Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Hello Heidelberg.

I have been planning a trip down to Heidelberg for quite some time. For starters there is an ABW and Concentration Camp Cemetery to see, as well as the long closed Transport Museum that I dealt with in a previous blog entry. And while there are CWGC graves in Heidelberg, they have already been photographed so I didn't really have anything specific in mind to find gravewise. My plan was to visit 4 cemeteries (Kloof, Camp, Rensburg and Schuins Street), although that was all time and weather dependant.  Naturally the day I went to Heidelberg there was an accident at the Crown Interchange, causing me to have to make a detour, and anybody knows that in JHB that means delays and yet more delays.

I hit Heidelberg just after 10am. My first destination being the Camp Cemetery (aka Kampplaas). It is situated just outside Heidelberg and close to the N3 offramp. To be honest, the cemetery and concentration camp graves didn't really leave much of an impression with me.  

There are more concentration camp victims buried in the Kloof cemetery, but that was last on my list. My next cemetery of call was the Schuins Street Cemetery, which I navigated to using my untrusty GPS. Amazingly I did not end up being sent via Bloemspruit. The cemetery is on a dirt road; on one side is the Muslim Cemetery, and on the other an old African cemetery. Both have CWGC graves in them which means they date from the 1940's, although I suspect the African cem is much older.

African Cemetery in Schuins Street
The African cem is in a poor condition, it is very overgrown and many headstones have been lost or destroyed over the years. It is fenced, but I believe there are even more graves close by in the veld. Again I was faced with the question: what to photograph? there is just so much, but so little is actually legible, so a few panos were taken and I headed off to my next destination: Rensburg Cemetery.

I believe that Rensburg was named after a farmer called Van Rensburg, who, during the Boer War,  failed to get out of bed to report an incident on the railway lines, so the British authorities burnt his farm and confiscated his livestock, all because he slept late! The cemetery is on the edge of town and isn't very big, but has a very interesting mix of older graves, but for some strange reason, half of it was cleared of vegetation, while the rest was a madhouse of blackjacks.

Rensburg completed, I headed off to Kloof Cemetery, and of all the cems I visited in Heidelberg, this was the grand old lady. It is a magnificent cemetery, the oldest grave I found being dated 1849, and there is a mix of everything in it, from ABW right through to "modern" graves.

The cemetery has an Imperial soldiers plot, as well as a Burghers plot, and there are also camp graves in it; I believe that these are deaths were caused by a measles epidemic and even today the mounds are still visible over 100 years since the deaths occurred.

Imperial war grave plot
Heidelberg Burgher Memorial

I took a lot of photographs in this cemetery, and have added them to the relevant pages on the website, but it is worthwhile making a return visit there one day, because hindsight often reminds one of the images that you should have taken but neglected to take.

It was almost time to leave, and on my way out of the town I paused to grab a pic of the magnificent NG Kerk that was built in 1890.

As well as the beautiful old town hall with its elaborate globe fountain out front.

And a last look down the street, and it was time to go home.

Mission accomplished. Heidelberg is a pretty town steeped in history, it is also one of those places that is passed en route to elsewhere, which is really a pity because with a lot of research I am sure there is a lot more to see. The big drawcard is the Transport Museum, if they can get that working again then I am sure rail enthusiasts would be there like a shot.  I had an enjoyable day, and took over 560 photographs, so it was all worthwhile in the end.

I returned to Heidelberg in May 2012 and revisited the old cemetery and a number of other places in the town. Read about that visit here

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Heidelberg Transport Museum

On 27 January 2012 I visited the town of Heidelberg in Gauteng to do some gravehunting, My intention was to also visit the transport museum in the town to see what the status was of the railway exhibits in its care. I will not dwell on the history behind the museum, or the events that led to its closure at the end of 2003, that is dealt with by Piet Conradie in his blog. I am just dealing with 27 January 2012. 

