It’s Heritage month – a great reason to explore the old Station Master’s House in Inchanga – home to a remarkable collection of historical artefacts, memorabilia, maps, photographs and curiosities, all with a KZN rail theme.
It sounds like something to do only if you are hardcore ferroequinologist (which is the grand word for a lover of “iron horses” AKA trains) but actually exploring the old Station Master’s House is well worth a visit for the whole family, even for us non train buffs.
Umgeni Steam Railway trains do month-end weekend round trips from Kloof to Inchanga and back again travelling through the heart of the 1000 Hills Tourism Route. At Inchanga, passengers have time to wander through the craft market and food garden and visit the model railway … and stroll up the little hill to the museum.
Station Master’s House
The Railway Museum is housed in the cosy Station Master’s house on the hill which overlooks the Inchanga Station, which would have given the Station Master a bird’s eye view of all the comings and goings on the trail tracks and at the station below.
Prior to the railway line, it would take between five and ten days to travel from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on an oxcart – a far cry from hailing an uber like we would today!
SA’s first steam railway
One of the museum rooms is dedicated to the history of early railways, from 1856 – 1910. South Africa led the way with steam train technology in 1860 with the opening of the first steam railway in southern Africa – a short railway line (only about 3km) linking the harbour at Durban’s Point. Previously goods were transported on oxcarts which kept on getting stuck in the soft sand, which prompted the authorities to prioritise the introduction of a steam train. Durban did it first, which was cause for huge celebrations. Cape Town followed, but two years later.
There is extensive info on the gradual opening of the Durban to Pietermaritzburg line, and the regular water stops the train needed to make to replenish its water supply to produce steam.
What is perhaps not well known is that much of the labour used to cut up Fields Hill and build the railway lines was indentured Indian labour.
There was a particularly treacherous patch, crossing the Inchanga Valley on the notorious Inchanga viaduct (a huge scary looking cast iron bridge which would not look out of place in an old Buster Keaton movie). The wind was sometimes so strong, and the trains so precarious, that passengers were given the option to get out of the train and walk across the viaduct or stay on the train at their own risk. Most opted to walk!!
120 years ago, and for more than 30 years, Inchanga was a really important train stopping point being half-way between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. There are photographs and info panels of the viaduct and original Inchanga Station.
The station master’s study still has his huge desk from the 1890s, with a Train Register, pre-cell-phone communication devices (which parents love to show the disbelieving kids) and an old typewriter. The room displays a collection of items one would find in a station – from the bell to warn passengers of the approaching train to an old Van Schoor train tablet machine, which was invented by a South African for the safe movement of trains on a section of single line track.
There is also the original plaque from Durban station which was stolen in 1983 – just prior to the grand opening and arrival of the then Minister of Transport, so had to be replaced in a hurry. Durban station stuck with the stunt double replacement plaque, while the original turned up at a scrapyard a while later, and now has pride of place in the museum!
Fit for a King!
The front room has the old-time clock from the Durban workshop which is about 90 years old and still keeps perfect time. There are cabinets with silverware, menus and crockery – including crockery from the Royal train used by the British royal family on their state visit in 1947. There is a mock-up of a bunk bed and bedding bag.
Of particular interest is the little model 19D locomotive, made from cardboard. It is considered to be a fairly accurate rendition of a steam loco and tender, the same as Wesley – which faithfully pulls passengers between Kloof and Inchanga every month end.
Good to Know
The old Station Master’s House at Inchanga Station is part of the Railway Society of Southern Africa, KZN Branch’s commitment to preserving rail heritage in KZN.
The Umgeni Steam Railway is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers, preserving and promoting awareness of our historical heritage. Volunteers always welcome – no particular skills are needed!
The Umgeni Stream Railway runs trains on the last weekend of the month. The Inchanga Railway Museum is open on train days, and other times by prior arrangement.
Umgeni Steam Railway is supported by 1000 Hills Community Tourism Organisation.
A volunteer tour guide is present in the Museum at all times.
Or phone: 082 353 6003
Preservation enthusiasts are members of the Railway History Society: http://umgenisteamrailway.com/RSSA/AboutRSSA.aspx
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