Howick High School pupil Hannah Finch with the locomotive she restored.
Howick High School pupil Hannah Finch with the locomotive she restored.

Howick High pupil brings steam train back to glory

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Apr 13, 2019

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Durban - Many steam locomotives have names. One that has gathered dust, rust, graffiti and garbage over the years at the Hilton station is destined to be named Hannah.

That’s because 17-year-old Hannah Finch, a matric pupil at Howick High School, pulled up her shirt sleeves and painted the Class One locomotive its original dark green, one milestone in a slow process of bringing the old Hilton station, which houses the Natal Railway Museum, back to its former glory.

“The biggest challenge was probably estimating where I would get to in a day, and then find it would take two,” said Hannah.

The process would involve sanding and pressure-cleaning the train.

“There was a lot of rust, there was old food packaging, beer bottles and stuff that we just shovelled out.”

The loco that is Hannah’s painting achievement has a special story of its own. It was the first steam engine to make the return working trip between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in a day.

Among the collection of locomotives awaiting attention and in the process of being restored at Hilton are another Class One that arrived by road in November last year, according to Grant Fryer of the Hilton Heritage Steam Association.

“It was purchased from a sugar mill at Tongaat by Australian Greg McLennan and brought to Hilton with the view to restoring it. There is also a North British Tank locomotive, and classes 19B, 19AR, 15AR and H2. And a few historical wagons and a steam crane.”

While there is potential for steam train trips along the now-redundant stretch of line that fell into disuse with the building of the Cedara Tunnel, Fryer said that at this stage the focus was on preserving the station, the museum and locos on site.

“If the opportunity arises that we can operate trains from Hilton, then we will deal with that at the time.”

For Hannah, the achievement is one of many she has undertaken in pursuit of the Springbok level status as a scout.

“Our plan is to get the kids, especially on the lower levels, to complete the project,” she said.

Hannah is a member of the First Hilton Scout Group, which has its base on the opposite side of the tracks to the Hilton station and museum.

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