31 October 2009

Touws River - Ladismith branch line (Makadas Train) [1925 - 1981]

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Rail track [Touwsrivier to Ladismith] may never be replaced (1981)

Published on 04 February 1981

Laingsburg – About a third of the 144 km-long railroad between Touws River and Ladisith has been destroyed, according to senior railway officials who flew down the Touws River in an air force Super Frelon yesterday. Pressmen on board the flight were the first to see the devastation in the fertile valley, and for more than 40 km the rail has either disappeared or is mangled in the wide river bed.

Mr. W.F. van Aswegeen, Railway Superintendent (operations) in Cape Town said after the flight it might not be viable to rebuild the railroad. It carried only three trains a week and as soon as more detailed inspections had been held it would be considered whether the train service would be replaced with buses.

Mr. Arthur Hoal, a civil engineer accompanying Mr. van Aswegeen said it would cost millions and take years to repair the line. “The damage is a great deal worse than I thought,” Mr. Hoal said. At Bloutouring station, near Mr. W.A. Joubert’s farm, Labora, a concrete and steel bridge – one of the many – has been washed away completely.

The Star, 4 February 1981

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This entry is in remembrance of a scenic railway branch line which was closed in 1981 after being destroyed by the "Laingsburg floods." This branch line was associated with the "Makadas" - this article also dwells a bit on the hazy origins of this name.

My special thanks to all and everyone whom have contributed so enthusiastically to the contents of this entry - a real team effort! And if you have more information, please contact me!!!

Today, when visiting the town of Ladismith in the Klein Karoo, the fact that a steam train once worked here from Touws River, is not evident at first sight.


But when one stops at the local town museum - a DR church built in 1874, the old railway station name boards, on display, are hard to miss!


These are the clues -- Ladismith was 398km (by rail) from Cape Town. (Ladismith was 89 miles [143 km] from Touws River.)


And 538 m above sea level.


and the adjacent towns are ....

If you know where to look ( I did not know where, when I made a quick stop, in Aug 2009) you should still be able to spot the old station building, as apparently it is still put to good use by the municipality.


This Google Earth photo shows the route (red) the Makadas train took into town. The blue section (see photo below) is where the station and goods yard were, and the yellow arrows indicate where the triangle was positioned.


This Nov 1991 photo is kind courtesy of David Perl. It shows the abandoned Ladismith Station - The station buildings and platform are on the left, and the goods shed on the right. In the distance the R62 road bridge (see below) crosses the old rail route.

Photo: David Perl - 7 February 1980. View down the cutting running up to the Ladismith station as seen from below the R62 road bridge. At the time the traffic density on this track was so low that the weeds managed to get a foothold between the tracks.


May 1971 photo courtesy © CP Lewis. This was the Makadas headed by Class 7A no. 1011 working up the last mile into Ladismith. This brilliant picture appears as a double page spread in THE GREAT STEAM TREK published in 1978. All the 7th Classes were withdrawn by 1972. Engine no. 1011 was built by Neilson & Co, of Glasgow, Scotland, as works no 4930 in 1896. Today this locomotive is plinthed in front of the Keetmanshoop station building in Namibia.

Charlie Lewis (who very kindly provided nostalgic photo's of the days when the Makadas line was still under active steam), noted in 2009:

"I did not ride the line, mainly because I always planned to do it "one day". When it was closed, it came as a big shock, and a wake-up call. However, I made many trips to the line by car between 1962 and 1972, mainly to photograph the 7 classes but also occasionally the 24s. When I first started, there were only class 7s working from both ends, often with two trains/day (mixed and goods), and sometimes even a third - in those days SAR had plenty of traffic."

"Over the years I photographed several different 7s on the branch, including the two ex NCCR engines, No's 1347 and 1348, class 7E. At age 9 I visited the line for the first time with my Dad who loved it too - it was 1946. We saw one of the rarest 7s, NCCR - later SAR - class 7F on a mixed train on its way from Ladismith to Touwsrivier. Unfortunately my Dad was not into photography then so I only have this memory of his excitement at seeing this very clean black engine which had pulled him from Worcester to Mossel Bay in the 1920s. It was very clean with an old-style cowcatcher under a bright-red buffer beam and was on a classical mixed train, with a backdrop of Klein Karoo hills somewhere west of Winkelplaas - surely some of the most magical country on God's earth. "


Short clip from Nick Lera's World Steam Classics made in 1980 showing working steam on the Touws River - Ladismith branch line. More info about the video here: http://www.nickleravideo.com/catalogue/cape.htm. The full video also exists in 4 parts on youtube

History

In chapter 7 of his book "The Little Karoo", completed in April 1981, Jose Burman gave an excellent summary of the history surrounding the SAR branch line to Ladismith.

Around 1890 Ladismith’s links with the outside world were rather tenuous: there was a post cart which crossed the mountains to Laingsburg — a trip taking twelve hours with three outspans, at Groot River, De Kuil and then Rietfontein. But the post cart did not take care of farmers’ produce, and there was no railway.

With this lack of transport Ladismith’s growth was severely restricted, and the demand for a railway into the Little Karoo was constantly voiced. The outcome was a visit to Ladismith in 1893 by Cecil Rhodes (then Prime Minister of the Cape) and Sir James Sivewright (Minister of Public Works). The inhabitants of Ladismith were cock-a-hoop about the impending establishment of the rail­way, but nothing came of it.

Electricity reached Ladismith in 1913, and the following year a hospital was erected on Kruithuis Kopje. World War I started in that year and the feather boom collapsed — wealthy farmers became paupers overnight. The end of the war brought the postwar depression, as well as a change in Mayors — J. I. Mann was elected in 1920 and remained Mayor until 1934. Mann also became a member of the Provincial Council and later a member of its Executive Council. It was probably due to his influence that Ladismith at last got its railway.

The South African Railways had already made a survey of the route Touws River to Ladismith in 1912, while the railway line into the Little Karoo (Mossel Bay to Oudtshoorn) was under construction. This line caused intense con­troversy, some feeling that Ladismith was being left out, while others were optimistic of a connection from Ladismith to Oudtshoorn. As far as concerned distance, such a connection would have been worse than useless, for the roundabout route would have added enormously to the travelling cost.

