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?
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!
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!
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.’
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
We hired a Lincoln Continental Town Car in Atlanta and put roofracks on. Dave Jones, dentist and US paddling legend and coach, put us up for the night before we headed North. Chris Greeff, kayaking legend & trip organiser; Herve de Rauville, kayaking legend; Jurie the SABC cameraman, Steve Fourie, a friend of Chris’. And me.
And off we went to the Ocoee River in Tennessee. Which was completely empty. Not low. Empty.
Then they turned on the tap at twelve noon and we could paddle. The full flow of the Ocoee gets diverted to generate power! How criminal is that!! That it even flows occasionally is only thanks to hard lobbying by paddlers and environmentalists. From around 1913 to 1977 the river was mostly bone dry – all the water diverted to generate power. Now sections of it flow again at certain times.
I’m in orange.
Here’s a description of the short stretch of river we paddled:
The Middle Ocoee
The Middle Ocoee is the portion of whitewater, on this stretch of water, paddlers and rafting enthusiasts, have been paddling for decades. Beginning at Rogers Branch and just over 5 miles long, this class 3-4 section of whitewater is an adrenaline junkies dream, crammed with waves and holes.
Entrance rapid gives you whitewater from the get-go. As soon as you launch onto the middle Ocoee you are in a class 4 rapid, paddling through waves and dropping ledges. It’s a fun and exciting way to begin your trip. Broken Nose begins with a large S-shaped wave. Swirling water behind it will send you to a series of ledges. This is a great place for pictures, so smile.
Next, Slice and Dice: two widely spaced ledges, fun to drop, especially the second ledge. If done correctly, you can get a great surf here “on the fly”.
An interesting and humorous set of rock formations highlights the rapid, Moon Chute. After making your way behind the elephant shaped rock, do some 360’s in front of “sweet-cheeks,” then drop through the chute and over the ledge at the bottom. Double Suck, an appropriately named rapid, where a good-sized ledge drops you into two hydraulics. Paddle hard or you might catch another surf here. Double Trouble, which is more ominous in name than in structure, is a set of three large waves, which will have everybody yelling. This is another great photo spot. You won’t find an easier, more fun rapid.
Next is Flipper (No, it’s not named after the dolphin). Here, a great ledge drop puts you into a diagonal wave. Hit this wave with a right hand angle and enjoy the ride, or angle left to eddy out. Then enjoy one of the best surfs on the river. Table saw was originally named for a giant saw-blade shaped wave in the middle of it. The rock forming the wave was moved during a flood several years ago, making this one of the most exciting rapids on the Middle Ocoee. The big waves in this one will make the boat buck like a bronco.
At Diamond Splitter, point your boat upstream and ferry it between two rocks. Once there get a couple of 360’s in before dropping through the chute and into the hydraulic.
Slingshot is where most of the water in the river is pushed through a narrow space, making a deep channel with a very swift current. To make this one a little more interesting, see how many 360’s you can complete from top to bottom. Cat’s Pajamas start with a couple of good ledges, with nice hydraulics. After those, it will look as though you are paddling toward a big dry rock, but keep going. At the last second, there will be a big splash and you will be pushed clear. Hell’s Hole is the biggest wave on the river. Start this one in the middle of the river, drifting right. Just above the wave, start paddling! When you crest this 7-8 ft. wave, you will drop into a large hydraulic. Stay focused because just downstream are the last two ledges known as
Powerhouse. Drop these ledges just right of center for a great ride.
Once through Powerhouse, collect yourself and take out at Caney Creek.
The dry river when they turn off the taps. Very sad:
Who remembers the Canadian Hell Drivers performing in Harrismith? It did happen, right? I’m not imagining it? I think I remember white Chevs roaring around and jumping ramps, with a clown playing dangerous games among them. I think it was at the groot pawiljoen down in the park.