The Blondin Cable
As early as July 1903 tenders were invited for a
cableway to span 870 feet, well over the limits of
the gorge and capable of carrying a load of 10
tons a trip. It was arranged that the bridge
builders should have a prior right to the use of
the cable, but there was more to be done than
the building of the bridge. The railway, it was
decided, must be pushed forward
simultaneously. This necessitated the daily
transport of some 200 tons of material for the
track alone.

This cableway was a marvel of ingenuity, and
materials for it were unloaded at the Zambezi in
June 1904.   The cable weighed 5 tons, and
consisted of nineteen steel wires surrounding a
hemp core, with a circumference of 8,5 in. and a
breaking strain of 270 tons. That cable had to be
flung across the gorge, 650 feet wide. First, a
rocket was shot over the chasm, carrying a light
cord to watchers on the opposite cliff. The cord
was then used to haul across a wire attached in
turn to a light rope. A traveller or carrier, carrying
the end of the main cable, was then rigged on
the rope and hauled across the gorge by a
second rope and a winch.
Postcard published by the Bulawayo Pictorial
Postcard Depot
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On one bank the cable was attached to a steel
tower 36 feet high, anchored at the rear with guy
ropes.  On the opposite bank the cable was
attached to the top of a pair of sheer-legs, 80 feet
long, hinged to massive foundation plates
embedded in concrete.  The sheer-legs were
arranged to lean away from the gorge at an
angle of 45 degrees, and from the top  of this
enormous jib was suspended a counterweight
of 60 tons.

The Blondin was operated electrically, carrying
its own driver and power lines from a generating
station on the cliff top. Despite many difficulties
the cable and conveyer lasted just for the
duration of the job, although a new cable and
conveyer had been made to act as a stand-by. All
the material for the northern half of the bridge
was duly carried along the cable in loads of 10
tons and, by the same means, were transported
many miles of rails, thousands of sleepers,
quantities of stores, contractors' locomotive and
wagons, some 15,000 tons in all. The special
cradles designed for conveying sleepers along
the cable made popular transport cars for the
workmen. When the atmosphere was highly
charged with electricity the conveyer would
sometimes be enveloped, high over the gorge, in
a blaze of lightning.
Postcard published by E Peters showing
the Blondin high above the gorge