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Steam Stories - Too much Steam - 24 #3654 - Richard Niven

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As most of you all know Kimberley shed was mainly full of big large 25NC's in the late 80s and early 1990s. The 25's were by now the kings of all work in and out of Kimberley and were even used on the shunts. apart from the 25's there were a few other locos that were used for specials and it is one of these machines I will speak about tonight.
This special machine was class 24 #3654. She was the best class 24 I have ever worked. She was so well tuned and in such good condition that she would almost handle a 25NC's load to De Aar. That is if she was in the hands of a good driver.

John and myself often got to work specials using with odd engines such as 24 #3654, 19D #2702, 16E #858 and many more. Most of the other fireman and drivers preferring to stay with the mechanically fired class 25's. I as a fireman preferred hand bombers. One it made the job more interesting and two the coal went where you put it and wanted it to go.


The date was 22/06/1991 and we were booked on duty at 21h36 to work train #2462 to De Aar using class 24 3654. Not being a regular engine preparing #3654 was always a problem. Also unlike the 25's one had a lubricator to fill and that meant getting hold of steam / valve oil. We also had to get hard grease again not used on the 25's and a full set of fire irons.
I arrive on duty about one hour early as I know what I am up against. Once in the cab I immediately open the blower and the ejector to release the brakes. With the brakes still on I start moving the reverser back and forwards a few times to get any water out of the steam supply to it. With the reverser working OK, I give the brakes a quick test. With the brakes still applied and cylinder cocks open I very slightly crack open the regulator. Water starts spraying from her cylinder cocks. With regulator still slightly open I reverse the reverser a number of times just to clear any water in the steam pipe and cylinders.
Once I am sure all water is clear from the cylinders I release the brakes, set reverser to backwards and open the regulator slightly. #3654 starts moving slowly backwards and we puff off down the shed lines towards the kit store. (well against rules). I stop the loco right outside the store and with help from the storeman load all that is needed for the trip to De Aar.
Once all is loaded I give the fire a quick round of fresh coal and move forward back towards the shed. Why should I carry the kit when I can get the engine to carry it for me. By now John is waiting for us to return and stops me with the water column right over the tender filling hole. The pair of us climb in and start preparing #3654. The normal time is usually 45min for a class 24 but this little beast has not been run for a few weeks and so a little bit more attention is req. Alongside us driver JJ Hanakom (a good driver), is preparing the Red Devil to work train 4000 also to De Aar.
Once all is ready we depart the shed and stop at the blowdown columns and blow a whole boiler of water out of #3654. We then are signaled up to Alex yard and given a 872 ton load. A overload for most 24's but not for this little beast.
Soon the Red Devil arrives and couples onto the much heavier load on the adjacent line to us. Our train is booked to leave slightly before the Red Devil but anyone with a bit of sense would let Red Devil go first. It did not happen and we got the road. Once up the bank out of Kimberley John had #3654 flying along at about 80km/h and notched right up at about 35% cut-off. Performance was great and I was maintaining steam and water with ease.
As we approach Spytfontein I put the injector on full and let the fire die slightly ready for the downhill to Modder River. John has his hand on the break handle as we approach Modder River station thinking that we will get looped to allow the Red Devil past but no, all is green and I get started with the shovel for the climb ahead. Again John opens the regulator wide and we race through Modder River at 80km/h plus. John seems determined to keep ahead of Red Devil tonight.
With all green at Heuningnesskloof we race on. We approach Enslin and my water is right up in the top nut and my pressure right on the red mark. With regulator wide open for the heavy climb to Enslin summit we look back down the line and see no trace of any following trains indicating the Red Devil is still well off our tail. As we climb, #3654 is steaming better than expected and I stop firing. This does not stop her pressure gauge creeping up even more over the red mark. With injector still pumping and a full glass of water I open the firebox door hoping this will drop the steam pressure. Last thing I want is the safety valves going off as this will cause the engine to prime and all speed will be lost and you will also have a very angry driver.
With safety valves just about to lift we steam on up the bank with the engine working very hard to maintain speed. My brain is now working overtime; too much steam, too much water! If I take off the water the safety's will lift. If I feed anymore water the boiler will prime. I am at a total loss. John then says "don't dare let those safety valves blow." I increase the water feed slightly but this does nothing to reduce the steam pressure and low and behold the safety valves lift and the engine begins to prime all over the place.
John opens the cylinder cocks and eases the regulator and lets the cut-off out slightly. "What the hell are you doing? you stupid idiot- now we have lost everything." With speed right down to about 20km/h I open the blowdown valve to reduce the water level in the boiler and give the fire another round of fresh coal. I then speed up the flow of oil in the lubricator after the priming.
We plod over the summit and race down the other side. Approaching Belmont again all is green and with the boiler back to normal. John has her wide open and #3654 is racing along in full stride. While we were cleaning fire at Orange River Red Devil pulls up alongside us. JJ (the Red Devil's driver) shouts across to us "hoe f###n vinnig ry julle?" (how f####ng fast are you lot going?).
We left ahead of Red Devil and again were flying along at a mighty speed. #3654 wheels were going like mad as we flew through Kraankuil at 80km/h plus. We eventually got signaled into the loop at Potfontein and the Red Devil came racing through on the main.
The rest of the trip to De Aar went great and the next day we coupled up to 15CA #2828 and worked a 40 wagon container train back to Kimberley without any problems.
#3654 was a very special engine in my life on steam. I had some really great workings on her on the De Aar line. Now she lies dead in Kimberley. I suppose last but not least she still survives. Come on Geoff get her to Sandstone.

Hope you enjoy

Richard Niven