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A Plane from Matjiesfontein

Matjiesfontein, a lush oasis in the Little Karoo in the Cape Province of South Africa, was founded in 1884. “Karoo” comes from the Afrikaans word for “desert”. “Fontein” (as in Matjiesfontein” means “fountain”.

It was an insignificant railway halt on the way to the now famous Kimberley diamond fields, then run by Cecil John Rhodes (later to found the country of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and Rhodes Scholarships around the world).

I recall riding the steam train through Matjiesfontein as a young boy growing up in Southern Africa. We read through the long silences during the day broken only by the clicking of the wheels on the tracks, the smell of the coal, and the endless scenery of scrub bush and yellow sand. The excitement of the dining car in the evening and windows that framed a pink sky line fading into purple.

I have lived in Australia most of my adult years but the memories of my childhood have never dimmed.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an auction on eBay (Australia) for a “South African Railways Wood Plane”. I waited impatiently. Nothing was going to stop me winning it. Luckily there was only one other bid, and I was the new owner for $26 Australian.

It arrived today.

I opened the box and was amazed at the condition. It was like new .. in fact I am certain that it had never been used. 12 ½ “ long with a tapered iron 21/8” wide. I guess that makes it a junior jack.

Virgin sole …

The wedge is marked “South African Railways” ..

And the toe bears the name of the original owner, Piet Pretorius, and his residence … Matjiesfontein …

The only disappointment is the blade. This is a well-used Scottish Alex Mathieson & Son. It is a puzzle for me that such a worn iron is fitted to this crispy plane.

Still, I am more than happy. Pleased as Punch, in fact.

Regards from Perth


September, 2009