There was accordingly jubilation when the SAR announced their intention to build the Touws River-Ladismith line. The decision came after considerable hesitation, for the 143-km line would draw a minimum amount of support from the first 75 km (up to the Touws River crossing). It was accordingly strictly for the benefit of the Ladismith district and the railways hoped that there would be enough support to justify the line.

Work began on 1 September 1923 and thereafter progressed rapidly, the first 28 km of earthworks being completed by November. By May 1924 the earthworks had reached 57 km, and platelaying 28 km. In November 1924 only 5 km of earthworks remained to be completed, while 95 km of platelaying was completed. On 15 December the first 75 km (up to the Touws River crossing) was opened to traffic. Sidings (or rather halts), as yet unnamed, had been built at 9 km (Nouga), 21 km (Avondrust), 28 km (Kraggas river), 38 km (Bloutoring), 49 km (Allemorgens) and 75 km (Kareevlakte).

In June 1925 the earthworks and plate-laying were completed and ballasting had reached 124 km. On 29 June 1925 the second section of line (as far as Plathuis —110 km) was opened to regular traffic. The entire line was ready on 19 October 1925.


Ladismith - May 1962 - photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis - The resting Class 7 No 987 looks towards the goods shed and station buildings of Ladismith station.

The whole labour force employed on the construction work was white, for this was a time of depression and some of the erstwhile ostrich barons worked on this railway line at 3 cents per day. The force employed varied from month to month, with 249 in January 1924 rising to a peak of 855 in September and declining again to 391 in June 1925.

The line was opened on 3 November 1925 by the Hon. C. W. Malan, the first Minister of Railways of General Hertzog’s Nationalist Party, which won the election of 1924. It was a gala day at Ladismith with two special trains bringing the Minister and other notabilities. Flags flew from every housetop in Ladi­smith. The Minister was met by the Mayor, Councillor J. I. Mann, M.P.C., who made the introductory speech.

The keynote of this speech was “after 44 years”. The Mayor referred to the 1893 visit of Cecil Rhodes and Sir James Sivewright and said that so imminent had the railway then seemed that the distinguished visitors had bought two barrels of wine for the opening ceremony. He added his regret that in the intervening 32 years the wine had evaporated.

Mr. C. T. Wilcocks, a member of the Railway Board, spoke on the subject of the proposed railway connection between Ladismith and Calitzdorp. At the time there was considerable speculation on the subject, for a branch line had been built from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp which the Minister had opened in November 1924. During his address on that occasion the Hon. C. W. Malan stated that although the length of a line between Calitzdorp and Ladismith would only be 55 km, there was unfortunately a mountain range between them and it would be a difficult line to build for, while the gradient from Dwyka (on the main line north) was only 1 in 90, that between Ladismith and Calitzdorp would be 1 in 30.

The Minister pointed out that this was the main objection to the line which otherwise would benefit the Oudtshoorn district considerably, for the distance to Cape Town by the existing NCCR (New Cape Central Railway) was 678 km, via Protem it would be 605 km and via Ladismith 552 km.

The Minister went on to say that if the NCCR was not able to “deal with the people who used the railway to advantage”, the Government would have to consider linking the Calitzdorp and Ladismith lines.

This was a serious threat to the NCCR for that private company owned only the line from Worcester to Mossel Bay, while the line from Mossel Bay to Oudtshoorn, and to Calitzdorp, was Government-owned. Should the SAR therefore link Calitzdorp to Ladismith it could reduce the NCCR to nothing but a small branch line and rob it of the Little Karoo traffic, and the through traffic to the east.

How serious the threat actually was may be doubted today, for the Calitzdorp line had been cheaply constructed, with light rails and no stations at all. It would have meant completely relaying the line were this to become the main route — but perhaps the NCCR were not aware of the true position. At all events, the NCCR saw the writing on the wall and in August 1925 sold out to the SAR.

So when the time came, in November 1925, to open the Ladismith railway, the whole situation had changed. The NCCR now belonged to the SAR which had every intention of running it at a profit — not killing it by expensive shortcuts through Ladismith. The chances of a connection were thus minimal, but Mr. Wilcocks gave the “soft answer that turneth away wrath”, saying that the connection now depended on how much support from Ladismith the SAR enjoyed. The railway line certainly helped Ladismith, but it had come at the start of a major depression, so that it alone could not bring prosperity.

The railway has brought a good deal of prosperity to the town and district, and enormous quantities of fertiliser have been exported from Ladismith.


Ladismith - May 1971 - photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis shows Class 7 no 1011 taking a rest at the end of the day.

David Perl happens to be one of the fortunate few people who actually traveled on the Makadas for the sole purpose of enjoying the ride and photographing the train at the same time.

David fondly remembers in February 2010: "At the time, I was a student, so the trip had to be el cheapo. Therefore, I trained it the whole way - no car involved. On Wednesday, 6 February 1980, I caught a night train from Cape Town & got off in Touws River. "


Class 24-3632 working the Makadas - Thursday 7 February 1980 photo kind courtesy of the photographer David Perl

"I transferred to the Makadas, which left in the early morning (probably at 2 am - Piet's note),


Class 24-3632 working the Makadas - Thursday morning 7 February 1980 photo kind courtesy of the photographer David Perl


Moments later David caught this scene, which I just love as a composition, especially the way the track disappears into the picture. Class 24-3632 working the Makadas - Thursday 7 February 1980 photo kind courtesy of the photographer David Perl .

"arriving at Ladismith (below) at about 9 am. "


On the outskirts of Ladismith, SAR Class 24-3632 works the Makadas up the last leg towards the station (see earlier Google Earth map) - Thursday 7 February 1980 photo kind courtesy of the photographer David Perl .

"So all my pictures and footage were taken from the train, except for the daylong layover in Ladismith, where I captured shunting. The return trip departed around 5 pm. This meant, of course, that I got no pictures of the Touws River-end of the line - big pity. "


This Thursday 7 February 1980 slide copy is by kind courtesy of the photographer David Perl. It shows Class 24 engine No 3632 locomotive next to the Ladismith goods shed. The station building and platform are on the left.


7 February 1980 video frame kindly provided by David Perl. A photo of this engine as it appeared at Voorbaai on 21 August 2001 may be seen here on flickr.

