musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: April 2012

Marking time

Don’t even get me started on station clocks…. When I qualified as a telecoms sparky one of my duties were the station clocks on Germiston Station, these were stepped by means of a pulse every 30 seconds that originated from the master clock in the exchange. Each platform had a double faced one, usually close to the stairs (this is 1985 btw), every morning when I arrived from Johannesburg by train I used to check the clock against my watch to see if it was running fast or slow, and when I went to the depot would check 2 faces of the tower clock on the station building.

Platform clocks. Both showing the wrong time.

If the platform clocks were loosing or gaining I would then have to grab a ladder and a battery and climb up to that clock and disconnect it from the cable and manually step it until it was right and then reconnect it. I have no idea how old the clocks were, but they were definitely not the latest model. If you tried to step the clock with the cable connected you could then upset the other clocks. Unfortunately the wiring on Germiston station was covered in soot from the many steam locos that plied up and down in it. (Susan my favourite steam engine included). And, the wires had been disconnected and reconnected so many times they were becoming perilously short.

Approaching Germiston Station from President

The tower clock was a different ballgame, this was situated in a tower on top of the roof and was accessed via a trapdoor that led down a rickety ladder into a passage below. If my memory serves me right there was one mechanism that drove all 4 faces via a gearbox. But setting the time was another story altogether. Theoretically they should all have been showing the same time, but because of wear and tear in the hands and shafts, as the minute hand rose from 6 -12 the face would loose time, and as the hands fell between 12 and 6 the face would gain time (it’s called gravity). Each face was more prone to this than the other and we tried our best to find a way to prevent the hands from doing it but the whole mechanism was worn. You could also cheat a bit by physically moving a hand to try make the time more accurate but this could only be done from outside the tower. If we removed the hands or one face needed to be removed we then had to climb onto the station roof and blank that face off. There was a rusty iron ladder on the one side that gave us access to the ledge around the tower and a rusty chain that was to prevent us falling off. That crummy clock was one of my bugbears because the tech supervisor used to catch the train too and would check the clocks when he arrived and I would get a call logged to go sort them out.
You can see the white painted external ladder and the chains in the photograph below,  you can also see the faces are showing different times. Sigh. All my hard graft for nothing.

Germiston Station Tower Clock

I was also responsible for the departure bells, and rewiring the main line platform with new bells, cables and bellpushes was the last job I did at SATS. I recall wading through 6 inches of soot on the roofs of the buildings to access the cables. We had a .22 powered Hilti gun that we had to use to mount some of the equipment with and had to notify the railway police (aka Stasie Blompotte) that we were going to use it, otherwise they would have thought somebody was letting off a firearm. 
An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.

An SPT, last time It was painted was 1986.

I also used to be responsible for the Signal Post Telephones (SPT’s) between the rails as well as the battery chargers in the signal cabins (4 cabins in Germiston) as well as the foot switch alarms in the ticket offices and all the phones in the whole railway area that was part of Germiston. I also used to maintain the intercom system and the cables and speakers associated with it. Blimey, I worked much harder then than I do now. 
Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

Signal cabin between Germiston and President Station

By the time I left SATS in 1986 they were looking at replacing the platform clocks with digital ones, but I don’t know if that ever happened. Although, the clocks I saw on the platform in 2010 looked very much like the ones I used to set back in 1985/6. Looking at the infrastructure today, after last seeing it in 1986, I can just imagine what Barney (seriously nasty Tech Supt in the Johannesburg Telecoms Depot) would have said about the current state of affairs. Probably rolling in his grave.

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016

Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:34

The Jewish Cemetery.

When I originally photographed the CWGC graves in Brixton, Braamfontein and Westpark, it was inevitable that I would end up having to photograph graves in the Jewish section of these 3 cemeteries. Unfortunately, accessing the first two was problematic as they were always locked and well cared for.
In 2011 things changed. The buildings in both of these cemeteries were demolished and suddenly the gates were gone. Unfortunately that also meant that the random vandals, squatters and metal thieves had access to everything inside these formerly closed off areas, and deterioration is the result. 
Brixton Jewish Cemetery Feb 2012.

