Local Knowledge

Another of Dad’s tales:

Koos Mof van Wyk was a bachelor who lived with his Ma out on the Kestell road. One evening he drove home and a Joburg driver drove right up his bum as he slowed suddenly on the main road in order to turn in at his gate.

The Joburg oke was angry, ‘Waddefok maak jy dat jy sommer so skielik stilhou innie mirrel vannie pad!?’

Koos Mof was astounded. Waddefok maak JY!? he yelled. Almal weet dis my hek hierie en ek draai altyd hier in. Ek is Koos Mof en ek BLY HIER!

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Joburg driver: How can you just stop in the middle of the highway!?

Koos Mof: What do you mean!? Everyone knows this is my gate and I always turn in here! I LIVE HERE!

Workshop Swansong contd

It’s ongoing. The emptying. The sad and reluctant emptying. The end of an era. There’s even less stuff there now, but some stuff is going to have to be pried from his tight reluctant fingers, maybe?

“Where’s that tack hammer? It’s here somewhere . . “
“No, that’s for Gavin. It’s hardwood. He wants to make knife handles . . “
“You must take these, they were Oupa’s . . “

The awl and the hand drill brace were Oupa’s in Boom street in PMB. The screwdriver and needle-nose pliers on the right were issued to Dad by the General Post Office when he started as an apprentice electrician in 1938. He had to climb up telephone poles with those in his pocket. Here’s the GPO vehicle he’d drive around in, fixing the phones! They didn’t bother with parcels and letters, no! That was old-school! They were the high-tech side of the Post Office: The telephones!

Happy apprentices under jovial Wally Coleman

Old Oak Desk

Long long ago Annie said to me I should get her beloved husband Frank’s oak desk. We never knew Frank. He died when Mom was just fifteen or so, still in school. Annie had five grandkids and I suppose her reasoning was the only grandson should get it?

So now Mom’s in Azalea Gardens and Dad will be joining her soon, so it was time to fetch the desk. Dismantle, ship on the back of and inside of my Ford bakkie and re-assemble in my office.

It looks good.

Very importantly, the key is in the top drawer, attached to a label ticket. Written in (I suppose) Annie’s handwriting: “Key of Frank’s Desk.” Interesting, as there’s no lock or keyhole in the desk, nor any of its drawers!

Our Automotive Designer

Harrismith had a very successful sportscar designer! Sheila reminded me on her facebook. He was a big mate of Polly du Plessis. They called each other Sissel Pud (du Plessis backwards) and something? Maybe that was someone else? JP? Help ‘n bietjie!

Here’s the story – or the parts I could fish out:

Two Stellenbosch university pals wanted to make a great sportscar. They were Bob van Niekerk and Willie Meissner. In 1958 Meissner went to England and saw a new technology called fibreglass. He wrote a letter to Bob van Niekerk asking him to come to England to study fibreglass crafting. Bob hopped onto a Union Castle ship and joined his mate. In those days that was called ‘instant response’: The letter took a week; the response took a week; the ship took a month; Bang! Two months later there his mate was, ready to help.

Bob recalls: ‘We had full confidence in our ability to produce the mechanicals and a good chassis, but needed someone to put a ‘face’ on it – a good looking design. As luck would have it, Willie knew a lady Joan (nee Peters) who was married to a stylist working at Rootes who would hopefully stop us from producing a mediocre, unattractive body.’

His name was Verster de Wit, an ex-Harrismith boykie and friend of our Polly du Plessis. He very soon had them building quarter-scale models with plasticene during the week while he was off working in Coventry on the Sunbeam Alpine. Fridays, Verster would come down to London to inspect the work they had done in their one-roomed flat in Earls Court. When they got to scale model number 13, it suddenly all came together, and ‘a unanimous decision was made to progress to full-scale.’

Bob racing a Dart
A 1962 GSM Dart

‘We rented a garage in Gleneldin Mews in Streatham and built the mock-up using wooden formers and plaster of paris. The first body came out of the mould in April 1957 and was sold for 75 pounds, which helped to pay for my trip back to Cape Town where Willie had started the Glassport Motor Company (GSM).’