"On the way back, I picked up an early morning train in Touws River, back to Cape Town. An unforgettable experience. "

"I did spot one or two line-side photographers along the way. That had to be very challenging, because of the small window of daylight hours, plus the lack of roads in the area. "


The last train to run on the line, departed Ladismith on 23 January 1981. (By that time only Class 24 steam locomotives worked the line) This was two days before the an extremely heavy weather system struck the Karoo with all might, and resulted in the Laingsburg flood disaster, which amongst other things, washed away more than 50 km , mainly along the course of the Touws river, of this picturesque branch line, terminating its life after only 56 years of service to the community of Ladismith and district.

Jose Burman wrote: "On that fatal Sunday, 25 January 1981, when the rains came, the Buffels River washed Laingsburg almost out of existence, then rushed in to fill the Floriskraal Dam, which promptly overflowed. The overflow continued southwards to join the Groot River which cuts through the Ladismith district passing just to the west of the town. The force with which this river came down was obvious even a month later, for the large Ben le Grange Bridge, which carries the main road across the Groot River, was undercut at the approaches, and repairs were still under way."

"But it was only when we turned off the tar, on the western side of the bridge, and followed the Groot River northwards, that the full effects of the flood became visible. The “fluitjiesriet” , which normally grew in the river, and slowed the speed of the of the current, was gone. In place of the lucerne fields was a stretch of sand; sand so fine that it blew away with a puff of your breath, and rocks of all sizes and shapes."

"This was only a sample of what was to come. We crossed the railway line at Vensterkrans station (the railway opened so proudly in 1925), and I glanced along the line which followed the river kloof at this point. Whole sections of the embankment had been swept away, and in places the line sagged loosely, quite unsupported."


1981 photo taken by Ralph Taylor illustrating the total devastation at Vaalbank (between Vensterkrans & Winkelplaas) where both the road and railway line crossed the Groot River.

"A little farther up the river, we came on the Vaalbank Bridge, or rather, half a kilometre below the spot where the bridge had stood, we found the iron girder construction, high on the bank, with trees piled against it, in a mountain 8 m high. At the crossing itself even the concrete pillars had been smashed flat."

It made no financial sense to rebuild the line, as in the last financial year only 15,000 tons of goods were transported on the line, which in theory could almost be carried by a single train! The floods merely made the decision to close the line much more easy. Road transport on tarred roads to Ladismith had long before 1981 became the medium of choice for moving passengers and goods from the town and district.

After the Laingsburg flood of 1981, whilst everyone was still deciding what to do about the rail, it was rumoured to be sold underhand to Kalahari Steel, and they immediately started ripping it up. When the farmers realised this, it was a free for all. Today still some of the smaller steel bridges are still used on farms.Today only the rail bed can be seen at places - the only evidence that a steam train once regularly worked through these areas.


Ladismith - May 1962 - photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis. Class 7 no 987 on departure from Ladismith with the westbound Makadas. The engine on the train was the last straight seventh class before class 7A was introduced. This loco formerly had been Cape Government Railways (CGR) number 717, built in 1893, by Neilson & Co. as their works number 4477. It was originally allocated to the eastern section of the CGR. Today this engine is preserved at Matjiesfontein Hotel in fine condition. Incidentally, these early locos of Class 7 were delivered with six-wheel tenders, but those that were to become 7A had eight-wheel tenders.

In June 1983, dr Alan Blyth, after practicing for more than 50 years, as a medical doctor, in Ladismith, lamented in an interview: "It is a big heartsore that our branch line could not be economically re-built - How we miss the steam whistle of Makadas thrice a week at two thirty when she departed on the way out to Touws River."

Pieter (Mossie) Mostert, in 2009, still fondly remembers how, in the early 60's, as a school boy, he once had the privilege of doing the round trip from Touws River to Ladismith and back. On the steeper ascents they had fun by getting off the train, and walking along for long distances at a time. Pieter's father was a railway conductor, and occasionally had to do a shift on the Ladismith line too.

Pieter lived in Touws River during all of his school years, in the 50's and 60's , and recalls that in the mornings, at 8 am, "Makadas" would stood ready at her own platform (see Google Earth image above), and then leave the station with her persistent whistle - just ahead on the edge of town, there was a motor crossing coming up.

Hannes le Grange tells more about the present (2009) situation: "I have been a 4x4 adventure guide specialising in the Laingsburg flood of 1981 since the early 1990's. We often go through Anysberg Nature Reserve and over the Makadas line. On return we follow the Makadas line from Buffelsdrift to Hondewater, and actually drive on the line from Plathuis to Hondewater. The road was again damaged with the 2003 Montagu floods, when the Belairdam on Sanbona, burst. It has sadly become more and more difficult to follow this route, as private farmers started erecting game fences, and locked gates. At Allemorgens the complete siding with buildings are still in good condition, possibly because this is now part of the Anysberg Nature Reserve which prevents vandalism. One concern here is that Nature conservation usually levels all past infrastructure when they acquire a farm, hopefully they will conserve this for the historical value and utilise the buildings for visitor accommodation."

In August 2010 Eric Johnson fondly reminisced: "I remember class 7 987 as she would come into Ladismith - I lived on the farm Balmoral, which my grandfather had: FW. Johnson; I am his grandson. "

"Old 987 was the trusted loco; sometimes ahead of schedule - sometimes late, I would sit on the station awaiting her arrival, then climb into her cab when they turned her, now you are looking at early '70s, I was a teenager then, I am 54 now, it was a thrill to drive her with the guidance of the train driver; I travelled behind old 987 with my late father to Touws River; my late uncle would pick us up - my late father's brother F. Johnson, by road through Seweweeks Poort. Going out on the north bank at Vensterkrans from Ladismith, open throttle, she was the trusted loco. "

"Many years ago, myself and friends, retraced the old railway route with a week long hike to Touws River - it was great to be able to hike the old route, it brought back many memories. "

"The farm Balmoral was 5 miles off the railway line. On a clear day one could see 987's smoke from that distance. "


"If you contact the Ladismith tourist people: My Johnson family is buried there. My grandfather,with other farmers, started the cheese factory, the Nissans had the general dealership. My late father TCW Johnson climbed Towerkop, with his friends the Nissans."

"So yes, I just wish they could build a partial narrow gauge, it would be great, when I visited 987, at Matjiesfontein, she brought back memories that only 987 could had being the true Makadas."

