Author Topic: Oranjemund characters  (Read 17725 times)

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Offline Bob Molloy

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Oranjemund characters
« on: May 20, 2009, 04:41:43 AM »
Oranjemund was filled with characters in the Fifties and Sixties; strong personalities and incredible individuals, many with meritorious war service. Among them were the ex-Pats who came from everywhere in Europe with a large contingent from Germany and the UK. The Brits were made up of nuggety Jocks, uppity Taffies, brawling Micks and brash Poms. They stamped their mark on Oranjemund for a generation. They worked hard - 100 hours overtime a month was common - and played harder. Mainly highly trained artisans, they brought huge skills to the work place, and major changes to a growing township, initiating sports and other clubs, calling management to account, upgrading working and living conditions and generally raising Cain.
At first relations between ex-Pats and locals were tense, the newcomers being seen as big-mouthed Johnny-come-latelys while the locals were written off as dumb Japies. But over time tensions eased as the separate groups wore the corners off each other, the newcomers gained a grasp of Afrikaans (spoken with atrocious accents, causing pain to any Afrikaner who valued his language but nevertheless appreciated for trying) and the Boer War quietened down to the odd joking aside. Their children intermingled and even married and today there is little trace of the ethnic tensions that once characterised these groups.
That was half a lifetime ago but for me some of those characters still stand out. George Lovett for example, a navy-trained rigger, a former Chief Petty Officer and leader of men with a yen for practical jokes and a dry sense of humour. He had two attractive step-daughters, Shirley and Delia Box, who attracted much male attention though the single guys remembered to tread carefully when George was around. His wife, nicknamed Pops, was a tower of strength in the early days of the Oranjemund Players.
George, always in great physical trim, was built like a tank and tanned to deep bronze. Though always meticulously dressed when out with his wife, at work he wore his shirt open to the waist showing a hairy six pack and wearing a pointed green pixie hat on his head. He introduced Housey at the Rec Club and called the numbers with a series of running jokes that was a class act itself.
One of a trio of riggers -The other two were Peter Bennet and Barry de Beer - George came up with the title of Roughit, Ruinit and Destroy Ltd and posted it outside their North Electrical workshop until removed by an angry foreman who - with no grasp of English satire - thought it somehow demeaned their image.
Hearing of this, George drove a steel-tracked bulldozer to the foreman's office at the G area workshops, spun it around in the carefully laid-out garden creating huge doughnuts on what until then had been a lovingly-tended lawn, left it with engine running and marched inside to confront an awed foreman. Without a word spoken he removed the sign from the man's wastebasket, dropped a piece of paper on his desk, did another doughnut on the lawn and roared off again. When the man recovered his wits he picked up the piece of paper to find it was a receipt for the sign, with George's signature on the bottom. That was the end of the matter, though the foreman was later heard to say that he feared George was about to keep driving the bulldozer right through his office and was only too pleased to let him have his bloody sign.
George, ever the jokester, also figured in another bulldozer incident this time with the General Manager whose name was Devlin. Just after the first tar seal was laid on the HMS road the engineer in charge complained it was being damaged by heavy machinery at certain crossing points. Devlin suggested he supply each crossing with short rolls of old conveyor belting which the machine operator could unroll and use to cross on without damaging the road, plus a large sign instructing operators on the procedure. This was quickly put into effect and road damage ceased.
