Kameel Stoepstorie: Kameel 250 Rally

A wonderful festive atmosphere was the spirit of the day. Everyone was talking and walking around the sport field of Kameel Laerskool. The mothers were feeding the crowds. People were meeting old friends from far away at the annual Kameel 250 Rally.

You would ask Kameel. Yes, Kameel and our village has nothing to do with camels.

The Kameel 250 Rally brought participants from all over South Africa to be part of this festive day. A record of 46 entries were part of the Kalahari race.

Our village is known for the railway line that was built in 1894 as part of the Cape to Cairo project. The railway line was built on my Great Grand-father, Alfred Ernest Fincham’s farm – Kameelbult.o

A little more about Alfred Ernest. He was born in the year 1869 at The Grange in the Hopetown District and is a son of the late John Thornton Fincham, farmer and general merchant of the district.  In 1870 he gave up the business in those parts and proceeding northwards to Vryburg.  Bechuanaland where he assisted in establishing the firm of Fincham and Sons. He sold out his interest to take up farming in the Mafeking District, by purchasing a block of farms of 9000 morgens at Ramathlabama.  Alfred was one of the defenders in the siege of Mafeking, belonging to the Town Guard, manning De Kock’s Corner Fort through the Siege of Mafeking.  When it was raised he returned to farm life, giving attention to raising both large an small stock.  He married the Elizabeth Ellen West and they had four children. Louisa Elizabeth, Mary Amelia, Ada Ethel and Victor Baden (my Grandfather)

The foot-and-mouth disease took its toll amongst the cattle and the family then moved to the farm in the Stella district. When they arrived at the farm Louise commented that there was a Lonely Hill. The house and piece of land is still known as Lonely Hill.

This piece of land is right next to the Stella Salt Pans and over the years David Livingston and Robert Moffat visited the area. H Anderson Bryden wrote in his book Gun and Camera in South Africa about his visits to the Finchams

The road between lies across a dead flat, unbroken tree or bush, and is inexpressibly wearisome. The telegraph posts, which follow the road between Vryburg and Setlagoli, rather add to than detract from the monotony. This fifty mile stretch to Setlagoli, dull, fiat, and uninteresting as it is, especially if you follow the post road and do not call at Fincham’s, is to my mind one of the most trying in British Bechuanaland . I have ridden it several times alone, and I have noticed at such times, that the utter lack of relief over this deadly bit of veldt seemed to impress itself even upon one’s horse.

Salt was mined and transported via donkey wagons to Kameel railway line. Later on, a wooden building was erected and the everyday running of Kameel Railway Station came into being.

Victor married to Hester Cecilia Guache  and they raised three children namely Alfred Ernest, Gerald Cecil (my father) and Jean Dolores.


Victor was born on 6 June 1900 in a tunnel underneath the town during the “Seige of Mafeking. 

The newly weds moved to Devondale where they made a living running a small shop. They would drive to Kameel to visit family in friends on a motorcycle with a sidecar.
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My Great-grandfather passed away on 15 Jul 1937 and was buried in the Mafeking cemetery. Victor and Hester then moved the Kameelbult.

They saw the need for education for their own children and for the children of the farming community. The Kameel Laerskool opened its doors in 1934 in a room in my grandparents house. My granny – Hester was very involved with the day to day issues of the school. My parents and we all attended the farm school. All the kids of family and friends also attended the farm school. Growth was evident and my grandfather built a stone school which was later demolished. He then built a two-class room school building and till today it is fondly remembered as the Witskool due to the fact that since I can remember it was painted white. https://deoudehuizeyard.com/2018/01/17/a-farm-school-in-kameel

The Witskool

Later years the school building was renewed and the school that hosted the Kameel 250 Rally was built. The sport fields are changed into the starting point and pit-stops for the competitors.

My dad, Gerald was a keen spectator of all kinds of sport. When my two younger brothers, Cecil and Mike was old enough they all got into the Off-road racing. An old farm bakkie was transformed into a racing machine. ith now sponsorship and no fancy engines they competed in every race. Dad and Pajapan would be the backup crew and my Mon would follow in a car. This was the beginning of holidays next to off-road tracks for the two. Mom would fondly remember all the funny incidents.

Kameel has also delivered some NR and National Champions over the years in the form of Hein Moolman, Cecil Fincham, Wikus van Deventer and most recently, Victor Fincham. Victor is my cousin.

In the words of Victor : Well to be honest it started while I was still wearing nappies. I basically grew up next to the track. My uncle, Cecil Fincham Snr, (is a NRCCC Champion ) started racing the the late 80’s, and him and my Grandfather use to take me to all the races and that is where I fell in love with racing and the mystique and adventure surrounding it. I had done thousands of races in my head and with my bicycle in the back yard growing up and finally got my chance in 2013 and the rest as they say is history…..

