ANNIVERSARY OF A LIGHTENING, RECORD BREAKING RUN
The South African Land Speed Record was broken, not once, but twice at Beaufort West exactly 52 years ago. Vic Procter broke his own record (138,20 mph – 224,07 kph) on the tar road near the airport on May 23, 1952. He set a new record of 144,0 mph (233,48 kph) on a Vincent Black Lightening motorbike The following day, May 24, he smashed this record again setting a new time of 149,99 mph (243,19 kph) on the same bike. This was the fifth time that Procter had broken the South African Land Speed Record. After the successful runs at Beaufort West in 1952 Procter was given Springbok colours for motorcycle racing. Procter’s outright South African Land Speed Record stood until October 21, 1967, when Bob Olthoff broke it in a McLaren Elva Ford car, setting a time of 177,97 mph (288,56 kph). Incredibly Procter’s record stood as the motorcycle record for more than 45 years. It was only broken on November 26, 1997, by John Mountain who set a time of 187,109 mph. (303,36 kph) on a 900cc Kawasaki ZX-9. Procter, who owned a garage in Three Anchor Bay in Cape Town, and his brother-in-law George Collins were among the first South Africans to seriously approach breaking records. Procter had several to his credit. One attempt, however, gained him membership of a unique club. On January 30, 1951, Procter crashed at 174 mph (282,12 kph) at Kaalpan and gained membership of the Caterpillar Club. “This is a very exclusive club,” says journalist Ken MacLeod. “It’s open only to those who have fallen out of aircraft, landed without a parachute or fallen off a motorcycle at 150 mph (243,21 kph) or over – and survived.” Procter once described his crash to veteran motoring enthusiast and world-famous cartoonist Jock Leyden. “I was hoping to beat Ernest Henne’s world record. I was going along merrily and suddenly the horizon was inverted,” he said. “I realised the bike had looped the loop at over 280 kph! That was my last run. It secured me membership of the Caterpillar Club of England. The only other members are Rowland Free of America and Nole Pope of England.”
SECOND LAND SPEED LINK WITH BEAUFORT WEST
Former Beaufort West resident Wally Kriek was also once involved with an attempt on the South African Land Speed Record. In 1970 he and three friends, Mike Bramley, Brian and Charlie Stobbard, built a highly streamlined bike, affectionately named Lancelot, for the attempt. News was carried in a Sunday Express article on June 28, 1970. Vic Procter immediately who wrote to wish them luck. He also offered to help and advise the team. “I would only be too pleased to assist in every way possible. My many attempts on world and national speed records have made my garage service station a success. However, I think if I knew in the beginning what I know now, I would not have started. But don’t be discouraged. The two years I spent running around looking for suitable salt pans and roads, enjoying pleasant hours planning, making the streamlined shell, tuning the engine and camping out with my wife Olive, and 12 officials were the best years of my life. During 1948 I tried pans and roads. Eventually I succeeded on the Beaufort West National Road, past the airport. I found this very narrow at 160 mph (259,42 kph). Cross winds were very worrying, and altitude robbed power from the motor.” Despite these problems Procter succeeded in his attempt at Beaufort West. Wally’s team disbanded before they made their run.
Gay van Hasselt’s prize-winning cheddar cheese tempted the taste buds at a recent Mini Cheddar Festival. According to Cheezelaaik Newsletter Gay’s 6-month cheddar, Prince Albert Regal, the lst prizewinner in the Boutique Section at 2004 Cheese Festival, was one of the special taste treats after Andre Kruger of Zewenwacht talked on Cheddar – its history and how it is made on May 29.
