Category : Animals

Station Stories and Sentiments

From our humble beginnings in 1989 a focus of ours has always been preserving what little is left of the era of steam and the golden age of rail travel. In our 29 years we have collected artifacts, yes, but the most incredible and incredulous stories and sentiments. Our museum at our private station in Pretoria is one way we treasure not only our history but also all the stories, some of which are legend. Guests have expressed their sentiments at us being custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history and the stories which we tell in our little museum.

Renate Engelbrecht from Travelling Mystery Guest visited us recently and penned a piece on our station, Oom Gert and his careful curatorship of our museum.

Like the Rovos Rail family business, the Capital Park station has many stories to tell. It’s a historical gem tucked away among Pretoria’s CBD, the National Zoological Gardens and African tuck shops. The station, built in 1948, from which Rovos Rail departs, also plays its role of heyday holiday start-off point and preserver of all things train, very well.

The station grounds are filled with animals – from lamas lying in the staff’s garages that greet you with weird looking faces, to an on-site Nguni herd. But, it is Oom Gert who welcomes you at the Railway Museum.

Oom Gert, a humble soul, is tall and skinny with a voice that tells the story of life on trains. He has been around since even before Rovos Rail. He started as a stoker in 1969 and eventually worked his way up to train driver. It was not long after his retirement that he was called up again to man the Railway Museum. Trains are his passion. “You can’t see nature from a car like you can from a train,” he says. Every person is important to him. He does, however, enjoy the Japanese visitors most. Still, he has never had people arrive at the station with an attitude other than excitement. “For them it is the beginning of an exciting journey. They are already comfortable and meet people from different countries in the museum. So, when they get onto the train, they already know each other.”

The 40-hectare station first belonged to South African Railways, with many different locomotives and train drivers that drove these trains into many different directions. After moving to another depot, though, the station became dilapidated and was later taken over by Rovos Rail, who has brought the station back to its former glory. Today Rovos Rail’s trains depart from here to Cape Town, Durban, Victoria Falls, Namibia, Dar Es Salaam and soon also Angola, with the whole complex posing as a museum.

Rovos Rail has given the station a proper revamp and kept historically relevant artifacts intact for train passengers and visitors to appreciate. The main station building, previously a dining hall for artisans, has been prettied up and they’ve added a clock tower to enhance the station’s ambiance. The steam and diesel loco shed has also been cleaned up. Most of the structures have either been rebuilt or are converted ex-SAR buildings. The on-site Railway Museum is mainly focused on the tourists embarking on their Rovos Rail journeys, but Oom Gert, the curator, welcomes anyone. The museum is constantly developing, and it is the Vos family’s goal for Rovos Rail Station to become the leading working train museum globally. The museum is small and quaint and takes passengers back to their childhoods with an original phone box, parking meter and old trains, as well as special collector’s items that have been beautifully kept.

It’s like exploring a bygone era when you step into the station building. Even before you set foot on the luxury train that has been voted one of the top seven trains in the world by wired.com, you are taken on a trip down memory lane. The station lounge has a certain elegance to it and takes you back to a time when you had to dress up for dinner and where sophistication was key. Rovos Rail Station serves as the departure and arrival point for all eight journeys on offer and passengers rave about the welcoming experience and the colonial atmosphere of the station.

Rovos Rail’s guests are received with elegant welcoming drinks and canapes at the station and are often given an introductory speech by the owner, Rohan Vos, which sets the tone for the exciting journey ahead. Vos then also habitually takes guests on an informative and educational tour around the station grounds before the train’s wheels start turning, explaining the workshops and loco sheds to them with unfailing enthusiasm. The museum, marshalling yards, train renovation and repair facilities and welcome centre are all run by him.

Owner, Rohan Vos, is an enthusiast of note and with the help and support of his family, he has brought Rovos Rail and its station to what it is today.

