Spoorweglegende Flip Botes tree af na 43 jaar op Worcester

Soos in 1995, toe dit die prys as beste stasie in die Wes-Kaap gewen het, blink elke hoekie en gaatjie op Worcester Stasie. Dit is 11 Julie, 2017 en ons stap op die stasie rond met toestemming om foto’s te neem, want die PremierClasse kom mos netnou van Kaapstad af.  As daar in Suid-Afrika ‘n netjieser stasie as Worcester is, moet ek dit nog sien – en ek reis gereeld per trein na verskeie plekke in die land, sien baie stasies.  Flip Botes is in beheer as Senior Administratiewe Beampte.

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Flip Botes spreek gaste toe tydens sy aftreefunksie.  Foto: Drikus Louw

Soveel maal in my lewe het ek daar plek bespreek op die Trans-Karoo of Trans-Oranje sneltreine, ook op die “melktrein” wat op elke stasietjie stilgehou het.  Flip Botes het menigmaal my eie besprekings hanteer en later dadelik geweet wie praat as ek getelefoneer het. Tog het dit dekades geneem om Flip regtig te ontmoet en watter aangename kennismaking was dit nie?!

Rustig, iewers tussen beleefd en beskeie, maar baie intelligent en ‘n wandelende ensiklopedie van Spoorwegkennis. Hierdie man wat voor my staan en so onderhoudend gesels, is eenvoudig ‘n onuitputbare bron van kennis.  Hy versamel foto’s van stoomlokomotiewe en vors die geskiednis na; hy praat met groot gesag oor die onderwerp van Spoorweggeskiedenis.

Flip Botes het op Barrydale grootgeword en gematrikuleer aan die Hoër Landbouskool Oakdale op Riversdal. Hy wou graag in die veeteelt gaan studeer, op grond van sy belangstelling in beeste. Daar was egter nie geld beskikbaar nie en dus sluit Flip Botes aan by die Sporweë op 25 April 1974.  Daarna rapporteer hy vir Nasionale Diensplig en keer daarna terug na die Spoorweë op Ceres.  Hy het al die inkarnasies daarvan beleef, beginnende by SAS & H, Spoornet, Transnet, uiteindelik Prasa Hooflyndienste.

In 1977 trou Flip met Rina van Riversdal en die egpaar het twee kinders, Marnél wat werk as kraamsuster en Arno, wat getroud is en werk as sjef in Melbourne, Australia.

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Karel Crous, Areabestuurder: Wes-Kaapa van Prasa Hooflyndienste, oorhandig sy dienssertifikaat aan Flip Botes. Karel is die groot man.  Foto: Drikus Louw

Flip Botes, persoonlik wil ek jou bedank vir dekades van vriendelike diens, jammer ek het jou so laat eers regtig leer ken. Jy het diep spore getrap, ‘n baie hoé standaard gestel en joy aftrede op 31 Augustus 2017 laat ‘n leemte wat dien as ‘n groot uitdaging aan jou opvolger.

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Flip Botes en Karel Crous   Foto: Drikus Louw

Geniet die welverdiende rus, Flip, geniet ‘n rooiwyntjie en geniet jou liefde vir geskiedenis en aardrykskunde.  Dalk kry jy nou kans om ‘n paar beeste aan te hou.

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Freek Mentoor oorhandig ‘n geskenk aan Flip Botes op 31 Augustus 2017  Foto: Drikus Louw

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Flip Botes ontvang ‘n geskenk van Jakob Delafontyn, Treinbestuurder en Unieverteenwoordiger van Prasa MLPS in Kaapstad tydens die aftreegeselligheid op Worcester, 31 Augustus 2017. Foto: Drikus Louw

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The Old Man and the School Mistress

Firstly, I am an independent writer with a keen interest in travel; I do write about travel but my opinions are most definitely my own, I don’t get paid and neither am I employed by anyone.

There once was an elderly gent who had to take the kids to school on his donkey cart every day. He served his community as best as he could and, so many times, the farmers in that area refused him a better wagon or faster horses so that he could transport their children and their farm workers’ children more efficiently. They just ignored his pleas and just added children from more farms and villages to be transported.

The wagon he had was really getting old, the donkeys too. Then, one night, someone stole one of his twelve donkeys. Soon after, the wheels were stolen from the wagon and he had to find another. They sawed chucks out of the seats or just stole them, took the wheel nuts, even an axle once. Every time, the old man had to find a spare part or two, even when he had very little money, yet he believed to take the kids to school. As, who else would have?

