Miss Brakpan is now complete. 

Lukas Nel and his team have completed Miss Brakpan.  Lukas sent us the following photographs.

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Andy Selfe has also provided these useful pictures of what she looked like prior to being collected by the Sandstone Heritage Trust while it was still at Ratanga Junction at Century City in Cape Town.

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Dave Richardson has kindly provided the following article on Miss. Brakpan's history:

“Miss Brakpan” and “Sonny’s Train”. The mystery unfolds.

Throughout the reign of the steam locomotive there have been numerous mysteries of identification and history of particular locomotives. Identity swaps have been commonplace over the last century and today are often part of preservation itself, particularly in the UK, where locomotives take on the number of a long scrapped sister for trips and photographic sessions to recreate a long lost era.

The identification of locomotives is generally taken from the frames although the cab (and often the buffer beam) carries the identifying loco number. As on all major rail systems of the world, boilers and frames in South Africa were swapped at overhauls with numbered components such as wheels and motion being changed between locomotives. This provides an enormous amount of detective work for those who seek the truth.

“Miss Brakpan”, the subject of today’s mystery, is a 2-6-2 tender locomotive of miniature rail scale but gauged to 2ft and has had a history that has sparked much investigation from the ferroequinology detective division. The locomotive was acquired by Sandstone from the defunct 2ft system at Ratanga Junction in Cape Town along with a number of other items. The locomotive’s diminutive size was an immediate clue that it was not built for a 2ft system but more likely 15” or smaller. During the 50’s and 60’s there was a great deal of miniature railway construction in South Africa and almost every major town had a railway in the park, from Margate to Brakpan and Somerset West to Pretoria.

The Chief of Detectives in the South African scenario is undoubtedly Dr. John Middleton who has authored many guides to South African locomotives and further afield in southern Africa. Now resident in the USA, John’s passion for true loco identities is ongoing into the modern traction era. “Miss Brakpan”, when acquired carried both a boiler number and works plate from James Brown & Co. in Durban. The date of manufacture was given as 1948. While James Brown & Co. were well known as locomotive supply agents, particularly for the, then, Natal sugar industry, it was not well known that they actually built locomotives, albeit it would seem,small ones. The boiler records for “Miss Brakpan” were discovered by John during some research he was doing on boiler records some years ago. From the records he was able to track the movement of the locomotive from its build to very recently. This filled in an enormous number of gaps in what was an interesting working life for the locomotive. The boiler number (27726) as most readers will know is tracked as the loco moves or changes ownership and goes through the necessary inspections required with any new owner or operator. When acquired by Sandstone the locomotive was identifiable but where had it started its life and how did it get to Ratanga Junction?

From his research John was able to establish the following timeline for “Miss Brakpan”. The origin of the name itself will become clear as we unravel the history.

16th October 1948 entered service on the Margate Miniature Railway

May 1952 transferred to the Mazelspoort Miniature Railway (operated by the same company as the Margate operation) near Bloemfontein.

August 1959 the loco returns to the Margate Miniature Railway.

1966 Sold to MN Liebenberg & Son, operators of the Klerksdorp Dam Miniature Railway.

August 1968 the loco commences service at Klerksdorp.

May 1974 the loco moves to Jan Smuts Dam Miniature Railway in Brakpan where it gained the name, “Miss Brakpan”

The loco then moved to Murray Park in Springs for 6 years before returning to Brakpan.

1994 the loco ceased operations in Brakpan and is disposed of to a scrap dealer.

2004 The loco is acquired at Ratanga Junction by Sandstone.

While there is no doubt that the journey of “Miss Brakpan” has been well tracked by John Middleton, it is the sale of the locomotive in 1966 to MN Liebenberg that has opened up the clues. Michael Nicholas Liebenberg was born in 1914 and died in 1996. He was known to everyone as “Sonny”. Soon after acquiring the loco, Sandstone received two letters in 2008 from the Liebenberg family, one from Paul who is married to Sonny’s granddaughter, Karen, and one from Mrs Averil Chapman, his mother in law and daughter of Sonny. They reacted to a posting on the Sandstone website from Peter Micenko, a South African rail enthusiast now resident in Australia. In his posting Peter recalled the loco working at Jan Smuts Dam in 1981 and sent the photo below. In Peter’s words:

“I have pleasure in attaching a photo of the engine "Miss Brakpan" and train working at Jan Smuts Dam in Brakpan. The era would be autumn 1981. Of interest is the train as it only has the 2 open coaches. The normal consist was 3 coaches. The missing coach had a canopy and was favoured by mothers with small children as protection from cinders. As such it was probably in for repairs.

