The Interwebs is wonderful. The other day, I discovered that Ceres Rail – a new preservation group, with its base at the old South African Railways sidings at the town from which it gets its name – has just started running weekly scheduled steam hauled trips to the neighbouring town of Wolseley, some 16km away.
Of especial interest is the route, which winds through the southern end of the Winterhoek mountains and over Mitchell’s Pass, which is some 500m above sea level.
Motive power; recently restored by Transnet’s Voorbaai workshops, no. 3321 an ex SAR Class 19D* with a 4-8-2 wheel layout – ideal for such a difficult route. A second locomotive (no. 1412 a Class 19B) is scheduled to join the fleet soon, with a third loco planned for some time in the future.
In short, too good to miss.
And, if I were prepared to get up extra early, a chance to shoot some interesting sunrise shots in the craggy Winterhoek.
This is a road trip – it’s more than 220km each way – so I opted for Nikon power which the Land Rover (and not me) would carry and slipped the X-Pro1 and it’s 35mm f1.4 in just in case. Car loaded and sandwiches made the evening before, I added a flask of coffee and by 02:35 I was on the road.
The weather forecast said light rain, easing by midday. And as I drove out of the garage, it started. And rained all the way. All the time I was at Ceres. All the way chasing the train to Wolseley and almost all of the way home at lunch time.
For those of you familiar with the Cape, the rain is usually just one notch above drizzle, soaking and most of the time, more like a heavy mist. Moving to the Cape means keeping a significant portion of one’s wardrobe in the car to meet these challenges, so I had several fleeces and other rain gear available. They were all drenched by the time I set off for home.
Fortunately, my D800e and the 24-70 and 80-200 zooms are pretty weather resistant. That and a microfibre cloth stopped any serious water incursion, more than could be said for my clothing. On the sole occasion I hauled the X-Pro out, I managed a few frames and hurriedly put it away again. That has no weather sealing and was in serious danger of following the X100T into the repair shop. That had a loose eyepiece diopter adjuster wheel and should be fixed this coming week after a round trip to the Fuji workshop in Jozi.
The train was very late in setting off – due in no small part to the difficulties in turning the loco, so it could head “right way”, or smokebox first. In good time, the crew took it out of the Ceres siding to Prince Albert Hamlet – the next village on the line a few kilometres north of Ceres, where there is a turning triangle. In normal circumstances, this would have been a fifteen minute trip, returning with the locomotive facing the direction of travel. Today, the loco came back tender first, the crew having discovered a parked-for-the-weekend truck on the rarely used rails and predictably, no sign of the driver.
Just as well that the 19D is well capable of running tender first, but it does rather spoil the view of the locomotive.
So, a wet day out saved by some fine steam running, albeit in reverse. The sunrise shots will have to wait for another time.
* This is the same class of locomotive used at Selebi Phikwe.
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