Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family school

Come With Me To The Station

The old man inviting me to go someplace! How’s that!? I hopped into the old faded-blue VW Kombi OHS 153. This sounded interesting. We never went to the railway station. We’d go near there to the old MOTH hall and occasionally to the circus field when the Big Top was pitched there! But never to the station itself.

We’re fetching a family from Italy. The father is coming to work at the Standard Woollen Mills and they can’t speak English,’ says the old man. He picked up Italian in Italy around 1943 to 1946, first wending his way up the Adriatic coast in the Italian campaign and then later on involved in the post-war stuff armies do after the end of WW2, before flying home, having traveled the length of Italy south to north and into Austria. He kept up the language over the years mainly by fraternising with Boswell-Wilkie ** circus folk when they hit the Vrystaat vlaktes on the circus train and pitched the Big Top next to the railway line on the west edge of our famous dorp.

This exciting station trip was in 1965 or thereabouts. So we got to the stasie, the train rolled in and there hanging out of a window was a family of four: Luigi, Luigina and two sons about my age, fresh from Italy out. They were probably staring at my bare feet. But I’m just guessing.

– we met Claudio with some fanfare – maybe not this much –

I carried one suitcase to the kombi and then from the kombi into the Royal Hotel, where my great-uncle Smollie Bain was the barman. His Dad built the hotel and I think he stayed there all his life.

– the Royal – here’s where we took Claudio to stay – it was maybe some time after this photo was taken –

Soon Claudio and Ennio were in school, Claudio a standard below me in sister Sheila’s class, and Ennio a standard or two lower. They got a house in Wilge Park and so started many happy visits and sumptuous Luigina meals with the Bellatos – I can still picture her kitchen so clearly. And sundry happy adventures with Claudio.

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The only time before this anything Italian might have rolled up at Harrismith stasie might have been these Italian things ca. 1914.

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** Boswell-Wilkie Circus: Every few years for a while we would suddenly have clowns, lion-tamers and acrobats in our home! They all looked very ordinary, frankly, in their normal kit; except Tickey the clown. He and his daughter were instantly recognisable even without make-up because of their small stature and strong faces.

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Ah! Claudio read it and responded with compliments and corrections:

‘Excellent Koos. The year was 1967 – 24 March. Otherwise pretty accurate. A good read and great memories. ** laughing emoji – thumbs-up emoji ** Well done.’

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Asked what could be inferred about the Creator from a study of His works, British scientist and naturalist JBS Haldane replied:

“The Creator, if he existed, had an inordinate fondness for beetles”

Now it’s true he meant the one on the left, not the one on the right, but still . .

My gran Annie’s Caltex garage in Harrismith had a filling station, a restaurant on the forecourt, a workshop behind – and the VW agency. My gran Annie sold VW Beetles!

– Platberg bottle store, Annie’s garage, Flamingo Cafe & OHS 155 – the little light-blue beetle – ca.1959 model –
– interior of a ca.1959 VW Beetle –

toy models

One of the perks of Annie having a VW dealership was Volkswagen’s toy models of their cars & kombis. They were fascinating! They had moving doors, flaps, engine covers, side loading locker in kombi pickups; some had a clear sunroof that clipped off. Something like these:

At one time – I don’t think I’m imagining this – the VW Beetle cost less than R1 per cc: The 1200cc engine model cost R1199. Let’s check: A VW Bug in the USA was around $1563; A US dollar cost us 72 SA cents – Yep, about right.

A long concrete ramp lead up into the workshop behind the Flamingo Cafe. At Truscott was the mechanic – I remember him as small, bald and kind. I remember the big jacks that lifted the cars; the lights they shone into the engine bay – an incandescent bulb in a cage to protect it, with a 220V cable dangling behind it; There was a high ‘shelf’ overhead – above the wall of the ‘office’ inside the big shed-like workshop on which lots of tyres were stacked; The wooden workbenches were full of interesting vices and spare parts and grease.

One of Annie’s forecourt attendants was Joseph Culling. He was a son of Sgt Culling, who was demobbed in 1913, when the British finally left Harrismith after the Anglo-Boer War. He had been stationed on Kings Hill and unlike most of his fellows, he stayed behind and married a local Harrismith lady. In the apartheid classification of the day that immediately – and magically!? – made his children ‘coloureds.’ I remember him with the leather coin dispenser satchel on his hip, the strap holding it slung around his neck and shoulder, wearing a Caltex cap.

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Back in the sixties, many of us, of course, also had an inordinate fondness for the beatles . .

Lovely Venn Diagram from Michelle Rial

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Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Borrowing Dad’s Car Started Long Ago

1024px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Fall_of_Phaeton_(National_Gallery_of_Art)

Helios gave his son Phaeton permission to drive the Sun chariot around the Earth. Helios was the Sun God, and a son of almighty Zeus.

Talk about “Don’t Spare the Horses”! Typical youth, the lad Phaeton took some sporting chicks along for the ride, lost control of those horses and the chariot ran amok. The world was at risk of being incinerated!

Grandfather Zeus was thus forced to kill him. Zap! He killed his grandson! Zeus could gooi a mean lightning bolt if you pissed him off.

I’m sure glad the punishment became a bit milder in our day, a few millennia later.

Come to think of it, we never did get punished. Never got caught, actually, though I can’t imagine our folks didn’t have a shrewd idea of what was happening – at least an inkling. See, we used to say we didn’t steal our parents’ cars. We ‘borrowed them on the non-permission system,’ we’d say. In the early days of illicit driving I used to drive the old blue VW Kombi OHS 153 around our large garden at 95 Stuart Street.

Round the circular driveway, out into Hector Street and back in again. Back near the garages was the washing line and the kombi just fit under it. Except I’d forgotten about the flip-up airvent on the roof. It caught the wires and pulled down the washing line poles. Some feverish spadework got them more or less vertical again and the old blue kombi was parked back in its exact spot outside the garage.

Another time I reversed into the tap at the horse trough, the pipe broke and water sprayed out in a long arc. It was evening and the folks were out. Parking the kombi I hastened to the tap and straightened the downpipe, getting drenched in the freezing water – it was mid-winter. That caused less water to gush but there was still a very visible spout. Rushing down to the front gate I found the stopcock that turned off the main water supply. That fixed it and I went to bed before the folks got home. The next morning I rose very early and turned the stopcock back on. “Hmm, the pipe must have frozen and burst last night” was the consensus at breakfast.

My butt was saved by Harrismith’s frigid winter weather!

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*Some apparently did, though, as my friend Fanie Schoeman hastened to inform me here.

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Later we were showed how to do car borrowing PROPERLY by Steph de Witt!

More than once. And again. And again.

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‘Son borrows Dad’s car’ predictably caused South Africa’s first serious automobile accident – 1903:

firstcaraccidentsa

On 1st October 1903, Mr Charles Garlick driving his father’s new 24hp Darracq with his friend Harry Markham and chaffeur Snellgrove as passengers, entered the Maitland level crossing from an open gate, only to find the opposite gate closed. Before they could open the gate or reverse out of the crossing, they were hit by the Johannesburg Express traveling at full speed.

Snellgrove was thrown clear, Garlick suffered minor injuries and Markham, with his arm already in splints from a previous engine-cranking mishap, had a badly broken thigh.

It was announced that the Garlick workshop would undertake repairs to the Darracq. A new chassis was obtained from Paris and the final result testified to the efficiency of Cape Town’s first motor repairers.

  • From ‘Early Motoring in South Africa’ by R.H. Johnston

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