Drawn by & copyright: Sue Lawrence
Originally this coach was a composite 1st and 2nd Class accommodation coach.
No strictly a museum exhibit, #1823 was developed as an eye surgery as part of
the celebrations for the centenary of the arrival of the railways in Bulawayo.

There was an argument that the centenary should look towards the next 100
years, and not only back to the previous 100. A number of 'good works' were
proposed, one of which was an eye surgery, supported by NRZ and the Council
for the Blind.

The coach selected was 1823, until then used as an Army Surgery for the
Zimbabwean Army supporting the relay gangs in Mozambique. It had returned to
Bulawayo and was due to be sold on tender as it had been modified for it's
medical role.

It was intended that the coach would form part of an exhibition train which would
tour every station in Zimbabwe between 04 November 1997 (the centenary of the
Bulawayo railway) and 04 February 1998 (the centenary of the Beira to Mutare
railway.)

The rest of the exhibition train would comprise an art exhibition coach (converted
4th Class), a steam locomotive (a 15th Class Garratt, this would be for display
only and would not steam), a few economy coaches that could be used to give
local school kids short train rides behind the local diesel shunting locomotive,
and a private saloon to accommodate a caretaker.

The eye surgery coach was to be handed to the Council for the Blind at the end of
the centenary celebrations, after which is would again travel across Zimbabwe
doing it's 'good work'.

In the event, the Council for the Blind 'hijacked' the entire train, took over the art
exhibition coach (with pictures still on display) as their waiting room and started
consultations. The private saloon was beefed up with a twin dining car and
sleeper coaches to accommodate the surgical staff.

By the time the train reached Mutare over 5,000 consultations had been given, and
nearly 500 cataract operations had been completed. The NRZ caretaker was still
unsure as to why a Class 15A Garratt was being hauled around with the eye
surgery train!

The original idea may have been derailed, but this was one train hijack that
no-one could object to.

The train operated for a second season before the coach was placed in the
Museum for safekeeping. It has stood there since then, waiting to be hijacked
again.
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Number 1823 in April 2005.
Photos. Geoff Cooke
Eye Surgical Coach number 1823
Geoffs trains tours