South African Class NG15 2-8-2
No. NG124 on Van Stadens bridge, 26 October 1985
The South African Railways Class NG15 2-8-2 of 1931 was a narrow gauge steam locomotive.
In 1931, three narrow gauge Class NG15 locomotives with a 2-8-2 Mikado type wheel arrangement, similar in design to the existing Class Hd and Class NG5 locomotives, were acquired by the South African Railways for the Otavi Mining and Railway Company in South West Africa. More were purchased for the Otavi Railway and the Tsumeb Copper Corporation during the subsequent years, eventually bringing the total number of these locomotives to 21 by 1958.
When the narrow gauge Otavi Railway was regauged to Cape gauge in 1960, all 21 locomotives were taken over by the South African Railways. They were transferred to the Eastern Cape for further service on the narrow gauge line from Port Elizabeth to Avontuur.
As a result of heavy traffic demands on the Otavi Railway in South West Africa (SWA), three additional locomotives were ordered in 1931. The Class NG15 2-8-2 Mikado type narrow gauge steam locomotive was designed by the South African Railways (SAR) and built by Henschel and Son for the Otavi Mining and Railway Company. The company operated the 352-mile long (566-kilometre) narrow gauge Otavi Railway across the Namib Desert from Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast to Tsumeb and Grootfontein in northern SWA. The first three locomotives were delivered in 1931, numbered in the range from NG17 to NG19. They were followed by three more in 1939, numbered in the range from NG117 to NG119.
Ten more of these locomotives were built for the Otavi line by Société Franco-Belge and delivered in two batches of five in 1950 and 1953, numbered in the ranges from NG120 to NG124 and NG132 to NG136 respectively.
In 1958, five more of these locomotives, built by Henschel and numbered in the range from TC1 to TC5, were delivered to the Tsumeb Copper Corporation for use by the SAR in terms of an agreement between the SAR and the Corporation. They were later renumbered in the SAR range from NG144 to NG148.
The Class NG15 2-8-2 locomotive was a development of the Class Hd and Class NG5 locomotives which had been acquired for the Otavi Mining and Railway Company in SWA in 1912 and 1921 respectively. In the 1920s, one of the Class NG5 locomotives was sent to the Avontuur Railway in South Africa for trials, but since it jammed on the tighter curves in the Langkloof despite having one set of flangeless coupled wheels, it was returned to SWA.
The usual practice of the SAR in the steam era was to design locomotives in their own drawing offices and to then go out and find a builder. The drawing board work for the Class NG15 has been attributed to a Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Otavi Railway, a German engineer known in SWA as Mr. Peters, who was employed as a draughtsman by the SAR. Since the earlier trials with the Class NG5 locomotive, the sharpest curves on the Avontuur line had been eased and the experience gained in the process was taken into consideration during the design of the Class NG15.
Like the Class NG5, the locomotives were built on plate frames and their valves were actuated by Walschaerts valve gear, but they were fitted with piston valves instead of flat slide valves. While the sand boxes of the older locomotives were mounted on top of the boiler, aft of the dome on the Class Hd and ahead of the dome on the Class NG5, those of the Class NG15 were arranged on the running boards. The seats of the driver and stoker were mounted on poles which allowed them to be swung around to outside the cab and crews could often be seen riding outside in hot weather. Similar swing-seats were used on the SAR's narrow gauge Garratts and on the Cape gauge Class 6 and Class 7.
Unlike the Class Hd and Class NG5 locomotives, their leading wheels were mounted in a Krauss-Helmholtz Bissel truck which was arranged in front instead of to the rear of the cylinders. The leading pair of coupled wheels of the Class NG15 had a limited amount of sideplay and were linked to the leading Bissel truck, while the axle of the leading coupled wheels still remained parallel to the other three coupled axles at all times.
This linking of a pony truck and coupled axle is known as a Krauss-Helmholtz bogie, an invention of Richard von Helmholtz who was the chief designer at the Krauss works in Munich from 1884 to 1917. On standard gauge railways in Europe, the inclusion of a Krauss-Helmholtz bogie has allowed the use of large 2-10-0 locomotives on sharply curved mountain sections. Some early electric locomotives also used Krauss-Helmholtz bogies.