One morning, he saw that even the workers’ kids had killed and eaten his best donkey. His bridles and reins were cut to pieces by vagabonds. Nobody wanted to help him and few even paid him.

One day, the school mistress became angry because the kids were always late. She went to the judge and asked that he gets fined for not doing his duty, despite much of his work having been a free service. Of the twenty kids that went on each trip, only four really paid the fee, the others just stormed his wagon and jumped on board. The kind old man never could chase them off as he was a good man not given to violence.

Eventually, the school mistress stood ready to whip the old man. She never educated the kids, never taught them manners, same as the parents.

One night, the old man passed away in his sleep and his donkeys only knew his voice, refused to pull the wagon.

So, everybody had to walk.

Premier Helen Zille wants to hold Prasa accountable for lack of service delivery without understanding the problem, just as she had shown before. But then, she made a comment that perhaps fits, at another time she acted inappropriately. Yes, cane people into submission, whip them when they can’t drive a car with a stolen engine. I wonder why it had taken her so long to wake up to the problem and why she did not intervene to help save the old man and his wagon instead of taking him to the judge.

The Train Always Wins

There are upward of 7,500 level crossings in South Africa. No country has the money to replace all of these with road bridges.

We grew up with level crossings and respected them with an acute reverence. That was fifty, sixty years ago.

The level crossings are still there, of necessity. To many, this is their only access route between home and the big world out there, even if your world doesn’t go beyond Rondomverskrik or Regtigverdwaal.

Relatives of my late grandmother’s were always very careful. In darkness, worsened by a thick fog, once looked left, then right, left again and slowly drove forward, straight into a stationary train! It remained a family joke, to repeat their conversation every time we encountered a railway crossing.

People are less careful nowadays. If one visits any of these level crossings, it is almost scary to see that most vehicles don’t even reduce speed, let alone STOP when the sign indicates so. Rules are there to protect and mischief leads to disaster.

The day before the accident, shown in the picture, had happened, a car hit an oncoming train at a level crossing in Cape Town. A week prior to the one depicted here, the very same train driver was part of a team raising awareness for road & rail safety at this very same level crossing. A month prior, I was a passenger on this very same train and saw, at this level crossing 1,100km away from home, how a father with his young children on board, sped towards the crossing to try and beat the train to it. Sheer arrogance, recklessness, to place one’s loved ones at such an unnecessary risk. The train is roughly five hundred metres long and moves at around 60km/h, so anyone needs only to wait a few seconds for it to pass. Why risk lives by trying to cross the railway line before the train does?

At the time of this accident, I was a passenger on another train and saw where a train had hit a stray pedestrian. The train did not swerve, as trains can’t – they are directed by the railway lines. As these rail tracks are meant for trains, best advice is to give them a wide berth. Two serious accidents in one day, caused by people disrespecting the rules of society. There is an adage that “rules are there to be broken” but this is false dogma and it can be fatal. As the stray pedestrian discovered much to his own destruction. As his body lay between the railway tracks, I could not but help to wonder how their loved ones would react to the sad news.

I told a friend about my experience earlier this morning and he then told me that his sister had died this way.

Lots is being said on social media about the Police needing to be more strict – why do we adults need cops to turn us into good citizens? If only we lived according to the official rules of society, this world would have been a better place. Why is it always someone else’s fault, never just our own?

Dice with death and your gamble may fail. I hope that your Last Will & Testament is in place and that your passwords are where your next-of-kin can find it.

Look for trains! Trains always win!

1st Class “Trans-Karoo” Culture Lives on!

The neatly dressed gentleman greeted us friendly as we entered the foyer of the PremierClasse Lounge around 7am on a Tuesday morning. he soon relieved us of our luggage, which he tagged to our compartment and handed us our welcoming letter and boarding passes.

Guests’ Luggage Checked In

Some impressive “baggage” went into the Car Carrier as well. The cars in the background, plus a number of Mercedes-Benz’s travelled in the back.

Another “passenger” boarding!

PREMIER CLASSE LOUNGE

Soon, we were installed in the lounge area where we were served with tea or coffee, with muffins, scones and other niceties. In no time, we were chatting away with Frasier and Christine from the United Kingdom, who would be joining us for a memorable rail journey towards Johannesburg, South Africa. It was interesting to listen to Frasier’s account of a pleasant trip on the Algoa line of the ShosholozaMeyl, the tourist class sibling of the PremierClasse.

