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Steam Stories - Where is my Food - 16E #858 - Richard Niven

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It was 12/01/1991 and John Gilberthorpe and myself were booked on duty at 03h46 to work a goods to De Aar. As usual all I had food wise was my normal supply of chocolate and a 2 litre coke.  We were expecting to have our own regular engine 25NC #3488 but were in for a surprise when we signed on. 3488 was already out on the line working train 4000 and we were given 3528. 3528 was not a great machine but we would give her a try.
Once in the cab I noticed everything was leaking and nothing seemed to work correctly.  The reverser would not work as well as the dynamo so we had no lights.  We refused to take the engine and with no fitters on duty another loco had to be found.  Just then the foreman came over and said "The only other machine we have ready is 16E #858" "Yes we'll take that", was our words.  After leaving shed well late we coupled onto a 980 ton load in Alex yard.  Wow this was going to make this beast talk.


I packed the back corners of the box with 100 shovels of coal each and as soon as we got the road climbed in and lined the sides of the box.  John eased the regulator open and we got away without a slip and were soon heading down towards Spytfontein with 858 working hard.  Steaming was great and everything was going just great.  Once at Orange River I cleaned fire and decided to trim some coal in the tender for the long climb ahead.  On doing this I noticed some really bad dusty coal that was more like mud than coal.  I just hoped it did not stop her good performance.


We leave Orange and John soon has her notched up and going along at a fair old pace towards Kraankuil.   By now I was onto the dusty / mud coal in the tender and she was not steaming well at all but with me on the shovel non stop and John driving her gently we got by and arrived in De Aar on time.  On arrival at the shed we were given a fast turn round and booked to work a fast-freight back to Kimberley.  After taking on coal, cleaning fire etc, I said to John "I am going to have to go into town and get some food, but I will never make it back".  He was annoyed at this as this would delay us even more.  After a few harsh words at me he says "I have two steaks in my tin, you shovel cook them while I oil up the engine".  Great stuff I thought.  For John to give away his food was like giving away gold.

By the time John finished oiling the loco I was in the cab eating my steak. He climbed up and said "Good job I brought two of them, you must learn to eat properly."  He washed his hands, poured his cup of tea and sat down in his seat and said "Right where's my steak?"  I replied "Sorry mate, but I have eaten it."  Well you can just imagine the trouble I was in.  One thing I did know is that I was in for a very tough ride back to Kimberley.  For sure he made me work.


Richard Niven