I Had Never Seen Steam In Snow!

Growing up in Sydney, Australia, the only time we would see snow would be to travel to the Snowy Mountains, 6 hours to the south in the middle of winter, or perhaps visit the Blue Mountains to the west on the very rare occasion that it snows up there.

As a child, our family never went anywhere near the snow, and the few vacations we had were near the sea. The very first sight of snow for me close up was a trip to Katoomba at the top of the Blue Mountains when I was 18. It had snowed that afternoon and a group of my mates sped up there before it all melted.

For those of you who are used to a white Christmas, or at least winter, you may think this a little strange. As it stands, on my departure for the grand tour, I was really looking forward to seeing steam trains in the snow! It was probably memories of Dr Zhivago.

My First South African Photo


Figure 1 GF and GMa Head A Goods At Citiview Near Pietermaritzberg South Africa August 1974

We arrived in South Africa late August, which was spring time, so we were too late to get snow shots on the Underberg line, which starts at Donnybrook in Natal. We did get some great photos in that area. It was the first stop because it was due to be dieselised at that time. My first glimpse of a South African train was a GF and GMA double header on City View, climbing out of Pietermaritzburg.

Moving around at the time was not that easy. Rags, who drove us on this trip, took us to a secret place where two 5 litre cans of petrol had been hidden. This was no easy feat as local Africans wandered everywhere, and it is very difficult to hide anything in Africa! Back home we managed to hide a car in the bush for a few months! This was the middle of the oil crisis and there was an embargo on selling fuel to South Africa and Rhodesia. The rule in South Africa was an 80 kph speed limit and you could carry no more than 10 litres in spare fuel. No fuel was available on weekends. Chasing trains involved travelling significant distances, hence the hidden reserves located at strategic points!

In South Africa at the time, all but a few trains had vacuum brakes. These relied on air being sucked out of the brake lines to allow the train to roll. On steep grades, such as at City View, there was an escape velocity. If the train went above a certain speed (I believe around 50 kph) a full application would not stop it! For this reason drivers were very cautious on this section of track.

Magnificent Glenn Dam

Figure 2 23 Class On Early Morning Freight Glenn Dam Near Bloemfontein Aug 1974

Glenn Dam is named because it is near Glenn Railway Station. Souith African Enthusiasts would arise just before dawn and set up for the early morning reflections in the dam. The lighting was superb at that time of day, and I feel privileged to have witnessed it before the overhead wires appeared. There were frequent movements o this main line from Bloemfontein to Kroonstadt. After two weeks In South Africa the three of us split up. Two of us went to Kenya for a day while Rags headed straight to London to pick up a campervan.


Our next stop was Nairobi, in the heart of Africa. It was a pretty scary place, with street merchants, and was rather antiquated. I recall seeing peddle powered sewing machines, and I still have some wooden animals I purchased there.

We picked up our hire car and headed to town for a snack. We were very naïve then. I had a nice camera bag. It was a solid box and it looked like a camera bag. It contained my two Minolta SLRs film, and 3 extra lenses.

When we returned from our visit to a shop, the back window had been smashed, and we were very lucky to see thieves running away at speed, having been foiled in their robbery attempt. In Australia at the time we used to leave wallets in our back pockets, cars unlocked, etc. Now we had entered the real world! The camera gear was worth thousands, so it would have been a very early end to the trip.

Kenya Was Gloomy

Figure 3 Mighty 59 Class On Nairobi Mombassa Line Sept 1974

The trip to Kenya was eventful if nothing else. It was hot, humid, and rather hazy, so the photography could have been better. Nevertheless, we did see some of the mighty 59 class Garratts. Our car was broken into a short time after we picked it up before we even left Nairobi, and the next day we hopped on a flight to Zurich to start our European adventure.

Five Aussies Tour Europe In A Campervan

There were 5 of us sharing that campervan for 3 months. It was an interesting time, or at least that is the best way I can describe it. We are all looking at a 40 year reunion very soon, which will be fun. Because the others were exhausted after a non-stop run from Winchester in England to Zurich, they handed me the keys.

Before the trip I was working in the International Telephone Exchange in Sydney. At that time overseas calls were expensive, however I had free access. There were only around 3,000 lines to the rest of the world and a solitary TV chanel. This is almost impossible to comprehend in today’s world.

I remember in Germany we used to buy a big round brown loaf of bread for breakfast, get some jam and cheese and this would satisfy all 5 of us. I spent less than $400A for 3 months travelling all over Europe.