"I vividly remember going to the Balmoral farm by train in the 60's. My late uncle F. Johnson would accompany me on the train from Cape Town to Touws River. We would spend some time sitting in the dark on the Touws River platform. We always got on the Makadas in the Touws River marshaling yard, ahead of the other passengers, as my late uncle knew the conductor well. I remember sitting with my uncle and the conductor and 987 always gave a long whistle when she departed from the yard before getting to the platform. Then another couple of blasts on the whistle, and off we go. I would stand at the door looking out as the caboose's passenger doors were 2 halves with the bottom locked. My head just made it out the doorway, while standing on the conductors trunk."

"I remember No 987 coming towards Nouga or Hondewater - she would just quietly trundle along."

"Today (2010), I am the last surviving family member of the Johnson family of Ladismith, and a descendant of the Van der Byl family. As a railway engineer, I worked throughout Africa and South America my entire life, and retired at 50. Having travelled on the Touws River-Ladismith branch-line many times in my life, memories of Makadas just have that special place in me!"

"So in later years it was only natural for me to have done some research of my own on the Ladismith branch line. My information following below came from persons who sourced the info in 80's, as I was then implementing my research into the branch-line. An aunt of mine also advised me from her past memories about the construction of the branch-line - she was a descendant of the Van der Byl family."

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RESEARCH NOTES
Technical info came from track
maintenance staff who actually worked on the branchline
kindly made available by Eric Johnson in Aug 2010
Also read Eric's personal memories just above this section

Coming from different sources, facts sometimes slightly contradict. The following are from my research notes:

LINE CONSTRUCTION

My late uncle, Mr Bertie van der Byl, was the railway engineer who built the original branch-line start-to-finish.

It was no easy task in those years to build a new railway route - in many of the cuttings you can see that they used mechanical rock drills and dynamite. The actual dynamite came from African Explosives & Chemical Industries based in Somerset West factory. I am still sourcing that or if the explosives were shipped in from England, as all equipment was shipped in from England.

The route was built to English Railway Construction Standards using the Cape Gauge 3ft-6inches (=1067mm), so everything was in imperial specifications.

The branch line construction, including track-laying, was done via manpower. The branch line used standard SAR light rail, with soul plates, using coach screws and wooden sleepers. A steam operated crane was also used. The entire route was dynamited as required by using the lit fuses type - light the fuse and run!!!

Around the late 40's, and onwards, the then standard SAR tumblers came in, and these replaced the track-side lever operated points. Soul-plates came in around the same time. All SAR tumblers were locked-4 in rail greasers.

During the 40's, 50's, 60's and onwards concrete culverts were built, and bridge crossings were replaced with concrete structures.

OPERATIONS

The Makadas train had a regular conductor, driver, stoker crew.

The train conductor had the following:
  • Red and Green flags,
  • 12 detonators
  • freight manifest
  • branch-line paper train orders
  • SAR trunks

PHOTO: Early 70's/80's 4-colour light railway lantern battery operated: red/green/yellow/white - which was standard SAR issue. This lantern used a lead acid battery - 2 batteries per
guard. It was very effective, but experimental, and was withdrawn for train operations in 1986 as it was too expensive to manufacture. These were then replaced with lightweight 3-colour light torch battery lanterns.

At one stage a telephone-telegraph system was employed on the line from Touws River to Ladismith with with Van Schoor apparatus in operation on the Ladismith end. The Van Schoor train telegraph system was removed at Ladismith in the late 70's, and all branch-line operations there after were then by paper train-order working.

There was a station foreman at Ladismith, but after 1970 no station master.

Bus transport was also ceased after 1970.

MAINTENANCE

Monthly spot maintenance was done - including oiling of all turnouts, blades and mechanical repairs as required done to tumblers, points, etc.

Maintenance on the line was done 5 times a year. This was mainly soul plates spikes that came loose and had to be hammered in again. In the early 70's, a track inspection linesman would walk from Ladismith to Plathuis, the next week Plathuis to Vensterkrans, etc.

Every 5 years a ballast tamper would tamp the entire branch-line starting at Ladismith to Touws River. It would take a week to complete.

A 3-monthly track inspection was via manpower starting at Ladismith. A man would manually inspect the track working by foot-patrol that was to hammer in the soul-plate pins that came loose due to rail traffic. This ceased in 1970 - after that a once year track inspection from Touws River to Ladismith via a motorised trolley was done.

IN-BETWEEN "STATIONS"

Hondewater interloop had a SAR trackside corrugated structure. Inside, in the early 60's, were tools, emergency water pump to fill locos, a pump trolley, and a line-side phone. Hondewater was classed as an interloop to allow trains to cross normal short trains.

Hondewater had interloop indicators - these were removed during the 60's; all interloops/intersidings stations were tumbler locked with standard SAR locks. Some intersidings had tumbler operated derailers.

Plathuis had a line-side phone, going to Ladismith and Touws River.


This is the actual line-side telephone instrument which was used at Plathuis. Long before the era of cellphones, it was manufactured by Ericsson of Stockholm, Sweden.


Side view of the Plathuis line-side telephone. You had to crank the handle vigorously several times to call up either Ladismith or Touws River.


Close-up of the head set.

TRAFFIC

The weekly goods-passenger traffic consisted of consumables, mechanical parts, spares, fuel, coal, mixed freight and passengers.

The train which departed from Touws River during the night, collected milk cans from Touws River, Plathuis, Vensterkrans, which were dropped off at Ladismith the next morning.

EMERGENCIES

Apparently No. 987 broke down a few times. One source, from the late 90's, said 987 failed 3 times on the branch line: once at Ladismith, once at Vensterkrans and once at Kraggasrivier. The engine had to be dead-hauled back to Touws River.

To my knowledge, the branch line did not suffer any derailments in its history.

CLASS 24

When class 24 took over, running times Touws River to Ladismith were shortened by 1-2-hours in both directions.

After No 987 left, I also travelled behind the class 24, but she wasn't the real MAKADAS, the real Makedas was just No 987 - she spoke a language of her own - her bark was typical of the class 7 locomotive.

CLOSURE OF THE LINE

Based on rail-traffic demand - it started getting less prior to the 1981 floods - the SA Transport Services (SATS) had already classified the branch line as a low density route, and even if there weren't floods, the scheduled trains would have been down to only at least 1 train per week.

