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Martin Luther Steam Engine
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Martin Luther Steam Engine

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Martin Luther Steam Engine (1896)

Located just outside Swakopmund.

Transport until the end of 19th century inside German South West Africa, revolved around either walking, trekking, horseback or by ox wagon connecting supplies from Swakopmund 100km into the desert provided much hardship for man and beast.

Ox wagon treks took seven to eight days. Oxen went without food for this period and required up to three months to recuperate before they could be used again. It became an unacceptable turnaround. The Bay Road from Walvis to Swakopmund, not to mention interior tracks and trails, were littered with ox skeletons.

The plan to introduce steam locomotives to the country was approved, but there were insufficient landing facilities at Swakopmund. Walvis Bay was the only other alternative. Hostilities between the Germans and the Nama delayed moving the stream engine to Swakopmund by five months.
Almost every 500m the locomotive had to be dug out, as it was up to its axle in sand. The heavy trailer could only be winched 150m at a time because the locomotive couldn't pull itself. The sun was hot on the backs of the workers who were replaced frequently, mainly because of the arduous conditions, lack of clean drinking water and their apparent futility of the exercise. The steam locomotive used excessive amounts of water that had to be fetched from either Walvis Bay or Swakopmund. It took three months for the 30km journey.

A small number of lucrative trips were possible, between Swakopmund, Nonidas and Heigamkab, 12 and 14km away, totally vindicated the original idea. The shuttle service was alive and well until an unforeseen event took place. The ephemeral Swakop River flooded the flourishing settlements and the locomotive was abandoned where it stood. Before long, it rotted and decayed.

The 'Martin Luther' Steam Locomotive was derived from the words of the German religious reformer, Martin Luther (1483-1546).

'Here I stand, I have no options left. May God help me. Amen.'

It was for some time situated in the town of Arandis, (between Usakos and Swakopmund), to be restored, but has been replaced in almost the identical spot where it broke down. It is encased in a glass container to protect it from the elements and vandals.

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