heritage Trust has ever seen with over three weeks of intensive activity that encompassed narrow gauge steam, cape gauge steam, vintage agricultural and transport equipment, historic military equipment, vintage aircraft and a new world record for the narrow gauge. All these events emphasised Sandstone’s position as probably the foremost preservation destination in the world.

Under African Skies & The 2006 Cosmos Festival

Following on from the outstanding success of the 2005 Cosmos Festival, a bigger and better event was planned for this year. Drawing on experience from the 2003 Heritage Fair it was decided to include more attractions to enhance the experience of the beauty of the Cosmos and the narrow gauge railway. Before this got underway, though, an event unique in the preservation world was staged, Under African Skies. A hands on experience for visitors that encompassed all of Sandstone’s preservation activities.

Following on from discussions with some overseas visitors on the Avontuur Adventurer and further discussion in the UK, Under African Skies was born.

This event enabled visitors to experience at first hand in a semi-working environment any of the working items that they wished. Although there was a provisional programme to regulate the event, guests were very much free to pick and chose what they wanted to do on any particular day.
While it was particularly rail related, as most of the visitors were rail enthusiasts, guests were able to drive, under Sandstone supervision, bulldozers, steam locomotives, tractors, military vehicles, a vintage bus, traction engines, steam rollers, a veteran fire engine and much more. Holes were dug, fields ploughed, trains were run, passengers were carried and fires put out.

With almost incessant rain since January, the Sandstone Estates farm was a sea of green punctuated by the burgundy and white of the Cosmos flowers. The rain abated some two days before the guests arrived and clear blue South African skies graced the event.

From a railway perspective, all of the working Sandstone narrow gauge steam fleet (11 in total) was in steam at one time or another allowing visitors to enjoy a variety of engines on the spectacular system. At one time 9 locos were operating! Guests had to prepare their engine themselves and were provided with a suitable load for the experience. Each train was controlled by radio orders from Hoekfontein station. The climb up Pandora Bank and also to Vailima Halt had been heavily reworked prior to the event to decrease the fierce gradients and proved a most successful investment.
Two groups came from the UK, one from the Welsh Highland Railway (with whom Sandstone has a twinning arrangement) led by David Kent and another from the Hunslet Steam Company and the Statfold Barn Railway led by Graham Lee. Other visitors were from Germany, Switzerland and South Africa. Not all the guests were in “hands on” mode. Some preferring to spend their time photographing or just chilling and enjoying the events around them.

Many of Sandstone’s friends attended to assist with the event including Shaun and Pat Ackerman, Phillip Maurer, Charles and Frank Viljoen ,Charles Terry, Johan van der Hoeven, Jan Fouche and some special old time guests in Jannie Du Toit and Sarel Viljoen.

The Welsh Highland Group were particularly interested in the NG15 no: 17, as they are about to restore a similar locomotive in the UK. To gain operational experience was a great help to them. Operating coal fired locos was a newish experience though, as the NGG16 Garratts they run are oil fired. This caused much amusement when black smoke was needed for photography as this is totally taboo in Wales! Photographers, in fact, had a special time as many of the preserved vehicles were used to “accessorise” the rail photographs making for that unique Sandstone touch.
Graham Lee’s group enjoyed not only the railway but also traction engines and tractors. In fact it was hard to keep up with Graham as he was probably operating at least three machines at once!
Sandstone’s two smallest locos, “Little Bess” and “Decauville” made history during the two weeks when both were successful in running around the entire system including the fearsome climb up to Vailima Halt.

Guests were accommodated in a special tented area with full catering available or in local hotels and B&B’s.

All in all Under African Skies was a tremendous success.

Under African Skies ended one day before the Cosmos Festival to enable the Sandstone team to draw a breath although a number of Press were hosted on that day as well. To cap the previous two weeks proceedings a world record attempt for the longest steam hauled 2 ft narrow gauge train was run (see story below).

The Cosmos Festival staged on April 8th & 9th attracted a large number of visitors from as far afield as Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town and many of the international visitors from Under African Skies stayed on. An intensive train service was run using NGG16’s, 113 & 153, the Lawley, the Fowler, “Sandy” and the O&K. At one time all of the trains were being operated by Welsh Highland crews!

In addition to the passenger trains, a special military train had been configured featuring specially camouflaged wagons and loaded with military vehicles and weapons. This made a number of demonstration runs during the weekend.

Sunday morning, at dawn, saw the traditional photography special hauled by NGG16 no: 113. Although there was a good turnout, partly cloudy weather played havoc with the proceedings at times. Nevertheless good shots were taken at Hoekfontein, Grootdraai, Mooihoek and Pandora.
Although the 2ft narrow gauge railway tends to dominate proceedings, the 2006 Cosmos Festival also featured some spectacular aircraft and a display by the SA School of Armour Museum. They even brought a prototype tank, which provided a great spectacle with its speed and manoeverability, notwithstanding the unbelievable volume of noise it produced! The tank even featured in the photographic special on Sunday morning.
Visitors could also take conducted tours around the farm and the Sandstone collection. With plenty of food and drink and much to ride, touch and feel, the 2006 Cosmos Festival was a great success and enjoyed by all who attended.