The museum is housed in the old station building which originally opened as a station in October 1895 and served as such till 1961. It is a beautiful old building, but in dire need of restoration. The last restoration being done in 1975 when the original transport museum came into being. 
Street side of the station building
The railway coaches are housed in a long shed that was erected over the platform area of the station. There are 5 coaches in total, 2 of which are passenger saloons, 2 are dining saloons, and one is a baggage/parcels van. All are painted brown and with the exception of the bag van, are in a very good condition. A steam engine, class 16CR-816 is at the head of the short train in the first row. The first coach behind the locomotive is 1st/2nd class D-15 mainline passenger saloon 1044. This coach is in a beautiful condition inside and so many of the interior fittings are intact.

The 1st class compartments were fitted out with blue upholstery, while 2nd class had green. The coach has a gap in the middle where the corridor crosses to the other side.  This view of a 1st class compartment is taken from the window side, note the reading lamp in the top corner as well as the woodwork in the coach.  The coach still has a feint smell of wood and leather that was unique to the old coaches used on the SAR/SAS. I recall traveling down to Bethlehem in coaches like this when I was young, and they do not compare to the later steel bodied saloons with their formica and paneling.

The images above show a 1st class coupe, as well as the corridor on the first class half. Just imagine standing in that corridor while traveling to your destination.

The next coach down the line is the A-18 diner "Liesbeek", which carries the number 167. She was in service from 1914 till 1976.

Like many of the older dining saloons, half of her is a kitchen and the other half is the dining area, and she is a magnificent example of the pillared dining saloons that we used to have. The demise of the clerestory roof coaches would also be the demise of the pillared diner. Loose chairs tended to be unstable when the train was in motion or coming to a halt, the use of them was discontinued in later diners.

The last coach in the front row is a K-36 baggage/parcel van, number 4233. Unfortunately the exterior of this coach is in a poor condition on the one end. The roof of the platform area did not extend far enough to protect her so she will need a lot of renovation.

Behind this "train" are two more coaches. The coach next to the 16CR is another A-18 pillared diner "Illovo", number 166, built in 1914. She is a sister to 167 Liesbeek, and is also in a very good condition.

Behind her, and shadowed by a building is a C-16, first class balcony coach 737, built in 1921 by Metropolitan Carriage and Wagon Company in England. She is very dark inside and my camera really struggled to work in her, a torch should be on your agenda if you intend visiting the museum. Like the other passenger coach, she looks very intact on the inside and her compartments and woodwork are beautiful.

The last major piece of rolling stock is the Class 16CR-816. Cosmetically she is in a reasonably good condition because she has been under cover, unfortunately the usual copper theft has robbed her of many of her pipes, and her cabside plate, but her cab is intact.

The assistant curator at the museum took me around and was very eager that more people come to visit it so that it can be put back on the map. Usual office hours apply, although the museum is closed over a weekend. Potential visitors are asked to call the museum first at 016-341-2091, and ask to speak to Sipho to arrange a visit. I do advise taking a torch along, especially if you wish to see the interior of 737. The coaches are very dusty inside, and everything is not perfect, but I live in hope. The fact that we still have these coaches is a good enough reason for the museum to reopen.

Special thanks must go to Sipho who showed me around, to Piet Conradie for his excellent blog, and to Carlos Das Neves Vieira for his information about the coaches.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The joy of Model Railways

When I was young, model trains was one of the hobbies you wanted to pursue. And, like today, they were overpriced and out of reach of the casual buyer . The dominant player in the South African entry level market was the Italian manufacturer Lima. Somebody in their organisation was astute enough to realise that there was a smallish demand for SAR/SAS items to be sold inside the country. 

Lima had a number of sets on the shelves; there was Lima Crick, which was a wind up entry level toy.

Then there were the Junior sets which were battery driven from a battery box and which had indifferent quality coaches masquerading as the real thing. I had a "Blue Train" which I seem to recall cost R19 at the time. The locomotives bore no resemblance to anything on the SAR at the time, but then as children we were not as sensitive to accuracy as serious modellers were/are.

