Historic mission mill gets new lease of life

2008-12-18 00:00

The South African Air Force undertook an unusual task — delivering some heavy machinery to the bottom of a gorge just below a waterfall on the Polela River.

The machinery was to be installed at the Reichenau Mission, halfway between Bulwer and Underberg.

Peter Frow, one of the driving forces behind the renovation, said the mission was founded by Trappist Brothers working from Marianhill Monastery near Pinetown in the second half of the 19th century.

“The Mission was intended to be a working mission providing a service to the local community and the brothers built a mill that could grind locally-grown maize for the local inhabitants and be financially self-sustaining.

“A water turbine at the bottom of the gorge provided power to run the mill via an endless cable to the mill house at the top of the gorge.”

Frow said that for many years the mill functioned well until the disastrous floods of 1987 washed away the turbine house and damaged the machinery in it.

“The entire mill fell into a terrible state of disrepair until a group of engineers with an interest in restoring old machinery took on the daunting task of rehabilitating the mill about two years ago.

“Volunteers from as far afield as Gauteng and Durban contributed many man (and woman!) hours and much sweat to refurbish the building and grounds, exercising skills ranging from carpentry to the manufacture of drive belts. What appeared to be an insurmountable proble, however, was the refurbishing of the turbine itself.”

Weighing some two tons, and accessible only by a narrow steep flight of rough stone stairs to the bottom of the gorge, it would have been impossible to do the necessary repair work on the site or to remove it manually, said Frow.

At this stage, the SAAF came to the party, and sent a helicopter to lift the damaged machinery to a site where it could be loaded on to a lorry for transport to an engineering works in Pinetown. Here, the precision work of replacing the bearings and machining damaged parts could be performed much more easily and efficiently. A framework was also built to replace the turbine house, which was destroyed in the flood.

“Thanks to the co-operation and generosity of many suppliers, missing or unserviceable parts ranging from electric cables to drive belts, electric motors, butterfly valves, bearings and many other items too numerous to mention, the plan really came together for the official opening on Monday December 15.

Unfortunately, the visibility in the area on Monday proved unsuitable for flying, and the operation was postponed until Wednesday when a helicopter was able to land and drop the machinery into its allotted space at the bottom of the gorge.

“This project, which is not yet complete, should enrich the lives of the local inhabitants, and being water powered (with an electrical back-up) is sustainable and environmentally friendly,” said Frow.

The infrastructure exists for the establishment of tourism and other activities, which may provide a sustainable economic improvement in the area. — WR.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.