Thursday, 26 January 2017

Trans-Namibia, the forgotten Railway

We know that thousands of kilometres of 60cm railways were used on the Western Front during 14-18. There was a far-away war which also involved a 60cm railway.
German South West Africa was colonised in the late 19th century, against the better judgement of the then administration, though once Wilhelm II became Kaiser, he was gung-ho for expansion even in this far and unpromising land.
Southern Africa in 1920 showing rivers (including wadis) but not railways. In 1902, a railway 382 km long was built to connect Windhoek to the coast. Courtesy Times Publishing
 GSWA, or, as we now know it, Namibia, is on the western side of Africa, lying between the Orange river - border with South Africa - and (Portuguese) Angola to the north (marked by the Cunene river). The west is a fearsome desert.  Windhuk now Windhoek, the capital of GSWA, is sited on a comparatively fertile plateau, with the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) to its east. Before 1914, the only link between Windhuk and the outside world lay either through British or Portuguese colonies/allies or through the Namibian desert. What is more, Walfish or Walvis Bay on the coast, the only good harbour, had been claimed for Britain.
In the teeth of all commonsense, the German colonists determined to use Swakopmund, a small and rather poor harbour just north of Walvis Bay as their port. The link with the interior would be by ox-cart! Oxen were duly used, struggling up a dry river–bed, using water from the irregular rainfall. The territory was that of the fierce Herrera who, for a time tolerated the struggling settlers. Then rinderpest killed off the oxen and the Germans turned to technology. Wilhelm II took a pride in his small colonies and sent a major in his Pioneer Corps to GSWA. A 60cm gauge railway, it was hoped, could be quickly built to link Windhuk with the coast.
Cover design by James Albon
The origin of the Feldbahn (German military railways) is interesting and described in more detail in my book. In 1888, Prosper Péchot had persuaded the French Army to adopt a 60cm gauge system of portable military railways. Indeed, since 1886, exercises and experiments had been taking place around the frontier town of Toul. The Germans were also looking at military railways. In 1888, they abandoned their flirtation with other gauges and adopted 60cm gauge.
Péchot-Bourdon 0-4-4-0 locomotive, first built in 1888. Its weight, evn when loaded with water and fuel was under 14 tonnes so that it could run on portable track. Image courtesy Raymond Duton
In 1889, Péchot’s elaborate bogie wagons and his Péchot-Bourdon locomotive caused a sensation at the Great Exhibition in Paris. At that time, the Germans abandoned their experiments with 2 and 5 tonne locomotives and standardised on the Zwilling 2 x 7 tonnes unladen.
Drawing of Zwilling courtesy Old Steam Locomotives of South Africa Website

