02 July 2009

Worcester Museum - old Loco Shed (1) - Exterior

This BLOG has 4 entries for the "loco terrain" extension of the Worcester Museum at Kleinplasie divided as follows:


The former Kleinplasie Museum in Worcester was officially proclaimed a provincial museum on 1 June 2004 under a new name "Worcester Museum". The official web page for the Worcester Museum is still www.kleinplasie.co.za, and you should consult this for more information about the museum.

click on map to enlarge

The Entrance road to the Worcester Museum is on your left as you drive out of Worcester on the R60 on the way to Robertson. One must go to the Worcester Museum (former Kleinplasie) if you want to view the displays in the old Steam Locomotive Shed located on the "Loco Terrain" of the Worcester Museum.

A bit of general background:

In the Western Cape there was a large steam locomotive workshop in Salt River (Cape Town) - named the Salt River Works, where large steam repairs took place in earlier years.

Additionally the Western Cape had a number of running sheds (also called depots). Adjacent to the Salt River Works, there was a large running shed in Paarden Eiland, which also served the shunters in Table Bay Harbour. Other depots were in Worcester, Touws River and Beaufort West.

The shed in Worcester would have been built in the first half of the twentieth century, when steam was still used on the mainline from Cape Town to the North. The shed building is large, and may have been able to house 12 to 18 locomotives of various sizes at a time. The Worcester running shed also served 3 sub-sheds located at Hermon, Wolseley and Riversdale. The Worcester depot and its sub-depots were still active in 1973, but by 1989 all of these were long closed down.

In his book Twilight of SOUTH AFRICAN STEAM AE Durant in 1989 wrote of these locomotive running sheds:

"The locomotive depot or shed ("loods" in Afrikaans) invariably becomes a mecca for the enthusiast, whether he (or she) be interested in 'sitting duck' locomotive portraits, or finding out what engine is going where, and when, in order to determine which train to ride, or to chase for action photography. "

"The shed itself always has a superb aura. A main line shed is constantly filled with the sight and smell of smoke, steam, hot oil and coal dust, while massive machines ooze around as they perform their daily chores of taking on coal, water, sand and lubricants, or discharging ash and clinker. Fitters and boilermakers move around fixing details ready for the next run, and the time office is always full of crews booking-on or off, and determining their next assignations."

"The larger shed also has a substantial repair shop, where wheel-less engines, dead as dinosaurs, can be seen propped up while essential moving components are in the machine shop, being made fit to perform another spell of arduous duty."

"At the other end of the scale is the small country shed, home to perhaps one or two engines, which may seem totally empty and derelict when the engine(s) are out at work, enjoying a brief instant of action at the start and end of the day's run, interspersed by another long period where the faintly bubbling and sizzling locomotive is the only sign of life." [The sub-sheds at Wolseley and Hermon would neatly fit in with this description!]

"SAR's sheds were allocated on a system basis, and as usual there are main sheds with all major facilities, including repair shops, washout facilities etc., sub-sheds which house locomotives for branch lines or local work, and a host of minor engine termini, some with water and ash disposal points only."

Lack of SAR steam shed histories.

IN 2003, in the sar-L group, Les Pivnic, former Acting Curator of the South African Railways Museum, gave his views on the problem to now starte writing a history of the SAR steam sheds:

"I am not aware of any written histories dealing with loco depots. During my time in the Museum, we certainly did not have anything on that subject. The snag is that one would have needed to tackle such research back in SAR/SATS days when relevant correspondence files would still have been available for research. I think that today, such a project would be nigh on impossible."

"In the old days there was a tendency to place loco sheds close to the main terminal station. After the 2nd World War, local authorities began to object to the smoke problem created by large loco sheds."

"Braamfontein Loco was moved out to Millsite near Krugersdorp but even earlier, Cape Town Steam Shed was rebuilt at Paarden Eiland and P.E.'s North End Shed was moved to Sydenham. Similarly, Pretoria Shed was moved out to Capital Park and Bloemfontein Loco was rebuilt out on the road to Mazelspoort. Kimberley Loco was moved to Beaconsfield and Noupoort Loco was moved to Midlandia outside the town etc. De Aar shed remained where it was as did Beaufort West."