Brixton Jewish Cemetery Feb 2012.

To exacerbate matters, the fence around Brixton has literally been stolen, there are huge gaps where before a well maintained fence used to be, now access is through anywhere, including the front gate. Granted, grass is being cut by those responsible for it, but it is very worrying to see the many toppled stones, where before there never were any.
Braamfontein is still “fenced”, but the gate is gone. Of the two cemeteries Braamfontein is historically the more important of the two and as such should be protected. 

Braamfontein Jewish Cemetery June 2008

There are a lot of pre-1900 headstones in Braamfontein, and an extensive children’s plot, sadly numbering and names  have been lost so finding a specific grave in these large children’s plots could be a matter of guesswork. 
Children's plot. Braamfontein Jewish cemetery.

Children’s plot. Braamfontein Jewish cemetery.

The balance of the cemetery is still in a reasonable condition, although it is one of those places where you have to watch where you are going or you will fall over something. The headstones are spaced very closely and getting any distance from them for photography is difficult. The one side closest to the fence is heavily treed and some graves cannot even be seen amongst the trees and bushes. There is also evidence of squatters making their home here, and litter is a problem.
Yet, in spite of their sparseness I found these two cemeteries very interesting, unlike the general areas of the cemetery which is a hodge podge of people, these are the visible history of a community with its own customs and traditions. The demolishing of the two buildings was the beginning of the end for the sanctuary of these two places, and unless something gets done quickly we could find they decline so rapidly that reversing it will be impossible.  
Already the office at the small Roodepoort Jewish plot has been vandalised to the point where it will fall down without any outside help, or get carted off piece by piece.  However, that cemetery is already in a poor condition, and nobody really seems to care anymore.

Roodepoort old cemetery Jewish Plot

It is sad that this history just doesn’t seem to be relevant any longer, it is all fine and well preserving these places, but who do we preserve them for? Realistically the only people with an interest, are those who have families buried within the confines of the cemeteries, or genealogists, or people like me who find solace and history amongst the legions who rest all around them.

Postscript. October 2012.
I was contacted by somebody that I had done some photography in Brixton for, he asked that I go check the cemetery as there were reports that it had been heavily vandalised. He was correct.
Roughly 100 headstones had been toppled, either as an anti-Semitic attack, or random vandals who had too much to drink. There was no way to know. Unfortunately, the grave of his family member was amongst those that had been toppled. I reported back on my findings, and by the time I left South Africa the fence had been renewed and access to the Jewish Cemetery was no longer possible. It was a little bit too late for those toppled graves. 

Looking over the fence, March 2017

© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 15:38

What time is it?

