History Restored: The enduring allure of the steam train.


Steams trains are the portal through which we glimpse the romance of a bygone era. They are intricately woven into the aura and history of the Victoria Falls. Just like the waterfall, you hear the trains before you see them. The gentle rumble hums through the air, and seems to come from all around you. The leaves on tress tremble in anticipation. They both wear their clouds like crowns, mist and steam, two by-products of immense power. It is fitting that the first person to devise a working steam engine would be a man named Hero. The simultaneous perfection of the steam train and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is a long debated chicken and egg scenario. Although the world was catapulting into an industrialised space before the advent of steam power, historians have acknowledged that without it, we never would have progressed so efficiently.

The iconic Victoria Falls Bridge was designed for train travellers. These were the adventurers that Cecil John Rhodes had in mind when he constructed a bridge in the chasm between Zimbabwe and Zambia. He spoke of the steam trains as if they were individual, living, breathing entities, and insisted the he “Build a bridge across the Zambezi, where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls.”

You don't need to be a railway enthusiast to be captivated by the otherworldliness of steam trains. While the shrill whistle pierces the air and sends shivers down your spine, your eyes will widen as you they try to absorb every detail of these heaving machines. Cushions of steam join the clouds as their steel wheels eat up the earth at a dizzying pace (which is almost undetectable when seated inside). The steam train is a part of history that deserves protection and appreciation. Victoria Falls is an incredible place to explore, so why not explore it one hundred years ago. Bushtracks are currently restoring two locomotives, and the process of creation is equally as enchanting as the finished product.

Steam locomotive No.523 will be the first to begin its renewal transformation. She is a Garret type locomotive built in 1953 by Beyer Peacock. In 1907, Herbert William Garratt approached Beyer Peacock with his rough idea for an articulated steam locomotive. The idea came to Garratt whilst he was watching a bogie well wagon, loaded with a large boiler traverse the sharp curves in a Scottish works yard. They worked together and their steam engine comes nearest to the ideal of an articulated locomotive than any other type.

The Beyer-Garratt differs from a conventional locomotive in that its boiler is not directly over the engine. Instead, the boiler is mounted on a sub frame, which is slung between the two engine sets. These engine sets can pivot making the wheelbase less rigid. On the front engine (chimney end) sits, the water tank and on the rear engine sits the fuel bunker (coal/oil/wood). Part of the restoration process involves removing the boiler, tank and fuel bunker to be repaired for optimal function ability.

Locomotive 523 is a well-travelled locomotive, and mainly navigated the routes between Bulawayo - Gweru, Bulawayo - Plumtree, Bulawayo - West Nicholson, before she made her way to Victoria Falls where her future is coloured with the earthy hues of the rainforest and its surrounding scenery.

We'll break down more of what is entailed in the restoration process of this beautiful machine in the next blog post! Until then, clean whistles Bushtrackers!

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