SPECIAL WAY TO CELEBRATE
The Vernacular Architectural Society of South Africa turns 40 this year and aims to celebrate in a special way. They are planning a winter outing to the Karoo and will spend four days, from August 6 to 9, in Graaff-Reinet, the fourth oldest town in South Africa. VASSA secretary Andre Johan Durand van Graan says: “A need for grazing drove migrant farmers ever further into the unknown hinterland in the 1700s. By 1767 some had obtained loan farms in the Camdeboo and Sneeuberg areas, near present-day Graaff-Reinet.” In 1786 the Colonial Government established a town with its own “drostdy” or magistrate’s office on Dirk Coetzee’s farm on the banks of the Sundays River. Trouble and strife led to the fledgling town declaring itself a republic, but the dissention was ironed out and Graaff-Reinet, in time grew into an important commercial centre. “Today the town boasts one of the best preserved and restored collection of historic dwellings and civic buildings in the Karoo. It also has the best townscape that can be found anywhere. In addition, there is a rich collection of dwellings and outbuildings on farms in the district and the nearby village of Nieu-Bethesda also has a wealth of vernacular styles to explore,” writes Andre in the VASSA newsletter.
NOT THE NICEST LAD IN TOWN
A baby born in Ketzin in Brandenburg, Germany on April 29, 1743, was destined to become notorious in the Karoo. He was Moritz Herman Otto Woeke, who was appointed as Graaff-Reinet’s first magistrate in 1785. Woeke held this post until 1794 when he was dismissed after complaints about his drinking habits, authoritative behaviour and foul temper were received.
TAKE A NEW LOOK AT GRAAFF-REINET
A new historical guide to Graaff-Reinet has just been published. It also includes information on Aberdeen and Nieu-Bethesda. The 192-page book, which includes 400 illustrations, contains stories and anecdotes on the history, historic buildings, including churches and monuments, as well as some of the very special buildings in town. There are also sections on people, unusual personalities and cultures of the people that make-up Graaff-Reinet and its neighbouring villages. Tourist attractions, accommodation and hunting opportunities are also featured. The book, which costs R285 including VAT plus R30 for postage (R315 in total), is available from Tony Westby-Nunn, P O Box 39327, Capricorn Square, 7948.
REAL COWBOY RODE THE PLAINS
The atmosphere of the Karoo in 1902 was not unlike the American Wild West. And, it was into this that one of the greatest cowboys of all time rode, writes Prof Guy Butler in Timbila. Will Rogers, part Cherokee Indian and a school drop out, made a name for himself in the Karoo. He had been made to feel inferior until he learned to joke about his ancestry saying: “My ancestors didn’t arrive on the Mayflower, they met the boat!” Will couldn’t settle in Oklahoma and he was 28 when he set off for Argentina. But there too he failed. Then he got a job on a ship delivering horses to the British forces in South Africa. This brought him to Durban, where his bags were stolen. In a letter to his father he said: “This country is ruined by war. I’ll start home soon.” While waiting for news of his lost luggage he took odd jobs driving stock. One brought him to Pretoria where he again found himself jobless. Then he saw a poster advertising Texas Jack’s Circus and since he was “good at ridin’ and ropin’,” he set off to seek them. According to Donald Day’s book Will Rogers: A Biography, Will found the circus where “a tall lean, kind-looking man wearing American boots and spurs greeted him.” This was Texas Jack. He put Will through his paces and as the last lasso hit the ground he announced: “You’re hired. You’re on tonight!” Will loved the circus. It was exciting and he had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his skills, horseback acrobatics, prairie riding, buck-jumping and roping. Trick roping got him the job. It also “roped” him into many other acts. This honed his acting skills. One of his special tricks was roping zebras. Years later he showed a reporter from the Omaha Sunday World Herald a scar on his head saying “I got this while trying to rope a wild zebra in South Africa near the town of Cradock – awful rough country with lots of rocks.” It was here that Will was almost killed. He was chasing a zebra down a slope to the great amusement of the crowd when his horse tripped on a rock, slipped, stumbled, fell and rolled over Will several times. People sprang to their feet screaming in horror, but Will emerged from a cloud of dust unscathed. Sadly, his horse broke two of its legs and had to be shot.
