29 April 2016

Nairobi's Railway Museum; a great place to learn about the "Lunatic Line"

Jim, Jeremy, and Derrick in front of a wall painting

Jim, Jeremy, Derrick, Linet, and I had a great time exploring the Nairobi Railway Museum recently. It's a little-known museum but has great artifacts and many train engines on display. We spent a few hours there absorbing all the interesting history.

Linet is sitting on a 'wheeled trolley' used in the streets of Mombasa from 1890-1926. Because there was no other means of transport those days, many people had one of these. The town had a comprehensive network of tracks linking the port to all the important places, including offices, clubs, banks, and the cemetery.

Jeremy is on a bicycle fitted to roll along on the tracks. A railway employee would use it to inspect the track and make repairs. It didn't work well when it was wet, though, making its use short-lived.

This engine is called 'Bavuma'

Linet is inside one of the engine cabs, while the boys explore in the background

The Uganda Railway (colloquially known as the Lunatic Line) strategically linked the Indian Ocean port at Mombasa with the interiors of Kenya and Uganda. It was built between 1896-1901 by 32,000 Indians who were brought to Kenya. Covering 660 miles, it was a difficult and tortuous ordeal. During those five years 2,498 workers died.

Due to the many wooden trestle bridges, enormous chasms, prohibitive cost, hostile tribes, men infected by the hundreds by diseases, and man-eating lions, the name "Lunatic Line" certainly seemed to fit. The name was coined by Charles Miller in his 1971 book by the same name.

The railway was a huge logistical achievement and became economically vital for both Kenya and Uganda. It helped to suppress slavery by removing the need for humans in the transport of goods.

Born in India in 1874, Charles Ryall was the Superintendent of the Railway Police based in Mombasa and also a big-game hunter. He had heard of the two man-eating lions of Tsavo and devised a plan to kill it. His inspection car, number 12 (pictured above), was detached from the Mombasa train on the night of June 6, 1900 and left at Kima Station (70 miles from Nairobi).

Leaving the doors and windows wide open to attract the lions, he settled down in the sleeping compartment of the carriage - gun in hand - to watch. Unfortunately he fell asleep before one of the lions arrived. When it grabbed Ryall by the throat and dragged him out through a window, his companions were so petrified that no one fired a shot. The lion disappeared into the darkness and Ryall's body was eventually found and buried in Nairobi; he was only 25-years old.

There are two art studios next to the Railway Museum that provide an environment for many local artists. These wall paintings are an example of their talent.

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