At some point Roy Wort leaves. Other activities available to us include the go kart club and the skeet shooting club. Go Karting happens once a month, a good day out with plenty of excitement. At Buchanan a yard man asked if I want to go out fishing, he tells me they catch all kinds of strange fish, I turn that one down. Dave Lewis the locomotive fitter is sent down to Buchanan to assist with an engine overhaul on one of the tugs, he says the heat in the engine room is unbearable.
Early in the year I have my second fatality, approaching Tropi, train 21, a guy asleep on track, I sound the horn and make a brake application and inform the dispatcher. By the time I come to a stand I reckon I'm ten cars past him, the dispatcher says the trainman must go back to check the body. I knew he was dead, he had not moved. The trainman gets the radio and flashlight, off he goes reluctantly. He's back in two minutes and confirms the guy is dead. I sit him down, the reality of what has happened sinks in, he's frightened, he agrees. So I told the dispatcher I was leaving the locomotive, and return to the location of the body, which is not a pretty sight having suffered severe trauma. Back on the locomotive I report to the dispatcher who tells me to proceed with the train. There was a work gang camping near by, they were given the unpleasant of removing the body.
I always followed the instructions for taking the anti-malaria tablets - avloclor, two a week, even when I was away from Liberia I never missed. And I never got malaria. My wife was prescribed a different tablet, the avloclor gave her double vision, unfortunately she also got malaria. Ron and Pete both had bad bouts of malaria, along with plenty of other ex-pats. Thank goodness it was not the recurring type.
Unlike the locomotives working on British Railways, those working for LAMCO had solid wheels, no tyres so flat spots were a big problem. If a locomotive was found to have severe flat spots the workshop would fit special heavy duty brake blocks. Alex the head of the workshops would take the locomotive into the yard and find an empty track. Then he would run the locomotive up and down the yard with frequent braking to wear down the wheels until the flat spots had gone. The moment I discovered flat spots on any consist, I would log it in the locomotive repair book and notify the dispatcher, the problem seemed more prevalent on the HG locomotives.
1985 saw quite a few redundancies, mainly of the warehouse people, vehicle workshops and administration, to be quite honest some of them were lucky to have kept their jobs for as long as they had. This resulted in housing changes. Ron now lived by me, I had moved across the road to a two bedroom bungalow, same style. Late one night the phone rang, it was a very distraught Ron, apparently he thought his German Shephard 'Sheba' had been bitten by a snake and was dying. I hurried over, Sheba, who had been with Ron for seven years, was frothing at the mouth, and died shortly thereafter. The incident should have been reported to the authorities. But Ron said no way, he wanted to bury her in the garden. By now its 2am and we set about digging a hole, we had a shovel and a pick. We wrapped her up in plastic bags, and took her to the spot he had chosen. Immediately there was a problem, the high iron content of the ground made the digging not only extremely tough going, but also very noisy. Very soon Malcolm Jones
pops his head over the bushes, and asked the obvious question of what were we doing at this unearthly hour! He gave us a fright. We explained what was going on, he offered his condolences to Ron and then we got back to the digging, which took about two hours to complete, at sometime around 4am.
On a trip down to Buchanan Lanyama Williams was my trainman, he was the next to be selected for driving. It was an afternoon job and we'd just passed Yila when there was a bang from his side of loco, with black smoke streaming out from the engine. Before I could do anything he had pulled the fire extinguisher switch, but nothing had happened, the fire bottles had not activated. I shut down the leading locomotive, started coasting and then went back to check the problem. An engine inspection cover had blown off, it was a simple matter to retrieve it and screw it back into place. Then it was back to Lanyama to remind him not to panic when the unexpected happens, let the engineman make the decisions. I told him if the fire extinguisher had activated then the locomotive would require a visit to the workshops for a few days. At the same time I was thinking if there had been a real fire we would have had a problem. Next time we stopped I phoned Alex in the workshop and told him personally.
