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Steam Stories - Fire Cleaning - 15CA #2823 - Richard Niven

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Here goes for another story about a self cleaning fire on a 15CA.  It was 15/12/1989 and I was booked on duty at 03h00 to work a train to Pretoria to transfer a loco to Rustenburg. The loco today was 15CA #2823 and as usual Speedy-man Piet was with me as my driver. Piet had already had a argument with the shed man and was now not in the best of moods so I knew I better be on my best behaviour and do everything to the book.


After loading Piet's polished kit and filling his oil cans etc I started cleaning the cab. It was filthy from top to bottom. The firebox was full and steam pressure was well down. I could see us leaving shed late as the engine needed so much just to get her ready for the road.  This would not go down well with my driver. I was rushing about like mad trying to get all in order and still not ready in time. Last but not least I filled the tender and just decided to leave the fire as it was and risk it.


2823 was a new loco to me so I was not sure how she would perform. Most 15CAs were great steamers and would make steam with almost any fire in the box. Some CA's liked it packed under the brick arch while others liked it in the back corners but most of the time it did not really matter. I gave her a light round of coal and left the blower on lightly before leaving shed. We were signalled over to the east end yard and given a load of 12 DZ bogies as our train. While standing in the yard I noticed 2823 was struggling to make steam so I decided to give the fire a rake through and noticed it was full of clinker - I began to worry. 


We soon got the green light and Piet opens the regulator and eases the train out of the yard. With the firebox packed and water high up in the glass we cross onto the Pretoria mainline. As soon as we are on the main Piet notches her back to about 45% cut-off and opens the regulator wide. Within a kilometre the steam is dropping and I am in trouble. "What's the problem Soutie?" asks Piet as he has a look in the firebox. "What the hell have you done with that fire? Didn't you clean it before leaving shed?"

"No" I replied, "not enough time for that." All kinds of words came out of Piet's mouth and not good words at that. He shuts the regulator and orders me to open the blower and pack the box. With all that done we drift along at slow speed letting the newly spread coal burn through. The steam pressure slowly creeps back towards the red mark and with about half a glass of water and a very hot thick fire Piet opens the regulator slightly. As we approach Knights station Piet asks, "Are you ready?"


"Yes" I replied, and he opens the regulator full and leaves the cut-off in full forward gear. 2823 leaps forward barking like mad making more noise that anyone can ever imagine. At 04h30 in the morning in a built up area many people must have thought that someone had dropped an atom bomb. The noise was unbelievable.  Sparks were shooting like bullets from the chimney. To anyone around it must have looked like a firework display.


In the cab the steam pressure was sitting at max but the water was going down at an alarming rate so I put on the injector even though I was more interested in watching the display outside. About two kilometres up the line we are doing about 60kph, and believe me not many steam locos in the world can beat the noise that 2823 was making. It was enough to awaken the dead.  Piet finally eases the regulator and pulls the cut-off up to about 45 percent. I inspect the firebox only to find a few bits of clinker sitting on the grate.  I immediately start getting fresh coal into the box at a very fast rate of knots (100SPS is it Trainman) and by the time we reach Elandsfontein all is going great.


After that 2823 flew along the main at a mighty speed. Going through Olifantsfontein we must have been hitting 90kph but that was still not fast enough for Piet and going down Fountains bank with regulator open we must have touched 110kph. Wow, if only we could see that again.
Richard Niven