Class 15F No.2914 is the only restored original hand-fired Class 15F in South Africa. (Her surviving sister No.2916 is oil fired.) The Class 15F locomotives were built in four batches by four different manufacturers over the eight years spanning WWII. Only the 21 members of the first and second batch, (No.2914 is of the first batch) were made with conventional hand-fired fireboxes. Being a hand-fired locomotive, No.2914 also never received a long-range mechanical stoker-equipped tender from a Class 23 (as many later 15F’s did) and she is still equipped with the now-rare original ‘shorty’ ET type tender.
The Class 15F is a heavy mixed-traffic locomotive of the four-eight-two wheel arrangement (‘Mountain’).It is based on the Class 15E ‘Bongol,’ but with Walshaerts valve gear instead of the 15E’s rotary cam gear. With the old fashioned but more rugged long-lap valve gear, the class was very successful and 255 of them were built, making it the most numerous locomotive class in Africa. The 15Fs were initially used in the Free State and Western Transvaal, but were eventually found in service all over South Africa.
They are conventional locomotives by SAR standards, but advanced in Glasgow, where the later batches were built. The later machines feature full vacuum braking, powered grate shakers, powered reversers, self-cleaning smoke boxes, hydrostatic lubrication and mechanical stokers. A distinguishing feature on all the ‘F’s’ are the prominent, wide Wootten type fireboxes and the long, high-mounted boiler which allowed room underneath for 5 ft dia. driving wheels. (Large wheeled locomotives are difficult to design on the Cape Gauge.) They were also noted as being built with a standardized boiler (The Watson 3B) whereas many other locomotive designs were re-boilered in CME A.G. Watson’s standardization policy. The 15F’s were amongst the last steam locomotives to remain active in revenue service on South Africa’s railways.
No.2914 was built in 1938 by Henschel & Sohn of Germany and was the 13th 15F built, and the 6th built by Henschel. She was one of the early allocations of 15F’s to the Germiston Locomotive Depot, working there through the 70’s and ended her service life there too. Unlike many of her later reallocated sisters, she was used for conventional revenue goods trains rather than just trip working and ‘specials.’
Fortunately, she was never allowed to go derelict when the depot finally closed to steam in 1992 and required relatively little work to be restored. Never known as a good steamer, she was not considered to be a prestige engine and did not receive special attention mechanically or cosmetically in the latter steam years. No.2914 was amongst the last steam locos to pull the SATS-era white, orange and blue coaches.
In preservation, No.2914 performed in local trips, as well as runs to Potch, the Bethal Potato Festival and has shared workings around Capital Park and the Rovos Rail Depot. She has even hauled the Union Limited on occasion and has worked the lines around Pretoria. No.2914 was formally named ‘Spikkels’ in late 2007, after the wife of our Rail Safety Regulator representative. She wasn’t very popular as the 63sq.ft grate is hard work to fire with a shovel and the old fashioned steam brake is hard to modulate.
No 2914 ‘Spikkels’ was retired when the last three year boiler certificate expired, due to known wasting of the firebox flank-plating and of the rear corners. Furthermore a bodged earlier repair came to light – someone had sealed the smokebox saddle with ordinary concrete instead of refractory cement and it was breaking up under heat stress. The resulting vacuum leaks reduce the draft on the fire and have made the locomotive a poor performer. However, the mechanical parts are known to be in good condition.
This tired old lady has since remained intact and under cover under the watchful eye of security, awaiting the day that her firebox and smokebox can be repaired to return her to steam.
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