East African Steam Safari

With the change of gauge of the Nairobi to Mombasa railway, it will no longer be possible to travel behind one of the mighty 59 class Garratts, the pinnacle of power for metre gauge steam. At 83,350lbf tractive effort, they dwarf our NSW AD 60 class for power and their cousins in South Africa, the 3’6”GL Garratts. For this reason, on our way to Europe via South Africa back in 1974, we were determined to at least top over in Nairobi and photograph these giants in regular service.

GF passing Henly Dam in Natal 1974


After a very satisfying world wind tour of Natal and Glen Dam, two areas in the death throes of steam power, we were bound for Europe to pick up our hire car in Zurich and meet our mates there. This was my first trip in a Jumbo, operated by Lufthansa. At that time DC 10s were more popular as it was before the doors started falling out in mid air.

Glen Dam August 1974

We were spoilt in South Africa. Beautiful clear Skies and a strong sun gave for incredible lighting and the scenery was to die for. The cool air left amazing steam trails that sat above the engines due to the lack of wind. On arrival at Nairobi, things were somewhat different. It was hot, very hot. Then there was the humidity, you could feel the water on your skin. It didn’t quite rain, but it might as well have. There were people everywhere, you were accosted in the street to purchase all kinds of merchandise.

I remember seeing the old pedal powered Singer Sewing Machines, which were in common use as many areas had no electricity. I still have some wooden animals I purchased there. Everything was a pound!

We picked up our hire car and decided to get a snack before going lineside. We were away from the car for an instant when we heard the sound of breaking glass. Being naive, we had left camera bags exposed in the back of the car and quick as a flash, thieves moved in. It was only that we were close that we rescued our expensive camera equipment or the trip would have been over almost before we started.

I do regret somewhat that we only had a 24 hour stopover in Nairobi. I believe August is just about the hottest time of year there, and the skies are usually cloudy, however with a bit more time we could have adventured further from the capital. Some of my friends visited there on another occasion and had a very interesting shot of an Elephant near the train with his giant penis dropping to the ground in the picture! That must have been some sight.

Being serious rail fans, I don’t have any pictures of Nairobi (other than the steam trains). With all my travelling, I saved my film for the trains due to a limited budget and the cost of slides. While much has changed in the world, you just can’t photograph regular steam any more, so I am thinking the money was wisely spent!

4-8-0 number 2423. There is still one of these locomotives operational in Nairobi.

As you can see from the photo above, the weather was sort of sunny, or at least enough to cast a shadow.

The countryside around Nairobi was worth a visit. After all when I look on line there is not much in the way of lineside steam shots from that part of the world.

We managed this 31 class 2-8-4 in the country, albeit with a rather small train.

As many of you know, Kenya is more famous for its garratts, and in addition to the 59 class, we shot a 60 class.

60 Class Garratt near Nairobi


While it was really great to see such a variety of motive power, the real attraction was the 59 class, I believe the most powerful Garratts ever built. Pretty amazing they ran on meter gauge.

We pointed our car on the road to Mombasa to see how far we could get.

59 Class crossing on the Mombasa line

As it turns out in the fading light we managed to photograph 2 of these huge beasts crossing on the single line.

Maroon 59 Class Garratt

Unfortunately, we had run out of time and had to return our car, so we could rendezvous with our other mates in Zurich for a 3 month Campervan trip of Europe.

That is another story that will be told shortly.

Hope you enjoy our pictures from a day in Kenya.

John Gaydon


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