TG Newsletter: KRAGBRON


(26 March 2015)

“ELECTRICITY can be dangerous. My nephew tried to stick a penny into a plug. Whoever said a penny doesn't go far didn't see him shoot across that floor.”

--- Tim Allen ---

There was unfortunately no more month left for this newsletter, but with the power of persuasion, Nienke convinced me that I needed to tell a story come hell or flat batteries.

With the cost of ‘lectricity glowing like a 200 Watt bulb and the effect (or should I say UNeffect) of load shedding on society, I wanted to tell you a sad story I heard years ago.

I will jump start this newsletter with an electric-blue head, you know… just to get myself into the right cosmos.

Kraai and myself went from salon pampering to jumping on the bikes and heading out to Sasolburg in the Freestate.

In 15 years, nothing to this industrial town has changed, except the small coffee shop that used to sell the best Cremochinos, that’s now gone. We (Anton and Skinny – Sasol geologists) used to avoid doing any hard labour and told our boss we were doing ‘water pomp toetse’ out in the field, while the only water that got tested were mixed with granules and sugar, served in cups.

“Courage is very important. Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use.”

--- Ruth Gordon ---

We had a quick bite to fill our fuel tanks and get us back up and running. We still had to go find a small town called Kragbron that was nowhere to be found on my GPS?!? Guess the main switch was off.

We left town and looked back at Sasol.

Smoke stacks and tower high buildings transformed the landscape behind us. In 1950, Sasol courageously opened a FIRST IN THE WORLD industry of using coal as a source of liquid fuels.

A few kilos south of Sasol, we found the turn-off to Kragbron.

I almost missed it! A few years back there were still two fully equipped power stations standing in the field, next to the road.

“Gymnastics uses every single part of your body, every little tiny muscle that you never even knew. So does biking… Especially if you don’t stay on top!”

We rode through the small town, scattered with mongrel dogs and barking V8 bakkies. The entrance to the old power station was locked with CLOSED signs sprayed on the gate. We found a small alleyway next to a deserted office. It was muddy and looked like someone was trying to grow a patch of ‘green’ stuff in the red soil. Their ‘green stuff patch’ now has two lovely sets of tyre prints through them. Artistic!

“I'm convinced that a controlled disrespect for authority is essential to a scientist. All the good experimental physicists I have known have had an intense curiosity that no Keep Out sign could mute. Physicists do, of course, show a healthy respect for High Voltage, Radiation, and Liquid Hydrogen signs. They are not reckless. I can think of only six who have been killed on the job.”

--- Luis W. Alvarez ---

“And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.”

--- Spike Milligan ---

Taaibos and Highveld power stations were ‘mothballed’ in 1986. Mothballing a power station was placing it in reserve storage for two years or until there was a need for more electricity again. But in 1994 these stations were decommissioned and disposed.

“Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.”

--- Margaret Thatcher ---

Eskom could not guarantee the demand for any electricity generated.

Do yourself a favour; go back and read that last sentence again. By the third time you’ll actually start giggling!

“Everyone has a 'risk muscle.' You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don't, it atrophies. Make a point of using it at least once a day.”

--- Roger von Oech ---

We rode through barren sites where all the buildings were demolished. The 12 cooling towers were imploded and all equipment sold as scrap.

We found a very muddy, slippery road to Holly Country (our point B)!

We know the world tells us that Hank is a Triumph SCRAMBLER – but theez is not his play ground. Mining vehicles and bakkies have made grooves knee deep into the slick mud.

But as Oom Ernest said:

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

--- Ernest Hemingway ---

We slipped and slided to the entrance of this enigmatic small town.

We got a bit lost on the way, but bikers beget bikers and true to our bloodline, Fanie stopped to help us on our adventure. He led the way into Holly-wood and gave us some tips on survival. He thought it would be ok for us to camp on the lawn outside the pub… safely. We had to rush to set up camp before dark and before every single mosquito in Africa found our GPS location.

“Ben Franklin may have discovered electricity- but it is the man who invented the meter who made the money.”

--- Earl Warren ---

The Tannie at the café told us where we would find the memorial and we rewarded her by buying lollipops.

And this is the story I want to tell you today…

On 21 January 1960, South Africa had its biggest mining disaster ever recorded.

At 19h00 there was a massive collapse of the Coalbrook North mine, trapping 435 miners forever underground.

900 Miners were on duty the day of the accident. More than half escaped by fleeing up the incline shaft. Coalbrook served the two nearby power stations in Kragbron (where we just visited). The mine’s method was to cut into the coal deposits, leaving pillars of coal behind to support the roof. According to the official report, the reason for the collapse was that the pillars were cut into to get more coal and thus leaving the roof too heavy to support.

“We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.”

--- Bill Bryson ---

My boss back in the day at Sigma mine, Dennis, told me that there was a dolerite sill over the coal layer and that for weeks leading up to the accident the miners kept complaining of cracking noises. He believed the dolerite eventually exploded.

“The most powerful force ever known on this planet is human cooperation - a force for construction and destruction.”

--- Jonathan Haidt ---

After the collapse, rescue teams poured in from far and wide. They went down the main shaft but were blocked by collapsed ground and methane gas. Instead drilling was begun in the middle of a vast stretch of maize fields. When they reached the mining layer, the drills were withdrawn and a microphone was lowered in the hope of speaking to any survivors. The microphone only picked up the sound of water, but nothing else. It was hopeless. After two weeks all attempts were abandoned and the main shaft were sealed with concrete slabs.

The mine became a mass grave and a memorial was erected in town using one of the old mining machines.

We found the bar (that was sadly closed – they didn’t have a Thursday happy hour) and we parked our bums on the lawn outside the door.

That night we drew emotional strength from the moon as only Sangomas can.

We drew physical power from vetkoek as only Sous-tannies can.

We drew rhythmic voltage from iPod tjunes like only (extremely false) choir singers can.

After an exhausting day, our oomph was spent and we dropped into the smallest one-man Boer-tent we could find.

We slept to replenish our energy, but we only replenished our back pain levels, as our hip bones were flattened by gravity combined with moerse harde kikuyu!

The next morning we got up before that big globe lit up the sky.

“Electricity is really just organized lightning.”

--- George Carlin ---

We stared in wonder to all the small globes trying to wake the sheeple for work.

We run on electricity. We are but an energy. Yet we consciously rather destroy than create? Power up your dreams, fill your tanks and live a life that 435 mine workers would have been proud of.


Some people think I’m pretentious for offering this newsletter for free. As if they wanted to read it?!? But I guess quoting me, means you secretly have a deep dark desire to follow my tail(s).

If you're familiar with the rural concept of the honesty bar, this honesty newsletter ain't much different... I'm a completely un-paid journalist, relying instead on readers using the honour system. You read the newsletter and then leave an amount you see fit for the entertainment you've received.

If you don't find it particularly amusing, then you fork out NO dosh. I won't stop sending you the letter – it is still mahala to those that count their coins and... I love sharing my stories.

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