"Some sheds survived near the main terminal - East London comes to mind and if steam had survived longer, I'm sure that Durban's Greyville Loco would have moved probably to a site near Bayhead as did Durban Mechanical Shops."

"That reminds me that SAR Mechanical Depots were also "moved out of town". Pretoria Shops went to Koedoespoort, Uitenhage to Cuyler Manor etc. Strangely, Salt River Shops survived in Cape Town. Bloemfontein Shops were already somewhat removed from the city centre."

"Getting back to steam loco sheds, I thought that it would be of interest to mention that the old sheds at Pretoria and Bloemfontein were "Roundhouse" sheds, while the shed at Braamfontein used a turntable, due to the lack of space for a triangle or balloon. This turntable was transferred to Culemborg Yard in Cape Town to turn mainline coaches etc. It was not needed at Krugersdorp."

In response Sue Lawrence had this to comment on steam sheds:

When in South Africa for a few months in 1984 (prior to spending a decade in South Africa in the 90's), my then husband and I had the opportunity to look over a number of loco sheds, which at the time were full of steam (Touws River, Mafikeng, Beaconsfield, Grahamstown, Bethlehem etc). They were absolutely fascinating places, but I was struck by the way in which they were all of a "run-through" design, whereas here in Australia all loco sheds are (or were) roundhouses. I loved the smoky atmosphere of the South African sheds, not to mention the fascinating variety of locos in various states of undress, from small 6, 7s and 8s at Touws river to the huge 25s that seemed to have spread throughout the country. It was quite mind-boggling to see these huge monsters on menial shunting duties at Kimberley and Mafikeng, but they seemed to be doing the jobs quite effectively (or at least that's how it seemed to me, and none of the drivers I spoke to complained that the locos were inappropriate for the work).

Touws River was a revelation. Although I had passed through the town by train once or twice as a teenager, I had never actually been there, and had a wonderfully romantic vision of this place where the electrics gave way to a mass of giant whispering steamers. All I knew of the stabling arrangements was gleamed from one picture in Day's Railways of South Africa which showed three of four of the monsters in the open air and I had visions of it being a romantic semi-desert town. So, when I finally got the chance to visit the town, it came as quite a shock to realise that there was a huge run-through shed, with masses of lines around, then chock-full of locos to be preserved. Not too far away was a huge marshalling yard, full of locos awaiting either scrapping or restoration (including a blue S2). There was also a large number of (abandoned?) electric locos and steel carriages.

Only four locos were actually being used - all 15F's and when I spoke to the only person who was there, he told me that it was his job every morning to light up one of the 15Fs that would be used for shunting in the afternoon. he was told the day before which one was to be lit up the next morning.

What the loco shed looks like on the outside:

These pictures were taken on 1 July 2009.

On the Western side one finds the main entrance to the old Loco Shed display area.

The West end entrances for the steam locomotives have been filled by bricks or windowed doors.

A general view of the old steam locomotive shed from the earth embankment which led to the now dismantled coaling stage.

This July 1975 photo courtesy © CP Lewis shows Class 15F and S2 active on the western side of the Worcester Loco shed. Note the coaling stage on the right.

Worcester depot: A Class 24 working the coaling stage. This 7 September 1975 photo taken by Rainer Schnell and posted here to the Drehscheibe forum (in German language).

Worcester depot: A GMAM Garratt letting off some steam with a Class 24 taking it easy while facing the coaling stage ramp. This 7 September 1975 photo taken by Rainer Schnell and posted here to the Drehscheibe forum (in German language).

The building's architecture is representative of an era long past.

On the East end of the building one also gets an impression of the size of the openings for the huge locomotives.

May 1952 photo courtesy © CP Lewis: The Worcester steam shed, also of the customary SAR "run-through" design, with Fonteintjiesberg under snow in the background, as viewed from the East. Classes 1, 14CR and GEA's are visible. Charlie Lewis took this historical photo at age 15. Note the coaling stage on the left - this used to be a landmark feature on the road towards Robertson.