The Class NG15 had larger tenders than the Class NG5 with a working order weight of 31 long tons 4 hundredweight (31,700 kilograms), compared to the 25 long tons 11 hundredweight 3 quarters (26,000 kilograms) of the Class NG5's tender. The tenders had low-slung sides, with the bottom part of the water tank extending down to below axle level on either side of the tender bogies to lower the vehicle's roll centre on the narrow track gauge.
The original tenders were built as flat-sided box-shaped vehicles. A second tender version was delivered with the later batches of locomotives, with the coal bunker sides set inward for reasons unknown. The new shape made no difference to the crew's rearward field of vision and the only likely benefit was a reduced axle load as a result of the reduced coal capacity.
In SWA, the Class Hd, Class NG5 and Class NG15 Mikado locomotives operated in a common pool. They were the most powerful non-articulated narrow gauge steam locomotives in SAR service.
In 1960, when all the SWA narrow gauge lines were widened to Cape gauge, the Class Hd and Class NG5 locomotives were withdrawn from service while the 21 Class NG15 locomotives were all shipped to Port Elizabeth for use on the Langkloof line to Avontuur. The first one was offloaded in Port Elizabeth in April 1961, still equipped with a single central buffer and side chains, the preferred drawgear on the ex-German lines in SWA. Their arrival increased the number of locomotives on the Avontuur Railway from a total of 23 in March 1961 to 43 by July. As a result, all but one of the Class NG10 as well as Class NG G11 no. 51, South Africa’s first Garratt, were withdrawn from service by July 1962.
On the Avontuur Railway, the Class NG15 was nicknamed Kalahari, inappropriately so since its previous stamping ground was across the Namib desert to the west of the Kalahari. Garratts initially continued to operate in the Langkloof since the Class NG15 was not allowed to work beyond Humansdorp from Port Elizabeth because of a lack of turning facilities, the only existing triangle at the time being the one at the end of the line at Avontuur. More turning facilities had not been required until then since the Langkloof had for years been the domain of bi-directional Garratt locomotives. During 1963-1964, turning facilities were installed at Assegaaibos, Louterwater and Misgund. From then on the use of Garratts west of Assegaaibos was confined mainly, but not entirely, to the daily transship and pick-up (T&P) workings.
Even though Garratts were still present, the Class NG15 with its spacious cab soon became the enginemen’s favourites. They were free-steaming and fast and there was little difference in hauling capacity between the two types. The Class NG15s and their crews were soon doing round trips of just over 200 miles (322 kilometres) in one shift to Assegaaibos and back, unheard of in the Garratt days. In the fruit season the Kalaharis regularly logged more than 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometres) per month.
During the last years of steam traction on the Avontuur Railway, the Class NG15 was the only non-Garratt steam locomotive working in the Langkloof. Outside the apple season, the Class NG15 became well known for hauling the Apple Express from the Humewood Road railway station in Port Elizabeth to Loerie and back every Saturday to cater for tourists. It gained further fame when the Apple Express instituted an annual train race marathon, where athletes could compete against an Apple Express train filled with spectators.
Towards the end of 1986, preparations commenced to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Apple Train line to Avontuur on 1 January 1907. Numbers NG122 and NG124 were repainted at Humewood diesel depot in red and green respectively and no. NG122 was fitted with a headboard with an apple logo. The red no. NG122 was named Starking after the red apple variety grown in the Langkloof and the green no. NG124 was named Granny Smith after the green apples that finished off each season.
End of steam
In 1973, steam traction in the Langkloof began to be replaced by diesel-electric power upon the introduction of the General Electric-built Class 91-000 type GE UM6B diesel-electric locomotive. Diesel and steam served the Langkloof together for some years, but by the late 1980s road transport had triumphed over rail transport on the apple route as well and the narrow gauge steam fleet was withdrawn from service. Engine no. NG147, the last Kalahari, was plinthed next to the now unused Avontuur Station while the red no. NG122 Starking is on display at the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George.
The builders, works numbers and SAR renumbering of the Class NG15 locomotives are listed in the table.