Scones, Tea & Coffee In the Premier Lounge

Among the guests congregated in the PremierClasse Lounge, were a number of people with restricted mobility. It is always good to see that people with special needs are being taken care of. I soon learned that meals and drinks could be served in their compartments, should these guests have preferred it that way. However, I did notice that some opted for joining us in the Dining Saloon for meals.

Special Needs Guests Accommodated

The almost legendary Food and Beverage Manager Millie addressed the guests, welcoming all to PremierClasse and gave a brief summary of house rules on the train. We soon left the lounge and strolled leisurely towards the light blue train waiting on Platform 24. (Frasier and I, however, had a brief meeting with a very Red Devil as well, but that is a story for another day.)

BOARDING THE PREMIER CLASSE

As my wife and I boarded the train, we soon found our compartment with our names on a neat card on the door. There were two bottles of distilled water, pillows and our luggage neatly installed by the efficient porters.

Our very comfortable, luxurious compartment.

We wasted no time to make our way to the Dining Saloon, where we were served with bubbly and snacks. Millie welcomed us on board and informed us of the credit card payment system after he had introduced us to the Dining Saloon Manager Faith. A similar party was underway on the other side of the kitchen car, as we had a full train and Train Manager Mr Groenewald was welcoming guests in the Lounge Car, I presume.

Millie welcoming his guests

After the initial complementary drinks, the cash bar was open – and we noticed that a huge rock was shifting past us. It was in the shape of Table Mountain. So imperceptible was the smooth departure by expert driver Okkie Pretorius that a few exclaimed their astonishment – guests did not immediately realise that our luxurious train was in motion.

This was when some noticed that the train was in motion, departure was very smooth and discreet!

Our train snaked its way along the Monte Vista line, then through Bellville, Brackenfell, Kraaifontein, then onto the Paarl and Wellington. We soon saw wild game on a ranch near Klapmuts, still on our way to Paarl. The lions disappointed by hiding in their den.

As we left Wellington, we saw the first of seven Anglo Boer War blockhouses on this route, used by the 450,000 British soldiers to defend the Cape Colony against some 16,000 Boers, between 1899-1902.

British blockhouse dating back to Anglo Boer War 1899 -1902

Will Britain partner in restoring and preserving these? They are going to waste.

These “monuments” did spark some interest and some guests were able to take nice photographs. Slipping ever so discreetly past the wheat fields of the Swartland, then snaking through Nieuwekloof Pass, PremierClasse made its graceful debut to the Witzenberg region of Tulbach. From there, leaving the Little Berg River behind, we crossed the Breede River and saluted another two blockhouses, while sipping at our drinks. Flanked on either side by the beautiful Boland mountains, we passed through the last bit of grapes harvesting from vineyards that would soon be changing into its autumn attire. The smell of fermentation hung in the air as we passed the various wine cellars. Waboomsrivier, Botha’s Halt, Sedgwick’s Distillery.

Slanghoek Mountains and vineyards near Worcester

LUNCH

Lunch was served as we approached our first stop at Worcester, a town rich in history. Its railway station has featured in many films and commercial advertisements – we soon departed and passed the KWV House of Brandy which houses the world’s largest pot still brandy distillery, which was soon followed by award-winning olive farms.

Smoked Salmon
Roast Chicken
Cheesecake with Grenadilla

Passing through Hex River Kloof, we were enthralled by the rock formations of the mountains and some lovely farm scenes. It was time to enter the Hex River Valley, home of some of the world’s finest table grape farming. The spectacular valley was still dressed in green vineyards, a month from now it will be a colourful display of patchwork with warm autumn colours.

As we enjoyed our cheesecake dessert, we passed through the four Hexton tunnels of 0.5km, 1.1km, 1.2km and 13.65km respectively.

One of the four Hexton tunnels in the Hex River Rail Pass

PremierClasse shone in the bright sunlight as it appeared on the other side at Kleinstraat, where a solar power plant welcomed us, its myriad of panels bowing ever so courteously. This is where we had seen sable antelope before, but luck wasn’t on our side. Slipping through Touws River, past Matjiesfontein through Laingsburg, we soon saw the fifth blockhouse at Dwyka. By now, we were invited to afternoon tea, celebrated with a choice of carrot- or chocolate cake served with either tea or coffee. While at it, the two blockhouses either side of the train at Leeu-Gamka stood to our attention, somewhat worn yet as alert as ever.

