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From 4 to 7 April 2002 the Tenth South African Model Railway Convention took place in Port Elizabeth. And on 6 April all the delegates and their significant others and some offspring got together at Humewood station for an excursion on the Apple Express.

Back in the fifties, as a small boy, April school holidays usually meant a trip to Oupa's apple farm at Joubertina in the Langkloof, and it was always great fun to go with Oupa on his mule wagon when he took loads of crated export quality apples to the station to load on the apple train. Back then (when Christmas trees were tall.....) the little apple train boxcars appeared to be much larger than this one does today, but even then they looked small compared to the "giant" 3'6" Cape Standard gauge trains that ran through Touws River, where we lived then. Compared to some of the other cars standing at Humewood station and at several sidings along the Apple Express route, car # NG O 3883 is still in excellent condition.

The same cannot be said about the little Class 13NG 0-6-0-0-6-0 Garratt # 121. Even though it is standing under a roof over a servicing pit, it may have been a better idea to store it in the dry Karoo air at Avontuur, 240 km (150 miles) away at the other end of the line, than practically on the beach at Humewood station. The Apple Express has a couple of serviceable steam locomotives, but are only allowed to use them in the wet season due to the risk of fires when the veld is dry.

On the Apple Express itself, special provision is made for the physically challenged. This guard's van (caboose if you're an American) was fitted with ramps to make it accessible for wheelchairs. Since Maggie was "footloose" again during the convention as a result of a recent operation, the van was made available for us. An added bonus to travelling in the van is the oodles of space inside when compared to the standard coaches - there's enough free space in there for a ping pong table. Even the toilet was modified to make it wheelchair-friendly. At Thornhill station where the train turns around and where we had lunch, I confirmed (to the great amusement of some fellow delegates and in the process causing Maggie to invent a couple of new words) that her wheelchair is a perfect fit on the two foot gauge track - the hand-grips run on the rails while the tyres act as flanges.

The train staff has a rough time on the Apple Express - they ride outside. There's no interconnecting doors between the narrow coaches, so to get from coach to coach, the "conductor" has to walk along the running boards outside.

Just before the bridge over the Van Stadens River, the train stops on the outbound trip to allow those passengers who want to do so, to walk across and wait on the opposite side of the river for a photo shoot as the train comes across.

Looking down-river, the road bridge on the N2 highway is visible in the distance. It has become popular with bungee-jumpers, and to date all suicide attempts from the centre of the bridge have met with smashing success.

At least one of the significant others was complaining bitterly all the way across the bridge and for another half hour on the other side about being forced to walk across in spite of being a paying passenger, all because the bridge was too flimsy to take a loaded train and to top it all, she's afraid of heights and she can see for herself the damn bridge is flimsy because when she tried to keep to the middle to stay away from the chicken wire covered sides and the loooong drop into the gorge, she discovered to her horror that there's gaps between the sleepers through which she could see the bottom of the gorge, and mark her words, she's going to refuse point blank to get out of the train again on the return trip, she'll hide in the loo or someplace but be damned if she's taking that walk again, and....! She was REALLY po'd when she heard that she'd been conned into walking across!

Here the (almost empty) train crosses the gorge.

A few kilos past the gorge the train makes its second stop at Van Stadens. Most of the long line of wagons standing on the siding are derelict and the Rooikrantz trees are well on their way in the process of overgrowing them.

The little Class 91 diesel is a 44 ton product from the General Electric stable. Altogether twenty were built for the South African Railways (now Spoornet), of which nineteen survive after # 014 rolled down a mountainside in the Langkloof some years ago after failing to negotiate a sharp curve at a higher than prescribed speed.

Two of them were transferred to Port Shepstone on the Natal south coast a couple of years ago, and are still being used on the narrow gauge line up there. To get them to Port Shepstone, they were fitted on 3'6" gauge bogies and did the trip under their own power, all the way via East London, Noupoort, Bloemfontein, Newcastle and Durban, since there's no direct route up the coast. Apparently they looked like bigfoot pickup trucks with those oversized bogies under them.

Unmistakably a member of the GE family, but looking at the loco head-on really makes that two foot track look inadequate!

I even managed to convince the crew to give me a cab ride. The maximum speed allowed on the narrow track is 40 km/h (25 mph). I sure wouldn't want to have it go any faster on this narrow gauge track - from the cab it looks even narrower! Here we are entering Van Stadens station.


Click on the headings below to go directly to the appropriate pages.

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Accommodation (Sea-Spray Self Catering Holiday Flat)
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Story of a Kalahari Telephone Pole
The Chessie System in N Scale, & Decoder Installation Guides
Introducing Ourselves
Some Links to Other Websites

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Created on 9 June 2002. Last updated on 2 October 2003.