In the sar-L group Les Pivnic, in May 2008, gave a summary of the total of 24 locomotives rostered at the Worcester steam shed way back in 1953:-


3R - 1 [used on the shunt];

7 - 2;

14CRB/M - 14 [used on the line to Riversdale - in the not-too-distant-future, class 15BR's would arrive from the Cape Midlands];

GEA - 7 [used on the line to Riversdale, obviously for harder work - these were later replaced by class GMA's.]

In the sar-L list Don Baker reported the following numbers for the Worcester depot:
  • in Jan 1950 there were 18 14CR & 4 14CRB at Worcester.
  • it June 1950 there were 13 14CR, 5 14CRB, & 4 14CRM at Worcester,- this remained virtually unchanged at March 1954.
  • a note on the 1954 list states: "There are 5 class 15F engines stationed at De Doorns which are changed at intervals............."

This shows the building on the North side.

The Train rides for visitors.

In order to get access to the Loco Shed displays, one can buy a ticket to ride on the diesel hauled train to the museum extention, or one can walk there, which will be a distance of about 800 meters. I took the walk, as I could not wait for the next train! Enquire at the ticket office of the museum about the next train.

This is the train.

Ample seating for visitors to the Loco Shed displays.

This engine once did service at the now long dismantled Escom HEX RIVER POWER STATION.

General Background

British Steam Running Sheds
around 1908.

As written by Vaughan Pendred in this book The Railway Locomotive [what it is and why it is what it is (1908)]

NOTE from Piet: This account, written more than 100 years ago, describes some of the activities one could expect to find in a typical British Steam Running Shed. Similar activities, with detail variations, were surely also to be found in South African steam running sheds.


Under this comprehensive title will be considered what may without inexactitude be termed the hidden life of the locomotive engine. It is not always drawing trains, it is not always being repaired or repainted. As a horse spends much of his time in the stable, so does the locomotive in the running shed, which has, indeed, not inaptly, been termed a stable ere now.

Originally there was provided a shed, literally a shed and nothing more, in which the engines stood when not at work, and in which they were cleaned and had small repairs effected. For many years and in the present day, a running shed is a large and important building, often provided with tools, and in which all but very heavy repairs can be effected. Turntables are arranged and many lines of rail with pits between to enable men to work conveniently under the locomotives.

There are various methods of laying out a running shed, which, by the way, is called a "round house" in the United States. Thus the general plan may be circular with a turntable in the middle, from which radiate lines of rail like the spokes of a wheel. When an engine comes in it is run on to the turntable, which is rotated until its rails coincide with a "spoke" on which there is room. The engine is then run off the turntable on to the spoke. The arrangement is very convenient, but has the serious draw- back that if anything fouls the turntable all the locomotives in the shed are imprisoned for the time being — an accident by no means unknown, and commonly brought about by moving an engine when the rails on the table are not in line with those of the spoke. Then the leading wheels of the engine drop into the turntable pit. A much safer system consists in providing a number of bays and shunting an engine into any bay by means of points. More space is required, but the gain fully compensates for the extra cost incurred.

The running sheds are placed in localities as convenient as can be got near large towns. They vary in the amount of accommodation they supply from holding half a dozen to a hundred engines.

On the care and skill with which the duties of the running- shed foremen and the hands under them are carried out depends in very large measure the satisfactory and economical working of the trafi&c of a railway. To mention only one point, the durability of a boiler is settled in the main by the way in which it is cleaned. If that is badly done, the boiler will steam badly, use more coal than it ought, and fail to keep time.

