GEORGE NEWS - An exquisite mini railway memorabilia museum had the Outeniqua Railway Society members all steamed up during a recent visit.
The unique collection of miniature locomotives is the pride and joy of Heather Park resident Graham du Plessis, who showed the visitors around.
A steam gauge, loco number plates, lanterns, a line drawing of an SAR Class 15F, as well as shelves full of brass train models imported from the US had enthusiasts very excited.
Graham, a retired mechanical engineer, has turned his hand to cabinet making and his collection is displayed on shelves he crafted himself.
One of the vintage locomotive number plates - bought by this astute collector as scrap metal - is now worth "five figures".
Graham is too modest to call himself an authority on the history of South African railways but you can be sure you won't catch him on the wrong foot when speaking about the steam horses of yesteryear.
This is hardly surprising since he used to be the Reef Branch organiser of the South African Railway Society.
In his days he arranged many steam train trips all around the country, including an epic 10-day, 3 500km journey on the all-steam-hauled "Sunset Limited", in April 1979.
The trip went from Johannesburg via Kimberley and De Aar to Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay and back via Graaff Reinet, Noupoort and Bloemfontein.
Steam train trips
"Yes, I have travelled on board nearly all of South Africa's former steam-hauled services, including the Apple Express in Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route, George-Knysna, the Barkly East reverses and many, many more and I loved them all," he says.
Transnet's November 2017 announcement that the Outeniqua Railway George to Knysna service is to be re-introduced is being applauded by steam enthusiasts like Graham who proudly displays his model train collection.
Illustrating his keenness to add to his collection, Graham tells how he once, on a farm near Mooi River, sawed through a thick piece of rail using only a small hacksaw, to get a precious memento of a forgotten 1886 track that had been used by the Cape Government Railways.
He loaded the memento into his friend's little VW Beetle and the amused farmer just laughed and shook his head at witnessing such enthusiasm.
Graham feels that the Outeniqua Railway Transport Museum is a unique tourist attraction which is completely under-appreciated.
He has strong feelings about the lack of local marketing to create an awareness of the fact that the biggest railway museum on the African continent is situated in George.
"The re-introduction of the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe between George and Knysna has inestimable tourism value for the region," says Graham, reacting with zeal to Transnet's November 2017 announcement to this effect.
Graham was pleased to note that Transnet Freight Rail's (TFR) vision is to make this a viable commercial proposition by transporting a variety of cargo, including taking household waste to the site near Mossel Bay.
Transnet intends to expand the other tourist steam trains operating through the entire Eden DM.
Tourism is a major focus and will include the expansion of the Outeniqua Powervan and Diaz Express.
ARTICLE & PHOTO: PAULINE LOURENS, GEORGE HERALD JOURNALIST
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