They considered what to name their cars: Cheetah, Mamba, Simba, Zebra, Kudu, Lynx or Tyger? Eventually they called the open top the GSM Dart and the hardtop the GSM Flamingo. On returning to South Africa, they built four prototypes in 1957, and the first production car rolled off the line in early 1958. In total, 116 GSM Darts and 128 GSM Flamingos were produced from 1958 to 1964. Actually, the GSM club tracked down many of them and reckoned there were a few more than that.

The GSM cars were astonishingly quick and agile and won a lot of races. In their first nine hour in JHB, a Dart beat Sarel vd Merwe in his Porsche into second place; they were followed by an MG, another Porsche a Volvo and an Alfa Romeo!

But perhaps the best story was after they had sold 41 cars by 1959, for racing and road use in Cape Town. They decided they could also be sold in England and Bob set sail with a complete body and chassis kit on the Union Castle liner. In England Bob was introduced to Mr John P Scott at Windsor Garage, West Malling in Kent. Scott agreed to give him a place to build a car and fund all the parts on condition that Bob built the car in 10 days! AND that he entered it in a race at Brands Hatch and won the race! What a tall – almost impossible – order!

Bob accepted the challenge and worked day and night to complete the Dart by the Friday before the race. On the Saturday, April 18, 1960 Bob found himself in the middle of the grid on an unfamiliar circuit in a brand new and untested car. He steadily worked his way up into first place and won the race! He actually did it! Setting a Brands Hatch lap record that stood for seven years! A delighted Mr Scott then established a GSM production facility in a 5000 square foot factory behind the Windsor Garage to produce the first batch of cars. They couldn’t call them Dart in England, so they used ‘Delta’. Records are vague – it seems somewhere between 35 and 76 GSM Deltas were made in Kent.

The little cars developed a legendary winning reputation in the UK, Europe and SA. To show they weren’t only about racing, the Flamingo was marketed as the road-going version:

In 1964 they ran out of money.

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Aftermath with Verster de Wit: 1976

A GSM club was formed in JHB and they tracked down Verster at his home in Kosmos on the Hartebeespoort Dam. He and his wife Eva hauled out a suitcase full of his photos and sketches of his design days in England and in SA. They regaled the club members with tales of the hours of dedication and hard work Verster had put into his automotive design career. Two well-known designs he had also been involved with were the Sunbeam Alpine and the Humber Super Snipe.

In the 1980s Jeff Levy got Verster to help him make a series of accurate replicas known as Levy Darts.

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archive.org

wikipedia

wheels24

motorsportmagazine.com

carmag.co.za

cartorque.co.za

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Smuggies. And Justice.

A visit to Tuffy, then stationed on the Bluff in Durban with Recce Battalion was a happy reunion. There he was in uniform and me with long hair, his student mate from Harrismith. He introduced me to his sergeant ‘Vingers’ Kruger and all his comrades and announced we’d be partying tonight.

We started off at the famous / notorious Smugglers Inn off Point Road and had a good few there, warming up to a fun night on the tiles. On our way out, en route to a nice place one of the guys knew where ladies would remove their tops with sufficient encouragement, we heard shouting – screaming really – in the alley next to the entrance to Smuggies: ‘You’re married to my sister and here I catch you fucking a man!’ We didn’t wait to hear the fellow’s explanation for his errant behaviour – the other side of the story, y’know, in fairness – but there were some smacking sounds.

Later outside another nightclub a few insults thrown around started a fight between some of the short-haired soldiers and a group of longer-haired ‘civvies’. In the interests of transparency, one of our boys had started it. It soon developed into a brawl and the cops were there in a flash. They took no nonsense and a number of prisoners, throwing anyone near the fighting indiscriminately into the back of the black maria. Which was grey, not black. I tried to explain how very innocent I was, having hung back and danced around the edges of the fight, but was told to fokkin keep quiet and shoved into the van.

like this, just newer; and grey; with mesh windows

As we huddled uncomfortably and with foreboding with some of the okes who minutes before had been throwing punches at us – OK, for me, potentially anyway – I saw through the mesh window Sersant Vingers having a quiet word with the cop in charge. Probably something about fellows-in-uniform, our obvious innocence, how little we’d had to drink, how the blackguards had attacked us, look at their hairstyles and other good, if biased, points. The cop in charge nodded and approached the door of our van. As Vingers pointed out his men – we all looked the same in civilian clothes – the cop brusquely shouted ‘You, you and you! OUT!’ Thankfully Vingers included me among ‘his’ men. Any friend of Tuffy’s was a friend of Vingers’.

