Johannesburg’s steam train

15CA No.2056 "Inge"

Restoration in progress, she will return to 

Has Vesconite- equipped valve gear. Tender bogies to be converted to roller bearings. Locomotive is intact and in safe, covered storage. Boiler tubes replacement in progress Wheels are machined and ready to be fitted back to the frame.

Class 15CA No.2056 ‘Dorothy’ represents American practice, being amongst the few ALCO-built locomotives on the SAR. They are based on the Class 15C ‘Big Bills.’ The initial 12 Class 15Cs were ordered on an experimental basis from the USA (Baldwin) in 1925, designed with an unusually large boiler that was pitched 10 inches higher than was then-usual. The larger boiler size would be an advantage, but there were then doubts as to the stability of the ‘tall design’ on the Cape Gauge.

The experimental Class 15Cs were successful locomotives and the high-pitched boilers did not cause stability problems. (The methodology was adopted for all future SAR main line locomotives) Unfortunately, the bar frames soon started to fracture under the front end of the firebox.

The Class 15CA is basically a Class 15C with an improved frame design with an added bridle casting for additional strength. The ‘A’ stands for ‘ALCO.’ The original 12 15Cs were modified to the improved standards of the 15CA, and were reclassified 15CB. (‘B’ for ‘Baldwin’) From 1926 onwards, 84 of the new Class 15CA machines were built. These simple, powerful locomotives are an early SAR heavy mixed-traffic design and are the ‘grandmothers’ of the famed Class 15Fs and later, the Class 23s. They were also incidentally reputed to be the loudest locomotive on the SAR!

The new 15CAs started work between Kimberly and Cape Town, eventually moving to East and North Transvaal after working some years based from Bloemfontein. (Free State.) They are conventional 4-8-2 machines, but with a profiled combustion chamber equipped with arch tubes. All the class 15CAs are manually stoked. An archaic feature of the Class 15CA is a steam-powered locomotive brake. Being difficult to modulate, those steam-brakes were unpopular amongst SAR drivers as they tend to come on too hard. (Most later SAR locomotive types used vacuum.)

Their 57 inch dia. driving wheels were later replaced with 60 inch (5 ft.) wheels to allow slightly faster running, and the boiler pressures were increased slightly to compensate for the reduced tractive effort. These mixed-traffic engines could then also be used for fast main-line passenger work. In the 1980s, the now-modified Class 15CAs were used across the border to Mozambique and were also prominent around Pretoria. Because of the 17 ton axle load, they could be used for heavy shunting and nearly 40 of these locos ended their days in the great shunting yards of Kaserne and Germiston.

Entering our roster in 2005 (not running) our 15CA No.2056 was repaired and operated. Although the boiler passed inspection, the tubes were worn and the locomotive suffered several boiler-related failures. The decision was taken to completely re-tube the 15CA in 2007, to eliminate the weakened tubes. The job was done on a night shift rush-basis during the week before a Dave Rogers tour! No.2056 ran successfully for two years until a flue (‘super heater tube’) failed. The problem turned out to be poor flue welding from the later railway days. Although only one flue actually failed, other similarly poor welds were detected and the 15CA was withdrawn from service by the Boiler Inspector.

During the 2007 rebuild, the bronze bearings of the valve motion were replaced with Vesconite, a synthetic self-lubricating plastic material that is tolerant of intermittent lubrication. Reefsteamers is a pioneer in using low maintenance Vesconite bearings for steam traction and operate the only Vesconite-equipped steam locos in Africa. 15CA No.2056 was the 2nd of our fleet to be converted.

While our 15CA No.2056 awaits for boiler flues as of June 2013, the KT-type tender’s leaky water tank needs repair. The tender’s plain white-metal axle bearings are also to be converted to roller bearings for reduced maintenance. The boiler flue work alone will cost about R400 000. 15CA No.2056 is one of the two primary engines that we were using for day trips, being simple, economical, powerful and yet short enough to turn easily within a turning triangle. Apart from the
boiler flues, the locomotive is otherwise in excellent shape and should run for many years to come.

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WANTED: If you have any parts/photos/film or videos of this engine in your collection, we would like to ask you to share the details with us. We also looking for different parts who still should exist: as the original buffer beam number plates, nameplate and other parts. We would like to bring those parts again together with the engine. Thank you for your kindness to share your details with us: