|ZIMBABWE - LAST DAYS OF THE BEYER-GARRATTS
The Garratt locomotive is almost synonimous with Africa although Garratt locomotives were to be found in many other parts of the
world including Britain. Many of those used in Africa were built by Beyer Peacock of Manchester and so are known as Beyer-Garratts.
These articulated locomotives have two frames with their own driving wheels and cylinders surmounted by water tanks. Separating
the two chassis is another frame carrying the boiler, cab and fuel supply. This type of locomotive is invaluable on lightly laid track and
where sharp curves need to be negotiated.
Whilst there are a considerable number of these engines preserved in South Africa, a few remaining examples continue in everday
use in and around Bulawayo, which is Zimbabwe's second city. It is difficult in the current climate to be sure exactly how many
locomotives remain in working order. According to International Working Steam reports visitors in May 2009 found there had been no
daily steam for a month although the railway said that steam would return to duty in due course. On 30th June 16As 611 and 613 were
reported to be on Bulawayo shunts and at the end of August 2009 15As 414 and 416 were in action with a fair supply of coal available at
Despite everything, Bulawayo shed is perhaps the last great steam shed in the world. Surrounding the shed area are a large number
of dumped engines which serve as a reminder of the once extensive steam fleet in this former British colony. and nearby is the
Bulawayo Railway Museum with a representative collection of locomotives from the former Rhodesian Railways.
The present economic and political situation in Zimbabwe has extended the life of the Garratts as the railways can not afford diesel
fuel oil let alone replacement locomotives. Equally there seems little will or desire to extend the fleet of working locomotives. A
number of overseas railtours have visited the country recently with mixed results. However travel in Zimbabwe is now more difficult
with concerns for personal safety and this has also resulted in the suspension of the weekly luxury travel train to Victoria Falls.
All pictures on this and subsequent pages were taken in the summer of 1999. At this time information on Zimbabwean steam was not
easy to come by and some reports suggested that it had, or was about to finish. Steve Nakoneczny, my regular travelling companion
met a Zimbabwe railway employee in London and had ascertained that there was still some Garratts working in the country and so we
set out in the hope that we were not too late. After a day long drive from Harare to Bulawayo - in pouring rain - we arrived at the guest
house, checked in and as night fell headed out again to check out the shed. The scene that greeted us was like Dante's Inferno .....
piles of burning embers, great heaps of ashes and clouds of steam. As our eyes adjusted we could make out at least five engines in
steam on the shed. We were not too late ........................
When Steve and I first decided to head for Zimbabwe a number of fellow enthusiasts warned us not to expect too much as steam was
already withdrawn from mainline service and the number of working locomotives was greatly reduced. Although activity was much
less than in previous years its hard to describe the impact of even one working Garratt - it is the sheer size and scale that takes the
breath away. We had obtained permits from Zimbabwe Railways which gave us access to all areas and so entry into the shed was a
formality and we quickly became recognised and made welcome. The shed itself reflects its colonial origins and would be familiar to
anyone who visited a British steam shed in the 1950's and 60's. The top end of the yard has a turntable - a massive structure since
Garratts are nearly 90 feet in length and weigh close on 200 tons. During our visit engines were prepared from before dawn and
between 8am and 9am moved off shed to the nearby station before heading to the various freight yards in and around Bulawayo.
The first rays of sunshine catch
the sides of Class 15A No.395 as it
stands inside the shed at Bulawayo.
The 15th class have a 4-6-4+4-6-4
wheel arrangement and were the
most numerous of the Garratts
built for the Rhodesian Railways
Also catching the early morning
rays is No.525, a 14A class Garratt.
The 14A class are considerably
smaller than the 15A class with a
2-6-2+2-6-2 wheel arrangement, an
overall length of 73 feet and a
weight of just over 131 tons.