Let us take the case of an express engine, which has finished its work for the day. It is unhooked from its train, and taken to the running shed. The duty of the driver before handing it over to the "engine turner," a man whose position resembles that of an ostler, is to examine the engine carefully and book all the defects he discovers. The turner then moves the engine to the coaling stage, the fireman locks up his tool chest and chalks on one of the boxes how much coal he requires for his next trip. The engine is, save under most exceptional circumstances, to be brought to the end of its journey with little or no fire on the grate. After the tender has received the stated number of tons of coal, the engine is moved to another part of the yard, and the smoke-box is cleaned out. As has already been explained, the box is floored with fire-bricks laid in fire-clay, and on this will be found collected ash and cinders which have been carried through the flues. A spray from a hydrant is used to keep down dust, and the box is cleared out by a lad with a shovel and broom. The engine, which has still steam in it, is then moved once more to stand over a pit, where two "fire droppers," one on the footplate and the other under the engine, take charge. Then some fire bars are lifted out, and through the space thus left, ash, cinders and clinkers are dropped into the ash pan by the man on the footplate, while his mate below rakes them out into the pit where they are sprayed by a hose pipe. In this operation, simple as it seems to be, we have another illustration of the importance of doing things in the right way. It seems quite obvious that it would be far better to make the grate invariably — as is done sometimes — with a hinged portion at the front end to which the bars always slope, rather than adopt the clumsy system of pulling two or three or more bars out. But the drop grate system has the great defect that if it is used while the boiler is still hot, and a rush of cold air into the fire-box takes place, contraction occurs and the tubes leak. Indeed, in some running sheds, fire dropping is not permitted while a boiler is hot, and the grate has to be cleaned through the fire door; but the operation lasts about half an hour, and the time is not always available. The tubes are then "run" — that is, swept out. A long rod about 3/8 inch diameter with an eye at the end is used. Through the eye is threaded a strip of canvas or old "waste." The smoke-box door is opened and a man standing on the front running board pushes the rod through one tube after another. In this way the tubes are swept. The operation lasts from forty minutes to an hour, according to the number of tubes. A steam jet at the end of a hose has been tried with great success, much time being saved.

The cleaners then take the engine in hand. It is rubbed down with sponge cloths and "cleaning oil," that is, petroleum. The cleaners are boys or lads. Cleaning is the first step on the way to be an engine driver.

Bound the ends of the tubes next the fire-box rings of coke deposit (due to the presence of minute percentages of iron in the coal) form and encroach on the size of the orifice. A boy goes into the fire-box with a stiff broom and knocks off the "corks," as they are called — they are termed "birds' nests" at sea ; they very closely resemble india-rubber umbrella rings. He then sweeps the ashes off the top of the brick arch, and replaces the fire-bars. The engine is then ready to have steam got up again. The "lighter-up" puts coal into the box, spreading it carefully all round the sides.

Conveniently situated is a brick furnace of considerable size. On the top of this sand is dried which is subsequently put into the sand boxes on the engine and used for increasing adhesion, as already explained. On the Great Western Railway an improved furnace is used. The wet sand is put into a chamber with a grated bottom over the horizontal flue leading to the chimney, and as the sand dries it falls automatically through the hot gas and flame. About five times as much sand can be dried in a given time in this way as by the ordinary furnace.

From this furnace some shovelfuls of burning coal are carried and put into the fire-box, and so lighting up is effected. As the fires are not to be hurried, which would be bad for the boilers, it requires about three hours to get up steam ; and the fire is usually lighted about four hours before the time at which the train starts. While in the shed the fireman takes in water and fills the sand boxes. The driver goes over the whole engine with minute care, examining every split pin, nut and bolt, knowing, as he does, that his own life and the safety of the train depend upon his vigilance.

It has been assumed that the engine requires neither washing out nor repairs. But washing out must take place every five or six days. To this end, the engine is allowed to cool down, then the plugs at the lower corners of the fire-box are unscrewed, and the water is allowed to run out. All the other wash-out plugs are removed, and the boiler is then cleaned out by the use of a jet, by preference of hot water, the nozzle being put into one plug hole after another. While one man uses the hose, another works with a rod to scoop out and loosen all the deposit he can get at. The boiler is then examined, preferably by a boilermaker. If he pronounces it clean the plugs are oiled with some heavy oil and screwed in again. The boiler is filled up with fresh water by a hose through one of the upper plug holes. Washing out is a very important operation. A book is kept in which are entered under separate heads, date, station, number of engine, name of washer, by whom examined, and remarks as to dirt. When tubes leak, neglect in washing out is always assumed as a probable cause.