Another night trip down to Buchanan found us almost at the end of the run when I saw what I thought was a man along side the line, getting closer we realised it was a giant porcupine. Unfortunately we hit the animal and notified the dispatcher of the location, I knew Emanual Topka was on train behind me. Waking up the next morning, the driver who had come to pick me up said the boys are cooking bush meat, I went across to to their kitchen, there was a big pot on the stove with a porcupine in the pot. I noticed what big teeth it had, the quills were all over the place, I picked some up and I still have them to this day.
During 1985 a group of Liberians made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Doe and his group. A curfew was put in place during this episode, gunshots could be heard one night in our area. We were given protection by soldiers. On the way to work the next morning there were bodies on the ground outside police station with soldiers standing around. Since the export of iron ore provided the Liberian government with 50% of its export earnings it should come as no surprise that government forces would be used to protect this industry. It was also at this time that a new Liberian $5 coin was minted and these were to be used to meet the company's payroll. Small American coins were still in use, but no US dollar notes.
During the time of this attempted uprising one day I was waiting to depart Buchanan and was told to wait for the soldiers. Two big trucks pulled up alongside the locomotives, the soldiers jumped from the trucks and the yard foreman drove up in the brake testers pick up. I was told the payroll would be carried in the locomotive cabs and accompanied by four armed soldiers all the way to Nimba. The five dollar coins were in really heavy big bags, I was busy counting the bags along side the train. With three locomotives there was enough seats for the train crew and soldiers. Firstly the rear locomotive cab was filled up, then onto the middle locomotive, then to the lead locomotive, this cab was almost full but with some room to move around cab. Then the soldiers board, they all have automatic weapons, one joins me in the lead cab, it seems a comical episode, I would love to have known how much cash we were carrying.
Off we go, our train has been given priority on the line. The soldier in my cab did not say much, his gun was resting within arms reach of me. By the time we passed the first station on the line, Mokra town, my soldier was fast asleep. Throughout the journey my trainman would pop his head into the cab, he said all the other soldiers were asleep too. Further up the line I picked the gun up, I'd never held one before, it was lighter than I expected, I was pretending to shoot things from the locomotive. Then I was thinking I could throw a bag of money off the train into the bush and collect it later. How the mind wanders when given the chance! The trip went well I was glad to get home earlier with a non stop run.
Photograph courtesy Mal
Nimba Yard with a train waiting led by Henschel 303.
My Volkswagen beetle was still going strong after five years of my ownership. A guy from Guinea would go around the community repairing peoples cars. He seems a good mechanic, if your car needed a part he would make it. Without him many of the cars would have long ago been abandoned.
Around this time our railroad superintendent and trackmaster were two youngish guys from Leeds, Brian Forster and Wayne Peacock. One of the first jobs they took on was finishing the departure road at Tokadeh. Originally after loading here, the train with 60 cars had to be pushed back out to the main track. They added the new track from beyond the ore bins to lead straight out onto the main track, eliminating the need to push out. Now you could run straight into Tokadeh, load the train and depart straight out, saving a great deal of time with switching etc.
We did run some trains from Tokadeh which was 18km from Nimba, 60 car trains were run from here, the mine produced a different grade ore from Mount Tokadeh, like brown earth. You had to load your own train there.
They also ordered rail road vehicles, so they could take vehicle off track when a train approached, causing less delay than the normal trollies. So money was being put into the railroad at this time. The French Canadian consortium were in talks with the Guinea government to extend the LAMCO line a further 8 km across the border into Guinea, and transport their iron ore out to Buchanan. Whilst there was a chance of this coming to fruition, the Guinea authorities were looking for their people to have a far greater role in all of the mine/railroad activities. Possibly this may have been a stumbling block for this plan?
The first driver arrives from Knottingley.
Our June 1985 vacation was perhaps not as strenuous as previous ones. From Monrovia to Gatwick we had a British Caledonian A310, followed by an Air Europe B737 from Gatwick to Faro, with one week in Portugal touring the sights including Lisbon, Lagos, Portamaio, Alberfura. Then its back to Gatwick on another Air Europe B737. A car is hired for five weeks, paid for with MCO'S. When its over an A310 takes us back to Monrovia.