INNOCENTS ABROAD REMINDED OF KAROO
A little bird in Thailand brought back memories of the Karoo to an Australian couple. ‘On April 25, Trish, I and 65 other Australians went to Thailand to commemorate Anzac Day,” writes Midge Carter. “We attended the traditional Dawn Service at ‘Hellfire Pass’ on the infamous ‘Death Railway,’ which links Thailand and Burma. The Japanese built this pass during World War Two using Allied prisoners of war and local Malay, Indonesian, Burmese and Thai labourers. Conditions were horrific. Tropical diseases killed large numbers of these men and disabled even more. As our coach parked at Kanchanaburi Military Cemetery, where there are over 6,900 graves, we noticed locals trying to catch a small bird in the hedge. ‘It’s a Hoopoe!’ gasped Trish. Indeed it was. I took photographs just to be sure. We wondered what a South African bird was doing so far from home. We questioned the locals, but no one could give us an answer, so we assumed it must have escaped from an aviary. Later the manager of the military museum told us a breeding pair had nested and raised chicks in the cemetery for quite some time. We charged him to see no harm came to these delightful “feathered friends from Africa.” Quite chuffed with ourselves we returned to Perth where we checked Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa only to find distribution of the hoopoe listed as ‘Africa, Madagascar, Europe and Tropical Asia!’ As the Goon’s Bluebottle used to say, ‘I felt a proper fool.’ Oh well just another case of Innocents Aboard! Yet, we were pleased because it brought back memories of hoopoes cheerfully investigating Karoo lawns.”
SPECIAL TREATS FOR FEATHERED FRIENDS
Prince Albert birders have come up with a novel idea. The local branch of the William Quinton Karoo Wild Bird Society is selling special packs of birdseed designed to help residents to attract more and special birds to their gardens. The project is proving very popular. Packets costing R5-00 each feature a special Spotted Eagle Owl label. This honours “Harry”, an abandoned owl chick, which was hand reared by some keen birders in town. Harry still frequently visits his human “relations” even though he is now well able to fend for himself.
DERELICT RAILWAY STATION TAKES A BOW
Prince Albert Road has seen quite some “action” in its long and chequered history, but only recently did it become a “movie star.” The shabby, derelict, old railway station, once a popular stop, for those wishing to “take the Karoo air” was transformed into a disaster zone earlier this year. The old railway station buildings were coated with drab, streaky, khaki-coloured paint, artificial rust covered all metal surfaces and gnarled, twisted girders lay about here and there for effect. Huge machines belched smoke from the sidelines, and big wind machines billowed this about across the scene. Helicopters roared overhead, heavily armed soldiers ran about waving guns, while Red Cross workers and ambulance personnel picked their way through the rubble. This was a scene for an episode of Charlie Jade, a sci-fi detective series to be screened on Canadian TV and SABC 3 later this year. Would-be actors from Prince Albert auditioned as extras and 200 were cast. This saw them “signing on” at the Swartberg High School in Prince Albert by 04h00 and off by bus for a very long day of filming. They enjoyed coffee and rusks as they donned costumes and were made-up. Then as dawn streaked the sky they stepped out onto the set. “I have never seen so much going on all at the same time,” said one. “Hundreds of people seemed to be scurrying in all directions. They dashed in and out of huge trucks and trailers, fetching and returning props for various scene changes. Make-up even on the lowliest extra kept getting checked and at times all of us were sprayed with artificial perspiration. Everyone knew exactly what to do and where to go. I was mesmerised. Hoping all the time I would not put a foot wrong and spoil the whole production. But, all went well. It was a fascinating 16-hour day. At the end I fell into bed feeling like a ‘star.’”
STILL THE PLACE TO BE
South African is still top of the pops according to a South African Tourism (SAT) report. This document, released at Indaba earlier this month, provided a wide range of data on keys aspects of the inbound tourism market for 2003. It showed that South Africa bucked the international trend with an increase of 4,2% in overseas arrivals, while global tourism experienced a 2,8% drop. South Africa was expected to outperform the global trend by 1,7% in 2004 – a total of 6,6 million international tourists in real terms. Total domestic direct spend was R47bn and total foreign direct spend R53,9bn in 2003. This represented an increase of 10,5%, said the report.