The track at Brakpan was located between the restaurant and the caravan park on the southern side of the dam. The track layout took two formats in my memory late 1970's to early 1990's. Originally it was a figure of 8 but in the late 1970's was moved slightly eastwards and became an out and back with a balloon. The location was on the side of a hill and as such had cuttings and an embankment along the road through the park. The engine being turned on a turntable at the terminal. This was after each run as part of the "run around" process. The photo was taken as the train was just about to enter the balloon at a set of spring loaded points”

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Photo courtesy of Peter Micenko

This inspired a long letter from Mrs Chapman of Witbank who recalled that the whole operation belonged to her father. She describes him as building the train including the loco. John’s research would seem to prove that the loco was built by James Brown in Durban but the “building” that Mrs Chapman refers to is probably the massive effort required to put the whole layout, loco and coaches back into working order after Sonny Liebenberg acquired it in 1966. She refers to the boiler being manufactured in PE but this was probably an inspection or rebuild as the boiler number is still that of the James Brown loco which John Middleton details as being sold to MN Liebenberg in 1966. Below, in her own words, Mrs Chapman describes the passion and effort that Sonny Liebenberg and his family put into “Miss Brakpan” and what came to be known as “Sonny’s Train”. The letter has been shortened by the writer.

“I am Averill Chapman (nee Liebenberg) and this little train belonged to my father who’s name was Michael Nicholas Liebenberg, known by everyone as “Sonny Liebenberg”

My Dad was born on 25 March 1914 but passed away several years ago and tomorrow would have been his birthday. What a lovely birthday surprise it would have been to tell him where his beloved train was now.

“Miss Brakpan” is 40 years old and “Sonny” built this train in 1968 being the master mind behind the project and with the help of my brother Michael John Liebenberg. The building of train was started in 1966 in an old warehouse in Ellerton, a suburb of Klerksdorp. Here my Dad kept his lathe and all the tools used to build all the parts, etc as our house in Orkney was far too small to tackle this project. Here my Dad spent many months working days and nights machining, bending, welding and assembling all the components required to complete the train. The boiler was manufactured by a Company in PE, as far as I can remember, as this had to be licensed by the Inspector of Machinery. (I still have the some of the Certificates issued)

On Completion the engine and coaches, all manufactured and assembled in the Ellerton Workshop, were transported to a rented site at Klerksdorp dam. Special rail tracks were laid in a “figure 8” style and a shed was erected for the coach house and station. I will never forget the first time the engine was “fired-up” and the pressure on the boiler was climbing. Black smoke poured from the chimney, steam and water blowing out of the slide valves and the whistle blowing. The boggy (tender) was filled with coal and the water tank filled with water as the train was shunted out of the shed. I can still smell of the coal smoke, oil and steam that filled the air. There were 4 coaches with reversible seats and canvas awnings, each coach could carry 20 passengers sitting side by side in tens rows and could carry a total of 80 passengers.

Dad ran the train in Klerksdorp for a couple of years and then retired from the Mines in Orkney and moved to Brakpan. He ran the train at Jan Smuts Park in Brakpan and Murray Park in Springs for 6 years and then finally moved it back to Brakpan Dam (Jan Smuts Park). Moving the train and coaches and re-erecting the rail tracks was a major task that he and my brother Michael spent several weeks toiling away at. Due to the terrain at Brakpan Dam they had to build embankments, a miniature aeroplane hanger to store the train, coaches, equipment and turntable. This train “Miss Brakpan” was Dad’s pride and joy and he kept it in perfect condition and loved every minute of it.