Late in 1984 there was trouble at home, our house boy had became complacent, things were going missing and some days he didn't turn up, I had warned him. He came to me around this time asking for money for hospital to cover his wife's confinement. I went to the hospital with him, paid the money, and then drove him home with the new baby. They lived in a hut in Camp 4 which was just outside the concession area, the camp being left over from the days of the railroad builders. It was dark when I dropped them off, they stepped out of the car with baby and I followed them into the hut, I could barely see anything it was so dark. So I gave him another chance. But by 1985 the trouble started again, stealing etc, time for him to go. It wasn't easy in sacking the house boy, paid him off with 100 dollars, he signed for that sum at the community center. How much he would have got is anyone's guess. A new boy is recommended, Cooper, who turned out to very good. It was however not quite the end of other boy yet. He came by our house one day with another boy who walked half way up to the front door, only to get bitten by Frisky the dog! The small bite mark on the leg broke the skin. Then I'm sued and had to visit the Area P courthouse taking my new house boy as a witness. By this time the boy's leg has a big gash, he'd been picking the wound to make it appear worse. The fine was 10 dollars, I was quite happy with this decision, some expats had paid up to 500 dollar fines for similar issues.
The biggest derailment LAMCO had seen happened about this time, some of these dates and the time of the derailment are a little fuzzy in my memory. Peter Fletcher was working down to Buchanan, I think train 17 with 90 cars. I spoke to his trainman at a later date, and he said the brakes went on and the train came to a stand, Peter told his trainman, Jesse Dahn to go back and check the train. He does this and radio's back to Peter to advise some of the train is missing. Peter notifies the dispatcher he is going back to check. When he gets to the rear Jesse advises the rest of the train is derailed around the curve, they walk back a bit further and find the devastation. Cars are strewn all over the place, heaps of iron ore line the sides of the track, the line is completely blocked, no further progress can be made. I don't know exactly how many cars derailed, maybe 30 or more, I think the location was south of Bakohn. There were no trains for at least a week, regretably Peter is finished after this incident. I remember the crane going down to assist in clearing the wreckage, the railbus was taking crews down, with hoards of men shoveling. Possibly I was back in the UK when this happened and returned to Nimba prior to the line reopening?
More wildlife is seen from the train, my first sighting of a Giant Ant Eater, whilst waiting to depart Buchanan it walked across the track at the top of the yard, it was just getting dark, quite a big animal. We also see what looked like a Monitor Lizard north of Tropoi, bounding along the track, then straight off into the bush. However I was getting a little weary of running over the goats, maybe one or two a week.
More time is now spent at the golf club, the social weekends are brilliant, I start to change my turns of duty to attend these social events. One afternoon whilst playing golf with Ron we see some young kids playing with an African grey parrot, its flying around tied to a wire, like a toy. We give them a dollar and they let the bird go.
At Green Hill quarry, just beyond Yila we take empty stone cars, run round and then back them up to the loading ramp, and start loading the stone. One Swedish guy stays there regular, he's in charge of blasting in the quarry, its a lonely job. The company also make there own ties just outside of Nimba, quays for loading ties, ovens for heating ties, and creosote for soaking, all self sufficient.
About this time (late 1985), a Dutch company are given the job of rewiring the locomotives, four Dutch guys are sent over to start the work which is expected to take a year at least. We were getting more ground relays, leading up to this time.
Christmas 1985 and the New Year came around, visitors this year include the sister in law who came out with our daughter, big parties, her sister said she had never seen so much booze. One night there was a party next door to us, but the wife's sister said she was having an early night, we said OK please yourself. When asked where she was, in bed we said, so about six of the lads went round to our place and carried the bed, with wife's sister still in it out on to the veranda. Fortunately all was taken in good fun and she joined party.
1985 or maybe 1986 not sure, ALICO was not performing well with our investments, it stayed at 10% to long. So the company changed to AETNA, This is what they told us, we had no say in matter anyway.
Part Two of the LAMCO story
Part One - The Steam Years 1960 - 1968
Part Two - The Diesel/Electric Years 1968 - 1980 & 1989 - ?
Page added December 6th 2008
Last updated November 6th 2010
Return to Picture menu
Return to Home Page