Prototype Profile: Garratt Steam Locomotives in Africa
The Garratt steam locomotive was conceived by, developed by, and named for Herbert William Garratt, an English mechanical engineer who had worked for various British colonial railways and became the inspecting engineer for the New South Wales Government Railways. It is an articulated-type steam locomotive, meaning that one or more engine units (in the case of the Garratts, two) could move independent of the main frame of the locomotive. Other types of articulated include the Meyer and the Mallet.
While Garratt’s were used in European countries, they were most popular outside of Europe, especially in Australia and various African countries. The Garratt type was never used by any North American railroad, but a few were used by South American lines. The Mallet was more popular in North America and the Meyer was more popular in South America.
The first Garratt produced was the K-class, with two locomotives being built for Tasmanian Government Railways in 1909. The K-class engines were small, light, 0-4-0 + 0-4-0 design, built for 2 ft. gauge routes with tight curves. As the years progressed more Garratts and larger Garratts were produced.
Ultimately, the majority of all Garratts would be built for various African railroads. There were Garratts working the rails of at least fifteen different African nations, with easily verifiable numbers of over 900 engines but the actual total is much higher than that. While South Africa operated fewer Garratts than some other African countries, it is the South African Garratts that are most well-known out of all the African Garratts.
South African Railways had a number of different classes of Garratts for both their 3 ft. 6 in. gauge and their 2 ft. narrow gauge lines. The Garratts on the 3 ft. 6 in. gauge are the ones that are most well-known, mainly because they survived in mainline revenue service until the late 1980s, and a handful held on in reserve service or for pulling tourist trains into the early 1990s. Thanks to such a late service, there is quite a bit of video footage of these massive beasts in operation in their final decade.
Garratts in Botswana operated on trains that ran through from South Africa to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, but most were out of use by the 1980s. Two ex-South African Railways Garratts were purchased by a Botswanan copper mine and are still in use hauling copper from the mine to the smelter, and even occasionally being pressed into coal train duty.
Rhodesia purchased nearly 150 Garratts of several different classes and wheel arrangements. Most of these engines were inherited by the nation of Zimbabwe and incorporated into the National Railways of Zimbabwe. A few of them are still in operation today.
While there no Garratts operating in Sudan today, there is historic footage of them in the form of silent, black-and-white film footage shot in the 1930s.
The Garratt was an iconic type of steam engine found around the world. Those used in Australia and in various African countries became the most famous. Because of their reliability and their power, many stayed in use almost to the end of the 20th century, and a few are still in revenue service even today.
If you would like to add a Garratt to your model train collection, there are a number of them available in a variety of sources and scales:
(Note: not all of these models are specifically of the classes that ran in Africa, but with a bit of detailing and customization can be made to resemble them easily)
Kitmaster Model Railways Beyer-Garratt LMS HO/OO plastic model kit – This kit is long out of production, but you can sometimes find them on eBay or stumble across one in a model shop. Non-working model that would look great as a static display on your layout.
Fulgerex/KMT Brass NSWGR Beyer Garratt 4-8-4+4-8-4 – Out of production, but Brass Trains and other specialty retailers often still have them.
DJH Model Loco E117 – SAR GMA/M Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 – This is a beautiful model of one of the South African Railways Garratts.
DJH Model Loco E134 – SAR GCA Garratt 2-6-2+2-6-2 – Another beautiful model of an SAR Garratt, this being one of their earlier models.
DJH Model Loco E222 – S.A.R GMA/M Garratt 4-8-2+2-8-4 HOm – A third beautiful model of an SAR Garratt from DJH, this one for HO meter gauge.
DJH Model Loco E168 – NSWR AD60 Garratt 4-8-4+4-8-4 – A fourth DJH model Garratt, this one of a New South Wales Government Railways engine.
Eureka Models NSWGR AD60 4-8-4+4-8-4 Beyer-Garratt – Based on only the photos, this is the most beautiful model Garratt I’ve seen.
Heljan Beyer-Garrats – Twelve different BR and LMS Garrats in OO scale.
ETS Trains Garratt Type Steam Locomotive 2-6-0.0-6-2, LMS Railway – A beautiful LMS early-type Garratt.
DJH Model Loco MOK-1 NSWGR (AD) 60 Class Beyer Garratt 4-8-4+4-8-4 – In addition to their HO scale Garratts, DJH produces this beautiful 7mm O scale NSWGR Garratt
Backwoods Miniatures RTR K1 Garratt – This is a nice On30 model of the K1, the original Garratt type.
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