In 1897, work started on the Namibian railway. Zwilling locomotives were sent to provide motive power and the first track was portable - a German answer to portable Péchot track. In the fearsome desert conditions, battling sand, dirty water and angry locals, the lifetime of a locomotive was short, but at any one time, 40 or so Zwillingwere at work. The railway Swakopmund-Windhuk was officially opened in June 1902, length 382 km.
The military turned the railway over to civilians to run – as the Staatsbahn – but continued to use it as a testing ground. They learned to use prefabricated track for the first phase of construction, then rapidly to replace it with track laid on sleepers. The German Brigadewagen, maid-of-all-work bogie wagon (originally based on a Péchot wagon) was proved and improved in the hostile conditions. Locomotive tenders were used for supply on long, hot, desert runs and precipitous gradients. The most admired, numerous and successful of all military locomotives, the Dlok 0-4-0 was developed.
By 1914, the German Feldbahn led the way in quantity, quality and number of operators. The French on the other hand had retired Prosper Péchot and their 60cm système Péchot was stuck in a time-warp.
A restored 0-8-0 T Dlok in German Army colours simmers gently on the track at Apedale Staffs. Photo Malcolm Wright
In 1892, rich deposits of copper were found in Tsumeb, Damaraland. The Otavi line (to be run by the Otavi-Minen-und-Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft OMEG) was begun in 1903 but delayed by the Herero war 1904. This was an unequal fight. No-one at the time counted the number of Herero dead, but we can sure that there were many. The survivors later returned as railway workers. Brenda Bravenboer in her book 100 years of State Railways in Namibia p 65 describes them as ‘willing labourers who had endurance’. Tsumeb was 570 kilometres from the sea; this incredible narrow gauge railway was opened to traffic in November 1906.
A particularly interesting new departure was the HD class 2-8-2 tender locomotive (58 tonnes with tender). Three were ordered from Henschel und Sohn in 1912, for the Otavi Railway. This class was to feature in the Great War Namibian Campaign. Many more examples were later ordered from Henschel though they were now known as the South African Railways NG5 class. The last were ordered after the Second World War and continued in use for a total of 50 years!
Botha and Seitz. Henshel 2-8-2 with tender July 1915. Photo from Illustration magazine
Pic Never mind the human drama in the foreground! Behind them is a fine example of a Henschel 2-8-2 tender locomotive. There are lights to the front and rear. The characteristic safety valve with cross bonnet shows up well, but skirts have been added to tender and locomotive, decorously veiling their wheels from sight. The sandbox also is an addition.
In 1910, the process began of converting the Swakopmund-Windhuk line to standard gauge. 60cm material was transferred to replace worn-out stock on remaining narrow gauge lines.
The German administration may have hoped that South Africa with its substantial Boer population would stay out of the First World War. They were disappointed. On 4th Aug 1914, General Louis Botha, Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, pledged support to Britain on behalf of his country. On 8th August Doctor Seitz, Governor of GSWA, mobilised his small force of 5000. There was deliberate destruction of infrastructure to delay the enemy, which was successful for a time.
In January 1915, an invasion force occupied Swakopmund on the coast. Repairs were required both to the port and the railway.
Dr Seitz, Governor of GSWA July 1915 From Illustration magazine
General Smuts joined the Union Defence Forces on 30th April 1915. The Germans retreated northwards. Windhuk was taken on 12th May – the name was changed to Windhoek.
The Germans requested an armistice, but to the indignation of the Allies, they made use of this as a breathing space and started their retreat up the Otavi section of the line. During June, SA troops advanced and Otavi was captured on July 1st. German forces continued their withdrawal.
More Union Defence Forces were coming from the north and east. The Germans were surrounded. Governor Seitz and Lt Col Franke agreed to surrender. The ‘peace of Khorab’ was signed on 9th July at Khorab farm near Otavi.
Botha and his staff coming to take the German surrender Namibia 1915
The war showed the flexibility of narrow gauge. In spite of ‘strategic destruction’ by the retreating Germans, 358km of 60 cm railway were repaired within 26 days, greatly strengthening the Union advance.
After the treaty of Versailles, GSWA was mandated to the Union of South Africa effective from 17th Dec 1920. Gradually the railways were integrated into the SAR system and official 60cm disappeared. Its last flowering was on private lines supplying the diamond mines in the south.
Namibia became an independent country on March 21st 1990. My belated congratulations to this wonderful country!.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Holiday in the workshop

Before the current batch of Wrens can be built, the parts have to be gathered in, the castings and the etchings. Whilst waiting for my suppliers, I have been busy doing a little model-making for myself and making new masters for a Wren part.
Wrightscale 16mm Wren with the original version cylinders fitted
This task was to make masters for the Wren cylinders. Since 1988, Wrightscale Wrens and Tattoos have been fitted with models of cylinders that were similar to those fitted to the early versions of both classes ie the locomotives with inside Stephensons valve gear. See previous blog. Finally, the Hackworth valve geared locomotives will have the correct cylinders.
The new masters with the valve centre line off-set outboard of the cylinder centre line. Kerr Stuart Wren and Tattoo in 16mm scale. Wrightscale
The defect was really only noticeable on the Corris No 4 loco model in that the valve chest was too close to the smoke box. Another advantage is that the valve drive rod will no longer require a 'set' in it since all is now in line.
 I have had a month or so in the workshop to pursue my own interests.  Returning north, recently, we stopped to visit an old friend. He very sensibly has decided to thin out his large collection of 16mm scale steam engines.
There is one in particular that he has owned for many years that had long taken my fancy. This 4-6-0 tender locomotive was constructed in 1909 by Kerr, Stuart in Stoke-on-Trent for the Gwalior Light Railway - no 16. Maharaja Madhav Roa II decided that the development of his province was hindered by the lack of good transport. Being an Anglophile he had followed with interest the development of the rail system in India and so naturally he chose British engineers and the Kerr, Stuart Co in particular to supply him with a system. At its peak, the system had well over 300 km track. To make construction cheap and speedy, it followed the trend of the 1890s for such railways to be built to narrow gauge. The gauge chosen was 2' but the length of the railway demanded large tender locomotives. The construction, therefore of the line plus all the rolling stock must have been an interesting challenge for the Kerr, Stuart designers. Their solution, in GLR no 16, is a very elegant and purposeful-looking engine.
Kerr Stuart Gwalior Light Railway 4-6-0 No 16 Copyright J. Hawkesworth