And finally there were the "proper" HO gauge trains which ideally one would use as a basis to build up a full size collection from. Lima also produced "N" gauge but I never saw any of these in South Africa up till recently. Acquiring a catalogue was always worth the effort as you could pore over it for hours, wishing that you had one of the many sets displayed inside it.

However, these trainsets were expensive, and of course we were in school so none of us had any money!  Once I started working I started to collect, first on my list was the Trans Karoo with its lovely 5E-919 and steel bodied 1st and 2nd class saloons, dining saloon and bagvan. The models themselves were primitive, and the traction motor in the 5E was/is a dismal performer.

The set above is typical of what was available. This particular set is more of an entry level passenger train as it excludes the 2nd class saloon which you would have gotten with a slightly bigger (and more expensive) set. Interestingly enough, I found an old Christmas shopping guide for 1976, and this particular set cost the princely sum of R37-95!  Unfortunately I could not find out what the average salary was in 1976.

You were able to buy a dummy 5E as well as additional coaches, track sets and buildings off the shelf. A Blue Train was also available, but its coaches were not based on actual Blue Train coaches, although the 5E was blue. There was also a nice suburban train in the original colours of the SAR/SAS

Suburban Train.
As well as a "Metroblitz" knockoff, which in reality was just a repaint of the 5E and other coaches.

Today these sets are very much desired by collectors, and quite a number of suburban sets have been repainted in the new Metrorail colours.

Goods trains were also available, and they usually had a class 34 diesel and a very nice rake of goods wagons. If anything the goods wagons were much easier to fake than a steel bodied saloon. 

Particularly coveted was the model of the "V8" Guards Van. This particular wagon was slightly out of scale with the real thing, but it was one of those wagons every collector wanted. Sadly, the real V8's have all but become extinct from the real South African railway network.

The big problem with HO gauge is that it takes up space, and my set was mounted on a large piece of chipboard that lived behind my desk. Each time I wanted to play with it I had to do major shuffling around of furniture which became a nuisance and my interest level fell. What I was really after was something smaller, like an "N" gauge set. So, like an idiot I disposed of my collection. Little knowing how desirable it would become so many years later. 

N vs. HO. N gauge in front, HO behind.
Wind forward 25 years. Lima is no longer available in South Africa, and hasn't been for years. The second hand market in South African Railway Lima items has grown, and the prices are unrealistic. However, many enterprising modellers have entered the market, creating very detailed SAR/SAS items,  although these are not aimed at the casual hobbyist, but rather the serious collector. The current owner of Lima is Hornby, and they do not export SAR items to South Africa. All that is available in the toy shops are Hornby OO gauge, and Bachmann sets based on American rolling stock. Specialist model train hobby shops (and there are a few),  have a nice selection of German equipment, and there is always bidorbuy, ebay, or directly importing yourself. Oddly enough American rolling stock and trackwork does have a large following in South Africa, and you have to admit, there are some amazing diesels and steam locos in the line up of American railway equipment.

I sold off my original small N Gauge set many years ago, having been unable to get any new rolling stock for it. My current N gauge set will be up for sale one day too as I downscale due to retrenchment. I was fortunate enough to find the basics of this set very cheaply, and was able to add to it mainly through the second hand market. At one point I even tried to convert it to a digital layout, but fitting the decoders in those small locos was a major problem.

However, I will hang onto the loose odds  of  Lima SAR stuff I have picked up. I have always liked those 1st and 2nd class coaches inspite of their many faults. And 5E-919 is about as close as I will get to having a 6E1.  Its really all about the nostalgia aspect of it as opposed to finding rolling stock for an existing layout. Living in a flat does not make for easy model railroading.

5E-919. Red and Gulf Red versions

2nd Class "Cape Town" Saloon
1st Class "Johannesburg" Saloon
Dining Saloon "Sabie"
I too am fortunate that I can still find real vintage coaches to look at, and I have photographs of many of them. There is no doubt that the railways that I knew exists no longer, the wood and leather clerestory coaches are a memory. The steam engines are an endangered species, and even the much loved 6E1 is seeing the end of its long reign. Model trains may be one of the few places left where you can look back on the past and participate in it. 