DUST TO DUST – THE STORY OF THE KAROO
“The dust bin of creation,” was Author Julian Ralph’s opinion of the Karoo. “In Towards Pretoria, his account of the Anglo-Boer War, he described the intense heat and the air that was “as full of dust as London’s is of smoke.” He said: “Our throats are dry and caked with dust. The ground is loose dust, the air flying dust. The vegetation and insects are all differing shades of dust.” On November 14, 1899, Ralph was on a train travelling from De Aar to Orange River Station. It passed a transport column, five miles long, carrying forage, food and ammunition for the 10 000 men under the command of Lord Methuen. It was hoped that this advance column “would sweep to the relief of Kimberley like a witch’s broom.” The transport column raised such a dense cloud of dust that troops, wagons and horses merged into one dust-painted portrait. “All our uniforms have become dust-coloured. We are all getting dirtier – inside and out. We breath dust, drink dust and eat dust. Very often we are out of sorts, because our internal arrangements suffer, rebel against this new order of things, but the dust persists, our systems bow to it and we go ahead.” Ralph mentions sitting in his dusty tent, his boots buried in dust, writing with a solution of dust and using a dusty brown pen. “Every line was dusted and dried as soon as written – just as our grandfathers dried their manuscripts with sand.” Then, to his amusement “a dust-coloured cat strayed out onto the dusty veld. It began watching a hole in the dust in order to catch a dust-coloured mouse.”
LAINGSBURG FLOOD HELPED IN UNUSUAL WAY
In 1989 the devastating flood, which almost totally destroyed Laingsburg, helped find a lost ring. The Star of April 11 that year carried an amazing story of the recovery of a very precious diamond ring belonging to Marianne Rabbets of Sasolburg. Marianne had been given an 18-carat gold ring with two diamonds by her husband Charlie to mark their 10th wedding anniversary. On Christmas Day while paddling in the Gourits River Mouth during a holiday along the Garden Route the ring slipped from Marianne’s finger and disappeared into the river. Marianne was absolutely distraught. The family searched all day in vain even borrowing a snorkel and under water mask to increase their efforts. In January the following year the “Laingsburg flood” washed thousands of tons of mud down the Gouritz River dramatically altering the general lie of the land. Then over the next Easter weekend, a schoolboy, scuba diving at Gourits River Mouth saw a ring lodged in a crevice between two rocks. He could not believe his eyes. After he managed to free it, he gave it to his girlfriend Denise Conroy of Pretoria. Amazingly she also happened to be friendly with Lieutenant Michael Rabbets, Marianne’s 19-year-old son. He recognised his mother’s ring and told Denise the story. She returned the ring to Marianne.
CRAFTY FARMER BESTS THE BOERS
Tarzan and tales of Africa by writers such as Rider Haggard thrilled British youngsters in the 1950s. But Alan Avis, who grew up in Surrey, considers himself more fortunate. “My mother Pam Collett, who was born on a Karoo farm, was a wonderful storyteller. She painted excitingly vivid word pictures. Dramatic tales of her childhood furnished with me with knowledge of another continent and a love for the Karoo that survives to this day “One of the stories I loved took place towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War on a family farm, Salt Pans Drift, in the Fish River area.” says Alan. “The farm belonged to old Herbert Collett. One cold winter evening he got word that British soldiers and Cape Rebels, determined to fight to the bitter end, were in the vicinity all searching for remounts. He gave instructions for his horses to be hidden in a poplar grove. This done, he retired to bed. Herbert hadn’t been there long before a loud knocking announced a raggle taggle group of Boers. They demanded to see him. It was so bitterly cold that Herbert chose to converse with them from his bed. They wanted food, horses, fodder and money, said the leader. Herbert told them they could take any horses they could find. They were welcome to make coffee and help themselves to food from the pantry, he said, handing over a bunch of keys. But, he had neither fodder, nor money, he added. The leader pointed to Herbert’s old farm coat hanging over the end of his bed saying they needed that as well for a shivering, skinny young man in his party. ‘Why take that? It’s old and threadbare,’ said Herbert ‘There’s a nice warm jacket in the wardrobe. Give him that.’ They did. Then, after helping themselves to food and coffee they rode off. Herbert lay in the darkness smiling. Then, a crafty chuckle filled the room. He reached out and stroked his tattered old jacket. It still hung at the foot of the bed and its pockets were full of cash!”