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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Taking the 'Little Railway' to Avontuur

Part one: - construction. In an earlier blog I made reference to A.R.E Burtons book ‘Cape Colony To-Day’ (he was also the author to ‘Cape Colony for the Settler’) I quoted from his account on the Hopefield Branch. In this blog will do a three part series, again quoting from his account but this time on his journey over the Avontuur Branch. I will also use information from Sydney Moir’s book ‘24” Apart. Burton book is a Cape Colony ‘Bradshaw’s guide type account, we all know or most do that Moir’s book is the ‘bible’ of the ‘two-footers’ in the Cape.. The Avontuur Brach or then known as the Avontuur Railway was put through the Cape Parliament under Act No.19 of 1900 with an amount of expenditure of £570 000 so £3184 per mile somewhat more than the original expected cost of £2500. The line was needed and the local farmers where committed with the farmers on the route giving the land to the railway, could not see that happening in this day and age. The end of 1900 saw the Boer War still on going, with displacement of people from the ‘Rand’ to Port Elizabeth saw a large number looking for work but although quite a few found employment on the surveying then the start of the construction they were not used to the hard labour type work as most where clerks, bakers, shop hands and the like, making progress slow and in time saw most of them drift off to other employment. Mr Bodtker was the Resident Engineer seeing to the start of the earth works in May 1902, as work progress the minimum gradient,1 in 36, originally fixed by Parliament was modified to 1 in 40. The line in most parts kept to the contours of the land thus reducing the need for large earth works but it did increase the winding and curvy nature of the railway although again modifications where made to the original route to make the route easier . By the 23rd December 1903 the line had reached the Gedulltz River ,the two Manning Wardle Tank loco’s where kept busy with railing the martials for the construction of the famous ‘Van Staden’s Bridge’ to cross the gorge. It was during the construction of this bridge in 1904 that Mr Bodtker meet with a fatal a trolley accident. Mr F.H.Rees replaced Mr. Bodtker and by the 1st of November 1905 saw the line open to Humansdorp. The cost at this point to construct the line including the cost of ‘Van Staden’s Bridge’ was now at £4577 per mile, the line was over engineered to allow for it to be converted to 3’6” gauge at a later stage if needed, another reason for the increased cost. Sydney Moir gives quite in-depth detail on the specification that where scheduled under ‘Class IV’ for the construction of a permanent branch line gauged at 3’6”. The construction of the line reach Avontuur Station and terminus on the 10th December 1906 but it was not till the early 1907 that the line was fully open and the construction of the 178 mile could be called ‘complete’. The spur from Humewood Road to within 20 yards of the ‘broad gauge’ line at Port Elizabeth Station was completed on the 1st April 1906. Trains could now travel the whole length of the line and the line soon found its place within the hearts of the local community. Mr Moir’s account of the construction is well worth the read and provides great detail of the politics that took place in getting the line into being, he covers along with the construction of the line a good amount of detail of the motive power and rolling stock require for the line. To be continued……….

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