The Sandstone Heritage Trust is a private Preservation initiative established on a commercial farm in the Eastern Free State in South Africa. The present owners purchased the farm from the Wille family in 1995. The farm has been in the continuous ownership of the Willes since the 1840's, which means the farm has only had two owners over a period of 170-years.
The arable farmland along the little Caledon River which constitutes the official border between South Africa and Lesotho is rich in agricultural potential. It is a particularly beautiful part of South Africa with sandstone outcrops nestling under the towering Maluti Mountains which sit high above the Drakensburg range. It is 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 was therefore in a way a living museum with Lanz Bulldog and John Deere 720 diesel tractors still in daily use. Notwithstanding the fact that they were simply going about their business, the Willes without realising it had created an environment which would have delighted any agricultural machinery enthusiast.
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 practice of continuing to use old machinery to carry out important functions on the farm is studiously adhered to.
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 by mutual agreement in 1997 and a selection of Narrow Gauge assets and the railway line came on the market. This event would give new direction to the Sandstone heritage program. These assets were put up for auction which Sandstone put in a bid for and being the successful bidder Sandstone was suddenly the owner of enough components to create a small Narrow Gauge railway. It was decided to lay some track and to bring one of the NGG16 Garratts back into steam.
A pivotal point in the heritage program's development was the decision by Sandstone to hold an innovative attempt at the World Record for the maximum number of vintage tractors (pre 1960) working in one field at one time. In order to make it more interesting for spectators a short section of railway line, which had been obtained on the Midmar auction, was built and the Garratt with a few coaches was cobbled together. The event was in fact the first attempt of its kind and it took place amidst great international fanfare. It was awarded with a Guinness Book of Records certificate. 99 tractors participated.
The rest is history and the record was recently broken in Ireland with over 5,000 tractors in one field at one time. South Africa can be truly proud of the fact that they were the innovators with a vintage agricultural event that galvanized interest in people around the world.
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 Majestic Highlands water scheme in Lesotho took place and large volumes of 2-ft Narrow Gauge rail and other materials became available again on auction and Sandstone purchased these.
Recognising that there was no one in particular in South Africa encouraging the purchase, transport and restoration of 2-ft Narrow Gauge assets of historical interest, Sandstone without necessarily having set out to achieve that objective, took on the challenge and the collection as it stands today was established.
In many ways the cards fell successfully into place because in the late 1990's the old steam running shed at Bloemfontein became available for rent and Sandstone decided to take up the offer to establish a steam locomotive rebuild facility there. Some of the original fitters, such as Lukas Nel who had worked there for many years, were enthusiastic about supporting the venture and joined Sandstone. More than 15 locomotives have been rebuilt, some of them where in a parlous state and the technical excellence of our locomotives on the farm are largely as a result of the professionalism and dedication of Lukas and his team in Bloemfontein.
So welcome to our web site. It contains in depth information for enthusiasts across a broad spectrum of Heritage activities. Although we set out collecting Agricultural machinery we did not close our doors to any collector who wanted a safe haven for his beloved old bus or engine or piece of earth moving machinery. While the 2-ft Narrow Gauge railway is at the centre of our activities because it plays quite an important role in the ongoing transportation of items on the farm it should not be allowed to over shadow many of the other fascinating items of interest. Military vehicles, Agricultural Traction engines, buses, cars, ox wagons with oxen attached are all there.
Finally, by way of clarification we are not a museum; we are simply a private collection of Heritage items on a commercial farm and the staff do their best to keep everything in tip-top condition and to show visitors around as appropriate.
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