Stars of Sandstone 2-12 April 2015
By Willie Bodenstein
The annual "Stars of Sandstone" 10 day event every March, April or May attracts 1,000s of visitors, 70% of whom are from overseas. A number of vintage aircraft are invited to join the huge collection of historic military hardware, agricultural implements, steam trains and vintage cars.
Covering about 7,000 hectares and bordering Lesotho Sandstone Estates Ltd is and close to the Maluti Mountains is an active commercial agricultural enterprise. The farm has a 900 meter grass runway, GPS co-ordinates: 28, 50, 42.05' S/28, 00, 07.86' E.
The farm was built up by the Wille family from the 1830s, who were originally German missionaries. Wilfred Mole bought the complex with his wife Linda in 1995 after making his money from becoming the owner of the Nokia franchise for South Africa. The farm has been 100% organic since 2005, producing wheat, soya beans, maize, and sunflowers, it is today held as part of a portfolio of international agri-businesses.
As a steam enthusiast, in the mid-1990s Mole was approached by Alan Clarke of Transnet Heritage Foundation, who realised the foundation did not have the resources to rescue the collapsing Midmar Museum in KwaZulu-Natal. The collection formed the basis of what became the Sandstone Heritage Trust. Today, the trust's main collection is still based around the railway transport of Southern Africa, but also covers an extensive global road transport and military vehicle collection.
The 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge railway runs from Grootdraai in the south, for some 26 kilometres (16 mi) northwards to the main farm at Hoekfontein, onwards via Mooihoek to a large loop at Vailima sidings/Ficksburg and the farm's main depot at Vailima. The Trust presently has 22 locomotives in use on the estate, with another 5 currently under restoration in Bloemfontein. Today the collection of 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge locomotives and rolling stock is one of the most numerous in the world.
The Trust formed a joint-venture with the South African Army's School of Armour Museum in Bloemfontein, which led to the development of a significant collection of South African military vehicles. The collection is built around educating visitors on conflicts which have taken place since World War 2, in which South African troops have taken part.
Harvard Club aircraft are regular visitors during the week long Stars of Sandstone event and besides displaying the iconic "School Master of the Sky" also offer flips to those that wish to experience the freedom of flight. Tiger Moths, Chipmunks, Alouette and Gazelle and other historic aircraft usually form part of the event.
Many thanks to Brian Appleton for the flight to Sandstone in his immaculate Mooney Ovation and to Eugene Couzyn for flying his superb Sud Aviation Gazelle for the air to ground photos.
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