In my notes, when in 1995, I spoke to a person who worked for SAR, he informed me that in the early 80's the SAR was considering closing down running trains for low density traffic - it was considered a too low profit route - as road transport was taking over around 1980. So even if it were still open (that is, if there were no floods) - the Makadas branch line would have closed anyway around a projected date 1985 onwards - or diesel would have worked the line until 1987 - those were the long term projections, based on traffic volume on the branch line in 1980, which did decrease, and with the closure of the Touws River loco depot imminent in 1980, as it was planned based on costs, seeing that electric locomotives were coming on mainline operations then, so yes, if the floods didn't close the branch line, the economics would have done so.

It's a historical branch line sadly missed, and only 987 was the true old loco - she spoke a language of her own in the region known then, and today, as Kannaland.

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PLATHUIS

a typical siding on the Makadas line.

Tom Stanton's Steam Train DVD Number 14: "Cape Province Mix" shows class 24 #3619 working a mixed train in the Ladismith area on 5 January 1978.


Scenes at Plathuis on the afternoon of 5 January 1978.
(Click on picture to enlarge).

The video beautifully shows the workings at Plathuis:
  1. No 3619 arrives and stops on the mainline, at Plathuis. Coming from Ladismith, going towards Touws River. To the left a single freight car is visible on the intersiding.
  2. People are awaiting the arriving train.
  3. The station name board "PLATHUIS" is visible, as well as the waiting room behind the board.
  4. No 3619, the auxillary water tank waggon and the waggon behind the water tank is uncoupled, and train shunts to fetch the lone freight car, painted in silver, on the interlsiding. Two small children accompanying the camera man are visible.
  5. The train moves backward onto the intersiding - train crew are visible - at least two men are seen in the video - one jumping off the engine - not very clear in this picture.
  6. Some detail of the intersiding.
  7. No 3619 fetches the silvery freight car behind the goods shed.
  8. and goes back onto the mainline.
  9. No 3619 readying to depart. The driving gear is getting some oily attention. Note that the intersiding loop is now cleared of rolling stock. A railway house of fair size is visible behind the windmill. It is known that a track master (Afr. : "Baanmeester") was stationed at Plathuis, probably this building was his home; it is also likely that the goods shed was under his control.
Definitions:
  • An Intersiding is a siding in a section between two stations. It may be coupled to the main line at either one end or both ends. Derailers are always installed at Intersidings. Intersidings are used for detaching freight cars for loading or unloading purposes. Crossings between trains are not allowed to take place at an Intersiding (Derailers at Intersidings have no indicators) .
  • An Interloop is a loopline in a section between two stations. Interloops are usually installed in long sections, where crossings between two or more trains can be arranged.

The name "MAKADAS"

On the Touws River - Ladismith branch line, the steam locomotive (Class 7's), or even the whole daily mixed passenger and goods train, used on this section, was nick named ' Makadas '.

Most explanations for the origin of the word Makadas boils down to be an Afrikaans phonetical representation of the English "Make a Dash!!!".

The name "Makadas" was already around by 1949, when it appeared in the 1 January 1949 edition of the Afrikaans language newspaper Die Burger. It was then used in the context of a slow branch line train, and not referring to the locomotive up front.

Loosely translated, the text used in 1949, read: "An appointment with Makadas does not take 5 minutes, oh no!, she rather keeps you occupied for a long time. A Makadas happens to be one of those little trains which branches into the veld off the main line".

If the word was first used with regard to the train running between Touwsriver and Ladismith, then it must have originated somewhere between the years 1925 (when the line was opened) and 1949 when it was first? mentioned in print.


This item shows the entry for Makadas in the WAT (Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal) which endeavors to record every Afrikaans word in use. Click on item for larger view.

Makadas is recorded in the WAT as referring to the Hutchinson-Calvinia and the Touws River-Ladismith branch lines.

Variations of the word are with, or without, capital "M", also "Makkadas" and seldom "Makkades" [Note that this latter word sounds almost the same as "Make-a-Dash!"].


August 1970 photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis shows the Makadas snaking westwards near Winkelplaas with the Class 7 no 984 in charge.

Vincent Ward wrote in 2009: "I was looking through some of my late father's notes, scribbled in his train books, about the origin of the name. He had a note about the origin possibly being a shortened form of Afrikaans "maak soos a das" or run as fast as a rabbit (or rock hyrax). It is possibly an allusion to the fast speed of the trains on the line. There is however nothing about the origin of this meaning." Comment: This is an interesting one! Come to think of it - the little train stopped on average every 12 km on the 144 km line, this could be likened to a rabbit or rock hyrax typically moving around in a multiple of run-stop actions.

Pierre de Wet has a beautiful explanation, which could be just as true as any other: "My theory, for what it is worth, about the name "Makadas", is that it almost perfectly mimics the sound of a class 7 working hard. The fact that this name was also applied to the Calvinia branch, reinforces this theory for me, but of course it must remain just theory."

In the sar-L group, in June 2003, Les Pivnic, former Acting Curator of the SA Railway Museum, commented:

"Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about the Makadas. We did some research in the Museum on the subject and our findings, although not conclusive, suggested the following:-

The word "Makadas" is derived from - "make a dash!"

It applied to a guard who worked on the Touws River - Ladismith branch. Apparently, he would often chase up his passengers who had arrived on the platform at the last minute to board the train for Ladismith by shouting "Makadas! - Makadas! He was actually saying - "Make a dash!"

The loco linked to this name was more correctly, a 7th class that was in earlier years stationed at Ladismith.

It would appear as if the Makadas story was adopted by the Calvinia people but there is no positive information either way.

The bottom line is that the story originated on the Touws River - Ladismith branch."

Also in the sar-L group Werna Maritz, compiler of the Ysterwiele series of memories and anecdotes of railway staff, commented on the origin of the name "Makadas".

Concerning the meaning of Makadas: I received quite a few stories regarding that, but which one is the right one, I also won't be able to say.

"The first one wants it to be that passengers sat under a tree, in the shadows, awaiting the arrival of the train. When they saw the smoke of the advancing train, and heard the whistle, they made a "dash" for the train. Hence the name "Makadas" (Make-a-dash)"

"Another one is about the trains that was running during the fifties to Touws River. They carried manure in open trucks for the Boland vineyards. It gave off a lot of manure powder and dust. Hence again, "Muck-and-Dust" ."