Back to the trip. The only problem was that our campervan was a right hand drive car and we were driving on the right hand side of the road, in my case for the very first time. Not only that, but it was dark! I gingerly drove all the way from Zurich to the German border, zigg zagging here and there. I managed to hit the border guard’s post with the rear vision mirror. Fortunately they were good humoured. Believe me, not all border security is like that.

Years later, I spent a night on a bridge sandwiched between Belize and Mexico at Chetumal. The Mexicans didn’t want to let me in without a VISA which I had to go back to Belize City to pick up, and my Peruvian companion wasn’t allowed to re-enter Belize because her visa was for a single visit. After many hours walking back and forth across the border and appealing for common sense we were allowed a day to return to Belize City and secure the necessary documents.

Swiss Steam

Figure 4 Sep 1974 Veritcal Boilered Rack Engine On Brienz Rothorn Bahn Swiss Rack Railway

Our first stop was Brienz in Switzerland for the amazing rack railway. We had crossed back into Switzerland. This mostly operates as a tourist railway, although we did see them carting cheese up and down the hill. It was real “Sound Of Music” country. It truly is an amazing place.

Figure 5 The Line Was Still Used To Transport Famous Swiss Cheese!

At the top of the hill was a cafe, so we stopped there for lunch. Switzerland at the time was very expensive compared to everywhere else in Europe, so we ordered very basic fare. On the table was a big bowl of crackers, cheese and chocolates. Being Aussies, and not knowing the local customs, we helped ourselves to these. At the end of lunch we received the bill, the greater part of which was for the stuff in the basket! Lesson learned.

Polish Steam In Snow

Figure 6 Its Snowing But Barely Visible TKt48 Heads Toward Krakow Oct 1974

There was a little bit of snow on the mountains, but not too much as it was autumn. We continued through Germany and into East Germany, then Poland. We had 10 days in Poland and it was near the end of this leg that we finally struck snow. This was in the Krakov area. You know, a pope recently came from there. I managed a few white out shots of steam in the snow. It wasn’t quite as romantic as it looked on the movies!

No more snow in our week in Czechoslovakia, then back to civilisation. We ended up at one of my friend’s brother’s place in Munich for a couple of days which coincided with Oktoberfest. The night we went there we all disgraced ourselves well and truly!

While in Munich it did snow.. and snow..and snow. Unfortunately there wasn’t any steam to photograph at the time. As the weather was deteriorating and winter approaching, we kept going to Austria, an amazing country which in its southern part is nestled in the Alps.

We Finally Crack It In Austria

Figure 7 52 Class Linz – Summerau Austria Oct 1974

Linz Summerau was the first line we chased. That line had 52s galore and some great mountain backdrops. I have thrown in a photo. After that we visited the Narrow Gauge at Garston and then on to Vordenberg.

Mighty Vordenberg A Highlight Of Our Trip

The Vordenberg line was a rack railway with a very steep incline. Ore trains would climb the summit with one engine on the front and another at the rear. When we arrived it was snowing and miserable. For two days we rode the engines, and photographed in the gloom. On one occasion I nearly rolled the van when it skidded at less than walking pace on some ice. Let’s face it, I had little experience driving in snow. We had just about had enough b y the third day. We awoke to brilliant sunshine!

Riding in the cab on this line was an amazing experience. First of all is was “brass monkey” weather, being extremely cold. The locomotives had two throttles, one driving the rack and pinion for the 1 in 15 steep grades and the other for the normal wheels. They use the ABT rack system where two racks are offset. The wheels would frequently go out of sync with the rack, making for some great sounds. At the rear of the train was another 80 year old engine helping to get the loaded ore train over the hill. The engines weren’t particularly photogenic, but what an amazing railway. The line closed in the early 1980s, but plans are underway to get trains running again.


Figure 8 Banked Rack Goods Passes Church Steeple Vordenberg Austria Oct 1974

One of the photos was a classic Christmas shot. I know a number of our crew have used it. What could be better for religious rail fans. A banked rack train with plumes of smoke, snow everywhere and a church steeple in the foreground.

Anyway by the end of the day my thirst for steam in snow was satisfied and we came away with some fabulous pictures.

Figure 9The Train Leaves Vordenberg The Climb Starts Immediately

Future Articles On Steam In Snow

In my travels, these were not the only snow shots. I will be sharing at another time some pics in China, Turkey and Argentina. Some of these are even more spectacular.

One thing for sure, Steam trains look great in snow, even if they are very hard to photograph!


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