Till next time

Sandra

Kameel Stoepstorie: Kameel Rust and Vrede Accommodation

This accommodation on the edge of the Kalahari is situated in a garden that reminds of an oasis in the middle of red sand and thorn trees.

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A visitor relaxing in the sun.

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This establishment caters for everyone and offers en suite rooms, caravan stays and camping facilities. This Cape Wagtail booked in as a camper and build a camp next to the door to one of the guest rooms.

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This family will enjoy the stay in one of the re-purposed camper vans. It sits comfortable between the trees.

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The previous years the swallow moved into the family room. This year the swallows booked late and on arrival they found that the house sparrow family has booked early and were sitting cozy in their accommodation.

The garden offers a lot of interesting and quirky places to visit. This is enjoyed by all the guests. You can visit their Facebook page here

There is a variety of ways to enjoy the gardens and watch the feathered guests.

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Till next time

Sandra

#Kameelhuisetussenspore

Kameel Stoepstorie: Naamborde en Padpredikante wat elk sy eie storie vertel

Die lewe in die stad is altyd so vining. Jy moet jou haas van die een uiterste na die ander kant. Op die Platteland is dit heel ‘n ander storie. Hier is ‘n ander rustigheid wat ‘n invloed op almal het. Jy kom waar jy wil wees op jou eie pas. Jy maak gebruik van wat beskikbaar is. Die afgelope twee weke het ons ook hierdie spesiale bederf beleef. Die man wat vriendelik wuif maar sy fiets penorent hou. Ons het op stofpaaie gery, dan weer op ‘n heel oordentlike grondpad met kareebome langs die kant. Die Karee’s laat jou so half-en-half beskut voel teen die elemente daarbuite. Ons het op ‘n twee-spoor pad gery. Hier het almal tyd om te groet, beleefheid en oordentlikheid is aan die orde van die dag. Daar was natuurlik ook ‘n hoofweg en ‘n hobbelrige teerpad. Dan is daar natuurlik Randall wat sy vervoermiddel op die spore hou.

Ooral langs die paaie kom ons padpredikante teë. Elkeen dui ‘n rigting aan maar so ook vertel elkeen dat die pad na êrens lei. Die name laat ons glimlag want daar sal verseker nuwe stories wees om te vertel. Nuwe geleenthede en nuwe wind rigtings om in te slaan. Ons gaan nog baie rondrits dit is verseker.

Wanneer die son water trek is dit vir eers tyd om na Kameel terug te keer. Terug na die Huise tussen Treine en tussen Spore.

Tot volgende keer

Hennie en Sandra

Kameel Stoepstorie: Devondale tot Kameel

Al ooit gehoor van Devondale?

Die stasie is 25km vanaf Kameel. Vandag is daar min oor van die eens tuiste en besigheid van my Oupa Victor en Ouma Hester. Na hulle huwelik het hulle Devondale Store besit en in die huis langs die winkel gewoon. In die goeie dae van Devondale was daar die watertenks waar die stoomtreine water gevat het. Ek onthou nog die ou Convent wat een van die groot geboue in die omgewing was.

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Wanneer daar by die familie op Kameel gaan kuier is, het oupa en ouma met die motorfiets en side-car gery.

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Oupa Victor op die motorfiets reg om die pad te vat Kameel toe, maardaar was darem tyd vir ‘n foto sessie.

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Dan was dit Ouma Hester se beurt in die syspan. Sou wat wou gee om daardie hoed van nader te kon besigtig.

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Ouma op die motorfiets. Kyk die leer kamaste. In my opinie sien ons altyd ons oumas en oupas as baie streng maar as ek so na die foto’s kyk haal ek my hoed vir hulle af. Niks kon hulle onderkry nie.

Ek is seker hulle het by al die bekendes van die omgewing gekuier. Aunt Ethel (oupa se suster) en Uncle Rex Collins het, net oorkant die spoor op Devondale, gewoon. Ek is seker dat daar ook gekuier is by Uncle Alfi and Ant Nellie Fincham, wat op Kinderdam gewoon het. Ook onthou ek die Starkes van Curnow. Daar was die Barlow’s (my ouma en ouma aan moederskant) van Langverwag.

Pa Gerald het altyd vertel van die spook op Devondale – ouma en oupa het na die 4 uur tee gaan stap. Toe hulle terug kom was die tafeldoek onder die koppies en teepot uitgetrek en bo-oor alles gegooi, sonder dat iets uit sy plek was. Daar was natuurlik die fosfor-ligte op die drade waarvan Ma Floss vertel het.

Victor en Hester September 1940
Groot-Oupa Alfred Ernest is in 1937 oorlede en Oupa en Ouma Fincham het toe Kameelbult toe getrek.

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Die dae op die plaas was gevul met daaglikse plaas aktiwiteite. Die eerste trekker was ‘n groot aanwins.

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Die dorsmasjien

Kameel het ‘n winkel gekry – Mr McKay se winkel. Mr McKay was natuurlik Tannie Glen se pa. Hy het vir jare die winkel besit, maar die beste was die stories oor die mak kraanvoël, Jock, wat almal gejaag het.

