Reefsteamers
Johannesburg’s steam train

12AR No.1535 "Susan"

Fully operational 

Our grand old lady, Class 12AR No.1535 ‘Susan’ has the triple distinction of being the last surviving Class 12AR, Reefsteamers’ oldest operating locomotive and the second oldest operating main line locomotive in South Africa.  ‘Little Susie’ was originally built as a Class 12A at the North British Locomotive Works way back in 1919.  The class 12’s, from which the Class 12A’s originated, were the first new locomotive class ordered by the then newly-formed SAR.  The Class 12A was a Class 12 with larger cylinders.  They also had unusual boilers fitted with square-topped Belpaire fireboxes with combustion chambers.

The 12A’s performed well in their designated duty, which was heavy coal haulage on the Germiston-Witbank line.  They were good pullers with close-set 51 inch drivers.  But the Belpaire fireboxes required complicated staying.   The 12’s and the 12A’s came under Watsons’ re-boilering program and were to be fitted with standard boilers.  But none of the standard designs would fit, so a special, simpler high-capacity design was commissioned.  This leads to the distinctive appearance of the Class 12AR with a much large diameter boiler and the long smoke box overhang at the front.  They also lost the combustion chambers and would run with an extra ‘course’ in the boiler.  (Longer tubes.)  The boilers were designed to maintain a thermal reserve rather than for quick steam raising.

The newly re-boilered locomotives served alongside more modern locomotives in the steam hubs of South Africa.  In their later days, they were very useful and robust shunters and yard goats until displaced by the 15CA’s.  A famous brace of three ‘super-shine’ Class 12AR’s operated in Kaserne.

No.1535 was allocated as the Germiston Station pilot (Displacing 12R No.1947 ‘Rosie’, who is also under our care) and was always well looked after.   She bears the customized decals to this day.  Susie was never formally retired or allowed to go derelict – she performed in heritage trains and specials throughout the late 1980’s and was a participant in the last great steam festival in 1990.  When she plied the Pretoria and Fontiene routes, she was briefly named ‘Little Foot.’  The locomotive proved to be economical and easy to steam (but never as easy to fire as the old 12A configuration was, according to the old drivers.)  Unfortunately she was prone to running with hot bearings on the front bogies and was laid aside as being unreliable.

Reefsteamers managed to sort out the problem which was assumed to be caused by the weight shift caused by the ‘new’ boiler.  The long-standing problem turned out to be incorrectly graded springs.  These days she goes like the clappers and even with her short stoke pistons, she is capable of 120kph for short periods.  (Of course, we have to stick to speed limits.)  The ‘little’ locomotive performed well until 2006 when she broke a spring hangar.  This coincided with a boiler certificate renewal so she was laid out of use for 3 years alongside the then-incomplete Class 15F No.3046.  She was restored to steam in 2009 and has since become Reefsteamers’ favourite locomotive for day trips.  She is a sure-footed little engine and can handle our day trip trains on gradients that would cause the bigger engines to slip.  She is also an ideal training platform with her small but forgiving firebox and simple controls.  As of May 2011, the locomotive is expected to run another 4 to 7 years before needing to have the front tube plate replaced, which will be a major operation.

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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: locoinfo@reefsteamers.com