HTN 114 - Monarch water drilling rig - by Andy Selfe

Sandstone Heritage Trust - News

27th July 2006

At 5 am on Friday 14th July, the 'Heavy Team’ of the newly formed Breede River Vintage Water Drilling Contractors pulled out of Robertson, and an hour later had collected a third member in Montagu and was on its way. This for me was a 1600 km round trip, nearly 1400 of them in a venerable Ford D series lorry, owned by Johan Stemmet, and thankfully powered by an ADE 352T engine and Isuzu 5-speed gearbox.

The Heavy Team consisted of driver Jacques Kellermann, Johnny Verreynne, borehole and pump man from Montagu and myself as scribe and photographer. The 'Light Team' was traveling by another route in a bakkie, and consisted of Johan himself, his father Oom Willem (KWV) Stemmet and his younger son David.

The mission was to collect a veteran wooden framed drilling rig dating from 1927, powered by a 7HP Fuller & Johnson open-crank petrol engine, standing on unserviceable wagon-wheels, from the farm Simondium, of Oom Hennie van Wyk, 14 km south of Vosburg, Northern Cape.

The lorry kept up a good 100 km per hour, up hill and down dale, although the trip 'up' is in fact a steady climb all the way! We had andup’ load too, to be delivered in Victoria West, about 80km short of our objective. With the early start and only short essential breaks for fuel, we were in Victoria West in good time, to offload the poles and wires we had brought.

The Light Team had phoned in for a progress report while passing through Hutchinson. That name rang a bell, and after a quick phone call, we realised that there was something important there to visit. This meant leaving the Ford somewhere safe, and the only safe place we could think of was the farm Kalkfontein of Sakkie van der Merwe, some distance north of Victoria West. With the lorry safely there, we returned to Hutchinson, all crammed in the bakkie to visit local windmill repairer, Okkie Malan, who was busy casting white-metal bearings. He was able to direct us to the farm of Mr. Andrew Conroy, our objective.

He was unfortunately not there, but Mr. van Zyl directed us to what can only be compared with, for us, an archaeologist walking into the tomb of a Pharaoh for the first time. The Conroys supplied water in huge quantities to the Railways in the days of Steam (it is said that on the 1000 mile route from Johannesburg to Cape Town, all the wells except those in Hutchinson were pumped dry!) and also supplied electricity to the local Railway community and Station, until the arrival of Escom power.

The generator room had since been left untouched and remains like that to this day. Inside are all Ruston & Hornsby engines, a 6H of 1936, a 9HRA with Electric Flywheel from 1949, and a 4-cylinder vertical. A dismantled R&H engine-compressor had supplied 300 PSI when the engines had not recharged the bottle during shutdown. Although the water-cooling system has deteriorated and the compressor is not functioning, we intend to return and start at least the 9HR up, to show that it can still run!

By the time we got back to the lorry, it had become too late to proceed, and besides, Sakkie said he would be offended if we did not spend the night there. We had some years ago visited Kalkfontein and dismantled, repaired and restarted his very rare Ellwe engine from Sweden, all in the space of a day, including driving up from Worcester!
This engine drove a Tigris Mill (below right) and a Neusaat seed dresser, and had not run for 50 years.

We were all on the road very early on Saturday morning and on the farm Simondium shortly after daybreak. We found then to our dismay that we had been expected there the night before, and we were in the bad books of the Lady of the House! However, we got stuck in, and had the four rubber tyred wheels and hubs fitted which we had prepared and brought with us in no time at all. We had only to cut spacers out of pipe and jack up and remove the remains of the wooden spoked wheels.
The tower then had to be lowered for the first time in 40 years, much to the consternation of the resident Pale Chanting Goshawk, who had been using it as a lookout!
The rig could then be towed away by Oom Hennie on his David Brown tractor:

Next step was to load it on to the lorry using a ramp made for sheep, not machinery! Half way up it bottomed-out on the ridge of the ramp and it was necessary to raise the lower part on jacks and channels before it could be winched onto the back of the Ford.

The least we could do to sort out the misunderstanding of the previous night was to eat Friday night's supper for Saturday lunch, which we thoroughly enjoyed! At the lunch table, we discussed the history of the drilling rig. We spoke of the plots which Oom Hennie had just sold on the Smartt Syndicate lands and the history of that scheme, which had the biggest dam in the country at the time of its building, between 1907 and 1916.

Back on the road shortly after lunch, meant we were in Beaufort West in time for a leisurely supper and good sleep at Wagon Wheels. Another early start on Sunday morning had us at Matjiesfontein for late breakfast.
Now a week later, the restoration team of the Brede River Vintage Water Drilling Contractors has already renewed one chassis member of the drill, badly eaten by termites, and plans are in motion to tackle the engine, which is seized.

We hope to show it at the forthcoming Veterane-Expo at Boland Agricultural College at the beginning of September!

Andy Selfe
23rd July 2006