For the children playing at Choo Choo Park on the corner of Belvedere and Cleveland road in Claremont, the train is something which captures the imagination. It’s large, red, and provides full steam ahead to all the wonderful places that exist in their minds.
It may have looked a bit scruffy in the past but last year it was lovingly restored by the Friends of Choo Choo Park who thought the iconic engine deserved a makeover to make her look all shiny and new. Surrounding businesses pitched in too. The group were helped by ProPaint and the the paint was donated by Stoncor. Generous donations were also given by Belvedere Square management and Cal’cacchio a pizza restaurant situated in Belvedere Square, according to local newspaper, The People’s Post.
While the makeover has made the train look like it’s just come from a show room, what few people realise is that the train itself is steeped in history and is currently at least 121 years old! The locomotive was actually built by the Brooks Locomotive and Machinery Co in New York, USA in 1894/1896 (sources differ on the year) and was given a works number of 2725. According to one blog which features stories about old steam locomotives dotted around South Africa, Belvedere’s train started service life at the Transvaal & Delgoa Bay Collieries Ltd near Witbank. Choo Choo Park’s train is not the only one of its kind in Cape Town – there’s another one plinthed in Intaka Island in Century City.
Claremont’s iconic train has worked hard. During the course of its life the train became the property of the City of Cape Town Corporation (City Council) and used as a shunter at the Dock Road and the Table Bay power stations at the Cape Town foreshore and was referred to as “Dyna-Mo” or “Dinah-Mo” – again sources differ on the name. Shunter locomotives are typically used for manoeuvring coaches rather than for making journeys but the work is onerous nevertheless.
However, there was a stage where even Dyna-Mo could not conduct all the work allocated to her. Neville Aubrey, who saw the train in operation when he joined the Table Bay Power Station’s engineering staff wrote to the Friends of Choo Choo Park about the train’s last movements. “The increased shunting duty that accompanied the commissioning of the very much larger Table Bay power station stage 1 in 1937, was clearly beyond the capabilities of Dinah-Mo, and a powerful new Ruston Hornsby diesel-electric shunting loco had to be purchased, the steam loco then being relegated to a light duty standby status as D.R.P.S. was also decommissioned coincidentally with the demise of the electric trams which were being replaced by the electric overhead trolley bus service.”
The original Dock Road Power station was finally demolished in 1961/1962 according to Neville but Dinah-Mo was still being operated on a standby basis at the power station and was believed to be the oldest steam loco still in service anywhere in the country.
But the strain of the work was starting to show. Neville adds: “However, over the years, by this time, her age had begun to show, serious corrosion deterioration of her boiler becoming evident. The government boiler inspector, after his routine two-yearly inspections and four-yearly pressure tests, had no option but to reduce her safe operating steam pressure, which of course reduced her shunting capability and her consequential usefulness. Eventually major and expensive boiler repairs became unavoidable for further operational use of the loco and the decision was taken to decommission her. This happened in 1967 or 1968. However, rather than selling her for scrap, in view of her unique history, it was decided to place her in a children’s playground for children to enjoy, and consequently all her fittings and accoutrements were removed and all openings welded closed for safety reasons before she was transported to the park.”
There’s no doubt that Dinah-Mo had a colourful life (both literally and figuratively). Older pictures show the locomotive sporting several colours including blue, red and green. Our photos provided by the Friends of Choo Choo Park shows that it started to look lacklustre after being exposed to the elements. However, since its revival it now sits proudly in the park painted mainly ‘fire-engine’ red with a bit of yellow and black. “Originally, during her operational life she had been painted dark maroon and, when sounded, her whistle was a high pitched peep-peep,” says Neville.
With such love and passion from the community and surrounds, there’s no doubt that Dyna-Mo will live a long life in the heart of Choo Choo Park giving ‘rides’ to children and capturing imaginations from days gone by. While Dyna-Mo may not be working hard right now we’re sure he’s enjoying giving all the kids a lift to whichever fantastic destinations they conjure up.
*Article written by Andre Ter Morshuizen from Norgarb Properties. Photos courtesy of Ryan Matthews from The Friends of the Choo Choo Park, Angelique Ruzicka and Lew Norgarb.