Victoria Falls Garratts – 1989

While staying on South Africa for a few months we were able to do ten days in Zimbabwe. It was simply magic. I had applied for a ‘photograph’ permit in Johannesburg, and I was well aware I needed to do the same in Bulawayo before I started shooting things on any format. So I front up at the administration offices and get an audience with the ‘man in charge of photography permits’. He begins writing my info down, then pauses and asks, ‘Do you want a cab ride permit as well?’ I tried to remain cool, but inside I was screaming crazy – Do I want a cab ride in the last mainline operating Garratts in the world? Sheet yeah!!!

We immediately booked for the overnight passenger train from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. It was crazy standing on Bulawayo platform and watching a big grubby 4-6-4+4-6-4 15th Class roll back onto our train. I quickly fronted up to the driver and popped the question. ‘Yes’ he said with a big smile, ‘come up at Nyamandhlovu’. Once again, I just couldn’t believe this was possible. It was a 15 car train, and my wife and I were in the one first class car right at the end of the train. I managed to ‘sweet talk’ my girl to let me leave her for a few hours alone in the compartment while I played trains, so all was set… I’d found Nyamandhlovu on a map, and made my plans to hurry along the platform the moment the train pulled in.

How dumb was I? They don’t make 15 car platforms out in the desert of Zimbabwe. It was around 10.30pm, pitch black dark and I could barely make out the ground in front of me as I tried to run the length of the train, worried sick that it might depart at any time and leave me there. So I make it to the loco, look up at the driver and he shook his head with surprise and said, ‘Oh no, I already have two people riding with me…’ I made sure he could see my child-like disappointment, to which he responded with a smile, ‘OK, come on up.’ Heres a small section of the video I took – obviously for the sound more than the vision. Its was loud, and the cabs are so large that it accommodated six people – Driver, Fireman, Fireman’s Assistant (who did all the shovelling), a couple visiting from England and me. I took up position behind the driver.

The series of photos following are from a slide film covering the first 24 hours at Victoria Falls. The locals call the falls, ‘The smoke that thunders’, and nothing can prepare you for the sheer beauty and exhilaration of the Victoria Falls. Cecil Rhodes was one smart railway builder, making sure the line crossed the Zambezi River right there, under the spray of the water.

Hwange running shed, very early in the morning.
The first thing you see of the Victoria falls as the train nears its destination…
15th Class No. 407 after arriving at Victoria Falls, where they DO have a platform!
The view from the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Unbelievable thunder – 500,000 cubic metres of water a minute!
The overnight Victoria Falls to Bulawayo passenger train about to depart.
Every day a morning goods would follow the overnight pass in to the Falls. It would spend some time shunting, do E.R. then head out with its train.

Some old postcards of the bridge…