Full steam ahead for central De Aar

METAL DRAGON: There was a time when the country’s shipments depended on the De Aar steam locomotives.Picture: Supplied

In times gone by, you went to De Aar by train or to see some trains in action, especially the old steam locomotives that used to chug across the vast Karoo plains. De Aar lay at the crossroads of travel in South Africa and held the second biggest railway junction (Germiston in Gauteng being the largest) in the country.

When De Aar was a “full steam ahead” kind of town, the locomotive drivers would yank their whistles late at night as they approached the Karoo settlement. Each driver would have his own signature tune and his family living in the town would know it well. They’d set out the supper dishes the minute that whistle went off.

To the general public of De Aar, the particular lilt of a loco whistle would indicate the way the Karoo wind was blowing that night – and what kind of weather they could expect the next day. Nearly everything in De Aar revolved around the steam locomotive.

For more than a century, some 22000km of railroad tracks sang the praises of these huge metal dragons criss-crossing SA and meeting in this Northern Cape town.

Steam was phased out and the sight of a locomotive in full flight across the veld today is a rare and privatised experience. But the legends live on.

The late Oom Apie Ludwick was a stoker who worked with two drivers, Vlakhaas Davis and Fred Budd. They were the Kings of the Footplate, and they used to cook their bacon, sausage and eggs on a spade in the furnace.

They’d shoot gemsbok from the caboose for the pot and when a police sergeant once caught Ludwick with a carcass, he said: “We just ran it over.”

The kind policeman replied: “Well next time, Apie, when you run over a gemsbok, don’t hit it precisely.” De Aar is a town in the Northern Cape, it was established in 1903 and has a population of around 46000 people. De Aar was originally on the farm called De Aar which means “the artery” which is a reference to the underground water supply.

De Aar is centrally located so the government chose the location as a junction for the first railway line from Cape Town to Kimberley in 1881.

The junction was of very strategic importance for the English during the Second Boer War.

In 1889 two brothers, Isaac and Wolf Friedlander, who ran a trading store and hotel at the junction bought the De Aar farm. After the Anglo Boer War the brothers appraised the farm for the establishment of a town.

The municipality was created a year later and the first mayor, Dr Harry Baker was elected in 1907.

Despite the spring that gave De Aar its name the town had insufficient water until 1936 when the municipality decided to purchase the Burgerville village situated 34km away.

Some 54 boreholes surrounding the town provides sufficient water for De Aar.

De Aar is the second-most important railway junction in the country, with 110km of railway lines including 29 railtracks.

De Aar boasts a weather station gathering climatic data which has literally put De Aar on the world map. De Aar has an average yearly rainfall of 300mm with the lowest minimum temperature of -10°C, the highest maximum temperature of 40.7°C, an average summer temperature of 24°C and an average winter temperature of 14°C.

De Aar is situated at 1 280m above sea level and has an average humidity of 43%. As a declared industrial growth point, with ample, very reasonably priced industrial sites, affordable labour and the necessary infrastructure, De Aar is the ideal place to establish an industry in the Northern Cape.

Various major industries have already taken advantage of De Aar’s central location and excellent rail and road links to establish themselves here. De Aar is also a primary commercial distribution centre for a large area of the central Great Karoo.

Major production activities of the area include wool production and livestock farming. The area is also popular for hunting, despite the fact that the region is rather arid. De Aar is increasingly becoming the centre for supplying the whole country with the famous Karoo mutton, so highly prized for its unique flavour and quality.

There are ancient Khoisan rock engravings on the Nooitgedacht and Brandfontein farms.

There is also the Garden of Remembrance, which honours the British troops killed in the Anglo-Boer War. – 701656