Many years ago I won an expensive limited edition watch at my local pizzeria. It is one of those landmine watches that weighs as much as your arm does. Fancy watches do not work well in the environment that I was in at the time, so I consigned it to the drawer.
Fast forward to 2006 and my trusty coal burning Lanco commits suicide. I need a new watch. Haul out the landmine!
Now the landmine, like so many other precision watches is a complicated bugger. It is easier to programme your VCR than some of these watches. But I got it to at least sort of tell me the time. This watch has an analogue face as well as a digital display that acts as a calender, stop watch, alarm etc. Setting this display requires the use of “The Crown“, or, as we knew it in the olde days: “the winder“.  It has 3 positions (I think), and that selects the function, as well as the individual setting for the function. 
Wind forward to 2008 and off to Hong Kong we go and time marches forward by 8 hours. Alas, my watch stays behind because I cannot figure out how to set the new time on it! (note to self, take manual with when traveling, or better yet, take a different watch). By the time I got back to South Africa, my alarm would suddenly go off at 5.30 every afternoon irrespective of what I did. Oddly enough, I am the only person who never seems to hear it go off! 
My next trip overseas needed a -2 hour time change, confusing said landmine even more, and leaving it’s owner running 2 hours behind for almost everything. In 2010 I made another Hong Kong trip, and the confused watch (and its owner) ended up spending a 4 hour layover in Dubai trying to get the time right.
I was hoping that when the time came for a battery change, this would all be sorted out. The battery duly died and now my watch changes its day/date at 9.30 am every morning. It also did not realise that 2012 was a leap year, so when it was the 1st of March, my watch thought it was the 2nd (up till 9.30) and then the 3rd (after 9.30). I have a love-hate relationship with my watch, it drives me crazy because I have to always know what time it is before being able to say what the day/date is. Did I mention that the day can be displayed in a gazillion languages? “Wed” may end up being “Gro” or “Spl” if I am not careful. 
Logically to sort it all out I would need to remove the battery at 23H55. to solve the problem, although it would then take till 04H37 to get the time/day/date sorted out again. And even then, there is no guarantee that the stupid thing won’t decide to change the day/date when it wants to, and set off the alarm at 02.18 pm. every day thereafter or until I travel across GMT or the battery dies.
The watch is a “Mad Bull” limited edition, it is a pretty apt name for a mad watch that is full of bull! Mind you, I only paid the price of a Steak Pizza for it.      
A  Postscript:
In March 2013 I relocated to London, once again flying via Dubai. Once again my watch and I had words, and I spent 4 hours trying to change the time zone. I had to give up though as the winder (or crown) was not doing what it was supposed to. It got so bad that the 2nd thing I did when I arrived in London was go to Argos and buy a new watch! My new ticker is an “el cheapo” Timex, and it has all the functionality of the landmine and I only paid 19 quid for it! Unfortunately, my skinny wrists meant I had to remove 4 links from the strap! It is now Dec 2014 and said el cheapo is still merrily doing its thing. The landmine? I took it back with me to SA in May 2014 and left it there! 
At the time of changing the date on this post the el cheapo is still doing well, it is just under 4 years and 10 months old.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:16

100 years of the Titanic

On this date, 10 April 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton, and into history. It is a well known story that has been analysed, filmed, written about, speculated on and done to death. My own interest in the ship came about when I read about the spot where she had gone down, that ships avoided for fear of encountering bodies. In later years I would raid the local libraries for books about the ship and try my best to obtain a model of her.
Skipping forward to 1985 when the ship was rediscovered, and those heady days when myself and an acquaintance started what was to become the Titanic Society of South Africa. Come 1986 and at last we could see proper images of the ship, and the many secrets that she had. 
Then the vultures gathered and soon Titanic was being picked clean by those intent on bringing up as much of the ship as they could lay their mechanical grabs on. Skip forward to December 1997 when the James Cameron Titanic movie hit the screens and a whole new generation discovered the ship and got totally confused, thinking that Jack and Rose were real people, and that the movie was historically factual. 
In 2000, I was able to see the artefact exhibition up close. And, it was one of those moments of revelation. The many personal items on display brought it all home. The story of the Titanic is not the story of  a luckless ship that hits an iceberg, it is really the story of a group of people thrown together by extraordinary circumstances. It is about tragedy, arrogance and  a totally different age of travel. So many books have been written since then, some good, some mediocre, many inaccurate, some drivel. Theories abound as to why the ship sank, and why Captain Lord got a bad deal. There is even the big insurance swap theory, and aliens get mentioned in a certain cheesy magazine.
Like so many others who used to study the ship, I no longer have much of an interest. My own collection has been mostly broken up, and if somebody would come along and make me an offer I would dispose of the rest of the collection too (since done).  The mystery is no longer there. Pictures are a dime a dozen, and the commercialism of the wreck has left a sour taste behind. Shipping groups are still invaded by hordes of “Titanic fans” who vehemently insist that Titanic was the best ship ever! Sadly, they suffer from delusions and chase other ship enthusiasts away who just want to read about ships that actually completed their maiden voyages. 