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Oom Ernest en Tannie Glen op hul troudag. Tannie Glen was ‘n legende in die plaaslike poskantoor waar sy vir jare gewerk het.

Die winkel is later jare deur Oom Daan en tant Lizzi bedryf. Nadat hulle vertrek het, het oom Russel en tannie Corrie Olewage die winkel bedryf. Later jare sou my ouers die winkel bedryf. Nadat hulle genoeg gehad het, het Patrick, my broer die winkel bedryf en later jare het hy dit verhuur. Toe die laaste huurders van die winkel hom, na vele kere gesoebat het om die winkel terug te neem, het hy die bul by die horings gepak en die deure van Wilrick Kontrei winkel geopen.

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Kameel se “Mall” ‘n kontrei-winkel, posagentskap, ATM en die bottelstoor

Daar was ook die Italiaanse kryggevangenes wat op die plaas kom uithelp het na die Tweede Wêreld Oorlog. Pa Gerald het hulle by Zonderwater gevangenes gaan haal en weer teruggevat. Renato het vir baie jare kontak met die familie gehou.

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My Pa, Gerald staan links

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Pa Gerald, Oupa Victor, Ouma Hester, Jean voor en die Italiaaners.

Oupa Victor is in 1954 oorlede en ouma het die Cafee langs die treinspoor begin.

Kameel is een van die dae ek en Hennie se nuwe tuiste ons hoop om in die voetspore van ons ouers, groot-ouers en geliefdes te kan stap.

Tot ‘n volgende keer

Sandra en Hennie

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Stoepstorie 7: Wesley Hall and Anne James alias Mrs Tom James

Our next story comes with a twist as we noticed that the cornerstone of the Wesley Hall was laid by Mrs. Tom James. It left a question mark.

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Who was Mrs. Tom James?

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The Chevy is doing a trip and parked in front of the Wesley Hall next to the Methodist Church.

The Wesley Hall was built in 1906 and the cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Tom James on 17 January 1906. She was the eldest daughter of James Putterill. Her husband was a true supporter of the church and was for many years the Sheriff and Mayor of the town.

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The old Methodist Church was demolished in 1967 – 1968 and the Record Stone of the previous stone was laid by James Putterill on 14 June 1882.

From the time Harrismith was established most of its inhabitants were English-speaking. The British settlers who emigrated to Natal during 1849-50 found the country in the Byrne Valley not suitable for traditional farming practices. Many went to settle in urban areas, while some returned to Britain. Encouraged by Mr Warden, about 1 500 settlers came to Harrismith.

Wesley Hall

The story of Anne as shared by Leon Strachan.

Mrs Tom James was Anne Putterill and has a truly sad but remarkable story.
Her father James Putterill was a Byrne settler with a big personality who owned land in Verulam before moving his family up to Harrismith in 1863. His eldest daughter, a tiny but stubborn 25-year-old woman refused bluntly to get married, even though women were in great demand in the Free State (in 1863 the Free State Republic had been in existence for only 9 years and was extremely sparsely populated).
Unfortunately her disinterest did not prevent a man to fall in love with her. Anne didn’t want to have anything to do with him. When Anne’s strong-willed father (a grandchild referred to him as domineering) got wind of this he stepped in to salvage the situation. He instructed the man, a Welshman called Thomas James, to build a suitable house and furnish it. He, on the other hand, bought trousseau and a wedding dress for Anne, and fixed a wedding date.
When Tom James completed his ‘solid cut stone house,’ James Putterill instructed his daughter to prepare for her wedding. Anne refused, she said she didn’t love Mr. James and that was that.
The Putterill’s were a prominent family thanks to the very forceful James Putterill, who was an excellent business man and played a leading role in the Wesleyan (Methodist) church, as he did in town affairs. Whilst guests filled the church in Warden street on Anne’s wedding day, he instructed his womenfolk to dress up the unwilling bride. He then continued to drive her to the chapel in his carriage, where he walked a very unhappy daughter up the isle. He maneuvered the obstructive girl into position next to the groom, while he flanked her on the other side ‒ urging a flabbergasted minister to get started.Don’t think James Putterill had won the battle of wills yet. Anne was unfazed, she declined bluntly to take the marriage vows in front of all the astonished wedding guests. She stood her ground, not unnerved at all. Putterill didn’t despair either, neither did he give up. It would be a battle of wills to the inevitable end.
Every time it was expected of the bride to answer the parson, James pushed his silent daughter’s head slightly down as if she nodded whilst signalling impatiently to an ever more uncomfortable parson to get on with it. The ceremony was thus unceremoniously consummated, and the unlikely couple settled shakily into the solid stone house.
They were childless (3 stillborn). Tom James turned out to be a stalwart who became sheriff and mayor of Harrismith. Both he and his wife loved fishing, they were often seen fishing together whenever an opportunity occurred. The 66-year old Tom died in 1894, after which Anne took in a Miss Dixon to keep her company. According to Beryl Osborn (Anne’s niece who penned the family history) they lived happily together until the British garrison arrived on Kings Hill in 1903, when disaster struck.
A striking and very charming young soldier, conveniently named private James, befriended the two elderly ladies. Young James told them he was an orphan with no home and no family, all alone in the world.
Besotted with him, Anne bought him out of the army and formally adopted him. The young man then gratefully proceeded to squander his adopted mother’s savings. Even when Anne had lost everything she owned, never an unkind word was uttered or anything damaging believed of the young man. He bolted unceremoniously out of the country when there was nothing left to spend.
The Putterill family had to club together to provide the necessary means for Anne and Miss Dixon, and their parrot, to live on. Anne rewarded them by living into her nineties.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Stoepstorie 3: Scotty the English teacher