A few weeks later, driving on the mine with a car load of visiting consultants from Johannesburg - one of whom told the story with great glee at a party later that evening, Devlin spotted George on his bulldozer heading for a crossing and stopped to observe while explaining to the consultants how the conveyor belting was saving the road from the wear and tear of heavy machinery. George had also spotted the GM and his party and proceeded to carry out one of his deadpan spoofs.
After his stopping his machine at the crossing he stood in front of the sign, spent some time reading the instructions carefully, took off his pixie hat, scratched his head as if he couldn't quite get it then gave an elaborate shrug, rolled out the belting, walked carefully across on top of it, rolled it up again on the other side of the road, went back to his machine and drove it across leaving a trail of track marks on the tar seal.
The GM was furious, raced after him and demanded to know why he had disobeyed instructions. George, still deadpan, disagreed. He had followed the instructions to the letter, he said. Adding that it wasn't his fault if the person who wrote them was an idiot. Then both walked back to the crossing sign where George pointed out that the sign read: "Machines cross here. Operators cross on belting".
"I did just that," he said, then tipped his green pixie hat to the official party and roared off, leaving them stunned.
The signs were replaced the same day.
The following night the GM brought the consultants briefly to the Housey game at the Rec Club to see the contented peasants at play. By this time the story had done the rounds. George, immaculately turned out in black bow tie and dinner jacket (yes they did that in those days) was as usual calling the numbers but this time with a slight change in description. "Number Nine, read the sign" rang out.  It brought the house down. The GM was seen to laugh as heartily as the rest.
A few years later George lost an eye in mine accident. Unable to carry on as a rigger, he was - as far as the GM was concerned - the obvious choice for Rec Club manager. He did the job superbly until retirement. He wore a black eye patch, which gave him a kind of Long John Silver appearance, but could still quieten the most obstreperous drunk with a stare from his single eye.
After retirement he worked briefly as a security officer in the old Garlicks department store where his ability to spot shoplifters was legendary, then as caretaker for the Syfrets building at the top of St George's street. It was there he carried out a kitten rescue from the Syfret rooftop that earned him a mention in the Cape Times. He and his wife retired finally to Ceres where he again distinguished himself. The community was dismayed to find they couldn't receive TV when it was first broadcast and the government advised it would be years before they could have a repeater station. Not daunted, George rallied the troops including the local TV technician to build the town's own receiver on top of the Steenberg, carrying sacks of cement and other items up the mountain on his shoulders to help out.
I have personal cause to feel grateful for his presence. In his early Seventies, still magnificently fit, he accompanied a group of us on a swim down the Witgat canyon near Ceres. There's a part of the river just under a kilometre long where the canyon's sheer sides prevent any possibility of getting out of the water. In normal conditions it isn't a problem as even the poorest swimmer can just relax and allow the quiet flow of the river to take him or her to a get out point. It was our bad luck that it rained heavily in the hills just as we entered the canyon. The freshet hit us halfway. There was nothing to do but forge on and grab the first opportunity to get out. I thought myself a fairly good swimmer and opted to fall back as tail end Charlie in case someone needed help. As it turned out, that someone was me. Everybody made it to the get-out point. I was still in the water when a second freshet hit. I missed my grip on the rock and would have been swept away if George hadn't leaned over and, one-handed, smartly hauled me out by the scruff of my wetsuit.
As I said elsewhere on this forum: George has long gone to the great big rig in the sky, may he rig in peace.
Regards.
Bob.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2009, 05:44:35 AM by Michael Alexander »
Bob Molloy