 

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Rovos Rail

A Tulip is Born

Picture credit: Bianca Vos-Lynch

In January of this year we wrote a post entitled An Australian, his Bride and a Cow which told the story of one of Rohan’s daughter’s, Bianca, and how her fiancé, Brandon, purchased a gorgeous female Nguni cow as Lobola for his future bride. Brandon named her Mia Bella, meaning my beautiful one, and told us that she was a heifer – pregnant with her first calf – and due in February. Well, February became March, which became April and finally the vet told us to expect the little one in September! We’re not sure how the Nguni cow farmer miscalculated that one but a little girl eventually arrived on September 24th, Heritage Day in South Africa, and a Tulip was born!

You’ll see from the original story that we decided that Mia Bella would need a friend so we purchased another pregnant female who we called Camilla. Her calf, Alfie, was born in June and he is growing into a handsome and quite randy little fella! So all our fingers were crossed that Mia would have a little girl. Eventually, on September 24th (Heritage Day in South Africa), a calf arrived looking very gangly but very sweet – a girl who we called Tulip. In a moment of territorial aggression, Camilla kicked her around so she spent her first few days with a mild concussion, wobbling about, but is now latching and flourishing alongside her relieved mother.

Her name might sound a bit odd to some but there is personal meaning behind it for the Vos family as it honours Anthea’s father who recently passed – he was nicknamed Jimmy the Tulip by his grandchildren after a movie character and, serendipitously, that is how our little Tulip got her name. And she also decided to come into the world on Jimmy’s birthday which made her birth all the more lovely.

Welcome to the world and to Rovos Rail, Tulip Vos-Lynch! We’ll adore you and take care of you forever.

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Cows at Rovos Rail

An Australian, his Bride and a Cow

We’re back and have hit the ground running in 2016! If you had a break over December then we hope it was relaxing and lovely. Our first blog post of the new year is called “An Australian, his Bride and a Cow” and it makes for a romantic and funny story! But before we embark on this tale a little background on Rovos Rail and the Vos family.

We are owned by Rohan Vos and together with his wife, Anthea, they have four children – Shaun, Brenda, Bianca and Tiffany. The bride in our story is Bianca, daughter number two, and the Australian is her new husband, Brandon.

Brandon the Australian and Bianca the bride met a few years ago and for a while traversed many countries to be together. They finally set up home and shop in Cape Town armed with not one but five dogs and now a cow.

If any of you have met Rohan or listened to one of his departures speeches then you’ll know two things: 1) He has a dry sense of humour and 2) he teases Australians and New Zealanders because of the long history of sporting rivalry between the three countries.

Bringing home an Australian could have gone either way but Rohan, after a while, started to see it as a great opportunity to practise his jokes and Brandon was the butt of all of them! The last big gag resulted in Rohan inheriting a cow. Over dinner one evening Rohan told Brandon about Lobolo, which is an African tradition in which a prospective husband or head of his family undertakes to give to the head of a prospective wife’s family property in cash or kind. Historically, this property was in cattle but over time it has moved to being mostly in cash. 

Well, Brandon took this to heart and being the serious sort of chap he is, started researching Lobolo and what kind of cattle appropriate. “A man is seen to love his partner when he strives to save and pay for lobolo in the way of an Nguni Heifer”. That decided it and he set about finding the top breeder of Nguni Heifer cows in South Africa.

A few days before Christmas Brandon put a call through to Brenda, daughter number one and his future sister-in-law, to tell her that a pregnant cow would be delivered to Rovos Rail Station in Pretoria and that she was lobolo for Bianca. Brenda works for the company and is based in Pretoria and once she had got over the initial shock (and looked around for candid cameras) she believed the story and started to prepare for delivery of one Nguni Heifer!

Mea Bella, meaning “my beautiful one” was safely delivered and is doing well. Being the social animals they are, Brenda brought in a friend for Mea, another Nguni Heifer (also pregnant) and her name is Camilla. The two roam around the property eating well and growing steadily. They have a visit from the vet every two weeks and the reports are always that they are healthy and happy. Their calves are due in early March so watch this space!

Top image: Left is Mea Bella and on the right, Camilla. Picture taken by Regárdo Lewis.

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