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Stuart Street – this quaint and superbly kept cottage once belonged to Miss Helen Scott “Scotty”. Miss Scotty was the English teacher to many scholars. She was a wonderful teacher and friend to so many people in Harrismith who all loved her

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The letter dated 13/10/1958 which Josie Cronje received from Miss Helen M. Scott her English teacher in 1958 when she was in Std 8. This little part of our history is priceles.

She also wrote a testomonial for Mary Bland, in 1945, when Mary was finishing off Matric.

Scottie testomonial to Mary Bland in 1945

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Kameel Stoepstorie: Traveling Companion

Wanneer ek ‘n Volkswagen Beetle op die pad raakloop dan kyk ek altyd waar sy flikkerligte sit. Julle weet daardie armpies wat so uitgeskiet het langs die deure wanneer daar gedraai word. In Engels is dit semaphores.

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Pa was die “traveler” in ons familie. Hy sou niks daarvan dink om ons in die kar te laai en êrens heen te ry. Ons eerste kar was ‘n Borgward – ‘n besonderse motor wat op voco-paraffin kon loop.Aust76

Daar was die oranje VW Beetle met die “dog-box”. Ek onthou die reis af Jeffereybaai toe – die bagasie is in die neus van die Beetle gelaai en dan het Pa die neus van die motor in die regte rigting gedruk. Ons plek was bespreek in die Jeffreys Bay Hotel. As ek reg is is dit vandag die Savoy Hotel. Pa het op gevoel gery so het ons Jeffreysbaai ge”overshoot” en in die destydse Ferreiratown gestop. Gelukkig was daar ‘n vriendelike man wat Pa in die regte rigting gestuur het.

Dan was daar later die bootvaart op die Knysna Lagoon en die gety wat ons wou intrek. Janboel en Julian wat moes stoot dat hulle bars om die boot op droeë grond te kry.

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Al die kere wat ons gaan springhase jaag het met die Willy’s Jeep. Dit was ons Saterdag-aand uitstappie op die plaas. Menige aande het ons met Jeep en al in ‘n gat te lande gekom. Dit was pret om met ‘n groot gesukkel weer huis toe te hinkepink.

Die Nuwejaar kamp by West-end dam met pa se 8-ton lorrie en die wit Engelse tent. Die blou lorrie sou die naweek van Nuwejaar gelaai word met onder andere beddens wat kon opvou in sulke oulike amperse tafeltjies, die nodige potte en panne en natuurlik die wit tent. Daar is visgevang en geswem. Later van tyd was daar ‘n bootjie waarmee die vissermanne se hoeke die water ingeneem is. Dit was in die tye voor sonbrand beskerming en gewoonlik was daar ‘n paar erg verbrande rooi lywe.

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Die Engelse tent het ‘n spesiale plek gekry by Kameel Rust & Vrede Bed en Ontbyt

Die kuier by tant Meraai in die Gamtoos en die tabak-vlooie wat ons byna opgevreet het. Ma het so in ‘n fluister stem vir Pa vertel van die vlooie maar ai, met Tant Meraai se ore was daar geen fout nie.

Dan onthou ek ook die kuiers by oom Salmon en Tant Pollie op Uitenhage. Tant Pollie was my ouma Barlow se suster. Vandag nog is Tant Pollie se appeltert deel van De Oude Huize Yard se spyskaart. Ek onthou die tafel in die kombuis waar ons almal saam gekuier het en stories van die Kolonie vertel het.

Daar was die tye wat ons laat-laat middag by die huis weg ry om by Popeye, soos my Pa my Ma genoem het, se familie in Skurweberg te gaan kuier. Tant Madeleine en oom Was het by Skurweberg gebly. So lekker teen die klip koppie. Daar is gekuier om Grand-cru en roomys.