The last one sounds if it could have been the right one:

"The driver, fireman and conductor, that were the regulars that worked the daily mixed train to Ladismith, were all Englishmen."


Ladismith - May 1971 - photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis of Ladismith station and goods yards - Class 7 No 1011 appears in the foreground. Towerkop appears in the background.

"The Ladismith station was situated on top of a little hill, and it was possible for the crew to see the semaphore home signal that stood there from a distance. The station staff consisted of only two employees and that was the stationmaster and clerk and regulations stipulated that the signal must be set strictly on time."

"From Winkelplaas, the last station before Ladismith, the line wound it's way up around this hill and the last stretch was very steep. If the signal was not set in time , the train had to slow down and by the time the signal was set, its steam pressure was already too low. The train then came to a standstill halfway into the station. Then they had to blow up, and set back to charge the station again. Resulting in the train coming into the station much later than it should."

"From his side the fireman could always see the signal first and when it was set for them he usually called to his driver "Make a dash, driver ! " Those times when the train came to a standstill halfway into the station some of the passengers at the back got off and started walking to town. In the course of time the "Make a dash, driver !" became Makadas in popular speech between these people."

Today, the name "Makadas" lives on, as the name of a mountain biking event company, a liquor store in Calvinia, and a cafe in Ladismith.



Route and Stations

Just south of Touws River, at a place named Latou, was the junction for the old branch line to Ladismith.


MAP 1 - TOUWSRIVIER, Nouga, Avondrust, Kraggasrivier, Bloutoring, Allemorgens,

In essence, the first section of the route, from Touws River town, followed the course of the Touws river until near the Kareevlakte halt.


MAP 2 - Allemorgens, Valletjies, Kareevlakte, Hondewater


MAP 3 - Hondewater, Plathuis, Vensterkrans, Winkelplaas, LADISMITH


September 1969 photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis - this shows the Makadas headed by Class 7 no 984 coming from Ladismith towards Touws River on the section between Plathuis and Hondewater.


Another September 1969, also Class 7 no 984, photo courtesy the photographer © CP Lewis. Compare with previous images - obviously this was a favourite location for photographing this little train.

Hondewater, located at about the halfway point on the line, was the only proper siding on the Makadas line, that is, a place where two trains could pass each other.

The other "stations", were merely names along the line, where the train would stop briefly, to drop or pickup passengers and goods. These places at least had a waiting room for passengers.

Amongst others, track maintenance teams were stationed at Plathuis and Avondrust. Also, water could be taken on at Bloutoring, possibly other places too.

Timetables

It's interesting to figure out how ofter the trains ran on the line. Apparently much more activity was seen on the line than the public timetable, which would make one believe that there were only three trains a week - running on Mo, Wed & Fri to Ladismith, and returning on the next day.

Charlie Lewis often visited the line to get photos. He commented in 2009:

"Although the public timetable showed a train in each direction only every other day, six days/week, in typical SAR fashion the train actually ran every day SuX (Sundays excepting), complete with its mixed consist, right until the end."

"Through the sixties the line still had plenty of traffic, sometimes two trains, each way, were necessary. This tailed off during the seventies, until by the end of the decade, there was hardly any traffic at all, thanks to the Road Transportation Act of 1978, which (with hindsight) was the beginning of the end for all SAR's branch lines."

Sue Lawrence, in 2009, kindly copied the 1959 public timetable for the line: This shows a Monday, Wednesday and Friday passenger train 480/481;

(altitude; miles)
(2532; 0) Touwsrivier 8.00 am
(2502; 5) Nouga 8.24 am
(2403; 13) Avondrust 8.48 am
(2368; 16) Kraggasrivier 9.43 am
(2215; 22) Bloutoring 9.21 am
(2043; 28) Allemorgens 9.43 am
(1885; 33) Valletjies 10.01 a.m.
(1848; 43) Kareevlakte 10.42 am
(1378; 54) Hondewater 11.19 am
(1138; 66) Plathuis 12.01 pm
(1057; 76) Vensterkrans 12.47 pm
(1229; 82) Winkelplaas 1.27 pm
(1767; 89) Ladismith 2.07 pm


"Across the Karoo" : Class 24, No. 3619, crosses the Little Karoo between Touwsriver and Avondrust with a train for Ladismith. South Africa, April 1976. © David Hill (as posted on flickr)

The return journey, as trains 482/483 was on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Ladismith 2.30 pm
Winkelplaas 3.10 pm
Vensterkrans 3.40 pm
Plathuis 4.40 pm
Hondewater 5.30 pm
Kareevlakte 6.26 pm
Valletjies 7.08 pm
Allemorgens 7.29 pm
Bloutoring 8.00 pm
Kraggasrivier 8.21 pm
Avondrust 8.34 pm
Nouga 9.02 pm
Touwsrivier 9.30 pm

All stops are indicated as halts, except for Ladismith and Touws River

Sue commented: "I have only has one working timetable that covers this line, and that is from 1975, when it was all goods. The trains were limited to 60 axles, except between Bloutoring and Valletjies, when they could be 80 axles. Over the route, the load limit varied considerable between 450 (Vensterkrans to Ladismith) and 670 (Ladismith to Vensterkrans), but generally it was 500 to 545 tons."

"It doesn't even rate a mention as to which class of locos were allowed (but the load limits only mentioned the 24) or where the crew came from, so it must all have been locally arranged from Touwsrivier - presumably once the train was off the mainline, it could almost do what it wanted."


Ladismith Branch Public Timetable for December 1964 (click on image to enlarge)
Robert Wilson, in 2009, responded: "I only have one public timetable with the Ladismith branch in it. I have copied and attached the relevant page; it is from no.162, 7th. December 1964 until further notice. As the trains ran mixed, I doubt the working timetable would be much different."


Ladismith Branch Public Timetable for December 1971 (click on image to enlarge)

Dick Manton, in 2009, wrote: "Attached is a scan of the Ladismith Branch timetable for December 1971, when I think the crews used to lodge over at Ladismith. The timetable was the same until at least 1976, but think in the last few years it was changed to an out-and-back-in-the-day working from Touws River, departing around 02.00 in the morning, returning from Ladismith late afternoon. I only visited the line once, in October 1980, not long before the line was washed away for good."

