This story is about the steam train Cape Town to Simon’s Town. But I must share a bit of my own story with steam trains as well. This may help to paint the picture.
Just have a look at this cock-pit in the photo above. The driver is always on the right and either on phone or hanging out of the window – checking the way forward is clear. And then see the stoker watching the fire. For the untrained eye this may look very simple. But you sit on top of a boiling kettle with more than twenty tons of water that gets turned into explosive steam by this fire. You need to control it.
As a stoker you don’t want black smoking coming from the chimney; people don’t like that. I remember as a young boy we took a steam train on Sunday nights back to school. On Monday mornings at school sitting red-eyed from small pieces of flying ash from the coals. I wonder if this was from a stoker pushing the fire to hard.
With the driver they watch the various dials and adjust pressures to keep the train moving and everyone safe. BTW: The steam locomotive is designed to be very safe. (Image credit)
After my army stint my mother was getting fed-up with me not interested in getting a job. And after lots of moaning and nagging I decided to become a stoker for a few weeks while waiting for college study clearances.
I arrived at six pm at the locomotive in a shunting yard. The clean-shaven driver arrived in his all-black outfit. Then the stoker. I was asked to sit on the black coals or had to stand out-of-the-way. The stoker started throwing measured coals with a long shovel – in clock work cycles – onto the fire. This guy had a plan. I quickly learned that this is an art. I need to give attention.
The driver took me around the locomotive with such care. I had to change my preconceived ideas of railway workers. These people were just like me. They did their job with pride. This was my first job. And I get a lesson in life. This driver loved his locomotive. I respected the man for his sincerity. And I never again judge a man because of his job.
Why am I telling you this?
There are many many people fascinated with steam trains and that’s why The Steam Train Cape Town to Simon’s Town is such an event. Many of you will go on the train because travels along the most beautiful seashore railway lines in the world.
But I want to ask you to look at the steam locomotive, the driver, the stoker and think of this story of mine. There’s something very simple and symbolic in steam power. And the people who manned these machines were humble teachers.
Steam powered locomotives reminds me of the fears people had when they were confronted by new technologies:
Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. — Dionysius Lardner (1842 – 1914) US journalist, short-story writer
I think George Bernard Shaw had a point when he said:
Those who admire modern civilization usually identify it with the steam engine and the electric telegraph.
We are fortunate to have great people at atlanticrail.co.za who give us a glimpse into the past and how it affected change:
The introduction of so powerful an agent as steam to a carriage on wheels will make a great change in the situation of man. — Thomas Jefferson, 1802
The Steam Train Cape Town to Simon’s Town:
The locomotive in use at Atlantic Rail is No. 3655 and was originally used in the then South West Africa (now Namibia). After being withdrawn from service there, she was used at the Paarden Eiland / Belville. Later, moved to Touws River in the Karoo for use on the Ladismith branch line until that was shut down. 3655 was then left idle and unused in Touws River until she was donated to Cape Western Vintage Railways who restored her.
The steam powered train run along the coastal railway line starting at Cape Town onto Muizenberg where you’ll see the coast the first time. Here the route goes past St James, Kalk Bay and off the Fish Hoek and onto to Simon’s Town.
This beautifully restored locomotive is called Jenny. From the Argus Newspaper (Image Credit) :
The “City of Cape Town” plaque was removed from the front of the train yesterday to make room for the name “Jenny”, emblazoned on a bright red plaque.
Pretorious, the wife of Ian Pretorious of Atlantic Rail, died about a month ago, aged 58. The renaming was in line with the old practice of calling steam engines after the wives of their drivers, said Jeremy Hutton of the Western Cape Railway Museum Trust.
When you get to Simon’s Town you can walk to the village or grab a taxi. It’s about a kilometer. There you’ll find many shops and restaurants. Three kilometers from the station is Seaforth Beach where you can walk past the nature reserve with all the African Penguins.
How To Book The Steam Train Cape Town to Simon’s Town
The steam train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town departs Cape Town at 10h30 return from Simon’s Town at 15h00. This is not a hop on hop off train. If you would like to get off at Kalk Bay you need to make advanced arrangements. Booking is essential either via email
email@example.com or phoning 0215561012 (office hours)!
I got this mail from AtlanticRail:
The option is available to be dropped and collected in Kalk Bay. Passengers just need to stipulate this when booking.
Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town are the only stops during the journey.
The train runs approximately twice a month. Please contact us for the schedule of upcoming trips below.
I noticed from the schedule that they can be fully booked three to four weeks in advance. So get active and book now.
If you want to travel by train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town and cannot wait for the steam train then read this Train Cape Town To Simonstown post.
By the way: I was a stoker for three days. My study papers arrived. I left the railways. My mother not moaning anymore. And respected my new friends in black who cleaned their locomotive with such dignity.
How did you enjoy the steam train trip? Or what else would you like to know?
Have Cape Town Fun