Soms het ons 21h00 van die plaas gery om op Cypress in die Steynsrus distrik te gaan kuier. Dit was waar Fritzie en Rhoda geboer het. Ontbyt aan die tafel in die voorhuis was altyd ‘n ondervinding met Fritzie wat vir elkeen ‘n snybrood gesny het. Nooit meer as een sny op ‘n slag. Vir ons Finchams was dit nogal vreemd want dit was ons stapelvoedsel. Ek onthou die uitstappie met die Bluebird Datsun in die Golden Gate. Daarna was Pa Gerald nooit weer gretig om Golden Gate te besoek nie.

Op ‘n ander toer is ons na Francistown in Botswana, daardie kuiers in die destydse Suid-Rhodesia. Die Vic Falls, waar ons op ‘n bootvaart op die meer was. Een van die passasiers se kinders het ‘n aap geterg en is gebyt. Toe moes almal terugkeer wal toe. Pa het ons die Valley of Ruins en Matopo Hills gewys. My gunsteling plek was Leopards Rock omdat dit so ‘n pienk kleur geverf was en ek het aan Monaco gedink.

Daar was al die rally’s saam met Cecil en Paaijapan. Persoonlik dink ek daar is klein-kinders met Av-gass in hulle bloed. Pa en Ma het een aand in die middel van die winter by ons oorgeslaap. Juis met die hele Rally konvooi. Pa het voorgestel dat die manne buite sou slaap maar het nie rekening gehou met die Vrystaatse koue nie. Die nag het die manne voor die kaggel geslaap. Dit het nogal ‘n gesnork uit die boonste rakke gewees.

Pat en Pa wat “flips” in DVZ ZA oor Kameel geneem het. Dit was vir Pa groot vreugde en hy het later jare vertel hoe Kameel en die omgewing uit die lug lyk. Daar is later ‘n langer aanloopbaan deur die mielielande gemaak. Later jare sou Pat, Ma, ek en Hennie gaan blomme kyk in Springbok en ja ek kan ‘n noodlanding aftik op my lys.

Daar was die kuier in Namibia by Susan en Derick. Die plaas was op Gobabis en toe die terugrit aangepak moet word was die motor se battery pad en al genade was die Landdrover. Nodeloos om te sê, Derick het ‘n plan gemaak, ‘n matras is vir Ma en Susie agter op die Landdrover gesit. Hulle moes darem in gemak reis. Ma kon nooit uitgepraat raak van hoe sy en Susie die hele pad terug Windhoek toe gegiggel het.

Daar’s al die kuiers by Mike en Hes in Bloemfontein en Mike wat Pa na elke “scrapyard” in Bloem moes neem. Dis seker waar ek my liefde vir ‘n skrootwerf gekry het.

Daar was kuier in Harrismith en pa se woorde aan Hennie – “Hendrik ek weet nie wat jy betaal het nie maar ek is seker jy het te veel betaal”

Oupa wat Pedri geleer het van toast, bacon en eiers – sy gunsteling!.

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Wat ‘n lewensrit was dit nie!

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When you give your children knowledge, you are telling them what to think. When you give your children wisdom, you do not tell them what to know, or what is true, but, rather, how to get to their own truth.

Tot ‘n volgende keer

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Van Reenen’s Railway Pass

Next time when you travel between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 and follow the Van Reenens pass – just pause a moment and notice the beauty around you. DSC_0001

This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer. Thanks to Mountain Passes South Africa for the information

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The landscapes around the Van Reenen Pass are stunning and the railway service roads and tunnels top off the adventure. The route is a superb gravel pass but easy going and we duck off the N3 just just after Van Reenen. We traveled on the downhill mode. The scenery is stunning. This is the service road of the railway line and we traveled pass sidings, tunnels and farms. It include a 200m tunnel built in 1925, with a curve.

Watch the video that will take you with us Van Reenen Railroad pass

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Bookmark this pass for a sunny day and get lost in time and space and escape the frenetic traffic off the N3.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

31 December 2017

The year came to an end

We celebrate live and awaits the blessings of 2018.

The Joy of the Season

During our 52 week challenge we have shared with you the following

  • Town hall in Harrismith
  • The old station building in Harrismith
  • The fossilized tree next to the Town Hall
  • A road trip pass Swinburne to Geluksburg
  • The history of Warden Street
  • The Great War Memorial
  • The old Goal on the sport grounds of Harrismith
  • A road trip to Geluksburg
  • The history of Stuart Street
  • The Westley Hall
  • The Toll bridge at Swinburne
  • The Block house or as we call it the Castles of the veld.
  • Odell’s
  • The Club house
  • The steel bridge at Abberfeldy
  • The house of Mary Bland (Granny Bland nee Caskie)
  • Caithness in Stuart Street
  • Freemasonry Southern Cross 1778
  • St John’s sandstone church
  • A road trip to Sandspruit
  • De Oude Huize Yard
  • Cloete and Neveling building in Southey street
  • Bergburgers written by Leon Strachan
  • Train bridge at Swinburne
  • Kaalvoet vrou
  • Royal family visit to Harrismith
  • Debora Retief park
  • Rear-Admiral Maxmimilian John Ludwick Weston
  • Burger Monument
  • The boy with a very long name
  • Farm school on the banks of the Meul river
  • Hamilton bridge in Harrismith
  • Military Insignia around Harrismith
  • The Hills and Mountains around Harrismith
  • The old hotels of Harrismith
  • Annie Baine
  • Road trip to Golden Gate
  • Mountain passes around Harrismith
  • Stain glass windows of the Town Hall in Harrismith
  • Road trip to Verkykerskop
  • A farm museum visit
  • The sustainability of De Oude Huize Yard
  • Platberg
  • M.O.T.H’S
  • Route R74
  • Rensburgkop
  • Free State Harlem
  • Mont Pelaan
  • Plums and Christmas

