Sunday, June 01, 2008

clicketty clack down memory lane

I love train travel. In Harare, where I grew up, and Port Elizabeth where we have lived for the past 30 years, there are no suburban trains. They have never been a part of our daily lives. So a ride on a train has always been a special event, and brings back so many memories for me.

The circus used to arrive in town on a train, and somewhere in one of the family photo albums are a couple of black and white photos of my sister and I as little girls, greeting the elephants at the station. (Obviously, as an adult, I have different views about all that, and I hate to see performing animals in captivity, but I have to admit, as a child it was magic! )

I went to University in Pietermaritzburg. It was a two day journey by train, as the line didn't go straight South through Beit Bridge at that time. (The direct line was only constructed as an emergency measure during the Zimbabwe civil war, when South Africa was the only country that did not apply sanctions, and a direct link was needed for sanctions-busting fuel and other vital supplies.) So I used to travel by steam or diesel train SW through Bulawayo and into Botswana. Then we would turn SE to Johannesburg. There we would swap onto an electric train to head East for the coast. Those student journeys were great fun, but I did learn one important lesson................. If you are sleeping overnight on a steam driven train, do not lie with your head facing the window, and the window open! I woke up in the morning with my mouth feeling all gritty and crunchy, and when my friends saw me they fell about laughing. I looked in the mirror, and my face was pitch black except for white rings around my eyes. The soot had blown in during the night, and it was a real mission to wash it off!

In Port Elizabeth, there is a narrow gauge line which runs through the outlying farming areas, Westwards towards the Langkloof. For as long as I can remember, (which admittedly is getting shorter by the day, I seem to have the memory span of a gnat these days!) there has been a steam train running on this line as far as Loerie, over weekends, taking passengers for a little jaunt into the country for lunch and back. It is called the Apple Express, and we first went on it for our son's third birthday, my mom was visiting from East London and came with us. The kids adored her, and had a ball on the train. I still remember it as one of those special memorable days that you look back on fondly.

Sadly the beautiful steam engines like this one, called Granny Smith after the apples she used to transport, are in serious need of TLC, and the train is currently being pulled by a diesel engine until they can be renovated.

My sister's family used to visit us regularly from Harare, and one year we realised that their kids had never been on a train. So we arranged to travel from the lovely old Victorian station in PE, which had been freshly restored and had lovely pictures of Port Elizabeth places of interest on the walls, to the nearby town of Uitenhage, and Max, who does not share my love of train travel, was happy to give it a miss, and would drive Dave's car and meet us at the station in Uitenhage.

He was delighted at the opportunity to drive the fancy new Merc, and sat there behind the wheel feeling very good. Then, looking left and right in a Mr Bean-like fashion to make sure he was being admired in the fancy car, he tried to pull out of the parking bay. At this point, things started going pear shaped, because he couldn't get the car to budge. It had a fancy foot operated handbrake, which Dave had forgotten to show him. He sat there at PE station stressing about not getting there to meet us, but luckily, setting aside his usual aversion to reading handbooks, he found the manual in the cubbyhole. Thus enlightened, he set off to fetch us! In the meantime, the 5 cousins (our two and their 3) were having a ball, and to be honest I must confess we adults didn't do badly either, we loved it. I imagine those of you who spend hours commuting every day must think this is insane, but we adored the novelty of it.

Train travel in South Africa is not what it used to be, in fact in Capetown and Johannesburg you take your life into your hands if you have to travel on the commuter trains. Which brings us to this photo, taken a couple of weeks ago, at the PE Station. We took our pepper spray and went to check it out, because it is in a part of town that few people go to anymore due to the poor security situation. It was a pleasant surprise, the station still looks cool, and we had a great time wandering around taking pix for our PE Daily Photo blog. But I don't know when we will ever get a chance to travel by train again, perhaps in Europe, if we ever manage to get there!


Max-e said...

We should rather take the bus :)

Janet said...

I enjoyed this post very much as my maternal grandfather worked for the railroad and as a child I remember his fascination with trains. The photos of the train station are just beautiful They sure don't do things like that anymore!

Jenty said...

I love the first photo!
I think I've been on a train about 3 tmes in my life, train travel just doesn't feature in our lives in SA.

dot said...

I've never ridden a train much either so it's a great treat for me to get to ride one. I enjoyed this post and pictures very much. The train track in the first picture looks very different from the tracks I've seen.

chrome3d said...

After cloudspotting there is trainspotting. I love that! That´s a fine looking station. First black and white pic is good too in it´s simplicity.

Heather said...

wonderful pictures..brought back soo many memories..thank you!!


Old Wom Tigley said...

I grew up in a house that backed onto the railway lines.. those old steam trains would shake the house at times. I love them.. I would watch at night when they went by and the sparks would sometimes set the grass ablase and folk would come out and put it ouit or a fire engine would turn up. I have many many memories from back then and I am pleased to have been reminded of them..

Shirley Goodwin said...

I also love trains, especially steam trains. And although the circus didn't come to town by train, I saw an elephant race they put on as aa promotional event when I was a child. I've never forgotten that, though my mother didn't remember it.

photowannabe said...

Fabulous pictures of an almost extinct era. I think trains are fun too but maybe that's because i don't have to commute daily on them.

Dina said...

I love this post. The old locomotives are always exciting to see and the speedy new trains are fun to ride. In Chicago I grew up next to the passenger railroad and waved to the engineers from my window, through the cloud of black smoke.
Thanks for the memories.

Ackworth Born said...

A great insight to train travel in your nexk of the woods - same kind of diversification here too.