Update: 02/08/2014
While attending a live steam event in Salisbury, I chanced upon a Blue Train 5e-515 as well as a 1st Class sub coach. They were still in their boxes and had their original price tags on them. The 5e cost a whopping R19.95, while the sub cost R4.99. If I interpret the price tag correctly this pair date from 1981. I will not discuss how much I paid for them in UK Pounds, suffice to say I would probably not be able to buy them at that price in South Africa.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

East Rand Excursion. Benoni and environs.

My 2012 gravehunting season started with a major expedition planned for the 10th of January. The weather, unpredictable as always, gave me a short respite and I set the mission in motion. There were 3 CWGC graves to find in Styx Road Cemetery, as well as one in Wattville. I also intended visiting Rynsoord cem if time was on my side. There are a few Rand Revolt graves in there that I wanted, and that is generally reason enough to pay a visit. 

First stop though was the Cenotaph in Boksburg. I do not understand what it is with war memorials on the East Rand. Brakpan, Springs and Boksburg are an insult, with Germiston coming a close second. At least the memorials on the West Rand do look a bit better, although I wonder how long that will last.

My next visit was the cemetery in Styx Road. This is situated in an industrial area which is called Benoni East. The cemetery is in a poor condition. The formal gate was nowhere to be found, but portions of the precast fence had been broken so we were able to access it. Inside was not looking good either; unkempt grass, litter and holes were all over and most of the grave markers in the Moslem section were missing. The oldest grave I saw dated from the mid 1930's, but they weren't in too bad a condition. My 3 war graves were easy to find thanks to the map and we were able to wrap it up reasonably quickly.

Our next destination was the Wattville Cemetery, this is in the middle of Wattville and is reasonably close to Benoni itself and was quite easy to find. It's an average size cemetery, but the area I was looking for was heavily overgrown. Roads are mere dirt tracks and I would hate to see what this one looks like in a rainstorm. There was only one war grave here and we found it reasonably easily. Like all of the African cemeteries I had visited it was really difficult to get a sense of it. A lot of trees would enhance it considerably, but I suspect space is becoming a problem.

Time was on my side so we detoured to Benoni Rynsoord Cemetery.  Those Rand Revolt graves were my priority, but the cemetery has a lot of CWGC graves in it as well. It is quite large and well managed, maintenance was going on while we were there, and apart from a downed tree branch the whole place was neat and tidy. We spent most of our time in the older sections and found eight Rand Revolt graves which was a nice bonus. There was no formal SADF plot, although there was a "Hero Section" at the gate. We did find one Border War grave which I was hoping to find and I left very impressed with this cemetery, it really made a nice change. Interestingly enough, because this was predominantly a mining area, there are a lot of mine related deaths amongst the stones, something I saw on the west rand too. Our task completed it was off to our next destination, but first we had to navigate the abortion that is the N12 highway. Road works have made this an absolute nightmare, and I would hate to have to travel on here during peak hour, the road was bad before, it's even worse now.

Our last destination was the Dickie Fritz MOTH Shellhole in Edenvale. It has a very nice plinthed military equipment area, with amongst others, a Lockheed Ventura, Sherman tank, a Puma helicopter, and a beautiful sanctuary. The name was interesting as it is comes from two headmasters from that area that lost their lives in WW2, their former pupils came together to remember them and the Shellhole and associated cottages are the end result.  

Mission accomplished. It was an enjoyable day, although a scorcher when it came to heat. I like finding a multiple of things on one trip, it always makes the expenditure in petrol worthwhile. It is just a pity that everything you do in Johannesburg is governed by the mess that we call highways, and the traffic jams associated with broken robots, disgusting roads,  maniac taxi's, decrepit trucks and indifferent metro police.