We hope that you have enjoyed the challenge as much as we did.

Lots of blessings for 2018

Hennie & Sandra

 

A Free State Harem

It is always an honor to share a writing of Leon Strachan. This  was taken from Blinkoog (2002). Thanks Andrew Barlow for translation, Mia Prinsloo – the granddaughter of Jurie who introduced us to the ruin on the hill,  Niek Swart who show us around and Biebie de Vos for sharing some of the photo’s

“Look at that, that is crazy Jurie’s harem…no there….. on top of that hillock directly behind Reennenhoop’s homestead. He imported French girls, indeed from the Moulins Rouge.” In the puritanical reformed Free State rural area? A harem? Naughty French girls?

The sandstone ruin on Reenenshoop created a phantasy which held its fascination for many generations thereafter. Perhaps it is something still derived from ages ago herd instincts which have not died out fully yet. So that the very idea would still raise mens’ blood pressure.

The satisfaction of a bull with a whole herd of heifers, or something like that.

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The house was to be in a T shape, with the living area in the long leg, and the reception area in the top of the T. The walls were more than four metres high of solid sandstone with no mortar, no shortcuts were taken  – which is why it still remains almost intact. Top Italian artisans who were part of the  1200 workers who had completed work on the Union Buildings, and who were clearly highly competent did the stone masonry.

There was an unusual amount of building shortly before the First World War. “Juri costruisce castle”  remarked an Italian stone mason in his broken English-Italian in the bar of the Central Hotel.

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“Yes the Hall of Mirrors is much longer than the whole of the Central, and the walls are this high” said Retief  as he pointed to a spot halfway to the top of the second storey” as the men were gossipping in the Central Hotel. Niek and the Hall of Mirrors

“I hear that it is harem?” Si…il harem” replied the Italian. The harem story spread like a wild-fire. When the unusual door and window frames arrived there from England  a few weeks later the wild fire became a raging fire

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Leon and Mia in a “window”. Mia shared a little information that her grandfather would stand here would tell them about many lights and water” Suzie would put blame old age to it.
“My husband, do you have fever?”  she asked him because it was still many decades before the Sterkfontein dam and the Tshiame township would arise there..

“The harem story is then really true” remarked one of the men on the truck. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and wiped his forehead. He hooked his thumbs into his suspenders and kicked against one of the crates. “Look. this what a harem’s windows should look like!

“How would you know Thys?” The others burst out laughing. Later some of the clerks from the station  walked over to the goods shed to see what all the noise was about. Two ox wagons were loaded with the crates in which the unusual door frames were packed – wide and high. Solid frames with sky lights , all of Oregon and made on special order in England. Some of the window frames were higher even than the doors, extraordinary pieces. “Yes Jurie will have massive mirrors against the walls of the reception room and seven French girls have already arrived in Cape Town.”

“Never”.

“That cannot be true”.

“It is so, Chris Cloete had to have them fetched from Cape Town”

“Nonsense, Chris is a man of the church. He would not do it. In any event where are they now?”

“He merely paid them and put them on a ship back to France.”

Oh no!  Why the devil would the man have done a thing like that?”. said cross-eyed Thys, “if Jurie does not want them, I will take them.

“Yes you old loud mouth, you cannot even keep Zina satisfied!” The men roared with laughter but had to dodge quickly  – cross-eyed Thys throws anything he can get hold of, even empty cream cans.

The story starts much earlier, at the time 1840 – the stretches of land belonged to the Uys family in 1840 including Reenenshoop. Dina Uys married Louwrens Wessels.Three children were born Jurie Johannes in 1883. He passed matric at Harrismith in 1899 – this was unusual. Boer children at the time did not have much schooling  – Boer Matric was the norm –  catechism, writing, reading and arithmetic. Jurie was the first person in this predominantly English-speaking town to have achieved this distinction in spite of the fact the English speaking people had a completely different attitude about learning.He achieved this in the first class. Jurie, perhaps had little choice other than to farm.

