The International Steam Pages


Israel Industrial Railways, February 21st - 25th, 2015
Narrow gauge Part 2

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The article on “Underground Locomotives” (IRR No. 158, 08/1999, pp. 211-213) covered the history of three Deutz locos delivered to Israel. Between 1955 and 1962, together with four standard gauge locos (three to IR, one to industry), Deutz in fact delivered nine 600mm gauge underground diesels of two different types to Israel’s Shilumin (reparations) Corp in Hakiyrya, Tel Aviv:

A2M517 G 56098-99/1955, 56132/1959, 56345-47/1957 and 57082/1960;

G30Z B 57147/1961 and 57633/1962

Some of the locos initially saw use at National Water Carrier building sites, while others went directly to the Timna Copper Mines in the Negev Desert, 25 km north of Eilat. These mines had already been worked in King Solomon’s days, but modern mining operations using a 600mm gauge underground railway began in 1958. Due to the fluctuating price of copper, the mine operated until 1976 and again for a short period from 1980 to 1984. Four of the locos are known to have survived:

  • 56132 ended up at Kibbutz Pardes Hanna-Karkur (NE of Hadera), where it was dumped in the garage. It was recently sold to the Dead Sea Works and rebuilt to have the appearance of a Brookville by Ran Hedvati at Kibbutz Ein Shemer. At the time of our visit we were told that it was in storage at Salt of the Earth Ltd. in Atlit, waiting to be put on display at a temporary exhibition there, before it would go to Dead Sea Works in Sdom;
  • 57082 also ended up dumped at Kibbutz Pardes Hanna-Karkur, from where it was retrieved by Ran Hedvati and heavily rebuilt, losing its traditional underground loco cab and equipped with a Ford 4 cylinder petrol engine. It is now the spare loco on Kibbutz Ein Shemer’s ‘Rakevet Ha’Alonim’ children railway and operates when steam-outline Ruston 432660 is not operating. According to Ran’s son, it is in fact the better loco, but the modified Ruston just looks better;
  • After the mines at Timna closed, No. 56346 and 57633 (respectively Timna No. 1 and 4) were taken to the Rafi Nelson Tourist Village in Taba. The small enclave of Taba, not even a village, had been occupied by the Israelis with the rest of the Sinai during the 1967 War and although the rest was returned to Egypt in 1982, because of the presence of two hotels built during the Israeli occupation, at the peace negotiations Israel claimed that Taba had in fact been historically part of the Ottoman Empire and not of British Egypt. However, in 1988 an international commission ruled in favor of Egypt and Taba was returned in 1989. The resort has since become part of the Hilton Taba Resort & Nelson Village. The two diesels can still be found on display next to the beach, repainted in the colors of the Egyptian flag. Both still have most of their builder’s plates, although the front plate on 57633 was recently stolen. Visitors who stay at one of Taba’s two resort hotels can leave Israel without paying the country’s exit tax (and tourists who visit only the Sinai don’t need a visa for Egypt).

The Timna mines were reopened by ARAVA Mines Ltd. in 2005. At the main gate a tip wagon has been put on display. Two more wagons are on display at the Eilat History Museum (http://www.eilat-history.co.il/default.asp link dead by 25th October 2016), part of a small exhibit on the area’s copper mining.

At approx. 400 meters below sea level the Dead Sea, in the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley, is the lowest point on earth and was also the location of the lowest railway to have operated on earth. This interior lake is fed by the Jordan River and by occasional flash floods and has no outflow, resulting in important salt deposits through evaporation. In 1931 the Palestine Potash Company (IRR No. 173, 06/2003, pp. 327-334) opened a potash refinery at the Kallia on the north shore and in 1937 a larger factory at Sodom (now Sdom) at the southern end, where the salt deposits were even more important. 600mm gauge industrial railways were used at both sites, linking the salt pans, the works and jetties on the lake. At Kallia the main line was 3 km long, while at Sdom the system was 7 km. There was no road to Sodom and the phosphate was taken by barge over the lake to Kallia, from where it was taken to Jerusalem railway station by road for onward transport. During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Kallia was seized by Arab forces (it is today part of the West Bank) and the works abandoned, no remains of the rail system are known to have survived. Sodom however found itself in Israel and after a road from Be’er Sheva was opened in 1953, production resumed. The railway was not needed for transportation of either salt or phosphate anymore, but the line to the jetty was in use again until 1956 to transport workers from a camp located next to the jetty, after which it was abandoned. Five km north of the factory, since 1952 the Dead Sea Works Ltd. (DSW) and now part of ICL Fertilizers (http://www.iclfertilizers.com/Fertilizers/DSW/Pages/BUHomepage.aspx), the remains of the wooden jetty once served by the railway can still be seen from the road. Today the phosphate is transported by conveyor belt to the railhead at Tzefa (east of Dimona) for onward transport by IR to the port of Ashdod.

PPC/DSW have used a variety of diesel locos, including:

  • nine O&Ks, incl. some RL1a and three MD2 No. 7045-6/1936 and 7977/1937;
  • two Ruston, 16bhp No. 170189/1934 and 16/20bhp No. 173392/1934, with Lister engines CS 9408 and 9935;
  • five Hudson-Hunslet 25hp No. 3135-9/1943 with McLaren engines;
  • three Brookville 5-ton BCL No. SN2656/1941 and SN3149-50/1946.