Offline SandyB

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2009, 03:59:31 PM »
I remember  as a child   seeing Mrs Lovett  in Blithe  Spirit ..   she was good  in the role ..  even  had  people laughing   the way she tackled some of the  scenes   doing  I imagine a bit of ad lib  to  add her own  spark .. ...
To see  sometimes  requires that you  first believe .

Offline Bertie Horak

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2009, 07:18:09 PM »
Thanx for a wonderful post. Really enjoyed reading this!  23_11_61
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Offline Michael Alexander

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2009, 03:42:44 AM »
 :emot112_2:

Nice Stuff... Bob,please please post some more.......
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Offline John Creedy

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2009, 07:19:11 AM »
Thanks Bob.  I remeber the man now.  Some more stories then????

Offline Richard Opperman

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2009, 05:02:27 PM »
Brilliant Bob keep them coming!
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Offline John Haycox

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2009, 05:20:41 PM »
That was very well done Bob, lets have some more.  Do you know where Delia went to, we were in the same class in OPS.
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Offline barb (Fry)

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2009, 05:40:02 PM »
Which Delia ?
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Offline Bob Molloy

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #8 on: May 22, 2009, 12:06:19 AM »
The two Box girls, George Lovett's step-daughters, probably left Oranjemund in the late Fifties or early Sixties. Shirley married Dave Thomas, an electrical engineer on the mine, and later went to live in Rivonia, near Johnnesburg. Delia trained as a radiologist and later married someone in property development who later had something to do with a major commercial development in Hout Bay. That's about the limit of my knowledge.
Regards,
Bob.
Bob Molloy

Offline Bob Molloy

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2009, 12:31:26 AM »
Stunned by Sandy's acute memory. I had totally forgotten Blithe Spirit which, I think, was written by Noel Coward. It was a hilarious comedy, very professionally done by the Players. Pops Lovett, if my recall serves me well, played the part of Madame Acarti, the medium who calls up the ghost of the main character's first wife. She was a superb actor. In later years she shone even more in her backstage work where she and Joyce Hammond ran the costumes department, producing the most superbly designed costumes for all kinds of plays and musicals.
Bob Molloy

Offline John Haycox

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2009, 05:00:00 PM »
Barb, I'm talking about Delia Box, Bob mentioned her name earlier.

Thanks Bob.  Would like to see some of the old friends again.
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Offline Bob Molloy

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2009, 03:32:35 AM »

