Miniature train and paddle steamer

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By Gerald Buttigieg - December 2009

I saw Richard Lewis's request for info and a picture of the miniature train that ran on Durban's Beachfront. Here is a picture of that train from the family photo album. The picture was taken by my late father (with his Kodak Brownie box camera) as you can see in January 1949. That is my sister and I sitting behind the driver.

Picture courtesy Gerald Buttigieg.

The miniature train that once ran on Durban's beachfront..

<== Click picture to view enlargement,

We had only arrived in Durban as immigrants some 6 months previously. The train wheel configuration looks like a 4-8-0 but I do not know if it was built as a replica of a particular make. All I remember is that it was down towards the Snake Park as Richard describes. In the picture, not clear, there are cars parked diagonally right up to the line so the train must have run on a type of pavement area. In the picture, the background appears to be a high wall. Note the paddle sticking up. This would have been on the seaward side. The family left Durban later in 1949 and moved away. On our return in 1954, if I remember correctly, the train was no longer there.

Picture courtesy Gerald Buttigieg.

The paddle steamer that once gave rides on Durban's beachfront.

<== Click picture to view enlargement,

The second photo is of the Paddle Steamer that used to operate on what was then the Beachfront Paddling Ponds. Again my sister and I are on board. I remember the paddling ponds being sand bottomed. The paddle steamer was coal fired as you can see the smoke coming from the funnel. Obviously there was no restriction to swimming with the paddle steamer going round. The hotels in the background are the Beach Hotel, the Edward and I cannot remember the name of the one next to the Edward. I know it was demolished.

In the photo are the beach seating shelters that were all over the beach front with their distinctive arched roofs made of hardwood slats. There were also the open tiled roof structures dotted about . Another beachfront "decoration" were the tall masts that were erected along the Marine Parade one of which you can see. The masts had a kind of "basket" at the top and the masts were lit up at night with neon light tubing.

I remember the "baskets" had parallel rows of neon tubing. I seem to remember that one of the masts had a big clock at the top so that you could see the time from the beaches. This is vague in my memory but I am sure it existed somewhere along the beach. The paddling ponds were well below street level and between them was a walkway which you can see which stretched from West Street right through past the Rachel Finlayson Beach Baths.

Again, by 1954, the steamer had also gone. The revamping of the paddling ponds for the first time took place in the mid/late 1950s, with these paddling ponds being replaced by a shallow circular baby splashing pond, and a much larger oblong main paddling pond with marble fountains and a slide at one end. The baby pool was adjacent to the old Model Dairy Building. These "new" paddling ponds have also since been demolished and changed.

ADDED February 9, 2010.

Reader Wade Kidwell was kind enough to send in more postcards from his collection including the one, below left, of the train and the other of the more modern locomotive which succeeded it.

ADDED January 16, 2011.

Reader Kevin Watson sent thse two pictures of himsel on the train.

train train

ADDED 22 January 2012

By Allan Banfield

Our family was originally from Durban and my father worked for the Post Office. At the end of 1949 he took a "hardship post" to climb the promotion ladder.

We went to Otjiworongo, South West Africa, from 1950 to 1953. Each year on our annual holiday, we would return to Durban to visit the family.

Travelling by train the journey from Windhoek to Durban would take 3 days and 2 nights. Our parents kept us amused with colouring books etc., and on disembarking in Durban, we would drive them crazy pestering them to take us for a ride on "The Little Train", as we knew it, down at the beachfront.

Once settled in with family, in time we would make it to the beach and our request was granted. Absolute bliss! Heaven was a ride on "The Little Train". These events took place when I was between the ages of 3 and 5.

If I remember correctly, the train was located in amongst the dunes where Mini Town is today, or possibly adjacent to the Snake Park. Later when the beachfront underwent a major upgrade, it was relocated to where you show it in the colour photo [above].It was in front of the Beach Hotel at the end of West Street adjacent to the Aquarium entrance.

From the photo you can see that the Malibu Hotel has not yet been built so I would date it sometime in the late 60s. Also you will notice that the new locomotive is a diesel pulling enclosed carriages. I think this train became part of Nick Steyn's beachfront amusement park and rides enterprise.

The end of the steam train is an interesting story. A similar little steam train was operated in Pietermaritzburg along the banks of the Umsindusi River adjacent to the tennis courts off Commercial Road - not in Alexandra Park. On a visit to PMB with my father pre 1963 we visited the engineering works of RH Baxter on Victoria Rd. From him we learned that he was the builder of both the Durban and PMB steam engines.

About the time that the Durban steam engine and train disappeared, the PMB steam engine and train also vanished. Date guesstimate - mid to late 60s.

In 1975 my wife and I went on a camping holiday around Rhodesia. Our plan was to see it before events went downhill with the escalating terrorist war. We camped at the famed Bulawayo camp site where we learned about an excellent miniature railway system in Centenary Park.

The next day we went to take a look and spoke to the managers. It really was an impressive railway which was provided for the town as a community service created and operated by the local Rotary Club. And there they were - both the old Durban and PMB little steam trains working hard and hauling all the Rhodesian youngsters for rides, just as I had enjoyed 25 years earlier. Sadly this facility has now fallen on hard times. You can read all about it here.

I hope this bit of information can fill in a few gaps in the history of the development of the Durban beachfront.


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