January 27, 2013

0487 SOUTH AFRICA - A condensing steam locomotive, Class 25 4-8-4

Of all the 487 postcards that I posted so far on this blog, this one gave me the most problems of documentation. Ado said that she found it among his father's things, a trains enthusiast who has worked in this area in the 1950's in Rhodesia. On the other hand, the stamp, showing Victoria Falls from the air, was issued by Northern Rhodesia, and on the postcard writes Zuid Afrikaanse Spoorwegen (South African Railways). All these may be a starting point.

The name Rhodesia (adopted in 1895 by the British South Africa Company to refer to the country it controlled in southern Africa, equivalent to today's Zambia and Zimbabwe) comes from Cecil Rhodes, the founder of the diamond company De Beers and an ardent believer in British colonialism. The land to the north of Zambezi was officially designated Northern Rhodesia in 1911 (become Zambia in 1964), while the area to the south, dubbed Southern Rhodesia in 1901, referred to itself as Rhodesia between 1964 to 1979, is renamed Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, and becomes Zimbabwe in 1980. In 1953, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland Protectorate came together to form Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which was divided later in Rhodesia (1965), Zambia (1964) and Malawi (1964). So actually Northern Rhodesia existed in 1924-1953 and in 1963-1964.

On the postcard also writes Colin Garratt - World of Steam. Colin Garratt has been a professional photographer since 1969 and is widely known for the many books he has written and illustrated (more then 60) and for his national theatre shows and lectures based on the many years he has spent documenting on colour film The Last Steam Locomotives of the World. The Sunday Times described him as "the David Attenborough of the steam locomotive".

Whereas Northern Rhodesia ceased to exist in 1964, Rhodesia Railways surrendered the routes and the locomotives to Zambia Railways in 1967, and Colin Garratt started his activity in 1969, I can say that there is no connection between the stamp and the postcard, the stamp being issued before 1964 (I would say even before 1953) by Northern Rhodesia, and the photo being made in 1970s, the locomotive belonging to South African Railways (SAR).

The banjo-face smokebox of the locomotive in the picture is characteristic to the South African Class 25 4-8-4 condensing steam locomotives (on which spent steam was recycled and condensed back to water for repeated use). Under the Whyte notation, 4-8-4 represents the wheel arrangement of four leading wheels on two axles, eight powered and coupled driving wheels on four axles, and four trailing wheels on two axles. This ultimate SAR non-articulated steam locomotive was designed under the direction of L.C. Grubb, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the SAR from 1949 to 1954.

This class was built specifically for work in the Karoo and the Kalahari, where water is a scarce resource. Between 1953 and 1955 SAR placed ninety such locomotives in service. Because they were complex locomotives, which required high maintenance, between 1973 and 1980 were converted and reclassified to Class 25NC, serving for another eleven years before being retired.

About the stamps
Because the postcard was send from Netherlands, it has a stamp belonging to the Green Progress set, about which I wrote here.

On the postcard is also, as I mentioned before, another stamp, showing Victoria Falls from the air, issued by Northern Rhodesia before 1964, probably even before 1953.

This is a post for Sunday Stamps #107, run by Viridian from Viridian’s Postcard Blog. The theme of this week is Anything you wish. Click on the button to visit Viridian’s blog and all the other participants.

Northern Rhodesia - Wikipedia
South African Class 25 4-8-4 - Wikipedia
South African Steam Locomotives - RR Picture Archives
Colin Garratt Biography - Artist Bank

sender: Ado Vijge (direct swap)
sent from Apeldoorn (Netherlands), on 17.08.2012
photo: Colin Garratt


  1. I know such steam locomotives still in the early GDR times. Have you make a lot of thought about this card good.

  2. I was considering Rhodesia as another country that has changed its name when I decided on Basutoland this week. Very famous falls - Im glad noone has changed their names.

    1. Exactly at this I was thinking too, Bob, that the countries' name are changing, like also the borders, but the names of the well-known natural wonders are preserved.

  3. I like the design of the Green Progress stamp.

  4. Thank you for all the information on the steam trains! My family and I will be going to a steam narrow gauge rr this summer in the USA the Cumbre and Toltec. Perhaps I could do a meme of stamps from countries that no longer exist????
    Thank you for participating!

  5. My father used to work in Nyasaland, as it was then, so we did have a lot of stamps from Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Sadly, I don't know where they've gone.