Restoration Work at the Apple Express

Good day my loyal readers!

Today’s blog post is written by a friend of mine in Port Elizabeth, who is a volunteer at the Apple Express. I have asked him to write a short article on his experience with restoring rolling stock.

In South Africa, Tourism is very important and brings in a lot of money to the economy. I believe Preserved Railways/Railway Museums are also a huge attraction. We used to run trains with Steam locomotives when the rest of the world already moved to Diesel and Electric Traction and this attracted many visitors.

Enjoy the article! (Photos used by permission courtesy Justin Wood and Nerina Skuy)

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Growing up along the narrow gauge railway line in Port Elizabeth meant that we had trains passing us on a regular basis, and this I believe sparked my interest in trains. But there was one specific train that I had to make a point of watching come past each week, and which grew my passion for steam locomotives and that was the Apple Express.

Heritage rail is definitely something which I want to play a role in, and I was very fortunate to be able to volunteer on the Apple Express in 2009 and 2010. The train finally ran its last trip on the 29th December 2010 after government funding was withdrawn.

Calls were put out again in 2012 for people to join the Apple Express to help save the train, headed by Nerina Skuy. Late 2013 was when work could finally begin on the train itself at the Humewood Diesel Depot.

For this article I’m going to focus on the coach restoration, which began in March 2014.

After the coaches were relocated indoors, they were assessed. Many suffered from wood rot and rusted plates etc. Our small team set to work to restore them to the already decided, SAR Gulf Red and Grey. The two coaches which we will be looking at are NG 78 and NG 105.
NG 78 is a class NG N-3, with guard’s compartment. It was originally built in 1903 by Bristol Carriage and Wagon. It has the capacity to seat 18 passengers and 5 staff in the guard’s compartment. It’s TARE (Average) is 8260Kgs. This coach proved to be a big job, as we had to start with just the frame of the coach. Many sections of the frame were replaced, as well as the cover wood. This was a new experience for all of us, and I for one loved every minute of it, learning all these new skills. We continued with metal work and interior work, until painting could finally begin.

Once the first coat of paint is applied you then for the first time can see the fruits of your labour. From then on it’s the detail work, getting the coach up to standard. It’s always a happy day when the chrome can finally be polished and the windows cleaned, as then you know she is complete!

NG105 is a class L – 13, with toilet, built in 1927 by Sachsische Waggon. This is personally my favourite coach which feature two balconies, and open cross bench seating style. There is definitely something special and unique about the balcony coaches, and they really make you feel as if you are taking a step back in time.

In relation to the rest of the coaches, NG105 was not a difficult restoration project, only requiring repairs to the roof and water tanks. Our team managed to complete this coach in 2 weeks, but this coach was definitely the most rewarding!

The day when we can all look back and see these coaches behind one of our steam locomotives, will definitely be a day to remember and be proud of. This past year has been extremely rewarding for me, and my co-workers. We have all learned a lot and built long lasting friendships, but most of all we have contributed towards preserving our rich rail history in South Africa.

We thank Nerina Skuy for making this all possible!

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2 thoughts on “Restoration Work at the Apple Express

  1. Huge admiration at what you volunteers have achieved – and it all seems to have taken place under the radar. I for one was totally unaware until recently, of the efforts to get the Apple Express running again. A wonderful example of what can be achieved by a small group of people with vision, passion, enthusiasm – and elbow grease.

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