Guests were socializing in either of the two Lounge Cars (one is a club car for smokers, both with fully provisioned cash bars with credit card facilities) or just enjoying the comfort of their comfortable compartments. An array of night-, reading- or main lights complemented the lockable stowage space, amenities such as shower gels and shampoos, take-home slippers and leave-behind towels and gowns. Did I mention that the train was air conditioned right through? Luckily, windows can still be opened, as some of us still prefer that.

Lounge Car – The Club Car for Smokers Is Similar

Beaufort West! As in Worcester, it was time for staff to replenish Diesel fuel and water. The former is used to power the facilities on the PremierClasse, from air-conditioning to lighting. Only the engines in front use the overhead power lines but, talking of which, our two trusty SAR 6E1 units were replaced by one with a higher voltage rating.

DINNER

Dining on the #GoodFoodTrain is a lovely affair. As in the days of old in the “Trans Trains” such as Trans-Karoo or Trans-Oranje, we have repeatedly found that cuisine is well-prepared and expertly served. Their way of dishing up, for instance, is their legendary party trick, perhaps a signature. On a moving train, the waitron will hold the serving dish in one hand and then use the other to dish up, using two spoons held between the fingers, or a spoon and fork. I have tried it at home and found it to be fairly challenging, say no more! Service is swift, food is really tasty and of good quality. Anyone complaining about food on this train is either very spoilt, or perhaps not used to anything this good.

As I am not paid to write this, I can speak my mind: so many people have doubts about our main line passenger services and some do live in the past. I can assure you that it only improved upon an established tradition. South African railways are known for its excellent catering on trains and PremierClasse is no exception.

Cream of Sweetcorn Soup
Delicious Fried Hake
Braised Beef Sirloin
Malva Pudding
Cheese n Biscuits – a long-standing tradition!

Darkness fell and we departed on our way to Kimberley via Three Sisters, Biesiespoort, Merriman, Hutchinson, De Aar. That is where we could smell the fresh Karoo air. Then, Poupan, Kraankuil, Hopetown, Belmont…..until we reached Ronald’s Vlei where we once again received electric locomotives with a different voltage rating.

Then it was Kimberley itself where we had another logistics stop, from where we departed towards Warrentown. Fog was fairly thick, even past Fourteen Streams up to Bloemhof, where it lifted to reveal African savannah mixed with typical Highveld grass. And a fair herd of red hartebeest, oryx, eland, kudu and giraffe while we were enjoying a scrumptious breakfast. We were glad that our foreign guests could also get so see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.

Soon, breakfast was over and so was our trip, as the first mine shafts and -dumps appeared near Orkney.

Complementary Fruit
Fresh Juice
Muesli with Yoghurt – There is a choice of cereals
A delicious English Breakfast. The eggs in the picture were the best I ever had, anywhere, on the morning of April 12, 2017. I did inform the chef.

As we slipped past Lava, my wife and I readied ourselves to disembark when we arrived at Klerksdorp, a gold mining city, while other guests would continue to Johannesburg. At Klerksdorp, Frasier stepped off the train and first took photo’s of the ancient plinthed SAR Class 7 locomotive. We said farewell to Frasier and also to Mr Groenewald, our friendly and very helpful Train Manager. Of course, we took a few photos of the lovely sandstone station building.

Train Manager Mr Groenewald at Premier Classe, Klerksdorp

12 April 2017

Premier Classe saluting the SAR Class 7 plinthed at Klerksdorp
Lovely sandstone station building at Klerksdorp

Thus ended a memorable trip on a lovely PremierClasse train, one that even had a bit of a “wild side” to it! As an afterthought: so many folks ask if South African long distance trans are clean, safe or as good as they were three decades ago? YES! YES! YES!

Footnote

PremierClasse has a ConferenceCar with a full bar and this can also be converted to a venue to celebrate events. Furthermore, an intercom system is being installed into the new train set, that would allow guests to order food and drinks from Room Service. USB charging points, wireless internet and an electronic map are all being planned and should be installed soon.

We also thank Quinten Pendle and PerronFM for having us and for broadcasting our four radio talks on air.