The model of the locomotive was built by Cyril Clarke and Peter Brookbank, in the late 1980s. They always built two locomotives at a time, (one each) and sometimes three. They were unusual models for the time, being good scale models with quite a high level of detail. Some years ago, Mr Clarke decided to give up his garden railway and sell his models off. My friend purchased no 16.
The model is largely as built. Both my friend and I suspect that at some point it had full working valve gear and an axle-driven water pump. Some day I might replace these but it works well, has a very large gas tank under the cab floor and the boiler is refillable using an Enots coupling. The tender is used to house R/C with one server on the locomotive operating the regulator. The large sandbox houses a very effective mechanical lubricator.
GLR no 16 built by Cyril Clarke and Peter Brookbank 16mm scale
Once the model was in the workshop, I decided to tidy it up a bit, repainting the cab roof which slides on and off and repairing some of the worst of the chips and scratches in the paintwork.
 I decided next to build a train for it to pull and ordered kits for some Darjeeling 6-wheel passenger stock from IP Engineering. I have never built a laser-cut kit before. What a revelation! Everything fitted perfectly. With the aid of set-squares and heavy weights and a bottle of super-glue, they went together really well.
Starting the build, checking everything is square
I don't know whether these coaches actually existed on the DHR since there seems to be little if any photographic evidence, as IP admit in their excellent instructions. Certainly the DHR had  Cleminson  coaches for a very short time.
Adding the prepainted overlays
Due to the designer's error, the prototype coaches spent most of the time derailed. Although the Cleminson system did steer the axles through a curve, because the centre axle could not move from side to side, and 's' shaped bend of sharp radius, all too common on the DHR, would cause one end of the coach to be turning the centre axle left while the axle at the far end of the coach would try to turn it right. The models do not suffer from this defect since the centre axle has the necessary side-to-side movement.
In my opinion, the only problem in building these laser cut kits is to achieve a high quality surface finish on the plywood from which they are cut.
The finished 16mm DHR coach before footboards and kick-plates below the doors
I read what is available on the web about how to do this but in the end, went my own way. I gave the sheets of ply several coats of grey Halfords primer, rubbing down between coats with a proper sanding block. After three coats, and rubbing down with increasingly fine grit, the ply sheets looked quite good. The inside of the coach was going to be varnished wood. This has all been stained and Halfords clear lacquer was used to seal the grain and allow the wood surface to be brought to a high finish. The parts were then taken from the sheets and assembled. The detail overlay parts were left on the sheet until they had been completely finished. The last was to glaze the coaches.
The rather attractive luggage, guard?? 3rd class coach. I haven't built this to the instructions.
It is so much simpler with these kits since the glazing accurately fits into the window apertures and is retained with canopy glue, piped into the aperture using a syringe with a fine needle. The roofs, made from ply rather than the material supplied, were applied to the bodies using rapid epoxy and an IP-supplied roof-fitting jig. To finish the coaches, I made a simple bending jig and set up the lathe to produce (96!) small thick rounded edge washers. Using another jig, these were assembled on to the hand-rails to give reasonably detailed grab-rails and door pulls. (The doors in these coaches probably slid to save space in the small compartments.) I also fitted contiunuous foot-steps to the coaches since they seemed a bit odd without. Waste laser-cut from the windows provided a simple representation of the under-step supports.
The almost finished 16mm DHR-style train for the GLR loco to pull
Encouraged by the coaches, a van kit was built. On  this, the engraved padlock and hasp were replaced by working metal details. (IP say that their 6-wheel stock works best if the end vehicle is pulling a four-wheel wagon.)
Back to the engine. Encouraged by the look of the train, I decided over Christmas to give the locomotive  a voice! Accordingly, on day one, a whistle was produced which provided some interesting machining challenges, but, produced a nice clear very shrill note on compressed air. Then, after some thought, a lever-operated whistle valve was made. Then finally, there had to be a dummy whistle that would release a plume of steam when the real below-the-footplate whistle squealed.
The dummy working whistle installed. The working whistle is under this footplate and is 70mm long.
The whole shebang had to be worked by a new micro-servo. It all looked so simple on paper! In fact it took five days and about 30 hours to make and fit. If anybody wants to follow suit, I have since discovered that for the very reasonable sum of £90,  DJB Engineering produces all the bits ready to mount on your loco. (A nice chime-whistle on its own - without control valves and piping - 70mm long and 17mm in diameter with ME pipe fittings can be purchased from ebay for £21, delivered.) So, when this arrives, if it is any good, I'll fit that to another one of my engines.