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jan wintervogel steam train

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See video of the trains moving - perhaps for the last time:



A heritage lost – Jan Wintervogel leaves Boven

Thursday 23 October was a sad day in the history of Waterval Boven. After more than 100 years of faithful service, Jan Wintervogel does not live in Boven anymore. He has gone – slipping away quietly in the early morning hours, un-noticed as the town slept. And the sad part of it is that many residents have no idea who Jan Wintervogel was, or what he meant to generations of residents or what an irreplaceable piece of the history and heritage of Boven has been lost.

That’s because Jan is not a person, in the true sense of the word. Although he was ‘alive’ and moved, lived and breathed and was once powerful and mighty, he faded away in the years after his retirement – to become an almost forgotten piece of history, slumbering still and silent in a quiet backwater. Born in Europe in 1896, at a robustly healthy birth weight of 40 tons, Jan was brought to South Africa almost immediately by his proud new owners, NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappy), where he was named Jan Wintervogel, number 320. For the next 100 years or so, under the guiding hands and in the loving care of generations of drivers, stokers, mechanics, fitters, turners, oilers and greasers, Jan the NZASM 0/6/4 (refers to the locomotive’s wheel configuration, starting from the front) “side-tanker” steam locomotive, gave sterling service on the historic rail link between Delagoa bay and the fledgling Witwatersrand during the tumultuous early years that saw the birth of modern South Africa. Thousands of times, powerful little Jan did the trip to Nelspruit and back to Boven, pulling his loads in all kinds of weather – through floods, droughts, world wars and even the dawn of our new democracy in 1994. Nibbling a miserly 3-4 tons of coal per trip and sipping delicately on 115 000 litres of water, Jan did his job without complaint (including many trips from Waterval Boven to Waterval Onder as the famous tourist steam train) until his retirement to the Boven loco sheds, along with many others of his kind, large and small, in 2000. Until recently, he slumbered. Forgotten by history but still cherished by a dwindling few.

A recent decision, taken by the Transnet Heritage Foundation, changed all that. First the riggers arrived to prepare Jan for the first part of his final journey. Two other enormous steam locomotives which also had not budged in decades (a faded green 140 ton 4/8/2 15F and a shabby 115 ton 2/6/2 GCA Garrat) had to be moved about 50 metres before it was Jan’s turn. Yoked to a bellowing diesel truck from Samson Rigging, Jan’s still oily pistons hissed and clanked their way back into the open daylight for the first time in years, his still shiny old-fashioned headlight twinkling in the hot morning sun. The remainder of the day was spent lifting him off the tracks where he had sat for so long and preparing for the full lift on to the broad back of a low-bed truck which arrived later.

Finally, the “big lift” done and the loading and securing completed, Jan finally left Boven for the last time, far more quietly than when he first arrived - hissing in a cloud of steam - a little before 3 a.m., en-route to Bloemfontein where he will be cleaned, painted and polished one last time before being taken on to his final resting place. Fortunately, as a historical monument, which cannot arbitrarily be disposed of, Jan’s final destination will then be the large Railway Museum in George instead of the scrapheap. At least, if he can no longer fly along the rails, in the care of the museum staff in George, he can be preserved and admired in his rightful place as a unique piece of history from a bygone age. Go well Jan, Boven will miss you.