My Dad & brother would leave early every Sunday morning at the crack of dawn with his grandson Shane to take “Miss Brakpan” out of the hanger onto the turntable, light the fire and stoke the boiler. They would polish the engine with black polish, shine the brass and copper fittings, and fill the water tank and empty sacks of coal into the boggy.

Just before the train was ready my Dad would blow the whistle to let the local residents know that the fun was about to begin. In the meantime my mother Grace Liebenberg prepared lunch, in fact a hot dinner, and would arrive at about 9 o’clock when she and my sister in law Lanese and her daughter Tammy would sell tickets for the rides. This they did every Sunday and Public Holiday for 26 years that the train was run.

People came from near and far to watch and ride on “Miss Brakpan” the looks and expressions on the little kid’s faces was something I will never forget and the excitement of the steam engine enthusiasts and old steam engine drivers was fantastic to see.

The loco engine was checked every year by the Inspector of Machinery from the Department of Labour to ensure the Safety Regulations were maintained and that the train and coaches were safe to run.

In 1994 due to ill health and suffering after several heart attacks my father had to eventually give up running the train. He gave the train and coaches to a friend by the name of Koos who was a scrap dealer in Brakpan. Mom & Dad moved closer to us in Witbank and Dad eventually died on 11 August 1996. Before he died he often spoke of going back to Brakpan to see the train but ill health kept him away. We unfortunately did not know Koos and could therefore never get hold of him to find out what had happened to “Miss Brakpan”. 

This was 12 years ago, so imagine our surprise when my daughter in the USA phoned to tell us that the train was in a museum in Cape Town and sent us an E-mail & photos of “Miss Brakpan”. 

I am writing this to you to acknowledge that my father “Sonny Liebenberg” a man born in Brakpan, moved to Orkney, moved back to Brakpan and who loved and was fascinated by steam engines, built this train in 1968 with help from my brother Michael and that they ran this train for 26 years every Sunday and Public holiday for the joy of seeing little kids and adults enthralled by the sounds and smells of steam & coal and the excitement of riding on this miniature train. For the joy it brought his family and his five (5) grandchildren, Shane & Tammy Liebenberg, Karen, Debbie & Dane Chapman, his great grandchildren Raechel & Natalie Fell. 

When my Dad first got ill in 1992 I tried to find a buyer for the train for him but because of the size and the fact that it required someone with the knowledge of steam engines to operate this we eventually gave up the idea. 

I am so glad and proud that little “Miss Brakpan” has eventually found her way to someone who also has a love and passion for restoring something from the passed that was also created by someone with the same passions. I wish to thank Henk for the time and effort he has, and I believe still is, putting in to the restoration of her.

Yours faithfully,

Averill Chapman”

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The gentleman sitting in the driver’s seat is Sonny’s son, Michael Liebenberg, who helped to build the train. Sonny is standing at the back and the young man on the right with the blue uniform is Shane Liebenberg, grandson of Sonny Liebenberg, the young lady is Karen Liebenberg. (Photo courtesy of Paul Fell, husband of Karen Liebenberg)

What a wonderful story! We now know the loco was disposed of to Koos in Brakpan but how it got to Ratanga Junction still remains a mystery to be solved. The ferroequinology detectives have got more work to do.

As this article is written, “Miss Brakpan” is under the watchful care of Lukas Nel in Bloemfontein and well into a full restoration. It will be kept as 2ft gauge but the whereabouts of the coaches described above is another mystery. Sadly it would seem that they were scrapped as there was no trace of them at Ratanga Junction.

Our thanks go to Dr. John Middleton and Mrs Averill Chapman for their information, to Paul, her son in law and to Peter Micenko who started the ball rolling with his recollections from 1981.

Dave Richardson

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An earlier article also appeared on Miss Brakpan.  See: http://www.sandstone-estates.com/index.php/railway-heritage/39/785-rn414-an-interesting-letter-sent-in-by-peter-micenko-about-qmiss-brakpanq-our-little-ratanga-loco.