The Oranjemund Ghost Train

In Oranjemund? Well, no, not quite but a little bit offshore. An offshore ghost train? Well, yes, but wait it gets even more complicated. Back in the late Fifties the gurus at head office in Kimberley had an approach from a company formed by Rolls Royce and a British tractor maker (can’t recall the name) to supply the new Rolls bulldozer for work in Oranjemund.
Those were the days when Caterpillar reigned supreme with a very lucrative contract to supply such earthmoving machinery on the mine. The Americans were quickly up in arms and lobbied the Kimberley execs to fend off the marauding British. And well they might. The Brits, having been bankrupted by the Americans to pay for World War Two, were just coming out of a long period of indebtedness and were busily expanding their export trade.
As such they were a big threat to Wall Street and needed to be put back in their box. After all, now that the War had gobbled up their Empire (and almost anything else they owned) it was important to keep these uppity Brits in their place – which was just off the French coast and not nose deep in American business. The buggers had already invented radar, television and computers, and put the Comet – the world’s first jet liner – into operation. Now a goddam fancy bulldozer? If it wasn’t stopped they’d have America back to colony status.
The story goes that the fight went all the way to the top only to find – as the Americans did to their horror - that things had changed; the door was no longer open to the bright young Harvard hustlers.  The Oppenheimer family had just had a generational handover from Sir Ernest to Harry who, rumour had it, wasn’t so enamoured of Yank push and shove. Seems he had a liking for things Brit and issued an edict that at least these new machines must be given a trial.
So said, so done. One morning a convoy of heavy duty trucks came over the bridge, headed by one Charles Hendry (or Henley or some much, can’t recall after all this time). It brought four of the most beautiful bulldozers imaginable plus truckloads of spares. Where the Caterpillar was built to move earth with little to love as far as appearance was concerned, these were things of beauty, and hell were they BIG! The Rolls diesel engines started easily, ran sweetly and used fuel efficiently. Pushbutton gearboxes made gear changes idiot-proof and speedy, and synchronized clutches ensured the tracks started simultaneously with none of that sideways lurch so typical of the old Caterpillar. Charles demonstrated deft handling in a series of tests that impressed everyone who could find an excuse to watch, including three of Caterpillar’s top customer relations team.
Within days it was clear that Charles on his Rolls could outperform any Cat. It was a disaster from the Yank point of view. But wait, this wasn’t a fair contest. The Cats were operated by locally trained recruits from Ovamboland. What would happen when they transferred to Rolls?
No prob, said Charles. A mere one-week training course had four Ovambo operators also scaring every Cat out of sight.  And so it went. A month later and it was clear the new Rolls was king. All that was required was for Charles to set up training courses for the artisans who would service the machines and the new dozers could go into service. That too was quickly and efficiently organized. It looked like the end for Caterpillar.
Worse. To ardent republicans this was not just a sales problem; it was a disaster, it was the end of the world, it was Armageddon. Time to take off the gloves.
Charles said his goodbyes and went back to Blighty. Head office, satisfied it was now comparing apples to apples, arranged a three month trial under ordinary working conditions after which, all things being equal, they would put a contract on the table.
What happened next is unclear. Conspiracy theories have it that some dirty deal was done, many greenbacks were splashed around, and when the smoke cleared Rolls had a bloody nose. There was indeed an inquiry of sorts and some careers seemed to go sideways but otherwise nothing came of it, at least nothing was ever said in public. And that, but for Caterpillar triumph, was that.
So much for scuttlebut; the facts are that Charles had barely left the country before the Rolls dozers began breaking half-shafts. In no time all four were in the workshop, and were so repeatedly until they ran out of spares. Rolls, appalled, flew Charles back into the country post-haste with more spares. Within days of his arrival days all four machines were back in action and behaved perfectly – until Charles left again. It was uncanny. Perhaps Brit machines needed Brit operators.
Old hands, mumbling into their beer in Casey’s, opined darkly that one should watch the machines in action. The talk was that they were being repeatedly driven straight at bedrock. I made a point of checking out that particular rumour, but in half an hour of observing a Rolls at work the operator behaved meticulously. Never at any time did I personally see a machine try to eat bedrock, nor did anyone else I spoke to. Such shenanigans were always seen by some anonymous observer who told someone who told someone else.
I should explain that in my free time I was the local correspondent for the SABC and several newspapers. As such I was keen to get a handle on the story, it would have been a major scoop, but could never tie down an actual witness or at least anyone who would go on the record.
But I did see the last act.
Charles flew back in and impounded all the machines. Rolls, we heard, had had a helluva bust up with the top boys at Kimberley. Harry was furious and kicked various backsides. Whatever the case, a posse of consultants arrived in town and were seen poking around the mine, talking to engineers, artisans and machine operators. Some people further up the local chain of command were looking very hassled. The rumour machine worked overtime: this or that one had been implicated in the Caterpillar slush fund; this or that one was “over the bridge” (fired).  Fortunately for those in the gunsights the witch hunt, if that what it was, was short-lived. In a week they were gone.
But nothing appeared to have changed and the machines didn’t go back into service. Gradually it filtered back that the Rolls top exec, unable to find anyone’s head to put on a pike, threw a hissy fit and withdrew its sales offer despite a request from Kimberley to keep it on the table.
