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Steam Stories - Gone in a Flash - 15F #2914 - Richard Niven

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It was many years ago now and I was still a little young fireman in Germiston. A boil in the bag fireman as we were known as. Most of my work was on the shunts in and around Germiston yards. The first thing a fireman wants to learn in a new shed or depot is what each driver is like to work with and each locomotive if it is a good one or not etc.

I was still in this learning zone when one day I was booked to work a doubleheader down to Leeuhof near Vereeniging. I had been down here a few times before but had always had a mechanically fired 15F and a driver I knew from years gone by such as Piet. Tomorrow I was booked to work with Driver Flash van Vuuren and his regular hand fired 15F #2914. Flash was his nickname and someone once told me he was called that due to the speeds he drove the engines at.

It was many years ago now and I was still a little young fireman in Germiston. A boil in the bag fireman as we were known as. Most of my work was on the shunts in and around Germiston yards. The first thing a fireman wants to learn in a new shed or depot is what each driver is like to work with and each locomotive if it is a good one or not etc.

I was still in this learning zone when one day I was booked to work a doubleheader down to Leeuhof near Vereeniging. I had been down here a few times before but had always had a mechanically fired 15F and a driver I knew from years gone by such as Piet. Tomorrow I was booked to work with Driver Flash van Vuuren and his regular hand fired 15F #2914. Flash was his nickname and someone once told me he was called that due to the speeds he drove the engines at.

I lay awake the whole night before, thinking about this hand fired trip and also a driver I did not know. "Why was he called Flash" I kept asking myself. I had also heard others mention him as "Gone in a Flash" in the shed and this made me worry even more about keeping up steam on a very high speed run.

Following morning I signed on duty about one hour before booked time in order to get the engine well prepared before my driver came on duty. That was one thing as a fireman, if you didn't know the driver it's best to keep him happy from the word go and have everything in order when he turns up. At about 05h20 the driver arrives at the engine. He is a short little bald headed chap and looks like one of the senior drivers. He greets me with a smile and introduces himself as Flash. My first impressions were that he was a good friendly driver and would be a pleasure to work with.

Two roads across from us is 15F #2983 also being prepared by her regular driver Piet Stevens. They are the second loco for our train. I had known Piet Stevens for years. He had a wild sense of humour and was as mad as a hatter. He was a great driver to work for so long as you could keep up with the shovelling. He was a speed freak and loved his full regulator. His nickname was "Mul Stefans" (Mad Stevens).

Once all was prepared both engines were sent to East yard and coupled up onto a very heavy train of tankers with our engine #2914 at the lead. As I was not very sure of the line ahead and did not know the driver or engine I decided to pack my fire up quite well just to be on the safe side. Once that was done Flash and I sat talking for a while when Piet climbs up in our cab. "How's your fire Soutie?" he asks and takes a look inside my firebox. "You better do better than that" he says, "he's not called gone in a flash for nothing".

I climb in again with the shovel and start packing the box even more. I notice Flash sitting grinning at me while Piet keeps telling me more, more, more. Eventually he says "that should get you to Leeuhof" and I put down the shovel and take a very big drink of water. Sweat was pouring off me by now and the fire was just black with no red to be seen.

A few minutes pass, while Piet and Flash sit having a cuppa. Piet's fireman Chris comes to join us on the footplate and takes a look at my firebox. While Piet and Flash chat other side of the cab I start asking Chris questions about Flash, "What's Flash like to work with, is he a fast driver etc" Chris replies "Why do you think he is called Gone in a Flash, he is one of the worst drivers in the shed." I start to worry even more. Everything is going through my head by now. Chris say's "if you think Full Regulator Piet is hard work just wait till you see how Flash goes. Full regulator Piet is nothing compared to Flash when it comes to speed and killing a fireman". On those words I start to worry even more about what lay ahead. "What do you think of my fire" I ask Chris and he takes a look inside the already full box. "Oh no" he replies "if I were you I would pack it much more than that, he's not called Flash for nothing, you'r going to work your way to Leeuhof today".

Flash looks at me again and grins. Is he as bad as they say, I ask myself as I climb in with the shovel again. Black smoke is now pouring out of 2914s chimney and the safety valves are going mad. More smoke is coming from #2914 now than from all the engines together in the shed opposite. With the firebox filled to it's utmost limit and the tender almost empty we get the signal for the road ahead. As Flash opens the regulator gently and the wheels start to turn I start to worry again about the road ahead. With the regulator only cracked open we slowly pick up speed out of the yard. I can hardly hear our exhaust up front but am almost deaf from the noise coming from #2983 behind.

A few miles out of Germiston we reach about 40km/h and Flash shuts the regulator while #2983 pushes us along as fast as she can. My safety valves are trying their best to get rid of all the extra steam. I look back along the line and can see a smoke trail leading all the way from Germiston. Looking back at Chris on #2983 I see him laughing like mad at me, I knew I had been tricked.

All the way to Leeuhof Flash hardly opened the regulator and my safety valves just roared all the way. I never put another shovel of coal into the box all the way but instead just used the fire irons to push the coal forward as and when required. By the time we arrived at Leeuhof I had got to know Flash. He was a great man to work for and always seemed happy and never in a hurry, hence the name Gone in a Flash.

Both engines were sent to Leeuhof shed to take water and clean fire. Here we were given our back workings. Both locos were given single loads each. While over in the singing on office Piet says to me "make sure you leave after us" but that was not to be the case as our train was booked ahead of his. Once on the load I pack the box lightly hoping Flash drives just as gently back as he did on the way down. With signals all clear we set off out the yard and along the Potchefstroom to Vereeniging mainline towards the Germiston main.

Once on the Germiston main we are simply plodding along at about 40km/h. It's easy work for me and #2914 is going just great. As we look back we can see the smoke from Piet on #2983 behind us. I can just imagine the words coming out of his mouth with us plodding at such slow speed up front. On approach to Mayerton we get signalled across to the up line. Flash says to me "must be a passenger coming past". We plod on as I feed the fire now and again. I keep looking back expecting to see a passenger train go by but eventually a train comes and its no passenger its Piet on #2983.

With the whistle going like mad he screams past us at what looked like 100kph with a load of empty DZ's. A wave from each of them and all is over. We get passed by another electric hauled freight and then crossed over onto the down line again. After that we just plodded on at 40kph the whole way back to Germiston where we disposed of the engine under the coal stage. Flash was one of the most easygoing steam drivers I had ever met and was a great pleasure to work with. I worked with him many times after that and always looked forward to a easy trip with him.

Hope you all enjoy. Now you can see things also happened to me as a young fireman.

Cheers

Richard Niven
14/02/2005

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