Peter Ball

An article published in the May 2015 “Popular Mechanics” magazine (RSA edition), was entitled “SUPERTRAINS coming down the line” in which it was stated “Let’s get one thing straight: we don’t send much freight via railway because the country’s extensive rail network is too narrow”. Yes it is true that South African wagons run on a narrow gauge track (1065mm) - narrow by definition being a gauge less than the standard gauge of 1435mm (4’-8½”).

Rust by definition is a reddish brown coating formed on a ferrous metal (i.e. iron or steel) by oxidation, especially in the presence of moisture, which gradually corrodes the metal. Rust would seem to be Nature’s way of restoring iron and steel back to the state of the iron ore found in the earth’s crust. This process could well be called metallurgy in reverse.

The late Fred Dibnah, although unknown to most South Africans, was a household name in Britain. He was a true English eccentric who had a passion for all sorts of machinery powered by steam and he spent much of his life studying their construction and history.

He was a man born out of his time, as by the time he started work in the 1950’s, steam power in industry was being superseded by newer technology in the form of electric powered machines.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.

The tragedy of the present day Migrant Crisis caused by the Syrian Civil War has an earlier precedent which occurred in the late seventeenth century when the King of France – Louis XIV (the Sun King) revoked the Edict of Nantes (a law protecting religious tolerance).  It was on the 22nd October 1685 that the King formally outlawed the Protestant religion in France, however, prior to that date the Huguenots (French Calvinists) had been persecuted rather like the Jews were in pre-war NAZI Germany.

In today’s world, large infrastructure projects such as the state of the art “Gautrain” rapid transit railway between Johannesburg and Pretoria (80 km in length) are constructed using mechanised plant and equipment for better productivity when working to tight project schedules (fast tracking). Occupational Health and Safety on construction sites has become a main concern when it comes to planning and executing large civil engineering projects with hazard operability studies (HAZOPS) and risk assessments being mandatory.

Field Marshal Bernhard Law Montgomery, nicknamed “Monty” by his men, commanded the Allies 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, during the last months of the Second World War. On the 4th May 1945 at Luneburg Heath he accepted the unconditional surrender of the German forces in that theatre of the War. Victory in Europe (VE day) would come four days later on the 8th of May 1945.

Dickie Jeeps who passed away recently aged 84, was one of the greatest scrum halves ever to play the game of Rugby. He came to the fore during the 1955 British Lions tour of South Africa, where he played in all four Tests against the Springboks. He went on tour as a surprise choice as he was uncapped (by England), but he proved, on the hard grounds of the Highveld, to be the ideal partner for the mercurial fly half Cliff Morgan. The Test series would be drawn with two wins apiece.

 

When someone is asked who or what is the Iron Lady, the first thought that comes to mind is usually Margaret Thatcher, but long before she became Prime Minister of Britain there was another Iron Lady. Ask any Parisian and they will tell you that “La Dame de Fer” is the Eiffel Tower.

The Channel Tunnel, nicknamed the “Chunnel” is a 31 mile (50 km) long rail tunnel beneath the English Channel (La Manche) which provides a fixed link between England and France. It is geographically situated at the narrowest crossing – the Strait of Dover (Pas de Calais). The Chunnel has been operational since its official opening on the 6th May 1994 and is run by the company “Eurotunnel” – the concessionaire until 2086.

 

Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that then you’ll do things differently”.  Alas history is littered with instances where his words would have fallen on deaf ears.

It is hard to believe that it has only been a few decades since South Africa adopted the metric system. The shift had a profound impact on the economy and the daily lives of citizens. Many of South Africa's largest trading partners at the time were either using the metric system or had committed to moving over. This provided the impetus for South Africa to get going. The strength of the apartheid state ensured that implementation was highly effective.

The question is easy to answer; South Africa was formerly part of the British Empire, which decreed that the rule of the road was to keep left in order to avoid collision, end of story.

NO not the end of story. The real question to be asked, is why does Britain (and her former colonies) drive on the left, when 65% of the countries of the world drive on the right?

The old saying that “Good walls make for good neighbours” has been taken to heart in Johannesburg, where high walls have sprung up where once there were only low diamond mesh fences and hedges to keep the children and pets from straying onto the road.

The story of the DC-3 really began in tragedy, when a plane crash caused a public outcry across America over the quality of passenger aviation. It took the death of the famous football (grid iron) coach, Knut Rockne of Notre Dame University, who with five other passengers and two crew was lost when Transcontinental & Western Airlines (TWA) Flight 599 went down at Bazaar, Kansas (between Kansas City & Wichita), on 31st March 1931.

Limit State Design shares the same acronym – LSD with the psychedelic drug Lysergic (Acid) Diathylamide, the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” of the Beatles, even if John and Paul denied the association. Likewise more than a few Structural Engineers that studied in the “Swinging Sixties” are in denial over the merits of LSD, a design philosophy at variance with the time honoured pre-computer age method of ASD – Allowable Stress Design.

The zenith of long distance passenger travel by train world wide was during the period between the two World Wars (1919 to 1939) thereafter there was increasing competition from other modes of transport, notably the airliner and the motor vehicle (utilising modern road infrastructure), which led to a rapid decline in patronage for rail travel. At the ending of the Second World War (1945) there was a large surplus of Douglas Dakota twin engine aircraft that were sold off at bargain prices, this effectively kick started the modern airline industry.

Present day Southern Africa has inherited its railway gauge from a bygone era of 142 years ago, when in 1873 the decision was made to reduce the gauge from 4’-8½” to 3’-6”, when the Cape Government Railways (CGR) planned its extension from Wellington to Worcester for the reasons why see “Ox Wagon to Iron Horse” - click here to view.

If the question was asked what was the Crystal Palace? More than likely the answer would be an association football (soccer) team that plays in the English “Barclays Premier League”.  If this was a pub quiz the answer would be correct and it would be next question please, however the more curious minded of us would wish to know how the football team got its name.

Forty years ago at the 48th Academy Awards (1976) O.J. Simpson opened the envelope and announced that “GREAT” had won the Oscar for the Best Animated Short Film. The recipient was Bob Godfrey the film’s maker.

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