Rolling stock included about 270 vehicles, including 170 or so side-tip wagons, 45 wooden open-sided wagons, 36 flat two-axle and 8 bogie flat wagons (some fitted with seats to transport workers), and a few service vehicles such as tank wagons for carrying water and fuel. A converted Ford automobile was used as an inspection vehicle at Sodom.

After closure of the railway, the locos at Sdom where buried behind the factory, away from the road. Later, the frames and wheels of an unidentified Brookville were dug up, painted and plinthed inside the factory. Recently these were fitted with an engine and cab and repainted (see http://www.dswblog.co.il/?p=1387 for a photo from 2013). The factory can only be visited through prior arrangement by groups of at least 30 with their own bus. Plans for a visitor’s center with a 1 km long narrow gauge railway to the jetty were announced in 2009 (HaRakevet No. 84, 03/2009). Although on site no progress could be seen, DSW recently purchased derelict Deutz No. 56132 from Kibbutz Pardes Hanna Karkur and had her rebuilt to look like one of their Brookville at Kibbutz Ein Shemer by Ran Hedvati, so this project might still be in the making.

Narrow gauge light railways were used quite extensively in the orchards of kibbutzim and other farming communities in Palestine; locomotives were not used as most of these were either by hand or with animals. In 1937 however the ‘Yakhin’ Agricultural Contracting Co-operative Association Ltd. of Tel Aviv ordered a 600mm gauge four-wheel petrol/paraffin loco for its orange orchard at Gan Hadar about 2 km west of the PR station at Niana (now Na’an, 10 km south of Lydda/Lod) from Tel Aviv firm HaMenia, a mechanical factory specialized in industrial pumps. The orchard’s railway linked the orchard with the station, a distance of about 4 km, from where the boxed oranges were shipped away by train. Two or three flatcars loaded with crates of oranges could be handled by a mule, but for up to six cars a locomotive was needed. It was designed by the technical office of M. Amitai in collaboration with HaMenia and until two replicas of it were built recently (see below) it was the only locomotive ever designed or built in Palestine or Israel. It was equipped with a Slavia (a predecessor to Skoda) engine and a Chevrolet gearbox, both of which are thought to have been scavenged from the British army base at Sarafand (Trifin). Suprisingly, shortly after the existence and history of this very unique loco was unearthed by Paul Cotterell (“Some Miscellaneous Railways and Locomotives” in IRR No. 214, 09/2013, pp. 14-21) and others, it was also discovered that it had survived to this day (Paul Cotterell, “The Hamenia Locomotive – Amazing Discoveries!!! Mysteries Solved!!!” in HaRakevet No. 76, 03/2007, pp. 16-19), as part of a children’s playground at Kibbutz Na’an together with three four-wheel car frames. While it has been partly rebuilt with a front axle, a fake boiler and a cab to make it look like a steam loco, these additions have in fact protected the original Slavia engine and Chevrolet gearbox.

The nearby Minkov Citrus Growing Museum (http://eng.shimur.org/Minkov/, open Sun-Thu 09.00-15.00, Fri/Sat for groups) in nearby Rehovot (8 km NW of Na’an) commemorates the town’s first orange orchard established in 1904 by Zalman Minkov, 14 years agter the founding of Rehovot. While no narrow gauge light railway is thought to have been used at this particular orchard, some handworked system were used in the area and three flat wagons have been retrieved and put on display here. Then, in 03/2013 the 600mm gauge “Orange Railway” opened here. The line is just 200 meters long through the orchard and used to give rides mostly to groups of children. Two locomotives named “Tapuz” (Orange) and “Eshkolit” (Grapefruit), built as replicas of the HaMenia loco by Ran Hedvati at Kibbutz Ein Shemer and equipped with Ford 4 cylinder petrol engines, are placed at the ends of the train of three six-seat coaches. There are platforms at both ends of the line, an open-sided shed for the train at one end, and a level crossing with the access path to the museum in the middle.

So called “Decauville Sculptures” by Israeli artist Yigal Tumarkin (described in detail by Amith Ben-Shalom in “Decauville Sculptures at the Sharon Region”, HaRakevet No. 88, 03/2010) can be found at various locations in Israel as well as abroad (Berlin, Spain). Most incorporate narrow gauge four-wheel flat wagons thought to have been obtained from the Israel Electric Company or parts thereof. Some have been identified as made by Robert Hudson, others by Krupp. The highest concentration (15-20) can be found on display in a park in the village of Burgata, 15 km east of Netanya, where Tumarkin had his workshop. Also at the park is a sculpture by the same artist incorporating the bogie from a U.S.-built World War II wagons. The one pictured here, which uses a single Krupp axle and wheel, is at Netanya’s Yad LaBanim (Sons Memorial) site and is based on Kappa’s famous Spanish Civil War picture.

Sources:

Paul Cotterell, “The Railways of Palestine and Israel”, Tourret Publishing, U.K., 1984;

Paul Cotterell, “Make Straight The Way – A Historical Album of Railways in the Land of Israel”, Israel Railways, Tel Aviv,2009;

Various issues of the Industrial Railway Record (as mentioned in the text), http://www.irsociety.co.uk/Archives/back_issues.htm

Various issues of HaRakevet magazine, http://www.harakevet.com/.


Rob Dickinson

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