Photos: Brothers’ steam train dream come true


The Ekstrom brothers from Mossel Bay in the southern part of the Western Cape have revived the nostalgia of steam trains in the past few months by getting Jenny, the beautifully restored steam locomotive, back on its feet. Jenny travels with five restored carriages between the Hartenbos station and Groot-Brakrivier.

Southern Cape Railway started with trips on this train for the first time on heritage day in September. Since 15 December, Jenny has offered a total of 10,000 steam train enthusiasts and vacationers the opportunity to experience the beautiful surroundings from the moving train three times a day, apart from Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and New Year’s Day. And what an experience it is! The click-clack of the train as it moves over the rails has a calming and relaxing effect on passengers.

“It’s just delicious,” says one train traveler. “I would recommend it to everyone.”

Currently there are only four steam train routes still in use in South Africa. Four in the Western Cape and one in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Ekstrom brothers, Graeme, Kevin and Sean, have finally seen the light of day after ten years of planning, hard work and large financial expenses.

Jenny is a class 24 steam locomotive and was built in 1948 by the North British Loco company in Glasgow. According to Graeme Ekstrom, their biggest challenge right now is getting enough coal and water to run the train.

“We fill Hartenbos and Groot-Brakrivier with water and it is a challenge to get our water truck to the stations on time with the traffic that is so bad during the holiday season. We use more or less about 30,000 liters of water per day and about six tons of coal.” The coal has to be brought in from Mpumalanga, as it is not available locally.

The brothers’ mother, Sylvia, has so far accompanied each trip with a friend. She laughingly tells that her husband married her because her father was a train driver. “My husband, Errol, and I loved trains and our three sons grew up among the trains. Steam trains are in our blood.”

Besides the Ekstrom brothers, there is a group of train drivers, technicians, enthusiasts and friends who work very hard behind the scenes to make the train journeys an unforgettable experience. Clive Halliday, one of the train drivers, has been working on steam trains in England since he was 17 years old. He believes the steam train era will die out if younger technicians and machinists are not trained to take over the reins from them.

Johan Brand, who has also been a train driver for more than 50 years, says that the revival in the steam train industry has given him a new zest for life. “I dream about trains every night; only if I sleep on a train by myself, my brain switches off and I can sleep peacefully.”

He believes that steam trains have a large following worldwide and are now also sought after as a tourist attraction in South Africa.