While in the running sheds that careful inspection takes place which renders the explosion of a locomotive boiler an event of the rarest occurrence. Practice varies, but it is not far from the truth to say that more than a month seldom elapses without an examination of a very thorough character being made by a boiler- smith. As a rule there is little trouble with the shells ; grooving and corrosion are rare, and are detected when the lagging is taken off and tubes drawn for a thorough repair, which will not be needed as a rule for three or four years. But the fire-box is a continual source of anxiety. The wear and tear have been much increased by the rise in pressure. Boxes which give little or no trouble with 150 lbs. steam require the utmost vigilance to make them endure 200 or 220 lbs. pressure. The higher the pressure the denser becomes the deposit and the more firmly does it cling to the plates. A fairly soft water is essential to the well-being of the modern locomotive. The most common defects in a copper internal fire-box are cracks. The examiner has a special book in which he records in a species of shorthand all the defects which he finds. A great deal of information is got into a small space by a system of hieroglyphics. As an example of the progress of events in the life of a locomotive boiler, the following statement is given : —

" Nothing of note occurred to the box during that year, but on January 13, 1904, the stay heads were slightly reduced. Fifteen new stays were put in on January 27, 1904. The stays were reported reduced on April 19, and on May 12 a crack had developed in the right-hand flange of the tube plate; also, the top flange of the back plate had dropped down near the second crown bars. On August 28 the tubes were dirty, and the casing plates were corroded near the foundation ring. On August 30, 1904, eighty-four new tubes were put in to replace those taken out to facilitate the removal of dirt, and this time also the sides were found to be slightly bulged. Twelve more stays were put in on April 11, 1905, and on September 12 another crack had developed in the tube plate, this time in the left-hand flange, and the sides which had been previously reported as "slightly bulged" were reported as "bulged." On October 17, the tubes were again reported dirty, and after the engine had been kept running as long as it consistently could be in this condition, it was sent to the factory for general repairs on January 31, 1906." .

The preceding quotation is taken from a paper read before the Swindon Engineering Society by Mr. Henry Simpson, of the Great Western Railway.

It must, of course, be understood that running-shed work is not carried on in the same way on all railways. No more can be done than give the general arrangements and methods adopted. Thus, for example, on some lines it is the practice to coal the engines after they have been cleaned and left the running shed, but in effect practice is the same everywhere.

A locomotive is not cleaned after every trip as described above. Slag is taken off the grate by the fireman, and the tubes are run and the smoke-box cleaned out, but steam is not let down below 80 or 100 lbs. pressure, and a fresh supply of coal is, if needed, put on the tender.

The day's work of an engine is very often worked out as though it had been running steadily from the time steam was got up until it returned to the shed. The mileage varies with the railway, the time of the year, and traffic conditions. At one time on the London and Brighton line it was four miles an hour for goods and about eight miles an hour for passenger engines. A goods engine, for example, will be under steam and out on the road for say, fourteen hours. Of that time, five hours will be spent standing still. Two or three hours will be used up at different stations shunting, the whole distance traversed being quite small. The rest of the time the engine will spend in hauling heavy trains at, say, twenty miles an hour.

The average annual mileage of engines in this country is about 20,000. Of course to this there are numerous exceptions, the mileage being much greater. Individual engines sometimes make enormous mileages. In the United States it is very much higher, but as a result the total life of the engine and the number of miles run is less. The American locomotive is treated very much on the principle followed by Legree with his slaves, "use up and buy more."

  • Twilight of SOUTH AFRICAN STEAM - by AE Durant - 1989 published by David & Charles Publishers
  • The Railway Locomotive [, what it is and why it is what it is] Vaughn Pendred published by A. Constable & Co., Ltd., London in 1908.
On to next entry : Interior of museum

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