Friday, 30 November 2012


Ref. Rhodesia


Chapter 1 Introduction

My name is Boet van der Walt, born and bred Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) During the many jobs I have had I was once a relief station foreman on the railways.

Relief means going places to relieve other station foremen who were going on leave or being transferred and so forth.

By travelling to all these different locations, many incidents happened to me, some tragic others comical, that I would like to tell you about. I also heard many tales from colleagues that I will be imparting.

These tales are all true but maybe just a hint of stretching the truth may have sometimes crept in but bear with me, if I say its true, it is.

Many names are fictitious but some not so if you recognise your name please do not be offended, it is all done in a good cause.

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Ref. Rhodesia

Chapter 2 An explanation of a few words and concepts

Caboose: A carriage with sleeping quarters, kitchen, bathroom and eating room for crews working a long section of rail. Usually 2 crews were on board and were away from home for 3 or 4 days at a time and worked shifts of 9 hours.

Siding: Because 90% of the tracks are single track, trains travel in both directions and have to cross or pass one another. A siding is a place where trains can pass or cross one another.

Loop: The track next to the main line where trains were diverted in order to pass or cross one another. Loop could also be a loop off the siding where trucks could be left for off loading or when they had “hot boxes” etc

Points: The blades of the rails diverting a train onto another line.
Paper orders: Before the days of centralised train control, paper orders were used to give trains crossing or passing places on the single tracks. Station foremen at opposing stations drew these up.

Time table: A laid down time table was used for regular trains stating running times, crossing or passing places and stopping times from the starting point of the train up to the end of the route.

Up and down trains: The route was up from Cape Town to Cairo and down from Cairo to Cape Town.

Trolley: A small-motorised vehicle with steel wheels used for transporting signal technicians or platelayers to various parts of the track for maintenance purposes.

Station: Where a station foreman was stationed and sometimes a stationmaster too.

Guards van: The last vehicle on a train in which the train guard sits. Sometimes goods and various articles were carried in the van that could not be accommodated in the carriages.

Train driver: The person in control of the train.

Fireman: The assistant driver on diesel locomotives, also the person shovelling coal on a steam locomotive.

Ballast: The rocks from quarries used to lay the tracks on.

Please note: The illustrations used are not true representations.

PATU: Police Anti Terrorist Unit. These were men who were called up for active duty during the war.

Shunter: A person who shunts railway trucks around to make up loads or place them in specific positions.

TF: Territorial (National Service) force member who did his Army or Air Force stint in uniform


Chapter 3 Barry and the Signal “Tree”

“Control, this is train 542 at Lukosi siding, the signal is out, can I carry on?”

According to the signal in the control room the light was on so I confirmed that he could carry on.

“Control, this is train 548 at Lukosi siding, the signal is out, can I carry on?”
Again, the signal in the control room showed it to be functioning correctly so I confirmed.

This was during the night so the signal should be visible from some distance, so I phoned Barry, the standby signal technician.

“OK, I’ll go and have a look”

Barry had to come to the station and place his trolley onto the tracks in order to go to the siding.

Thirty minutes later Barry stated that he was ready to go and I gave him the signals and points to depart.

Those of you who knew these trolleys know that they were very fast, he whizzed down the track and in no time he came on the radio.

“Boet, this signal with pole seems to have disappeared, I am going to get off the trolley and go and have a look”.

The torch he was holding was not very bright but he kept going.

When he reached the approximate position of the signal in the gloom he saw that a tree was standing where the signal was supposed to be. Putting his hand on the tree, to his amazement the tree moved, he jumped back in alarm and looked carefully at this tree. Slowly he backed off when he realised that it was an elephant that had gone to sleep next to the signal and was blocking the view of the trains to the signal.

Ref. Rhodesia

Chapter 4 Gary and the leopard

As I have explained before, trains have to cross or pass one another on single tracks. On the section between Dett and Sawmills a train was put into the loop in order to cross another train.

When this happens the guard usually goes to the front of the train and uses the telephone to contact the control centre to ask what was happening.

Gary walked to the phone and asked control how far the opposing train was from them. He was told that it should be there in about 10 minutes time.

Gary walked back to his guards van and as he climbed into the van he was startled by a leopard that jumped between his legs onto the ground.

As I have also explained, sometimes goods were carried in the guards van, and in this case some chickens were carried in a woven basket.

When Gary walked away the leopard entered the van and was busy eating the chickens until Gary surprised him on his return.

Ref. Rhodesia

Chapter 5 The big crash

“Hello control, this is train 320 at Deka siding, the light is red, any trains coming?”

“No” I replied, “the section seems to be down, proceed cautiously”

The time was approximately half past 7 in the evening and this was the last train from Victoria Falls.

Nearly an hour passes and no train emerges from the section to the next siding.

(Actual photograph)

“Control” crackles the speaker, “we’ve hit a mine and are derailed.”

“Anybody hurt” I asked.

“No, just shaken up.”


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Ref. Rhodesia