Current locomotive status
Since the preservation of heritage locomotives is always dependent on the attitude and disposition of the current incumbents of positions of authority, the current status as set out in the table should be considered as a snapshot of the situation at a point in time. The information was last updated on 26 February 2017.
location and condition
|NG17||In running order at Sandstone Estates.|
|NG18||Hempstead & Northern RR, Texas, United States of America. Exported from South Africa to the USA in 1985. Currently out of service but being considered for a return to operating condition after the completion of NG/G13 50 in November 2015.|
|NG19||At Sandstone Estates.|
|NG117||Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Seen being worked in an image of 17 December 2015.|
|NG118||Bennett Brook Railway, Perth, Western Australia. In service on the railway from 15 October 1994 through to 2003. Stored awaiting an overhaul. Exported from South Africa to Australia in 1985.|
|NG120||Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. Purchased by a member of the WHR Ltd. It will be restored at a private site with the intention that it will run on Welsh Highland Railway Ltd. services in the future.|
|NG121||Vale of Rheidol Railway Museum Collection. Stored at a private site, United Kingdom.|
|NG122||At the Outeniqua Transport Museum in George, South Africa.|
|NG123||Bennett Brook Railway, Perth, Western Australia. Restored to traffic as from 10 May 2007. Exported from South Africa to Australia in 1985.|
|NG133||Owned by the Festiniog Railway Company. Acquired for potential use on the Welsh Highland Railway. Stored in the open at the Dinas station of the Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon).|
|NG134||Owned by the Festiniog Railway Company. Acquired for use on the Welsh Highland Railway. Located in Dinas works, restoration making steady progress towards returning the locomotive to working order. Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon).|
|NG135||Owned by the Exmoor Steam Railway. In storage.|
|NG146||Formerly owned by the Brecon Mountain Railway. Now owned by Peter Rampton. Stored at a private site, United Kingdom.|
|NG147||Plinthed at Avontuur station.|
The main picture shows Franco-Belge-built no. NG124 equipped with smoke deflectors, crossing the Van Stadens River with the Apple Express on 26 October 1985.
Henschel-built no. NG17 at Sandstone Estates, 25 February 2005
- Paxton, Leith; Bourne, David (1985). Locomotives of the South African Railways (1st ed.). Cape Town: Struik. pp. 10–11, 108. ISBN 0869772112.
- Espitalier, T.J.; Day, W.A.J. (1947). The Locomotive in South Africa - A Brief History of Railway Development. Chapter VII - South African Railways (Continued). South African Railways and Harbours Magazine, December 1947. pp. 1033-1034.
- Henschel-Lieferliste (Henschel & Son works list), compiled by Dietmar Stresow
- South African Railways and Harbours Locomotive Diagram Book, 2'0" & 3'6" Gauge Steam Locomotives, 15 August 1941, as amended
- Soul of A Railway, System 7, Western Transvaal, based in Johannesburg, Part 7. Germiston Steam and Diesel Running Sheds (2nd section) by Les Pivnic. Caption 2. (Accessed on 7 April 2017)
- Soul of A Railway, System 3, Part 1: Cape Midland, based in Port Elizabeth, Part 1, The Port Elizabeth Narrow Gauge. Captions 25, 26, 30, 44. (Accessed on 10 December 2016)
- Soul of A Railway, System 3, Part 5: Cape Midland, based in Port Elizabeth: Assegaaibos to Joubertina. Caption 10. (Accessed on 24 January 2017)
- Durrant, A E (1989). Twilight of South African Steam (1st ed.). Newton Abbott, London: David & Charles. p. 125. ISBN 0715386387.
- Report for year ending 31st December 1909, Cape Government Railways, Section VIII – Dates of Opening and the Length of the different Sections in the Cape Colony, from the Year 1873 to 31 December 1909.
- Soul of A Railway, System 3, Part 3: Cape Midland, based in Port Elizabeth, Part 3, Port Elizabeth to Loerie (2): Passenger Services, General Freight, Fruit Traffic and the Apple Express. Caption 46. (Accessed on 11 December 2016)
- 100 Years of Being at the Heart of It All, Spoornet brochure, Circa 2003
- Namib Narrow Gauge, by S.M. Moir and H. Temple. Crittenden, The Oakwood Press.
- 24 Inches Apart, by Sidney Moir. Janus Publishing, 1981.
- The Kei Explorer 1989, South African Transport Services Museum and Railway Society of S.A.
- The Steam Locomotive, A History, by David Ross. Tempus Publishing Limited, 2006
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