GO VINTAGE AT THE SANDSTONE SPRING STEAM FESTIVAL
This year’s Cherry Festival may have been yet another Covid-19 casualty but its cancellation has sparked plenty of interest in one of the more unique festivals to be held in the Eastern Free State – the four-day Sandstone Steam Festival just north of Ficksburg between November 19 to 22.
Believe it or not, chasing trains is not reserved for television series. There is actually a group of travellers who criss cross the globe in pursuit of the very few remaining steam railways and the annual Sandstone Festival has become a favourite with many of them.
With international travel still a mammoth challenge, this year’s Sandstone Spring Festival will probably be hosting mainly local steam train enthusiasts instead.
Very few of us can even remember the days when steam engines raced across South African lines. But, even if you are not yet in the railway enthusiast’s camp, the high pitched hoot of the engine, billowing smoke from a funnel or the hissing sigh as an engine literally lets of steam will soon have you hooked.
From 10 am daily, you can enjoy train rides along one of the most unique 2ft narrow gauge railways in the foothills of the majestic Maluti Mountains which sit high above the Drakensburg range.
You can also picnic or take a walking tour of the larger-than-life farming estate and absorb the romance of vintage cars and trucks as well as a collection of old engines and farm equipment, ox wagons and even military vehicles at full throttle!
Visitors of all ages are enthralled not only by the magic of steam and heritage transportation at Sandstone, but also by the authentic farming of epic proportions.
Nowhere else in the world would one witness 36 Afrikaner trek oxen working in unison – and enjoying their job.
THE STORY OF SANDSTONE
The Sandstone Heritage Trust is a private Preservation initiative established on a commercial farm in the Eastern Free State.
In 1995, the present owners purchased the farm from the Wille family which had owned it since the 1840’s.
Situated along the little Caledon River which constitutes the official border between South Africa and Lesotho, this farm is on extremely arable land and is in an area where farming has proceeded quietly using traditional methods for centuries.
Many of the farmers living in this area have a great sense of history and had preserved farming machinery and continued with farming practices which are more nostalgic than commercially realistic.
The farm Hoekfontein, that became part of the trust, was therefore something of a living museum with Lanz Bulldog and John Deere 720 diesel tractors still in daily use.
The new owners recognized this and decided, from the outset, that they would do everything they could to maintain the facilities, machinery and even the skills needed to keep the old farm machinery and farming methods operational. The machinery is not obsolete from a practical agricultural standpoint and so, to this day, the old machinery is still used to carry out important functions on the farm.
When the Midmar Museum, which was a joint venture between the Kwa-Zulu Natal Parks Department and the Heritage section of the National Railways, was dissolved in 1997, a selection of narrow gauge assets and the railway line were put up for auction.
The Sandstone Trust was the successful bidder and became the new owner of a number of assets and some narrow gauge track. It was decided to lay some of this track and bring one of the NGG16 Garratts back into steam.
The formative little railway did not go unnoticed and the enthusiasm expressed for its very existence encouraged and motivated the management at Sandstone to continue to extend the line. Rail and sleeper stock soon ran out but, fortunately, the closure of the Highlands water scheme in Lesotho followed and large volumes of 2-ft Narrow Gauge rail and other materials became available again. Sandstone purchased these, too.
Recognising that there was no one in South Africa encouraging the purchase, transport and restoration of 2-ft narrow gauge assets of historical interest, Sandstone took on the challenge.
When, in the late 1990’s, the old steam running shed in Bloemfontein became available for rent, Sandstone’s railway adventure continued and they decided to take up the offer to establish a steam locomotive rebuild facility there. To date, more than 15 locomotives have been rebuilt. Some were in a parlous state and the technical excellence of the locomotives on the farm is largely due to the experts who have worked tirelessly to keep steam alive in Bloemfontein.
While the 2-ft narrow gauge railway remains the centre of the activities because it plays quite an important role in the ongoing transportation of items on the farm, don’t let it distract you. Enjoy the many other fascinating items of interest – military vehicles, agricultural traction engines and even old buses.
The organisers report bookings are already steaming in. Entrance is R200 per person and R125 per child under the age of 12, including train rides.
Call 051 933 2235 or 071 658 6970 for reservations and visit www.sandstone-estates.com for further details.