A wonderful era

Selmae Miller, Sea Point

I spent a glorious weekend at Erinvale with my dear friends Les and Elize Hurwitz last weekend, when Les showed me the article in Bolander about steam trains, holidays and a bygone era.

So many of that era live in Sea Point, and would remember these times so well.

I just had to put pen to paper to and tell you a little more about that wonderful era when we were children and young teenagers.

I lived in Kuils River from 1945 until I married and went to live in Paarl in 1961.

My parents were very aware of a good education for their eldest daughter. Hence I was packed off to Good Hope Seminary boarding school at the age of just 13.

There of course, I met girls who came from all corners of South Africa and beyond.

They arrived by steam train from as far afield as Kitwe in then Northern Rhodesia and even Elizabethville in the Congo.

These train journeys were five to six days long, and as you can imagine, was very much part of the June and December school holidays.

Scholars who came to boarding school hailed from Upington, Springbok, Klawer, Beaufort West and many more remote places in South Africa having to take steam trains and buses to get there.

They were allowed to leave the boarding school at least two days early to board the steam trains that used to take them home for the holidays to their loved ones and families.

The excitement in the boarding school was electric. Out came the tin trunks which were stored during the school terms. Dirty washing was hauled into laundry bags and packed into the trunks, and generally the boarding school was abuzz with the anticipation of getting onto the good old steam train at platform 25 or 26 at Cape Town station laden with tuck and food for the long journey home.

The country girls had to leave the boarding school in full uniform and of course arrived back looking likewise fresh and neat in full uniform.

As I went through five years of very strict rules and regulations and came home at the end of my matric year, I looked forward to catching the Strand steam train at Kuils River Station which puffed in punctually at 7.15am every morning. My Dad used to take me to the station in his 1947 Plymouth and on the occasional times that I was late, he used to hoot and I was hauled onto the train as it was puffing out of the station onto the third class coaches by the loyal coloured commuters who helped me on with a friendly “good morning Miss Selmae – alweer laat * ê. Seker a hot date gisteraand gehad.”

I travelled by train for two years, and home again on the reliable regular steam train which left Cape Town station just three minutes before the Wellington train.

My boyfriend travelled to Paarl everyday on the Wellington train, and the two trains used to travel side by side at Bellville station which had more than one outgoing line, only to part ways just after Bellville station waving to us as we turned right to travel to the Strand where I alighted at Kuils River station.

Those were wonderful years on those steam trains, travelling to and from Cape Town, in the company of many commuters, all of whom sat on their own allocated seats for all those years. Sandwiches were eaten on the way home, dates were made many of which eventually ended in marriage! Yes those were wonderful times, on the reliable South African Railways.

Eventually I did marry my boyfriend who was a country rep and who travelled from Cape Town to the northern borders of our country for 44 years. He knew the reps who spent the night playing poker and drinking whisky and went home to spend the weekend with their families. One such rep was a ventriloquist and could throw his voice to different parts. He was standing on Beaufort West station to take the train home with his mates when four gentlemen came along carrying a coffin and he threw his voice into the coffin and shouted “laat my uit, laat my uit!” They dropped the coffin and were never seen again.

No, commercial travellers do not exist anymore, they just all faded away dreaming of their huge American Fords, Chevs and Pontiacs which raced along the dusty gravel roads and of the good old days when they came home from far off country towns
with order books filled and pens which had run
dry.