Vaughan Mostert, in 2009, wrote: "My mother was born in Ladismith in 1913 and the family lived there until the mid-20s when they moved to George. She would tell me about her vague recollection of trips to Cape Town and back. The 89 mile saga on the Makadas was apparently a seven or eight-hour affair and it was necessary to stock up on "padkos" at least on the branch line part of the trip. I regret never having travelled on the line or having paid much attention to her birthplace, which I last visited with her as an eight-year-old in 1956."

"Others may have more detail than this, but the 1974 timetable merely gives details of departure times from each end - from Touws River, 09:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. From Ladismith, 15:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 13:00 on Saturdays."

"With only one train at a time, this raises interesting questions about how the driver, fireman and conductor were rostered and whether they were based at Ladismith or at Touws River".


Operation

The branch line running to Ladismith was mainly for the benefit of the farmers in the district of the town. In season "specials" were often run take fruit or manure to destinations in the Boland.


1969 photo taken by AE (Dusty) Durrant - A Class 7, at the end of its life, heading the Makadas.

Dusty Durrant, author of at least 11 books, emigrated in 1967 to South Africa, to live and work near working steam locomotives. As a photographer his years in South Africa was the most rewarding. Sadly Dusty passed away in 1999. In 1989 he noted in Twilight of South African Steam of the Cape 7th Class: They were the Southern Afican "pioneer" locomotives, light enough to run anywhere. The Cape 7th series comprised the low-wheel 4-8-0's, with plate frames, possibly conceived as a freight version of the 6th class 4-6-0, but truly taking the rôle of pioneer power, being highly suitable for rough pioneer tracks. In various forms they were supplied to much of Africa, for example Rhodesia, Angola, Congo, in pure form, and developed with superheaters and piston valves, to other countries. Their design stemmed from the successful application of eight-coupled power, in the shape of 4-8-2T, in Natal, and was virtually a 'tenderised' Natal tank design.


1969 photo taken by AE (Dusty) Durrant. The same Makadas train as in the previous picture.

The train crew working the Makadas would do a daily turn-around trip between the two towns. Therefore, for example, if the train departed in the morning from Touws River, it would return again from Ladismith on the afternoon of the same day. Should traffic load warrant a train in both directions on the same day, then they had to pass at the Hondewater siding.


Hondewater: Latitude: -33.646918° Longitude: 20.771374°

Interestingly, Johnny Pieters remembers in Ysterwiele 3 (compiled by Werna Maritz), that the only exception to the same day rule, was when the circus train visited Ladismith, in which case the train crew would also book off, and sleep over at Ladismith. Of course they also attended the show that evening!

The branch line had its share of anecdotes as complied by Werna Maritz in Ysterwiele:
  • Willie Joubert remembered how the special train he worked on, had a midnight derailment on the bridge over the Touws river just beyond the Bloutoring halt. The derailment was caused by a horse standing on the bridge. (Ysterwiele 3).
  • Willie Joubert also told of a derailment on his train at Hondewater, when the incoming switch rail section was damaged. As this happened practically in the middle of nowhere, and the telephone at Hondewater was out of order, it took a long time to get the train mobile again. (Ysterwiele 3)
  • Another story recalls how the crew stopped their freight train on the siding at Hondewater, and joined a dance on the nearby farm, with the result that this train ran very late on that occasion!!! (Ysterwiele 3).
Locomotives

Initially Class 7 locomotives worked on the line. These were all withdrawn by 1972, and Class 24s were phased in and serviced the line until its closure.

Charlie Lewis
noted: "The Class 24s arrived at Touws River already by 1968 and ran the service most days from then. When a 24 was in for boiler washout or repairs a class 7 would stand in. Occasionally both class 24s would be out of action and the line reverted to class 7s again. After 1972 the 7s were retired and the 24s handled all the traffic which in any case had already begun to decline."

As an example, in 1953, the shed allocation for the Touws River steam depot included 2 Class 7's which was used for working the Ladismith branch. [source: Les Pivnic in sar-L]

The following Class 7's are known to have worked the Ladismith branch line:

- present location
  • 7 970 - now plinthed at Riversdale
  • 7 984* - apparently scrapped - not listed in John Middleton's 2002 locomotive guide
  • 7 987* - now preserved at Matjiesfontein Hotel in fine condition
  • 7A 1011* - now plinthed at Keetmanshoop as a reminder of these little engines which once worked on the SWA system.
  • 7E 1347** - apparently scrapped - not listed in John Middleton's 2002 locomotive guide
  • 7E 1348** - apparently scrapped - not listed in John Middleton's 2002 locomotive guide
  • 7E 1349** - apparently scrapped - not listed in John Middleton's 2002 locomotive guide
* mentioned by Charlie Lewis
** mentioned by Charlie Lewis and also Johnnie Pieters in Ysterwiele 3

Class 24 #3619 : Tom Stanton's Steam Train DVD Number 14: "Cape Province Mix" shows class 24 #3619 working a mixed train in the Ladismith area on 5 January 1978. (The sales information incorrectly mentions that this was a class 19D).

Class 24 #3632 worked the Makadas on which David Perl rode on Thursday 7 February 1980.




KEEP IT REAL!!!
Not the True Makadas!



Over the years, some drivers named their locomotives "Makadas". No 3675 was probably the last steam locomotive to carry this name. It is unknown if this particular engine ever saw service on the Ladismith branch line.


24 Class 3675 'Makadas' pauses en route from Pretoria to Magaliesburg January 1994. © Trevor Staats


7.55am 12-12-1997 - George - 3680, 'Makadas'(3675) and 3683. Photographer: unknown.

