A new book written by Charlie Lewis and David Payling which will be published on 5th October 2020
264pp – Hardback
Due west out of Port Elizabeth there meanders a 2ft gauge railway for 177 miles to the tiny hamlet of Avontuur (Afrikaans for ‘Adventure’, hence the title of this book), that for nearly 100 years served the deciduous fruit growing region known as the Langkloof. Although the “kloof” part of its name – meaning “cleft” or “ravine” – implies that it is narrow, it is in fact a broad, well-watered valley, quite rugged in parts, between tall mountain ranges. Until the completion of a metalled main road in the mid-1960s the ‘Kloof was Arcadian in its isolation, only accessible by railway or corrugated dirt roads developed from crude wagon tracks that had served the region since the 18th century. The arrival of the railway – albeit a narrow-gauge one – in 1906 was of huge benefit to farmers who hitherto had battled to get their produce to market by ox wagon.
Much closer to Port Elizabeth there was also an important branch to Patensie that tapped the fertile vegetable lands and citrus groves of the Gamtoos valley. In wild, largely unspoilt country to the east of this river are extensive deposits of a pure form of limestone, ideal for cement making. During the 1920s quarries were established by the Eastern Province Cement Company and the limestone hauled over the narrow gauge to Chelsea siding where a 12-mile private line ran to the cement factory at New Brighton. This was incredibly important business as it provided the base traffic of the narrow gauge for more than 70 years.
The line was originally described in detail in Sydney Moir’s seminal book “Twenty-four Inches Apart”, published by the Oakwood Press in 1963. The story has been partially brought up to date over the past few years in the Soul of a Railway series published online, of which eight instalments were devoted to the Port Elizabeth narrow gauge. Since these were put online there have been many requests for the material to be published in book form and this new book is the response to those requests. Interest in the SAR narrow gauge has never been higher, especially with several of the locomotives featured in this book now working in the UK (including 3 on the Welsh Highland Railway) and elsewhere in the world and it seems appropriate to bring the story fully up to date in what the authors believe will be THE definitive book on the subject. Rather than going over ground already well ploughed by Moir, this story of the Port Elizabeth to Avontuur and Patensie lines focuses on new, fascinating and compelling information, particularly the political shenanigans that plagued its turbulent latter years, and this is told in captivating detail much of it in the first person by Charlie Lewis who was the Regional Engineer responsible for the line from 1981 to 1986 but also one of South Africa’s most prolific photographers.
In this 264 page, hardback book, the fascinating text is complimented by a superb selection of colour and black and white photographs, many previously unpublished, not only from many of the world’s leading railway photographers who visited the line extensively during its busiest years but also by those, including Charlie Lewis who worked on it on a daily basis.
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