The Titanic Society of SA is long gone, I dropped out of it in 1999, and I have no idea what happened to its assets and liabilities. Some relics of those early newsletters still exist amongst my files, I have some books, files of newspaper articles, a poster or 2, and diecast models of Olympic, and Brittanic.  I even have a shirt, purchased at the exhibition, with Titanic emblazoned on the spot where a pocket should have been, but I don’t wear it.

There is one Titanic curiosity in Johannesburg in Braamfontein cemetery, and for a time we used to lay a wreath there at the anniversary. I also have a list of possible Titanic connections to South Africa which makes for interesting reading.

The one piece of irony is that I don’t think the White Star Line ever considered that their most unsuccessful ship, would also become their most famous. And,  I doubt whether they ever considered that long after they were gone, her name would still be synonymous with disaster at sea.  
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:18

Stuck in the mud!

It was one of those days. My gut instinct was telling me “don’t go to Reefsteamers today”, while my gut was telling me “you need exercise!” . The reason for heading out to Germiston was the Easter Train operated by Reefsteamers that was due to depart at 10.30 on a round trip. Not much else was going on because it was a public holiday so off I went.

Everything went well until I came to the abysmal track that is used by RS as a road to access the depot.  In rainy season this track is a quagmire. We hadn’t had rain in yonks so the assumption was that that the road was passable. The first giant puddle should have served as a warning, but I didn’t really have any problems with it. The next puddle was a different puddle altogether, it was more like a bog and I ended up bogged down to running board level halfway through.

Now people may scoff at my strange car, but the yellow peril and I have been to many odd places where cars like mine should not go. The situation was bad, this road is literally in the middle of nowhere, with a squatter camp close by and nothing between it and the depot. I tried a few movements to try gauge how badly I was stuck, but the mud was very deep and I was soon up to my ankles in it. Fortunately I was wearing boots or my shoes would still be in Germiston. 
I decided to lock up and try for help from RS, but they were busy trying to get the train underway and there was no help forthcoming from them. I never really had a good relationship with RS, the days when I was working at the depot I kind of did my own thing and nobody really took  much notice of me. I also recall the one meeting I attended that pretty much killed it off for me. Back to the car I trudged, noting an even bigger puddle a few bends further on. There was no way I would have gotten through that one either! What worried me was the type of puddle I was in, that yellow mud was mine sand, so it was probable that the water was upwelling acid mine drainage, after all, we hadn’t had rain here in ages. 
I tried packing stones and bricks and rubble behind the wheels but to no avail, and eventually I decided to call my insurance company for help. Fortunately they had a roadside assistance that would send out a tow truck to yank me out. While I was waiting, a train of 6E’s came howling along and I was able to capture them with my video camera, and, while I was filming, my cellphone rang. What amazed me was that over the noise of 4 electric units at 25 metres, the camera was able to record my ringtone, even with my phone in my pocket! The mike on that camera is a very selective one. Shortly thereafter, the tow truck arrived and dragged me out. Thank you MiWay Insurance and Easyway Towing for your help.
Looking back at it all now, I shouldn’t even have tried traversing that puddle/swamp/quagmire, but there is no real way of knowing the depth of these things until you are in them. Once I was back on the road I went around to the diesel depot gate and went to RS depot, passing by the one building that may have housed the DB for the telecom cables in that area. I was a regular visitor to these parts when I worked for the railways in Germiston.
At the depot there was no sign of the train. And nobody could tell me how long it would be before she arrived. I walked up and down, taking pics while I idled the time away.
I enjoy walking through the depot with its silent steam engines and empty coaches, its a place of reflection and wonder. When I used to come here in 1985 to do faults the depot was in full swing, with a busy coal stage,  bustling workshops and steam engines galore. Today it is like a ghost town. I stopped to visit “Susan”, the former station pilot from Germiston, she was in the workshop with her smoke box agape. This class 12AR is the only one left in the country, and amongst the 3 oldest working steam locomotives in South Africa. She is being prepped for her boiler inspection and we are all holding thumbs for her.
The one bright part of my wait was the arrival of two 6E1’s who made all the right noises. Part of the fascination with these units is the resistance blowers that makes their noise very distinctive. These units are destined for extinction as they slowly get withdrawn or rebuilt into 18E’s. These units, as well as my ringtone enhanced ones are available to see on my youtube channel
Some passing diesels helped entertain me until eventually I heard the distinctive steam whistle in the distance. Janine the 15F was in charge, but she was running tender so first photography wasn’t great. There isnt really much to see when the front of the loco is buried into the coupling of the first coach of the train. But I grabbed some video anyway.  Finally, after navigating the maze of points in the yard, Janine and train were safely inside the depot,
and I was able to film her as she was moved to another line inside the depot.  The train was 2 hours late due to a late departure and a delay at New Canada. That I am afraid is something outside of the control of anybody. 
Then it was time to head off home. My car was in dire need of a bath both inside and out. So was it’s owner. My jeans were destined for the dustbin and I was headed for the bath. I had aches and pains in place I forgot I had, and the photography had not been as good as I would have liked. Phew, what a day! 
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016 
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:21

