Martin Luther Steam EngineIn the 1890s, the coast of the country was separated from the rest of the country by the Namib Desert. Goods had to come in from South Africa or the coast, but the distance was a major difficulty. The shortest routes, from the coast, travelled from Walvis Bay and Swakopmund to Windhoek, along the ‘Baaiweg’ or Bay Road. Traces of the ‘Baaiweg’ can be seen on the Welwitschia Plains Drive, just outside of Swakopmund. Goods were transported by ox wagon. The stretch of 100 km through the Namib Desert meant that the oxen could not be fed for seven to eight days. As a result, the oxen had to recuperate and gain weight after the trip, and could not be used for months afterwards. This delayed the transport of goods even more. Although there was talk of a railway line in the future, a German lieutenant, Edmund Troost, imported a steam locomotive from Germany, in 1896. His plan was to haul the goods from Swakopmund to Heigamkab, where the Swakop River joined the Khan River. This would solve the problems with the oxen and speed up the delivery of goods. However things did not go according to plan. Firstly, there were problems with landing the locomotive at Swakopmund, so it had to be landed at Walvis Bay. At the time, hostilities broke out between the German colonial government and the Khauas Nama, so transport of the locomotive from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund was delayed for five months. Driving the locomotive to Swakopmund also proved very difficult, as the engine kept on sinking up to its axles in deep sand. In fact, it took three months for the locomotive to travel the 30 km with its trailer. Yet Edmund Troost was convinced that if the locomotive could just be brought to Swakopmund, it would fare far better on the more solid gravel plains of the Namib. Once it arrived in Swakopmund, the locomotive made a number of trips carrying goods to Heigamkab (40 km from Swakopmund) and Nonidas (12 km from Swakopmund). Lieutenant Troost’s theory about the harder ground of the gravel plains of the Namib was correct! But another problem arose… the Swakop River came down in flood, putting an end to the locomotive’s trips. Further plans were made to use the locomotive in construction of the jetty, but these were abandoned, and the locomotive was left to stand on the spot where it had last come to a sputtering halt, the same place where it stands today. Work on the railway began shortly afterwards. A plaque was erected to commemorate the valiant efforts of the locomotive. The words come from Martin Luther, the German religious reformer who established the Lutheran Church. In 1521, as he stood before the Diet of Worms, answering to charges of heresy, he was asked to renounce his beliefs. He responded with the words, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” The Martin Luther steam engine takes its name from this man and his words. Over the years, the Martin Luther engine was severely eroded by the combination of mist and abrasive winds from the desert. It was restored to its former glory, and now stands under protective brick and glass.