Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Diesel Electric Locomotives

By Herb Nolan. 

 The Rhodesian Railways were in negotiations with a British manufacture of diesel electric locomotives at the time of UDI thus severing any further negotiation. The existing locomotives were very old and a new source had to be found. I believe the Rhodesian Government approached Rio Tinto and asked them to explore the possibility of obtaining new locomotives from different sources. Ralph Cockerill headed up a team to investigate other builders of locomotives. They went to Japan, France, Germany and other European manufactures. The main obstacle in these negotiations was to bypass sanctions, the most favorable manufacturer was in Germany.
Rio Tinto formed a company called Penahlonga Development Co with head office in Salisbury and the factory in Norton. They company chosen in Germany was Jung who were located near the town of Betsdorf about 120 kilometers east of Cologne.  Jung also made the Leopard Tank used by NATO forces.

I was working for The Central African Power Corp (CAPCO) in Kariba in 1971, a friend of mine who worked for Rio Tinto asked me if I would be interested in a position as Foreman of a fabrication shop with Rio. I was subsequently interviewed and offered the position and told I would have to spend a few months in Germany learning how to build a locomotive. All of this took place after I had signed the Official Secrets Act.
I was introduced to my Boss Peter Sacchi who was to head up the project in Norton. Peter had worked for the Rhodesian Railways and had extensive experience in the making of diesel electric locomotives. We were to travel to Germany together. A major problem was Peter could only obtain a Rhodesian Passport which was not recognized because of sanctions, he was able to travel to South Africa and Switzerland but that was all. We flew to Johannesburg on SAA then to Zurich on SwissAir where we were met by Andrew the Project accountant and a Swiss gentleman whose name escapes me. We spent the night in Zurich, the next morning we motored to the German boarder with the Swiss gentleman.  We crossed the boarder at Lake Constance, the Swiss gentleman telling the guard that we were only going for the day, he dropped the three of us where we rented a car and drove to Essen and met Ralph. The next day we motored to Jung and met the Jung people whom we were to work with.  The man who had designed the Leopard tank, Paul Dhiel had also designed our Locomotive. 

We went to work immediately, Peter to the design office and me to the factory floor where no English was spoken! I had to take a crash course in German if I was to learn anything. The factory workers were very helpful and I was soon able to converse with them in a pigeon mish mash.  The plan was to build the first loco in Germany which was to be shipped to South Africa where it was ostensibly to be shown to the SAR with the hope of them placing a purchase order, however, it would eventually find its way into Rhodesia thereby bypassing sanctions. I forgot to mention that the time frame of all the above happenings was October 1971.  By December most of the work on the main frame and bogies had been completed and it was time for me to go back and start work on the the first locomotive to be built in Rhodesia.  

Somewhere in communications between Jung and our design office the specifications for the crane in the fabrication shop got mixed up and it was found that the crane in the building we were to use was too small, we had to do extensive alterations to the crane to beef it up so that it would be able to make the lifts. Many more major and minor problems associated with a project of this magnitude were found and had to be solved, I had the feeling that any step forward was erased and we had moved two steps back!! The one problem was shortage  of skilled tradesmen, we made a number of trips to South Africa to recruit men. The biggest problem we encountered was some of the engineering work had been farmed out to a number of firms in and around the Salisbury area, as the scheduled date arrived we were informed they were not able to complete the job because of the very tight specifications. Another Andrew, our design engineer ( Andrew was a brilliant engineer) designed a complicated bending press capable of bending the 3/4" steel plate to the specs, the press then had to be built, thus putting us further behind. The Mechanical and Electrical departments also had their problems though nothing as bad as the fabrication depot because the engine and electrics arrived complete from Germany.

The first unit was finally complete and tested and delivered with great sighs of relief, however our problems were not over.  When the locomotive is traveling down hill, the driver bunches the train and the traction motors become generators, all the power generated has to be dissipated to a bank of resistors which in turn must be cooled by the traction motor blowers. The designed system worked perfectly in Europe but in Africa the water from one of our heavy rains was too much for the blowers to handle, thus the resistor banks shorted out.   So it was back to the drawing board where a solution was designed and built.   

The time was now 1974 and our family had planned a trip to the USA to visit my wife's sister who was in Los Angeles. During our visit an interview was arranged with a large engineering firm, I went for the interview and was offered a position as Project Engineer working on the design of a large copper mine in Iraq. I did not return to Rhodesia and so I never saw the completion of the contract.


Thanks to Herb Nolan for sharing his memories with ORAFs.

Comments are welcome - please send them to Eddy Norris at

 (Please visit our previous posts and archives)

Ref. Rhodesia 


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At 26 July 2013 at 08:47 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Nick Baalbergen (Intaf) Writes:-

Another fascinating 'sanctions busting' story that the man in the street knew little about at the time.

At 30 July 2013 at 10:15 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Brian Oliver (RhArmy) Writes:-

Although I was working in the Cabinet Office from 1965 to 1972, and then from 1976 to 1978, I was totally unaware of this remarkable operation. And though Peter Sacchi was my brother-in-law (his wife, Lucy, was my first wife's sister), I didn't even know he was back in Rhodesia from RSA to which he emigrated in about 1958.

After surprises like this, I would much appreciate joining ORAFS, despite having no Air Force connections. I served in three armies, British Army (Royal Engineers) 1942 - 44, Indian Army (Madras Regt.) 1944 - 1947, and Rhodesian Army (Rhod. Intelligence Corps) 1972 - 1980.

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