Locomotive Love – Why We Adore Steam Trains

sandstone estates

A beautiful Sandstone Estates loco on a bright autumn Free State morning.

Words & Pix by Chris Marais

I’m standing here in a cosmos field in the Eastern Free State, surrounded by gricers (trainspotters) and anoraks in great profusion.

There are more cameras and tripods here than on an evening game drive through the Maasai Mara.

But these are different elephants being photographed today.

Sandstone Estates is hosting its Stars of Sandstone old machine extravaganza week and the 7 000ha working farm is teeming with men and women from all over the world in the heat of a steamy affair with, well, steam.

It takes just one outing with these international steam-chasers to get me totally hooked on all things locomotive.

An old green bus carts us around to various good spots along the narrow gauge Sandstone Estates line. In the distance a steam train full of excited people approaches.

The afternoon light is perfect, the Malutis glimmer in the background and the sun glints off the approaching loco. The photographs are getting prettier and prettier with every frame, until the massive black engine whooshes on by me and the driver gives us all a wave.

And right there, I’m back to being a six-year-old on my auntie’s farm near Ermelo in the old Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), waving at the drivers and the firemen as they pass by, sometimes tooting in recognition, sometimes not even noticing us, the little people down there.

But when they do make some form of eye contact, I can see the looks on their faces. In that moment, we all know. Those men in the cab, those Lords of the Footplate, are nothing less than rock stars in a little boy’s eyes.

For more on Sandstone Steam, go HERE – the next Stars of Sandstone event takes place in 2017 – follow the website for details.



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6 Responses to Locomotive Love – Why We Adore Steam Trains

  1. Yetypu April 23, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    Please always ensure that at least one photo shows the wheels clearly, so we can count them.

    • Julienne du Toit April 23, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

      Oh good grief. Don’t tell me you are also an Anorak?

      • Yetypu April 23, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

        I spent my entire boyhood with a 4-6-2 model engine {Flying Scotsman} when all I could see on SAR were 4-8-2 or whatever. An entire childhood wasted on toys with 6 driving wheels while the engines steaming through Kimberley had 8.

        You cannot imagine my joy at Glasgow’s new Riverside Transport Museum & finding on display a SAR Class 15F 4-8-2 steam locomotive, No.3007 – built by the Glasgow-based North British Locomotive Company at its Polmadie Works in 1945, the locomotive was a gift from South African railways operator Spoornet to the project. It was on display in George Square for a short time in 2007, as part of the effort to raise the £5million public contribution funding.


        • Julienne du Toit April 23, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

          Wonderful. Thank you for this!

          • Yetypu April 23, 2015 at 9:17 pm #

            Glasgow is the Johannesburg of Scotland – & nowadays slightly less dangerous to visit. Marvellous museums replete with the plundered wealth of Empire, dating back to the time of Rhodes {ooh, naughty reference}.

            SAR Class 15F 4-8-2 steam locomotive, No 3007 is just part of the great display at Riverside; there is Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Burrell …

            Thanks again.

  2. Theo April 29, 2015 at 9:02 am #

    I am also gaga about steam trains. In the fortunate position to close to Umgeni Steam Railways which operates. A Class 12 D once a month. Great excitement to me is steam and lots of smoke.

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