The International Steam Pages
Steam in Botswana July 2002
Time for the annual bash to Selebi Phikwe (5-6 July 2002). Graham McWilliams, trainman, Chris Janisch and myself (Trevor Staats) took the trip this time.
The whole Martin's Drift border post had been upgraded, but the SA side was still chaos, worse probably than before. We had to queue up with the row of truck drivers (clutching wads of documentation in their hands) to get our gate pass and customs declarations to declare nothing. Then the single lane bridge was parked solid with trucks coming into SA... Eventually we made it into the Botswana side, their new border post is excellent and it took just a few minutes to get through there.
Put in some juice at the border then a 90 minute run to Selebi. Security at the mine were very quick and helpful, so we were at the loco shed within a few minutes.
804 was facing the opposite way to normal, and had been especially cleaned and painted for our visit - it helps to organise in advance! 807 was in the traditional industrial grime livery... 804 departed the shed with a load of empties for Selebi shaft, so we got a shot at the mine road crossing near town, midday lighting not being the best. After another harshly lit shot along the line, we retired to the mine once again and looked around the shed. No locos were in the maintenance shed this time, but several ore hoppers were receiving treatment.
Once again the mine were extremely generous in providing us with accommodation in Selebi Phikwe, so we took the time to check in and unpack while the train was loading.
When 804 returned we took a few shots of the offloading, but this was stopped when the bin was full due to the conveyor being out of action. 807 appeared from the smelter area, also having turned. A few minutes later, 804 and 807 had coupled together and hauled the still full portion of the train off the dumping bin. At our request they hauled it further up the line and out of the mine compound for a few shots. Although the sun was behind high cloud by this stage, some excellent shots were had of the double-header.
In celebration, some ice-cold Savannas were opened and savoured in the bush by the footbridge (photbridge), and an impromptu concert was held. Trainman and Mr. J on vocals, with trainman doubling on playing the slasher (like a guitar), and the musically gifted Wee Mac playing the bowsaw like it has never been played before. Some variety was given by trainman playing the sleeper xylophone with myself, Mac and Mr. J playing the footbridge handrails in superb harmony with the xylophone. Local passers-by were somewhat puzzled as to what was going on, especially after witnessing trainman and Wee Mac dancing cheek-to-cheek...
A short while later 804 departed with empties for Selebi North Shaft, and we managed a superb silhouette shot on a section of line that we had overlooked before, followed by a three quarter on the line in fading light. A final shot of the train branching off at the junction, again against a beautiful red sky.
Dinner was at the Spur, and it seems that the Pula is a hard currency compared to the Rand... The cost of the meal was almost half the trip's total cost! But the beer was nice and cold but difficult to order. Ask for "St. Louis" and you get a blank look, ask for "Shlooshh" and you get a nice beer. Ask for it after a deep breath of helium from a Spur balloon, and the waitress just backs away slowly, avoiding eye contact... Trainman tucked into a big Enchilada with a huge serve of refried beans, against our wishes. But it seems that he is a big fan of Porta and Wardale as he had his Gas Producer Digestive System operating at high capacity the following day.
The night shift were ready to go when we arrived back at the shed, so we joined the crew on the footplate for the trip to Selebi Shaft. Eight on the 'plate was a bit cramped, so trainman consigned the fireman to his seat to work the injector while he swung the shovel. Wee Mac stood on the shovel plate while Mr. J and I squeezed in the doorways. That poor loco has probably never been fired so vigorously in its life... The loco was working hard up the grade towards the main road crossing and the steam pressure was rising, but the injector could not keep up! We had to stop and put the driver's injector on as well to get a bit of water in the glass before carrying on.
Mr. J. and I kept the fire in order at the mine shaft; poor trainman was bathed in sweat by this time and sought refuge by the nearest tap! Loading was quite quick, and we were soon back on the line, tender first with the load. 20 wagons at 40t each makes quite a train for the Dolly. The way back is mostly level or downgrade, and we certainly moved it! At one stage we must have been doing 60 km/h or so, but the locos have no speedometers so who knows?!
After a seemingly very short sleep it was back to the shed again. The weather had turned cruddy overnight and was not looking to good... 807 was busy being coaled, and a few breaks in the cloud gave some lovely lighting. 901 (the yellow diesel) came and took 807 off to the ash pit to clean fire, which seemingly wouldn't burn due to clinkers etc. 804 then came in for coal and the sun once again cooperated for some lovely glints.
After the locos were serviced, 804 departed with empties for Selebi North. A beautiful shot from our favourite footbridge, but no time to party, as we had to beat the train down the line. They certainly had the 19 wound up along the straight, lovely stack talk. After a quick shot we retreated up the Selebi North branch to a nice section about halfway along on an upgrade. A lovely shot. The crew were even kind enough to do it again for us!
We managed to get into the shaft area and get some loading shots as 804 pulled the wagons under the chute. We had to draw a coloured ball out of the security guard's bag on leaving the shaft, green means go, red means search, yellow means the guard can decide. Mr. J. drew the green so we were away! The tender-first 19 was again photographed tender-first at the junction, the sky by this time being totally cloud-free!
Wee Mac had left his microphone at the shaft, so he went back to fetch it while trainman and I investigated a couple of other spots on the branch. A crew swap back at the shed, then 804 was due to work the exchange train. 807 was supposed to do it, but they swapped to give us the clean loco. Very nice of them. The unusual morning working of the exchange train gave new photographic opportunities in the smelter area, which we took advantage of. There were no empties at the smelter to be collected, but a rake of 6 or so were waiting on the (old) power station spur.
804 hauled this light load down to the exchange yard, while we took the nasty dirt/tar road to the station, past the Selebi Phikwe Dry Port. At this stage Wee Mac got quite excited as he thought that Selebi Phikwe Dry Port was something to drink, and wanted to stop and see if they maybe had Selebi Phikwe Old Brown Sherry as well?
Mr. J. was wondering where we were taking him as we directed him off into the red sand behind the station? Some careful driving past the old triangle and water column (the tank is now gone) and we arrived at the exchange yard. 804 was almost ready to leave light engine, but the crew were good enough to do a bit of shunting for us while we took pictures. We watched 804 disappear up the line to the mine to carry out further duties, while we headed back to the station for the obligatory group shot under the station sign. A few pictures were snapped of the BR diesel in the station as we all had films to finish off, not to mention a few more Savannas, before the long drive back.
A new twist to the normal veterinary roadblocks along the way was the requirement to be "dipped" at one of them. We had to drive through a trough of liquid (disinfectant?!) to rid the tyres of germs, then we all had to get out and dip our shoes in a small pool of the same liquid. We also donated our milk to the local rubbish bin. No meat or dairy products were allowed through.
Border formalities were through in 15 minutes this time, not a truck to be seen! Just south of Potgietersrus we noted a southbound goods with a few wagons of granite blocks and some FGJ's amongst other things. We stopped near Hammondlea to take a picture, but unfortunately we took the wrong turn and stopped in someone's yard. A strange woman dressed up in feathers and other weird stuff started dancing around like a deranged chicken as we got out of the car? Strange.
Oh well, another great bash. Many thanks once again to the BCL guys at Selebi for their ongoing generosity and assistance..