By 1906 the economy had improved slightly and Jurie was able to go to the Cape Colony to buy sheep. The handsome 23 year old red-head  had a head for business. Faan Bekker of Rietvlei in the Aliwal North district had sheep for sale. He stayed with the family for a couple of days. At first Jurie was only vaguely aware of her, until he caught her eye – the ‘bywoners’ girl with a ‘kopdoek’ and soulful eyes which haunted him so much that on his return to the Free State, he wrote to her. He wrote in English but halfway through the letter he switched into Afrikaans. It is in this language that she replied, explaining her life as a ‘bywoner’s’ daughter. In his reply, in his neat handwriting, he declared his love for her.

They were married within a year.Without the headdress Suzie was beautiful woman – he  had quite an eye for beauty. With increasing self-confidence Suzie made her mark on Reenenshoop. The neat sandstone house became a home with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  The spontaneous girl from the Colony made friends easily and liked to entertain.

The fairy tale transformation of the servant girl to a popular hostess married to an anti social man. He did not visit people and didn’t go to church and had not even been confirmed. Suzie only much later persuaded him to be confirmed and even for this she had to get the parson to come to the farm.’

Suzie had entered a world of riches but it was not easy at all. Her intelligent and well read husband was forbiddingly strict he didn’t tolerate any opposition, his “no” was “no”. This she could respect but his unreasonable obstinacy later became a thorn in her flesh.

Jurie was an enigma; as strict, miserly and relentless as he was, he could spend money lavishly on something which he regarded as worthwhile. He overwhelmed his beautiful wife with valuable jewelry and started to build a dream hose for her. On completion it would probably have been the most imposing house in all of the Free State, Suzie’s complex husband, in his own way cared very much for her.

Jurie’s favorite spot on the farm was the high ridge to the north of the house which dominated the surroundings. From there he could survey the whole farm and see to the farthest horizons. He could sit there and dream and plan  – and even see visions. In a moment of inspiration he decided to build a palace for Suzie, her a castle. On the eastern point he measured out the foundation. He planned a large home with a wide passage, four large bedrooms, a big kitchen and a large reception area for his Suzie.

It was the gigantic reception room with its very large windows that set the tongues wagging. This room was 80 feet long by 24 feet wide, with a surface area of 175m2 which in 1912 was bigger than the average house. Imposing, overpowering it was comparable with the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles which it probably inspired.

The fact that French girls were involved furnishes the clue. Jurie was well read and had an excellent general knowledge and had traveled too – certainly, he had visited Versailles. He knew how Marie Antoinette’s room of mirrors had entranced, impressed and even intimidated and he wanted his Suzie to come to her own in this hall. The outside wall of that room had six very large high windows as well as two similar ones at each end. With mirrors at regular intervals in the spaces between the windows and mirrors along the opposite inner wall, the effct of light, reflection, unspoilt nature and phenomenal view it would have been astounding. Like Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors.

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Hammer blows on metal chisels were heard daily from sunrise till late at night, in between shouting, threats, cajoling and encouragement of drivers  of drivers and guides of teams of oxen drawing sleds full of fashioned stone from the quarry to the building site.

Jurie kept his plans to himself. Even his neighbors could get no information from him.”Why are the rooms so large, – heavens you could turn a span of oxen in them.” Jurie had no patience with fools. “Well, I see that you are not gong to talk. But tell me one thing – how are you going to get water to that hillock ?” That was a body blow – it is a dry hillock . There are limits to reasonable man’s patience. “Hey man! A harem does not need water. That long room is for the French girls that I am going to import. Do you understand?”

When the walls were roof high the imported doors and windows arrived at the Harrismith station. They were transported from the station with ox wagons. The last heavy lintels were raised and mortared in position  when the Great War broke out in 1914.  Jurie rebelled and joined the commando of Wessel Wessels. The building stopped and the ‘bywoners’ had to look after the farm. It was during this time that Jurie heard that some of his cattle were missing. He arrive at Reenenshoop late on a Friday night. Suzie had measles, and he heard that a neighbor had stolen his cattle. To crown everything his fine black piano had also been taken. That was not the end of his troubles; one of his workers had betrayed him. On the Saturday morning the police came to arrest him. He saw them in time and fled to the cliff from where he fired at them. He informed them but he would surrender voluntarily on Monday morning if they would give him enough time to recover his cattle.

On Monday morning with Suzie well wrapped in blankets he and she went to town. She convinced the magistrate that she had written to him at the request of the government.  Suzie managed to have him released but he did not recover his stolen cattle. This was the beginning of three important events in his life –

  • a feud with his neighbor which would last for more than a generation
  • his conflict with the law
  • the ‘bywoner’s treachery

This would torment him for the rest of his life.

In spite of all his eccentricities he cared very well for Suzie and the children – Jurie was happiest when his children and later his grandchildren entertained him with music, and need only to have listened.  Irene who was born nine months after the marriage had two brothers – Laurence, who they called Laurie nine years later and  Hugo who was named after the in-laws as they had also moved to the farm to assist with the farming. Suzie accepted the fact that he  was a miser. With farming with laying hens and making butter she had an own income to finance her social activities.

Drama with the law did not remain absent for long at Reenenshoop.

