It is apparent everywhere you look on the sprawling Sandstone Estate that the owners are striving for excellence. From the carefully tended lawns, well designed layout of buildings and storage sheds, and vast collection of steam driven and military machinery, the passion of owner Wilfred Mole shines through. The annual Sandstone Heritage Trust show held in May this year made a point of showcasing the Trust’s large serviceable collection of Military vehicles and equipment. Set amongst the picturesque Maluti Mountains of the Eastern Free State, this working farm boasts 26km of 2ft narrow gauge track on which a variety of restored steam locomotives and wagons are pressed into service in support of farming activities.
The Military vehicle collection sits comfortably within this scenario as the farm has strong technical resources for vehicle restoration and maintenance and there is adequate space to put the vehicles through their paces. The collection started ten years ago and relations were cemented with the Armour Museum of the School of Armour in 2003. Since then the Trust has worked closely with the Museum in order to ensure that examples of South African designed or modified military vehicles since WWII are saved, restored and preserved. Examples of Ferrets and Saracens, significantly modified to suit local conditions, sit comfortably next to more modern versions of the Eland 60, Eland 90 in Mk 7 form and a magnificent Ratel 90 AFV. Complementing these are SAMIL 100 and SAMIL 50 Gun tractors, which on the day were towing the 3.7″ QF AA Gun and a 25-pounder artillery piece. Other interesting Military Machinery is a well preserved BM21 Grad, otherwise known as ‘Stalin’s Organ’ and, arguably the star of the show, a fully restored Sherman tank.
This year the event was attended by the GOC of the Armour Foundation of the SANDF, Brig Genl Chris Geldenhuys. He was invited to take the salute of a Military vehicle drive-past which was particularly unique as it spanned Military transportation over the last 150 years.
Leading the parade was a trained team of Afrikaner oxen. This was followed by a 1901 Fowler B5 Road locomotive imported to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War to transport ammunition wagons in support of the British infantry. Next came a 1915 Henschel Feldbahn locomotive manufactured for the use of the German Army in WW1 and which saw service behind the lines on the Western Front. Behind the Feldbahn came Sandstone Heritage Trust’s entire collection of serviceable Military vehicles with the Sherman tank bringing up the rear.
Once again the event was strongly supported by the officers and NCO’s from the Armour Museum at the School of Armour in Bloemfontein. All vehicle movements are planned, managed and controlled by them to ensure that essential Military discipline is maintained throughout. Visitors and enthusiasts are encouraged to inspect the vehicles, talk to the men who are trained to operate them and, of course, ride in them to experience their unique capabilities.
Andy Selfe, a dapper 60+ year old, who also boasts an impressive Military background, was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. A personal friend of Wilfred Mole, he has been involved and assisting in the event over the past years. He mentioned that the Trust is aggressively pursuing vehicles which deserve inclusion in the current line-up. There is also a queue of vehicles waiting for restoration and inclusion in the collection including Tank transporters and armoured recovery vehicles.
In association with the School of Armour, the Sandstone Heritage Trust has developed a philosophy surrounding their Heritage Military vehicle collection. The first is that they hold a special place in the hearts and minds of people worked on and fought in them. Secondly, the South African designed and modified vehicles are of particular interest to international enthusiasts because of the unique adaptations and design features.
Thirdly, they are a delight to a younger generation who never experienced the thrill of riding in a tank or personnel carrier — especially if a father or brother served on them.
Quite a few of the old warhorses have found an additional new lease on life by being actively involved in the day to day farming operations. Coupled with their role of collecting and preserving a Military vehicle collection, the Sandstone Heritage Trust is, in essence, involved in a «swords to plough shears» operation. Wilfred Mole believes that, perhaps more simply worded — «it is war machinery deployed in a peaceful environment in order to attract visitors to a beautiful and largely undiscovered part of South Africa», couple this to the urgency of job creation in South Africa and the tremendous potential of future enthusiasts and international visitors to this unique collection, who could argue?
If you remember the smell of Military diesel fumes early on a winter’s morning (or wish to experience it for the first time!) a visit to Sandstone is well worth the effort.
The next planned event is the Easter Festival, which runs from 12th — 21st April 2014. For more information please visit the website at: www.sandstone-estates.com