Although a 'narrow-gauge' engine
working on the 3'6" gauge system,
the tractive effort of this locomotive
was equal to that of British
Railways largest standard gauge
freight engines - the 9F
No.421 is was one of the final
batch of Class 15A locomotives
and was built in 1952. Many of the
Class 15 locomotives carried
names which were in siNdebele,
the language of the Matabele
tribe. No.421 was named
'Intundhla' (meaning 'Giraffe') but
by 1999 the name plate had been
removed and probably sold to an
The other surviving class of
Garratts is Zimbabwe are Class 16A
2-8-2+2-8-2 wheel arrangement.
These are 82 feet in length with a
loaded weight of 170 tons.
No.601, built in 1953, was handed to
the Bulawayo Railway Museum but
by August 1999 had been brought
back into service in and around
A portrait in light and shade as two
unidentified Garratts are made
ready for the days work. The shed
has a total of eight roads with four
in daily use and the others used to
store locomotives out of use or
Class 14A No.510 stands outside
Bulawayo shed being made ready
for the days work in the shunting
yards in and around the city. The
water staining of the boiler pays
testimony to the working heritage
of these engines
Bulawayo shed in its full glory as five Garratts stand in line across the front of Bulawayo shed. If this was
disappointment (see above) we were prepared for plenty more! Featured in this glorious line up are Class 15A
Nos 422, 424, 421 and 414 plus Class 16A No.601.
|Class 14A No.519 leaves the shed
en route to Bulawayo station
where the crew will be given their
instructions for the day
The romance of steam? Certainly
not for this member of the shed
staff as he rakes out the ashpan
and cleans the fire prior to No.421
leaving the shed
Class 15A No.421 makes its way
through the shed yard at Bulawayo
en route to the station. The
pronounced slope on the front of
the water tank makes the Class 15
easy to recognise at a distance.
Class 16A No.601 stands in front of
the water tanks in the shed yard
No.601 stands on the huge
turntable at the head of the shed
yard in Bulawayo. Although we
didn't see a locomotive turned
while we were there, we were
assured that it was still in working
No.519 stands half in and half out
of Bulawayo shed in August 1999.
Class 15A No.422 was another of
the named locomotives and in
1999 still retained its plates
bearing the name 'Inkonkoni'
which is the siNdebele word for
We only really experienced one disappointment during our
two short stays in Bulawayo. By the time we returned from
a brief trip to the Victoria Falls we were well known around
the shed area and had made friends with many of the staff.
Without our prior knowledge a conspiracy was hatched by
the shed crew to try to provide us with some real main line
action. The diesel rostered to work the cement wagons to
the imaginatively named settlement of Cement suffered a
mysterious failure and the only other available locomotive
just happened to be Garratt No.514.
The (white) driver was therefore sent across to the steam
shed and it was immediately apparant that he was none to
pleased and none too co-operative. We were kept carefully
out of sight while he inspected the engine from end to end
before finally declaring it unfit for purpose as the whistle
wasn't loud enough!
His victory proved to be temporary when the shedmaster
declared that he would take personal responsibility and that
the locomotive was to continue as planned. After much
delay the engine set of for Mpopoma yard where it was due
to collect the wagons and we set off in hot pursuit by car.
Our hopes of a master shot on the mainline were however
doomed to failure. Once arrived at Mpopoma another
detailed inspection of the locomotivew was carried out and
further (imaginary?) faults discovered. With no-one on
hand to over-rule the driver the mission was aborted and
the engine returned to Bulawayo shed for 'repairs'. How the
wagons eventually got to Cement we never did discover -
but it certainly wasn't behind steam!
Another general view of the front of
Bulawayo steam shed with Class
15A No.519 on the left and Class
16A No.601 on the right. No.601
was the only operational Class 16A
at the time of our visit but
subsequently Nos. 611 and 613
have been returned into service
The length of day in the tropical
regions is more or less 12 hours
and so by late afternoon most of
the engines were returning to
shed - not least because many of
the locomotives headlights were
non-operational due to a lack of
bulbs and funding for
replacement. More serious was a
lack of boiler gauge glasses and
several locomotives were working
without visible means of seeing
how much water remained in the