  • Jurie bought a Spanish donkey stallion in order to improve his donkey stud and he was convinced that it was a mule, he refused to pay  and had to go to jail for a few days and the seller had to pay for his board in jail.
  • During the East Coast Fever epidemic the movement of cattle was prohibited. The border guards caught him and was fined fifty pounds. He went to jail again. Suzie had to face her prominent friends while Jurie could not be bothered about it at all.  She paid the fine. Jurie was enraged. “You are wasting money, I was happy in the jail, nobody bothered me.”
  • Jurie, Suzie and their last child Hugo were on holiday in Durban. Jurie was fined by a traffic policeman and again refused to pay. He was in the cells in Durban and commanded Suzie not to pay the fine. She took a tomato crate put a few cushions on it, Hugo could hardly see over he dashboard but Hugo took the Studebaker and Suzie back to the Free State. Days later Jurie telephoned, he is out and “I am enjoying the holiday and will return by train.”

Suddenly Jurie dressed with care when he had to go to town, this was every second day. Suzie wondered what was going on. He whistled happily when he thought that she could not hear him – she became suspicious. Suzie in a roundabout way found out about the English speaking very grand woman. Suzie wrote a scathing letter in Afrikaans and her daughter Irene translate it. She then re wrote the letter and had it delivered by hand. She had insulted the temptress in her own language. A day or two later Jurie came home, very annoyed. “And then you pretend that you cannot read or write English!”

Jurie paid no attention to social norms. This with his eccentricity, his self centredness and strangeness which was due to his bi-polarity made him known as Crazy Jurie. A severe condition of suspicion gave rise to an anecdote of Crazy Jurie without which Jurie’s history would be incomplete. Jurie wanted his son, Hugo, to become a surveyor because he was convinced that he had been cheated out of land by those who had sold farms to him. He wanted his son to measure his farms accurately. Jurie did go to university but came nowhere near the department of trigonometry but enrolled for medical tuition with the assistance of his mother without the knowledge of his father.

Suzie has by this time accepted her fate and did not doubt that Jurie would refuse to pay for Hugo’s studies if he had enrolled for anything else except to become a surveyor. A white lie was the only recourse to get Hugo started. Hugo did extremely well in his first year and Jurie expected that he would in the December holiday survey the farm properly. This was naturally and Jurie was told the truth. He was angry but still proud of his son and thereafter supported and encouraged him.

The infamous rondavel was not only a refuge from the sheriff, it was also the place where he isolated himself when he became depressed and could last for weeks. Laurie and the ‘bywoners’ had to see to the farming. The rondavel revealed much about him – sandstone, thatched roof and white scrubbed wood floor. At one end there was a copper bedstead and a shelf with many books. Across from this was a Queen stove which in winter was fired with corn cobs and a comfortable sofa draped with a karos. Next to this he had his desk on which were heaps of books, magazines and a radio. Jurie did not miss the morning news and listened to classical music while he did his accounting, opened the post and attended to correspondence in his neat handwriting. This was where he read the newspaper, he had subscribed to “Die Burger”  and received a bundle weekly by rail from Cape Town.

The cartoons from Die Burger and Die Landbouweekblad were collected religiously – Kaspaas, Häger and Waldemar were collected and pasted and kept in  large books. The pleasure which he obtained from the cartoons indicate a healthy sense of humor which gives rise to the suspicion that he may have laughed at his own escapades.

Suzie was an excellent hostess and smothered her guests with charm and hospitality and entranced them with beautiful jewelry. Besides rings with large diamonds, a heavy slave braclet, a gypsy charm, a gold lucky bean bracelet with rubies and amethysts but the Star of David necklace was her favorite. This necklace was a large white diamond surrounded by blue sapphires and a host of small diamonds.

Dressed in this finery she on a certain Sunday invited several guests. Her back then had become slightly stiff, and on this day the guests included the local member of parliament, the bank manager, doctor, school principal and naturally the parson. However, Jurie was again in isolation.

Her assistant had arrived there earlier that morning with a basket suspended on each end of a pole, each basket filled with fruit from the orchard. Leg of mutton had been cooked to perfection, the turkey was filled and gammon spliced with bacon. Beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes and vegetables were on the stove and the aroma from the kitchen was delicious.

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The table had been laid with fine delicate porcelain on a white damask table cloth with a large vase of red roses in the middle. With the start of the meal the guests were in a jovial mood after a few rounds of drinks. While wine was poured in crystal glasses Suzie lifted the lids of the dishes one after the other. She looked up questioningly.

“Johnny where is the turkey?”

“The trukey is gone.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“How is it gone?”

‘It was stolen”

“Who stole it?” She was dumbfounded, angry, livid.

“The master.”

Jurie was a teetotaler but he enjoyed eating. He and a young man who worked for him had gone to the river with the turkey. Under a large willow tree they sat and ate the turkey, calmly, without affectation and without any worries.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra