SOUTH AFRICAN ‘TOP LINK’ DRIVER JOHN GILBERTHORPE DIES
Former South African Railways steam driver John Gilberthorpe passed away in his sleep in North Wales on September 13, following a number of strokes.
Born in Sheffield in 1947, he became interested in steam at an early age and moved to South Africa in 1971 after a period working on steamships. He initially worked as a fireman at Greyville shed in Durban before being promoted to passed fireman at De Aar and to driver at Germiston shed in 1978.
His friend Richard Niven, who describes him as “an extremely proud and professional engineman”, recalls: “Even though Germiston had over 100 steam locomotives on its books, he hated the place because of all the shunts and trip working. Thankfully he soon managed to transfer to Mafikeng where he was once again out on the main line with ‘19D’ 4‑8‑2s, which I think were his happiest times on the SAR.”
After further spells at Vryburg and Germiston, he ended up at Kimberley depot in 1989 with Richard as his fireman and ‘25NC’ 4‑8‑4 No. 3488 as his regular engine. Here, says Ken Livermore of the North British Locomotive Preservation Group: “John will be best remembered for his amazing exploits with the mighty ‘25NCs’ on the Kimberley to De Aar racing ground which lasted until April 1992. He was quite possibly the last great British ‘top link’ steam driver.”
John finally retired from SAR in 2002 and returned to the UK. His funeral was held in Bangor on September 26.
John Gilberthorpe at the regulator of ‘25nc’ 4‑8‑4 no. 3500 at vryhof loop, en route to mafikeng on february 12 1988.