Things that go ‘bouf’

2008-04-07 00:00

Have you ever wondered what an iron lung looks like or how a Morse code machine works? Have you ever longed to ride on a tractor or start up a powerful engine and listen to how it runs? Up in the clouds on the side of a mountain overlooking the Byrne Valley there is a place where you can do all these things and more.

Malcolm Anderson’s interactive museum of memorabilia is a magical place for anyone who loves technology of any description; machinery, equipment, engines, “things that go bouf”, call it what you will, Anderson is passionate about it. He has been collecting “old, unusual things” for about 50 years and has opened his extensive collection to the public. The museum is a Natural Heritage Site and is situated on Minerva private nature reserve. Anderson (62) lives on the property and has several business interests in Richmond.

He does not know exactly how many artefacts there are in the collection, but there are several thousand items on display. In a nearby workshop are another thousand or so being repaired or waiting to be repaired. “The oldest item in the collection is a jaw harp, or ‘Jew’s harp’ that I got when I was about nine. Items are pouring in from people who entrust them to the museum so that they will be enjoyed, appreciated and taken care of.

“I like collecting things that have meaning for people and remind them of times or events in their lives. There was a young man here recently who saw a glass ashtray with a miniature tractor tyre around it. His parents owned one just like it and it brought back many memories for him. Every item has a story to tell about the people who owned it and used it. Even if we do not know the story, it gives me pleasure to know that it has one.”

Anderson and a friend, Chris Tilbury, work with a team of artisans to restore engines to running order before they are put on display. “The collection represents a lot of work, but mostly a lot of fun. We get a great kick out of making things work again. We have just restored a stationary engine that was submerged in mud next to a river for 40 years. The man who brought it to us did not believe we could make it work again, but we did.”

The museum houses a collection of old vehicles, petrol bowsers, woodworking equipment, dentistry equipment, water pumps, steam-driven machinery, household items like typewriters, irons, fans, lights, kitchen equipment, telephones and valve radios, agricultural machinery, including a rare Rollo tractor built in Scotland, a winnower and a potato sorter, both built in the 1800s, and engines of all types and sizes.

Anderson and Tilbury enjoy going on “hunting trips” to find items for the collection. “We have been to Mozambique, Namibia, the Western Cape, the Karoo and the Eastern Cape. We go to places like old trading stores, scrap yards, farms and townships. We have never come back from a trip without something interesting. In Prince Alfred we found an old washing machine with a hand-operated mangle and a petrol motor that you kick-start like a motor bike, and in the Karoo an engine used to pump water from a borehole when there was no wind to drive the windmill. It was built in Australia in 1917.” From an attic in Richmond came an automatic soda water machine built by Flugel and Company of London and from a farm near Cedara came a steam boiler. The iron lung built by the German company Lubeck was found in Umkomaas and Anderson found a pigeon-racing clock in a junk shop in Howick.

“Sometimes I buy things without knowing what they are and then a visitor to the museum identifies it. That’s what happened with the pigeon-racing clock and a machine used to grind glass lenses to fit spectacle frames.” Anderson uses the Internet to research items he collects and to find information on how to restore them. The team is currently working on the nine-cylinder radial engine of a Sherman tank that was found in storage in Durban. From a company in Ontario, Canada, he has been able to source information on the engine’s history and instructions on how to repair it.

He and Tilbury are keen members of the Natal Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club that has its headquarters at Baynesfield Estate. “It is gratifying to see young people join the club and find pleasure in making things work. We like to encourage them to start their own collections by giving them an engine and challenging them to make it work. It really gives us a thrill to see them display it, in working order, at one of the club’s subsequent open days.”

Sharing this passion for “things that go bouf” is central to the operation of the museum. Anderson is determined that it should be a place where everyone is not only welcome, but welcome also to touch the exhibits. “We let visitors operate all the machinery, under supervision, to see how it works. Our only rule is that children keep away from dangerous equipment like fly wheels.”

The museum has a pub housed in a converted railway cattle car that includes the original “hole in the floor” toilet. To facilitate visitors to the museum, there is also a self-catering guest house on the 3 500-hectare nature reserve. It sleeps 10 people and offers glorious views of the Byrne valley. To safeguard the future of the collection, Anderson has created a trust, which will ensure that the museum is open for future generations to enjoy.

Anderson and Tilbury will display some of their engines at the Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club’s Open Day at Baynesfield Estate on May 4 and at Cars in the Park on May 18.

• For directions to the museum or bookings for the self-catering house, phone “Vossie” Vorster at 082 371 4425.

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