Sandstone Heritage Trust - Rail News

RN 118 - A letter from Quinten Pendle, he reports on the recent Cherry Festival Event at Sandstone

On Tuesday, 15 November, we departed from Pretoria station, (Spoornet never deviating from it's reputation), late as always. We were bound for Ficksburg, via Majuba, Van Renen, Ladysmith, and Bethlehem. Just outside Heidelberg station, we heard the sound of a stone, hitting a window in the passage of our coach, and of course, breaking it. This really set us off on an eventful 3 days!

However, as the day progressed, so did we, with little more action.

Late the afternoon, almost during sunset, we approached Majuba pass. It was amazing how you could just feel the presence of this mighty mountain, not necessarily of it's hight, but maybe more because of it's historical value. And as the sun started to set in the west, we entered the beautiful landscape of Natal.

You could smell the grass as it swayed to and fro in the light breeze, and as Dulcie our tour guide said, you felt like singing "Groen is die land van Natal" in your heart. Later that evening, and quite suddenly, the train came to an abrupt stop in the middle of nowhere. I assume there must have been some wetland or water next to the train, as you could hear hundreds of diffrent frogs and crickets, masterly performing a nocturnal symphony. For a moment it seemed as though everything and everyone got deadly quiet and listened, and drank in the breeze. And then, almost majestically, a full moon rose over the clear, wide open African sky. And I knew, God was there ... God was watching ... and listening!

Just after eleven that same night, we went through van Renens Pass. Although it was dark, you could feel each and every twist of the route, as the train curled and swirled around the bends and through the
tunnels. The rest of the trip to Bethlehem, and later to Ficksburg, was uneventful, and I spent the time, drifting off to a peaceful, thankful sleep.

The next morning, at Sandstone, a narrow gauge steam train awaited us. With childish excitement, I climbed onto the train. And when the whistle blew, and that little train started to move, I felt my heart beating in harmony with that of the little engine. How I absolutely drank in each and every moment on board that little

Here wasn't only an engine working! It had a heart, and maybe, a soul. It's heart was beating, powerfully.

Later that morning, and very much to my surprise, someone organised that I could go and have a ride in the cab itself. I could hardly believe my ears and my luck, but I wasted no time in getting to the locomotive. When I climbed on board, Gert, the driver of the loco, welcomed me and showed me around. I was impressed by the way he and his crew handled the loco and train, and I knew that they really had a passion for these machines, and that these were in good hands. As if it wasn't enough, Gert suggested that I handle the loco and pull away. He showed me how to operate the regulator and the brakes, and ... I gave it a go. Fortunately for the rest of the passengers, they weren't on the train anymore. They were having tea, after which they went on a guided tour around Sandstone.

Back at the train, I released the brakes, and pulled up the regulator. There came one hell of a noise as the machine started thundering away, but ... we weren't really moving. Gert suggested that I should let go the regulator a bit, and ... there we started moving, at first slowly, but ever faster and faster. I couldn't believe it ... with the help of Gert, I got this train moving!

Later, on the bus back to Ficksburg, I said to Carin my wife, that now I've really had a dream come true, and that if God wanted to take me away at that very moment, I would gladly go, for I can think of very few
things on this Earth to do, that are worth more than what I received.

Thanks to Gert and Sandstone, I regard myself as being very honoured. Later that same night, those of us on the tour who are members of the SAR mailing list, got together for a photo and some chatter. It was wonderful meeting all the people behind the names on the list.

On day 3, we had a sudden opportunity to go back to Sandstone. I grabbed it with both hands. My wife went to the cherry festival itself, while I was steaming away at Sandstone. Dulcie, the tour guide of BTS, was kind enough to offer me some assistance around Sandstone. The rest of the day, we spent wandering around Ficksburg, at the cherry festival and back at the train.

Since we were in coach 18, right at the back, we were lucky enough to be right behind a class34, as it coupled onto the train. We fell asleep to the roaring sound of the engine, slowly winding it's way back to Bethlehem. And I suddenly realised that, God not only provides food, work, the basic things a human need. No, He sometimes gives us jewels, little moments to cherish and remember, to carry with you for the rest of your life.

Just thought I'd share this with you.
Quinten Pendle
Klerksdorp, South Africa