The bar talk was that Rolls did so on the grounds that their peerless product was not for sale to people who didn’t appreciate quality. If I could have had the same access to information as the guys at the bar I think I’d have won a journalism award. But let’s not be cynical, let’s stick to the facts.
It was a fact that sale of the dozers had been withdrawn, information I had from several solid sources, no reasons given. Yet Charles’s behavior seemed to contradict that. He was seen busily refitting a half-shaft to one of his beautiful machines. He clearly loved those bulldozers. No, he didn’t actually croon to them but I did see him pat one on occasion.
Had Rolls-Royce repented? Where we going to see these machines on the mine after all? But no, official sources said, there would be no purchase of Rolls ‘dozers. Yet Charles did seem to be strangely employed. He asked for and was given several old coco pans and was also give permission to remove the wheels, complete with rubber tyres, from a number of old trucks in the vehicle scrap yard just norwest of town. He proceeded to strip the coco pans of their pans and flanged wheels, and refit them with the truck wheels, spending some time at a lathe in Central Fields turning up bits and pieces. Then he lined up all his machines with the working machine at the head, each linked by a chain, followed by several rubber-wheeled coco pan chassis’s laden with expensive spares including a number of Rolls diesel engines.
Ah! Now we could see what this dumb Brit had in mind. Having had his backside kicked by good ole Yankee knowhow he was intending to sneak out of town, taking with him all his British junk. Security had great pleasure warning him that such action was illegal and so did quite a few others, including some in high places rumoured to be on the Caterpillar team. He should just please stop right there and forget it. No heavy machinery, once inside the security area, ever left again. Didn’t he know that?
But Charles just nodded and smiled, checked his line of machines again and then for days did nothing at all.
The Opposition hugged itself. Bar talk was that once the Brit had buggered off we could take advantage of all those expensive spares and gain a few cheap bulldozers as well. But what was Charles waiting for?
It turned out he had his eye on the calendar and the weather report. What he wanted were the right sea conditions and a Spring tide. The long awaited day dawned bright and clear. Word quickly spread that Charles had started his line of machines and was moving them. In no time a pack of Landrovers converged on his work area just to the south of Central Fields, close to where the Tank farm was later built. I parked on a dune and had a ringside seat.
Slowly Charles drove his trail of machines a hundred metres south then stopped. We watched fascinated as he unloaded a large pipe he had fabricated in the nearby workshops, a peculiar thing with a thinner pipe welded on one side. With the help of his team of Ovambos he fitted it to the upright exhaust of the lead machine. The smaller pipe, I was told later, was fitted to the engine air intake. He’d obviously fitted it previously as it all went together like clockwork, required only the fastening of a half dozen bolts. Suddenly the front machine had a four metre high exhaust and air intake stack.
Like an impresario aware of audience attention, Charles boarded the lead dozer machine with a flourish of his hat, started that gentle rumble of Rolls diesel and headed for the beach. It was to be the last time we were to hear that sound. Suddenly everyone got the picture. I was too far away to hear but I’m sure a collective groan of disbelief went up.
The day was perfect, the sea flat calm and the tide out to maximum. In fact I’d never seen it that far out. Steadily Charles drove his little convoy out across the exposed flats, into the water and hopped off in the shallows. But the machines kept going, and going, and going until all disappeared except for the tall exhaust/intake pipe which at last, far out to sea, disappeared under the water. There was one last bubble of exhaust gas and then nothing. For some reason the observers started applauding - until they realized whose side they were supposed to be on – then quickly got into their Landies and drove away.
Charles flew out next day, leaving a behind a sense that somehow we had been cheated. There was some talk of salvage but it came to nothing. Rolls had had the last laugh.     
But what has all this to do with the Oranjemund ghost train? That name came up a couple of years later when a location for the Tank Farm was being sought. A diver, using Scuba, was given the job of scouting out a suitable spot on the seabed for the offshore pipeline. He went in just south of Central Fields and came out almost immediately, eyes standing out of his head. (I know because he was my yachting mate for a time at the newly built yacht basin in the old Pink P).
“Geez,” he told his beach crew, “there’s a (adjective deleted) ghost train down there. I kid you not, it’s a real train.”
He had found Charles’s dumping spot for the Rolls dozers. For weeks afterwards he was mercilessly ribbed for that remark, earning the nickname of ghost buster.
That was more than 40 years ago. Doubtless those bulldozers are still there, if any venturesome diver wants to take a look, a ghostly shell-encrusted train heading forever seawards, a last thumb of the nose to a bunch of colonial upstarts.
Regards,
Bob.

Bob Molloy

Offline John Creedy

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2009, 04:21:05 PM »
Hi Bob
I had heard of the dozers- into - the sea - but had no idea it was like this at all.  I remember Norman Austin and perhaps my father who were on the mines at the time relating some story but to have a front seat must have been great!  Thanks Bob.

John

Offline John Haycox

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2009, 07:01:14 PM »
Hi Bob,

I remember the stories that went around about those tractors.  Can you remember what the story of the Scammel trucks was all about.  I have an idea they were also used to plot the position of some unknown island or to see how far they could drive in cold salt water.
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Offline Michael Alexander

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Re: Oranjemund characters
« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2009, 08:26:53 PM »
Once again, a great tale Bob, and another piece of mining folklore laid to rest.....

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