WANKIE COLLIERY (HWANGE)

Approximately half way between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls is Hwange Colliery - formerly known by the more Anglicised name of
Wankie Colliery.  This huge industrial undertaking formerly provided all of the coal used by Rhodesian Railways and latterly by National
Railways of Zimbabwe and has its own railway system with empty wagons being worked up from Thomson Junction and loaded wagons
worked back down the hill to the exchange sidings.  The company has its own fleet of Garretts and North British 4-8-2's but in August
1999 only one of the surviving 4-8-2's was in use with all other locomotives withdrawn or awaiting overhaul and Garrett Class 15A
No.410 had been hired from the state railway to overcome the motive power crisis.  Just prior to our visit No.3 pit was closed,
dramatically reducing the rail network although in mysterious circumstances a locomotive and wagons did find their way over the old
lines during the course of our visit.  This is a private operation and all photographs were taken with the kind permission of the Hwange
Colliery Company whose staff were wonderfully helpful and co-operative.
Henschel 4-8-2 No.4 (built 1952)
stands in the engine shed at
Wankie Colliery.  This was the only
operational 4-8-2 during our visit.
Standing rather forlornly in the yard
was Henschel 4-8-2 No.5 with rods
removed and in generally poor
overall condition
The bulk of the work throughout our
two visits to the colliery was
undertaken by Class 15A 4-6-4 + 4-6-4
Beyer Garrett No.410 which had been
hired from the state railway and which
was normally based in Bulawayo.  It is
seen here in the yard at Thompson
Junction having just brought a train of
loaded wagons down from the washery.
Tucked away behind the main shed No.2, another of the 4-8-2
Henschels looked in a sorry state and seemed unlikely to turn a
wheel again for some considerable time (above)



‘The Smoke That Thunders’, or ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ as the
Kololo people living in the area in the 1800’s described it, is the
name often given to the Victoria Falls.  It is also the title of A.E.
Durrant’s definitive book on the locomotives of the former
Rhodesian Railway and is the source of much of the technical
information given on these pages.  Perhaps the late ‘Dusty’
Durrant had in mind scenes like the one on the left as Class 15A
No.410 storms up the bank from exchange sidings at Thompson
Junction with a long train of empty wagons bound for the colliery.

By this time we were on good terms with most of the locomotive
crews and shed staff and the driver had promised a ‘spectacularâ
€™. As can be seen, he certainly didn’t disappoint his waiting
audience!
The power of the Beyer-Garrett can
be clearly seen as No.410 hauls a long
train of loaded wagons out of the
washery and sets off for the
exchange sidings at TJ as the locals
referred to Thompson Junction.
W.C.Co. No.4 stands outside the
shed at Wankie being prepared for
the day ahead.
The romance of steam may be fine
if you are an observer but the
actual job of servicing and
operating a steam locomotive is
hard graft and involves a
considerable amount of dirty and
unpleasant work not least amongst
which is emptying ash pits.  A
capricious wind can quickly swirl
grit and dust over the surrounding
area and those who are working in
the shed environment
Another day - another loaded coal
train leaving Wankie Colliery
behind No.410 running bunker first.
After several days enjoying the action at Wankie we decided to
catch up with the ‘Train De Luxe’ which at that time ran
weekly from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls behind steam.  This was a
tourist only train but at least it provided us with opportunities to
photograph steam on the main line and the results can be found
elsewhere on this site.

Having driven up to Victoria Falls we returned again to Wankie only
to find that the two locomotives were sitting in light steam outside
the shed and that the washery was closed for maintenance.  We
were greeted warmly by Cliff, the regular driver of No.410 (seen
right) who had grown used to the sight of us chasing around the
yards photographing the engines. but it seemed we were in for a
day of disappointment.

With nothing to see or do .Steve and I retreated to the offices of the
traffic manager and gently proceeded to distrub and disrupt his
work.  After an hour or so it was clear the ploy was working and in
desperation he decided to see if there were any empty wagons
awaiting collection at Thompson Junction but to no avail.  It was at
this point that Cliff innocently(?) enquired as to whether any empty
wagons had been left behind at the old No.3 colliery following its
recent closure.  Seizing the opportunity to get us out of his office
the traffic manager suggested to Cliff that perhaps he ought to go
and check.  

We discretely waited at the first level crossing beyond the colliery
until the engine arrived before climbing onto the footplate and
heading for No.3 colliery.  â€œThis job ought to take us about half
an hour,� remarked Cliff, “but somehow I think it might be
going to take a little longer.â€�  Three and a half hours later and
with our own private charter concluded we dropped off the
footplate again just before the washery and headed back to the
hotel and a cold beer or two.  Mission accomplished!
Even the bulk of the Garrett is
dwarfed by the enormous coal
loading facility at the old No.3
colliery.  Note the fireman looking
for any wagons that might have
been left behind!
This was perhaps the shot we were
most desperate to achieve.  The
baobab tree is a symbol of this part of
Africa and makes the perfect frame for
the shot.  The tree itself bears the
names of countless photographers
who have made their way to this spot
over the years.
Having rounded up a few stray
wagons No.410 makes its slow way
back to the colliery - a journey
made considerably slower by the
need to perform several runpasts at
each decent photographic spot
along the way!
The huge and now abandoned
open-cast workings at Hwange can
be seen in the background as a
slightly underburdened No.410
heads up the hill towards the
washery.
The following day was business as
usual and No.4 is busy shunting
loaded coal wagons at the washery.
A final shot before departing from
Hwange to make the return journey
back to Bulawayo.  We left the
colliery with one less bottle of
whisky than when we arrived and
bade farewell to Cliff and the traffic
office who had done so much to give
us an unforgetable few days in the
heart of Zimbabwe.

A final memory ....... standing in the
bar of the Baobab Tree hotel in the
middle of the African night  phoning
my daughter in England to hear that
she had passed all of her GCSE's
with A's and A*s.  Sometimes
happiness just can't be measured!  
Nice one Joanne!
Bulawayo Shed
Bulawayo District
Steam To Victoria Falls
Steam In China
Personal trip reports
Cuban steam
Steam In Java
German Narrow Gauge
Polish steam