The annual Stars of Sandstone Steam Heritage Festival is taking place from 2-12 April 2015. Steam enthusiasts from across the globe will once again be gathering at Sandstone Estates near Ficksburg in the Eastern Free-State bordering Lesotho in South Africa to celebrate the myriad steam-driven vehicles and machines that have been restored to pristine condition by Wilfred Mole and his team in celebration of the origins of transportation from days gone by.
The directors of Sandstone reported an overwhelming response from South African and international visitors to the fun-filled festival in April 2014, which has resulted in many new and regular visitors to the annual event, now in it’s 14th year, already registering to attend the festival in 2015!
Says Wilfred Mole, director of the Sandstone Estates: “In the past, we attracted mostly international visitors to this event and for the first time we were inundated with South Africans registering for our 2014 festival; so great was the response, that some visitors had not registered and simply showed up at the gates, having travelled from all corners of South Africa, resulting in some being turned away to ensure catering and activity facilities were not compromised for registered visitors.
“We therefor urge all visitors to register online to ensure they are not disappointed as our 2015 Stars of Sandstone Steam & Heritage Festival will be enjoyed by all wishing to attend the fun-filled event, suitable for all ages, including families looking for a destination to be enjoyed by the entire family.
“All the drivers of the steam and heritage vehicles are involved on a voluntary basis, travelling from across the globe to celebrate the romance and fun of a special era and we are urging such drivers and firemen to register early to participate in these sought-after activities.”
Military vehicles, trek oxen, old tractors, steam lorries, traction engines, locomotives, old buses and cars will again be taking centre stage with the backdrop of the majestic Maloti Mountains of the Lesotho Highlands in the distance.
Sandstone’s world-renowned 26km narrow gauge railway forms the backbone of the spectacular event and the distinctive autumn light provides a breathtaking vista ideal for photo opportunities of the vast vintage collection. Old tractors and other agricultural relics in mint condition will also be exhibited at the 2015 festival, with a few surprises to increase the daily fun level of the festival.
When asked why he thought the Stars of Sandstone Festival was gaining further popularity with younger generations, Wilfred said: “The end of an era of steam-driven or heritage transportation should not end with us and our forefathers; we should instil a love of yesteryear in our children and grandchildren so they have a deeper understanding of the history of the high-tech vehicles we utilise today. How could we possibly appreciate what we have when we don’t understand the history of how it all began?
“No one would want to miss the magnificent Mark IV Sherman tank in action, immaterial of age,” he exclaims with his usual passion for Stars of Sandstone, which was his brainchild.
Sandstone Estate also sports an airstrip and visitors enjoy the additional entertainment when pilots fly in to attend the festival, whilst Harvards and similar vintage flying machines provide enormous joy for guests wishing to enjoy an exhilarating flight in these magnificently restored planes.
Sandstone Estates is situated on the farm Hoekfontein, which was acquired by the Mole family in 1994 to be used for mostly recreational purposes and a place to keep Wilfred’s vintage tractor collection. Now a Heritage Collection, Sandstone Estates was formed as an agricultural business with specific objectives: that it should be large enough to be viable, self-sufficient and not dependent on service providers.
Today, the farm is an organised and established agri-business with livestock and arable crops including sunflowers, soya beans, maize and wheat, having hosted the Stars of Sandstone festival galas since 1999, when it was titled The Great 100 Working.
In the 90s Sandstone received a telephone call from the Curator of the Transnet Heritage Foundation (THF), requesting the estate store an impressive collection of vintage railway equipment, cars, trucks and tractors pending a decision by the THF on the future of these machines. Formerly housed at a museum in Midmar near Pietermaritzburg as a joint venture between the Natal Parks Board and the National Railway Authority, the Natal Parks Board decided the preservation of these relics was no longer their core business. They sent a notice to the Railways to remove all equipment.
After a few months, once the long haul of all the equipment was completed and now based at Sandstone, the machines were offered for sale and purchased by Sandstone, which resulted in the 2-ft narrow gauge railway being built on the estate.
Finally, the trust now works closely with the South African Armour Museum in Bloemfontein with the intention of building a World Class Military vehicle collection, which will showcase the unique design and manufacturing skills which South Africa is renowned for in this regard.