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Steam Stories - Fire Cleaning - 25NC #3514 - Richard Niven

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I remember a trip from Kimberley to De Aar on 25NC #3514. She was one of the worst locos in Kimberley. She was not the worst, 25NC #3516 takes that, but that's another story. On the way down to De Aar I was struggling for steam all the way. The driver John Gilberthorpe was doing his best to use as little steam as possible. Apart from the engine not steaming we also had a terrible load that would not run, even on the downhill's we had to keep the engine working making it very difficult for me as fireman.


At Orange River operating told us to swap loads with 3469 that was standing in the loop and also had a much lighter load than us. After struggling all the way we finally arrived into De Aar after 6 hours of struggle and went to loco to prepare for the trip home. Our load back was to be a heavy 1100 ton. Slight overload for the climb to Bhershoek. Not wanting to give steam a bad name we took it. Once over Bhershoek the line to Orange River is mainly downhill with a few short ups on it. We made it to Orange without stopping but that was it, the good part was over and our troubles were just about to start. The line from Orange to Kimberley is uphill most of the way.


We had just left Orange when the steam gauge started to fall towards the fireman's side and before we had nothing left in the boiler and we decided to stop for a blow-up. Then another at Witput and again at Belmont. Belmont has ashpits and water so we stood here for about one hour while everything was sorted out and also have a rest. I was exhausted and just about to drop dead. Even though a 25 has a mechanical stoker (thank goodness it has) it is still very hard work, especially when one is trying his best and the bloody machine just does not want to perform. We leave Belmont with a nice clean fire and just take it easy as much as possible. It's not a bad section from here and all is going well but but we still have one of the worst banks on the whole line
to climb, Modder River bank.


As we drift downhill towards Modderrivier, John and I decide to give the fire a another clean out on the move as even in the short distance from Belmont it is all blue flame and full of clinker. I start up the injector and go to put on the ashpan cooler only to find that the square top on the cooler valve has rounded off and refuses to open. We decide to clean fire wuthout the use of the cooler. Once the fire had been cleaned the red glow from the ashpan was amazing and was glowing red with the heat. I then built up the fire and prepared her for the climb ahead but one thing was still worrying us. Sparks were blowing out of the ashpan and this could start a line-side fire anytime. We decided to dump all the ash while we traverse over Modder River bridge. This was one night I will never forget. As the clinker fell out and descended downwards towards the river the sky's lit up. Then, even from the cab of the engine we could hear the clinkers exploding as they hit the water. It was an incredible sight.


After that John opened the regulator and I started up the stoker only to find that the stoker shaft had snapped, we were now down to hand firing. The coal was way far back in the tender and so John took the shovel and fired while I trimmed coal forward in the tender. It was all thin dust and I was covered in it. We made it up the bank and stopped at Spytfontein for yet another blow-up and then took it lightly to Kimberley still with John hand firing and me in the tender. Once in Kimberley we both gave a sigh of relief and thought that must be the worst trip ever. Little did we know worst was still to come with 3516 but that's another story.


It's funny how we all ways remember the bad trips. Believe me there was many good trips. I would say about 1 in 20 was a bad trip in Kimberley.

Richard Niven