Breaking Records

Way back in 1991, the Alfred County Railway ran a train of 3 locomotives and 34 wagons from Harding. Three further wagons were added at Paddock giving a total of 37. NGG16 no: 139 and NGG16A’s 141 & 155 were the motive power to a train estimated at 820 tons loaded weight. In November 2004 Spoornet ran a 200 wagon train from Chelsea to Van Stadens using six Class 91 diesels which was certainly a world record.

To coincide with the Under African Skies event, Sandstone put together an attempt on the longest steam hauled 2ft narrow gauge train. With three locomotives and 48 wagons and an estimated load of 475 tons this was certainly another one for the record books. Although lighter than the ACR train it comprised nine more wagons.

With the restrictions of the Grootdraai balloon at just under 550 metres in length it was touch and go if the train would actually fit there!
48 wagons were assembled including the fully loaded military train, passenger coaches, two guard’s vans and an assortment of narrow gauge wagon types to be hauled from Hoekfontein to Grootdraai and back by three locomotives split into the train. The lead locomotive was NGG16 no: 113 crewed by Phillip Maurer and Pat Ackerman, split into the train was NGG13 no: 49 crewed by Welsh Highland guests, John Bunch and Andy Shaw and bringing up the rear was NG15 no: 17 crewed by Gert Jubileus and Derek van Zyl.

The consist comprised the following:
NG-B 19, NG-DZ 5, NG-Y 2, NG-O 4, NG-G 3, NG-Q 1, NG V-15 1, NG V-16 3, NG L-4 1, NG S-10 1, Converted passenger ex G 1, Converted passenger ex V-15 1,Converted passenger ex B 1, Converted passenger ex DZ 1, converted ex B S2 flats 4. This gave a total length of just over 433 metres over the couplers including the locomotives.

The only major concerns were over braking abilities but this was resolved after some discussions with Train Dynamics at Spoornet.

At 10h00 on Friday the 7th of April, the train was assembled and made its way through to Grootdraai where the complete train virtually filled the balloon with the lead loco just clear of the points and the rear loco the same. After a slow but safe journey around the balloon the train made its way back to Hoekfontein where it passed through the station, seemingly never ending! The record was ours and will be submitted to Guinness for ratification.

Sandstone’s thanks go to Shaun Ackerman, Phillip Maurer and Gert Jubileus without whose dedication and determination to succeed, the 48 wagon train would not have run.

David Shepherd reunited with his South African 15F locomotive.
On the 27th April Sandstone hosted a living legend, world famous wildlife artist and rail enthusiast, David Shepherd, as he travelled between Ficksburg and Kommandonek (part of the famous Bloemfontein to Bethlehem line) behind his 15F steam locomotive number 3052. Lukas Nel and the Sandstone railway workshop team specially recommissioned the locomotive, which is in the custody of the Sandstone Heritage Trust, for this event after it had been out of service for some 2 years. To add to his delight, David was granted special permission by Spoornet to travel on the footplate of 3052.

3052 was steamed on the 26th and David had an emotional twilight reunion with the locomotive presented to him by Spoornet in 1991 in exchange for a specially commissioned painting of it. After some quiet time on the footplate, in the evening, David expressed his strong attachment to the loco, which is named “Avril” after his wife.

The locomotive has been in the custody of Sandstone since February 2004 but David last travelled behind her on a fleeting visit to South Africa in 2002 when Sandstone arranged for her to be returned to service at Umgeni Steam Railway for a run from Masons Mill to Cato Ridge and return. 3052 was built by North British in 1946. The spectacle of this massive loco on 3’6” gauge prompted David to remark that it made his British 9F 2-10-0, 92203, “Black Prince”, look small in comparison!
Three trips were made in glorious weather during the day over the scenic 13 kilometre route. Although the vegetation was quite high a number of enthusiasts made the trip and grabbed some excellent photographs on a line that rarely sees steam these days.

As Sandstone does not have an access agreement with Spoornet, Friends of the Rail from Pretoria operated the train with Cliff Petzer driving and Mike Haslam and John Ashworth sharing the firing. John Dadford looked after the technical side during the trips and Kobus Steyn acted as safety officer. Our thanks also go to Piet Terblanche from Spoornet in Bethlehem who acted as pilot and Mike Du Plooy, Spoornet steam curator, for facilitating the running of 3052.

After the excitement of the day David was treated to a special sunset run on the Sandstone narrow gauge behind Sandstone’s 1895 built, ex-Beira Railway Lawley 4-4-0, BR7.

3052 performed faultlessly and it is hoped that David will be able to enjoy his locomotive again on a future trip to South Africa.

Bloemfontein Workshops
Work continues on the ex Sena Peckett and Feldbahn. Both locos are expected to be finished before the end of 2006 if various missing fittings can be sourced. Recently the Feldbahn was run on the short test track powered by compressed air to test various motion components. The NG4 continues to make progress and it is expected that the next project will be the 1936 Cockerill built NGG16 no: 88 ,purchased from a private owner at Port Shepstone some years ago. This fourth addition to the Garratt fleet will mean Sandstone has locomotives from four different builders, NGG13 no: 49 being from Hanomag, NGG16 no: 113 from Beyer Peacock and no: 153 from Hunslet Taylor.