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The final days of working steam in South Africa - SAPPI SAICCOR

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Published on Sep 21, 2015

After receiving the very good news that Sappi's diesel replacement was delayed and steam would continue for yet another week. Stoomman and I quickly put together a last minute emergency trip to KZN.

We arrived in Durban early on Friday morning and were immediately met by some very bad news.... Saiccor No 2 had failed during the night and we knew that No 3 was out of service.

Stoomman and myself continued our journey stopping at depots and other places of interest, meanwhile hoping that No 2 would be quickly repaired and maybe operational by the time we got to Umkomaas.

We arrived at Umkomaas and setup our camera gear on the now somewhat famous quarry corner. It wasn't long until a car stopped alongside and we were befriended by John Steam. John has fired and driven on various narrow gauge lines including the 'removed' railway and has been a steam driver at Sappi for five years. His shift had just ended and like always some interesting railway talk in sued. Unfortunately he also came barring very bad news ... the prognosis on the locomotives weren't looking good and at this point it didn't seem like they'd be lit up before Monday morning.

The trip at this point was a complete disaster! The gravity of which only really sunk in when a Funkey shunter came waddling around the bend...

John was kind enough to offer us accommodation for the duration of our stay and naturally Stoomman and I insisted on providing all the food. We met up with Jake and John at a small local restaurant called Crows Nest for some railway banter and a bite to eat. Naturally a few good laughs were had at our expense ... we had at this point travelled 2500km to photograph a funkey after all! A joke that only the true railway enthusiast would appreciate.

We had however, made some good friends with a common interest so we certainly weren't any poorer for our efforts. At this point all parties were pretty tired so we decided to call it day. I for one had found the flight and driving a strange rental car in unfamiliar city mentally tiring and the following day was bound to be a very long one.

Stoomman and I arrived at the plant bright and early the following morning and were met by Joe the plants mechanical foreman. After all the formalities like safety and guest permits, we made our way to the locomotive workshop. Surprisingly there were a lot of people working on both locomotives simultaneously...

All the repairs on SAICCOR 3 were done and the apprentices were busy painting the smokebox. While No 2 still required some attention , but the fitter on shift said it wouldn't take much longer and then they could do a hydraulic test just to make sure all was sound. We had a great time photographing the repairs a unique opportunity in itself as this was most likely the last time they'd be worked on.

We took tea break in the loco crew tearoom where we got offered coffee and had a moment to debate what would be our next course of action.

Then, finally ... what we had been waiting for! They had decided to light up SAICCOR 3. I can't speak for Stoomman , but I could have done a back flip I was so happy! Relieved for that matter. This wouldn't allow us many opportunities for line side photography , but at least we would get something.

The light up seemed pretty familiar and it was rather funny as these guys had the same complaints and concerns that I've heard so many times in Cape Town. One of which being the coal and in their defence it was horrible looking stuff. The decision was quickly made to not struggle with poor coal and to rather load some more. This lead to another great once off opportunity as now a shunt was needed.

SAICCOR 2 would have to be moved to another line so No 3 could be removed from the shed and then placed at coaling ramp. No 2 would have to go into the shed where the locomotive would be out of the way and the final repairs could be done. The shunt went off without a hitch giving us ample opportunity to photograph the locomotives coupled together.

We had spent all day there without eating or drinking anything apart from the one cup of coffee we had , but with so much going on we didn't really notice. It was , however , time to call it a day once again. Just like I had predicted it turned out to be along day , but we did manage to capture some decent material making it all worthwhile.

The following morning our expedition lead us back to the factory for some shots of the locomotive on the ashpit. Time was of the essence so quickly we set off to get our gear setup at quarry bend.

The next few hours were spent trans versing the one kilometer line between the factory and the Umkomaas exchange yard. Some interesting driving took place and yes, there was a little yelling , but a good time it certainly was....

*names have been changed.*

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