African Adventure

African Adventure

Chris Binks

Once it was the Anglican Reverend's wife who was towed around in the wake of her peripatetic husband. Today, how different. Chris Binks tells here of a fascinating trip when he accompanied his wife (now the Revd Susan Binks) on her ordination training placement - which took them both to Africa . . .

When my wife, Susan, was given her Church of England ordination training placement to Ocean View I was delighted – when it was suggested I keep her company I was overjoyed! However I was warned that I might have to keep myself occupied a lot of the time, (in the event this didn’t arise due to the hectic itinerary laid on by Father Rodney Whiteman at Fish Hoek and Father Richard Martin at Ocean View), so I thought no problem – think Africa – think railways! Indeed many who know me would probably say that I need no prompting to think railways – or that I think of little else anyway, especially as I’m very fortunate to be employed at the UK’s National Railway Museum in York in the Conservation Dept. where duties include  looking after items as varied as Queen Victoria’s Saloon, A4 Loco. No. 4468 Mallard and crockery & silverware from all the pre-grouping and pre-nationalization railway companies – to name but a few- as well as firing and driving our replica of Stephenson’s Rocket and finding time to fit a brick arch in the firebox of A4 60009 Union of South Africa.   I also volunteer on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway with their Locomotive Dept and try my hand at a little LNER carriage restoration as well.

But where to begin – a little Googling soon told me of Atlantic Rail and a swift exchange of e-mails with Stefan and Matt let me know that I would be made most welcome when I made it to Cape Town, whilst a colleague at the NRM, Rob Tibbetts, familiar to many of you and who sends his best wishes, related his experiences of S. Africa in general and Atlantic Rail in particular.

I will freely admit that, like many of my fellow countrymen, my knowledge of Britain’s Empire railways is somewhat sketchy- yes I’ve heard of the legendary North British Loco. Co. and the Garratt’s of East African Railways but that’s about it – and the collective amnesia and embarrassment about our imperial past sometimes means this fascinating railway heritage is rarely referred to back home. However, I’d had my appetite whetted last summer at work whilst cleaning and cataloguing part of the Davies & Metcalfe archive. Probably most famous for manufacturing loco injectors and ejectors Davies & Metcalfe produced parts for locomotives around the globe and particularly for the Dominions and the Empire. Railway companies may only have wanted injectors but this didn’t prevent them sending reams of drawings to Davies & Metcalfe – and all these years later I was working on them – it rapidly became a labour of love – as I gazed upon the general arrangement drawings of these long extinct beasts that had roamed Africa, India and Australia. If I was going to Africa I just had to see some steam.   

Despite a very exhaustive and incredibly fascinating programme Saturday 14th February found me en-route to Cape Town courtesy of Brett, a member of Father Rodney’s congregation at Fish Hoek, to my first proper sighting of Cape Town. I wasn’t disappointed – I recognised Monument Station from YouTube but I wasn’t prepared for the delights awaiting me inside – was that really the Red Devil! - Other locos as well and some wonderful rolling stock.  

Brett introduced me to David and his encyclopaedic knowledge of English Electric diesels and we made a start on oiling round the coaching stock axle boxes before enjoying a hearty breakfast in the Train Lodge.

Then I was set to work with Dave, an exile from God’s own county – fair enough,as I was told if you must have two miserable Yorkshiremen on site, then they might as well work together! I think we made a good team as we replaced a seat in one of the train compartments and I  reflected that the last time I did this job was half a world away in an LMS Brake 3rd back at the NRM – and how wonderful to be doing it here at Atlantic Rail. All too soon it was time for a break and a wonderful opportunity to have a chat with the lads about railways and a crash course on South African history. Then after a bite to eat it was time to light up Loco 3655 with Kenny and Wayne- and as well, a chance to chat into the early hours – I never tire of lighting locos – its always a thrill to bring one to life, as metal expands and water boils – the beast wakes from its slumbers and begins to breath – she was breathing steadily by 3 am and I retired to the sleeping car.

I awoke to the sound of shunting and grabbed my camera and set off out on to the tracks – grabbed a few shots before tracking down a shower and breakfast, but not before I marvelled at 3655 in daylight – what a handsome loco from a company that supplied not only the world with locos but also the UK with such engines as the ‘Scotch Arthurs’,A3’s, B17’s and B1’s – now just a distant memory with our locos coming from General Motors and our units from Hitachi! Soon it was time for a chat with Stefan, who told me I was to be a train steward on the run to Simon’s Town, and a chance to pay Matt my subscription followed by a quick visit to the sales stand. Then I was welcoming visitors aboard and once underway helping them across the connection to the next carriage, opening windows for them and answering their questions – but I was still getting chance to enjoy the ride – new scenery and, new for me, the wonderful wooden bodied rolling stock (so pleased to hear you are getting some more) and of course the sight and sound of the loco. So many things caught my attention that day – the narrow gauge, by British standards, which still maintained a generous loading gauge and the speed and efficiency of buck-eye couplings for example.

We had already visited Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town but this still didn’t prepare for the sheer exhilaration of travelling to them along the ocean’s edge, and with glorious weather the perfect highlight to a perfect day, for upon my arrival at Simon’s Town I was whisked away to rejoin my wife on the rest of our trip – to Gordon’s Bay, Strand, a fair-trade winery near Rawsonville and the humbling experience of spending time in Khayelitsha. 

At the end of another hectic week we had a little time for sight-seeing and caught the metro-train from Fish Hoek to Cape Town – Susan had chance to enjoy the hustle and bustle of Cape Town station and catch a glimpse of the two locos at rest at Monument Station as well, appreciating just what I had been going on about for the past week!

Then it was time for the long journey home, we had a truly wonderful experience in South Africa which has left us with a deep longing to return – we were told that ‘Africa calls you back’, it certainly does- but until we do return I shall continue to extol the joys of Atlantic Rail to everyone I can – thank you all for your warm hospitality and for a truly memorable railway experience.  

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