Kromdraai and its people

Yesterday I tackled Kromdraai. For those that are unaware of where it is, it’s about 10 kilos past Krugersdorp heading towards Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng. There were 4 cemeteries on my list, 3 of which probably were part of the same farm, and which were now situated on different farms. It is a sad state of affairs though because the location of many of these farm cemeteries is not known, and they eventually get lost completely.
As usual, GPS and I headed out to the area and GPS took me on the wrong road. However, that wrong road may provide a clue to my missing Trooper Black from the Jameson Raid, as I found yet another mine in that area, as well as the gurgling Blaauwbank stream. Its worth returning there though, I am sure I may just find something. 
First on my list was Kromdraai 1 which is really only 3 headstones, one of which is toppled. They are visible from the road, but access is impossible as the property where they are is locked. Surnames associated with these graves are Redelinghuys and Bean.
Kromdraai 2 was about 5 kilos away and sat on the edge of a ploughed field. I thought it ironic that this small cem with 5 headstones in it was now really an intrusion on the current work on the farm. In its day it was probably a different thing altogether, the cemetery would have been apart from the main house but not quite “in the lands”
There were a further 2 graves with toppled headstones in an adjacent field. Were they part of the original family? did a subdivision create this anomaly? the only clue I got was that one headstone base had “Henning” on it. Maybe we will find the answer one day. Unless we can get these stones righted the identities of these people may be lost forever.
Just 2 farms down was a Grobler family plot, with 8 headstones in it. This was one of the better maintained farm cemeteries that I have seen in my travels, often they are just a few markers in a patch of grass. 
Last on my list was a place called Danieelrus which is really a game farm not too far from where I was. Unfortunately I could not find anybody to assist me in my quest, and after 2 kilos of sand roads I really wanted to find these graves. There is no real satisfaction in going to a spot and not being able to find anything. Lady luck was with me though, as I was reversing I spotted the cemetery and was able to record it. Most of the markers were those lovely grey slate ones with their very small intricate writing. 30 names are supposedly associated with this cem, and the dominant surname was Oosthuizen.
Then it was time to head home. It had been a productive day, and I had found most of what I was after as well as found one two graves we didn’t know about before. It is just a pity that none of the history of this area was recorded so that I could see how these graves tie into the dominant families in this area. The Olwazini graves are not that far off either, although the surnames there were mostly Louw. Neighbours? probably.
On my way home I shot two vanity shots just for fun… This is the area adjacent to where I was.  
That was my first bit of gravehunting since I finished with the refrigeration course. And it was very satisfying.
© DRW 2012-2018. Images recreated 24/03/2016
Updated: 26/12/2017 — 14:23
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