Once Vingers had counted his men he trooped us back into the club with a grin for a victory drink, with lots of congratulatory slaps raining down on his back. ‘Justice’ had been served.

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Tin Ceilings

A. Ross & Co. General Dealers in Harrismith had gone phut, sold out to OK Bazaars. Their big old building was being gutted. Dad enquired about the ‘pressed steel’ ceilings* and was told ‘You can have the ceilings gratis if you strip them and remove them within a week.’

He bought six ‘nail puller pliers’ like these:

. . and hired six men (not that he used a decent word like men), had them take down the panels, scrape them down, scrub them with wire brushes and seal them with clear varnish; then they painted them with a mix of glossy and matt white paint to get a lovely finish: not shiny, not dull.

He put them up in our huge lounge, our long passage and our spacious dining room of the old house at 95 Stuart Street.

Old family home 95 Stuart Street Harrismith

He sold the excess panels to someone in JHB who paid and fetched.

Dad says while he was fitting them, Ouma paid us a visit from PMB. She would sit up with him as he worked till late at night. When it got late she would encourage him to stop: ‘Kom my seun, nou moet jy gaan rus. Gaan slaap nou.’

I’ve no pics of the ceilings . . The feature pic and these are from the ‘net. They give a good idea of the look.

When I was taking pictures of his old tools I lined up these pliers and he said ‘Oh, those aren’t old. I bought them.’ Yeah, I laughed; Like fifty years ago! He saw the humour in that.

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*Tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the exquisite plasterwork used in wealthy European homes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s as Americans sought sophisticated interior design. Durable, lightweight and fireproof, tin ceilings were appealing to home and business owners alike as a functionally attractive design element that was readily available.

Important chaps like this one harumphed . .

. . that it was morally wrong and deceptive to imitate another material and blamed the degradation of society towards the “art of shamming” rather than honesty in architecture. Oh well . .

They were also popular in Australia where they were commonly known as pressed metal ceilings or Wunderlich ceilings; and in South Africa.

Who Knew Harry Hart?

Friend Charles got marooned on a Seychellois island from drinking too much. Drink – hard liquor – made them forget about their yacht and it broke anchor and drifted off without them. He’s writing a book about his adventures, of which more later, when he has published and become famous. On this lonely island he met ‘an Empire Games javelin champion.’

I went looking for who that might be, and found:

Henry Beltsazer “Harry” Hart – an SA athlete born in Harrismith, Orange River Colony on the 2nd of September 1905. He died in Reitz on the 10th of November 1979.

At the 1930 Empire Games in Canada he won the gold medals in the discus and shot put competitions, and bronze in the javelin throw. He finished fifth in the 120 yards hurdles.

In 1932 he went to the Olympics in Los Angeles, USA and finished tenth in shot put, twelfth in the discus and eleventh in the decathlon.

At the 1934 Empire Games in London (originally awarded to Johannesburg, but changed to London due to concerns regarding the treatment of black and Asian athletes by South African officials and fans) he won his second brace of Empire gold medals in the discus throw and shot put competitions. In the javelin throw contest he won silver (well, any Free State javelin-gooier is a friend of mine!).

Hart was the owner of the Royal Hotel in Reitz, Free State, South Africa. He was friends with actors Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, US swimmer and Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller and CR ‘Blackie’ Swart – at that time a cowboy actor; later the first state president of South Africa. His study at the Reitz Royal Hotel – not really ‘Royal’ – displayed hundreds of photographs of himself in the company of these famous stars, as well as with US swimmer and actress Esther Williams, Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan – Jane in six Tarzan movies – and others.

Henry Harry Hart himself was apparently offered the part of Tarzan but refused as he had to return home to his farm to practice for the Empire Games. Hmm – ‘Hollywood? Reitz? Ag, fanks, I’ll take Reitz, OK?’

Lucky Johnny Weissmuller – shown here with Maureen O’Sullivan.

The SA team to Canada in 1930: