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South Africa 1977

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jhb171achill
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So there I was, in the IRRS in Drumcondra. The talk I had come to hear was interesting - all about the South African Railways, and what steam was to be seen, and where. An excellent presentation, I thought, as I tramped back to Droichead na Ball that evening. I had an interest: I was going there in a few weeks, all those thirty five years ago. U2 were the support act in the Baggot Inn, and it was raining.

 

Fast forward a few weeks. A superb jaunt round Suid Afrika, with its apartheid-era segregrated carriages, "Blankes" and "Nie Blankes" on the doors of those at each end of the train. Ahead, a 19D or 15CA 4.8.2, maybe a GMAM Garrett - or, if one was unlucky, a diesel or electric locomotive. I left Port Elizabeth one afternoon, after watching what I now believe was the world's last intensive all-steam city suburban service during the early evening rush hour there - and I had run out of film! Hardly surprising, after a visit that morning to Sydenham loco depot and sheds, where some 72 steam engines and 7 diesels (newly delivered) were able to call home.

 

The afternoon wore on; I took in the African air as we trundled northwards towards Bloemfontein. Here and there fields apparently full of cattle turned out, at closer inspection, to be full of ostriches. Wild baboons played on rocky outcrops. It was hot - very hot - as the train travelled further into the bushlands of the stony Little Karoo Desert. Life was good. A full camera, albeit lacking the wooden bodied packed suburban trains to Uitenhage, and a 2 litre bottle of cola beside me, the window lowered to be completely open. It was dusty and hot - I dozed....

 

The train halted at a small place in the wilderness, almost like an oasis in the desert. Half awake, I noticed two white people among those boarding - very unusual for places like this.

 

I woke up fully as the train continued. I was parched with thirst and dust and hungry. Time to visit the dining car. The front of the train was reserved for "Nie Blankes", the rear for us mere "Blankes"; the dining car (and a guard with a truncheon) in between. The front of the train was packed to the doors, the rear had barely 2 or 3 people in each carriage, all of which were side corridor tupe with compartments. Hardly surprisingly then, as I walked up to the dining car some 4 carriages away, that most compartments I passed were empty. One contained a young couple who looked like Australian backpackers (yes, EVERY corner of the world!), and there was a very respectable looking middle aged woman in another. In the next coach, two men sat in one - I don't think there was anyone else in it. I got to the dining car, bought a meal and a 2 litre bottle of Coca Cola; in those days nobody worried about sugar levels, cholesterol, tooth decay, or any of the other wonders that modern society demands we monitor. And I am still alive, the last time I looked.

 

Back down the train, yes, there's that woman, and here's the couple, and there are the two men... fair enough.

 

But WAIT!!! Ponder a moment here!

 

The two men? Our own Josefstadt (from these modelling boards) and his well known companion, who had delivered the talk in the IRRS two weeks earlier? Now here was proof that the sun had finally started to affect me. Or maybe it was the Coca-Cola. One never knows what is in these "E-numbers".

 

I collected my thoughts. WHAT were these two good gentlemen DOING here? And what would they think I was doing here? Their interest in South African (and other foreign) railways was well known even then - but what a co-incidence. I knew them well - we had spoken after their talk that night, but I had no idea they were to be in Africa in 2 weeks, and they didn't know of my trip either!

 

I put meself together, as they say, and casually opened the compartment door as I walked past it. "How's things, folks!", sez I.

 

The look on their faces, if bottled, would make me a fortune.

 

We trundled on through the spectacular deep red evening African sunset, putting to right all the latest affairs of CIE. Tomorrow, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Pretoria would beckon.

 

A chance meeting in the Little Karoo desert; hard to believe it was thirty five years ago.

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Very many thanks folks! And yes, I'll have that pint now!

 

I bumped into Josefstadt in the (modern!) IRRS a few weeks ago and it all came flooding back again..... and a 70 mile footplate run in India in a "Maedb"-esque 5ft 6in gauge WP class 4.6.2... must dig out the cine film! Pity it is silent...

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Very many thanks folks! And yes, I'll have that pint now!

 

I bumped into Josefstadt in the (modern!) IRRS a few weeks ago and it all came flooding back again..... and a 70 mile footplate run in India in a "Maedb"-esque 5ft 6in gauge WP class 4.6.2... must dig out the cine film! Pity it is silent...

 

dont worry J, you supply the film and we'll provide the noise!!!

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