FOR AFRIKAANS READERS:

Makkadas was 'n spesiale trein
Pieter Spaarwater - Die Burger - 18 Februarie 1992

DIS nou 'n ding: Ladismith weet nie waar die naam vandaan kom van sy grootste eie-goed nie. Dis Makadas, die trein wat vroeër die bietjie meer as honderd kilometer tussen dié dorp en Touwsrivier geloop het. Snaaks hoe dié dinge saamval. Net die ander dag praat 'n klomp van ons oor Makadas. "Tussen Touwsrivier en Ladismith,'' sê een. "Ja, maar daar was ook 'n ander een,'' sê 'n ander. "Hy het tussen Hutchinson en Calvinia geloop.'' En, jou warempel, in gister se plattelandse uitgawe van Die Burger is daar 'n foto van een van die Ladismith-Makadas se waens. Dit word nou op daardie dorp gebruik as kantoor vir die plaaslike reklamevereniging. Dis 'n mooi storie. Daardie Makadas-spoorlyn is in 1925 geopen nadat wit arbeiders dit gebou het. Gereeld het Makadas tussen Ladismith en Touwsrivier gependel. Op Vrydag 23 Januarie 1981 is hy die laaste keer weg uit Ladismith. In die nag van 25 Januarie 1981 het die Laingsburg-vloed die Makadas-spoorlyn weggevee. Dit sou nie lonend gewees het om die spoorlyntjie te herbou nie. Daar is hard geprobeer, maar 'n Makadas sou nooit weer sy stoom op Ladismith afblaas nie. Die laaste Makadas het darem twee van sy goederewaens op Ladismith agtergelaat. Een daarvan word nou deur die reklamevereniging gebruik. Ná die vloed het spoorwegbusse 'n diens na Ladismith onderhou, maar dit was natuurlik nie dieselfde as 'n Makadas-diens nie. Einde November 1990 is Ladismith se stasie gesluit. Die laaste stasiemeester was Mechiel du Toit. Hy het in 1961 met Makadas daar aangekom, en was twintig jaar lank op die permanente aflospersoneel. (Dit klink 'n bietjie na jou eie eerste ampstitel: junior-assistent-subredakteur, tydelik, addisioneel. Hoe tydelik en addisioneel kan jy wees!) Makadas se oorsprong Nou gebruik Ladismith se reklamevereniging een van die agtergeblewe Makadas-waens as 'n kantoor. Maar niemand kon opgespoor word wat kon sê waar die naam Makadas vandaan kom nie. Kan iemand asseblief help? Die toeval ken geen einde nie. Nou net bel vriend Abraham de Vries, 'n mens van daardie wêreld. Die titelverhaal van sy bundel Nag van die Clown speel af in daardie trein, sê hy. En dis ook nie Makadas nie, dis Makkadas. Die naam kom van die Engelse "muck and dust train,'' sê Abraham. Die "muck'' van die kraalmis, en die "dust'' van die lusern wat die trein aangery het. Abraham ken lang stories van Makkadas. Hy sê dit was nie 'n trein nie, dit was 'n persoonlikheid. Nou word daar ywerig gesoek na nog stories oor dié persoonlikheid. Soos die een van Makkadas wat op sy eerste rit na Ladismith van sy spoor afgeval het. En van die sirkus-trokke wat een maal per jaar aan Makkadas gehaak is om Ladismith toe te gaan. Iemand anders sê die naam kom miskien van die Engelse ``make a dash'' om die trein te haal. Maar dit klink 'n bietjie vergesog. Soos Abraham sê, die y-klank van die ``make'' sou klankmatig nooit in 'n "mak'' verander het nie. Dis ook onwaarskynlik as jy luister na die storie van die ander Makkadas. 'n Kollega, wie sê naam liewer nie genoem word nie, sê hy het self met daardie een van Hutchinson na Calvinia gery. Volgens hom was dit die wêreld se stadigste trein. 'n Redelike stapper kon hom glo maklik geklop het Hy was 'n slag op dié trein toe kom 'n bakkie op die pad langsaan verby. Uit die trein gooi hy duim vir die bakkie, en die bakkie stop. Met sy koffertjie klim die kêrel toe van die voortsukkelende trein af en stap na die bakkie. Maar die bakkie gaan nie ver genoeg nie, en hy besluit om maar verder trein te ry. En hy stap terug trein toe om verder te ry. Met sy hand op sy hart sê dié man dis die reine, heilige waarheid. Dis hoe stadig die Makkadas na Calvinia was. Maar is daar regtig ook "muck and dust'' van Calvinia af aangery? Heerengracht 40 Kaapstad 8001 G (021) 406 2209 18 Februarie 1993

Sources:
  • The Little Karoo by Jose Burman April 1981 - Chapter 7 - "Ladismith" which is based on material from the Ladismith Archives: History of Ladismith and SASSAR, January-November 1924; August-November 1925.
  • Early railways at the Cape by Jose Burman 1984
  • Ysterwiele 1,2 & 3 by Werna Maritz (2006, 2007, 2008)
  • Spore oor die Veld by Boon Boonzaaier 2008
  • Railways of Southern Africa Locomotive Guide 2002 by John Middleton.
  • Locomotives of the SAR (Concise Guide) by Paxton & Bourne 1985
  • Hannes Le Grange personal communication 2009
  • Charlie Lewis personal communication 2009
  • sar-L group
  • Alan Blyth - "my halfeeu op Ladismith". SOOS VERTEL AAN KOBUS VAN ZYL (pdf doc on web).
  • Tom Stanton's Steam Train DVD Number 14: "Cape Province Mix"
  • Twilight of South African Steam - AE Durrant - 1989

7 comments:

  1. Sir:
    I'm curious: the DVD mentioned by Tom Stanton sounds interesting. Any idea where to buy it?

    Thanks in advance.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Tom Stanton's DVD's are at:

    http://www.locos.co.za

    ReplyDelete
  3. i was looking on here and saw you battery operated railway lantern, i have 3 it looks like older models of the one on this website can you help me figure out what year they are?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for the excellent story. When my father, Hermann Wolfgang Wehrmeyer, immigrated from Germany he worked for the SA Railways and he was a Stoker on the Makadas from Touwsrivier to Ladismith. He told me has story and how he enjoyed it. They sometimes simply stop the train along the route and go hunting for waterturtles. Greetings Hermann

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, thanks for all this info. I'm proud to share with you that my (late) brother - Ben Wentzel, a legend in Streamtrains , worked this Makadas many years. He was stationed at Touwsrivier and Worcester. If anyone have photo's or video's of him or know him, please let me know (jan@bmedia.co.za) Tks

    ReplyDelete
  6. We visited the Anysberg nature reserve... and we found clear evidence of this old track...
    http://sphotos-d.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/427937_10101006169759586_973623783_n.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dit laat 'n mens terug dink aan die ou dae, mooi herinnerings.

    ReplyDelete