Space Week Outreach at the Makadas Country Festival – 03 to 05 October 2014

Makadas Country Festival 03 to 05 October 2014

Lynnette, treatment Snorre and I got off to a later than planned start and only arrived at Auke’s place at 07:30. We were on the R44 heading for Stellenbosch by just after 08:00 and made good time on the N1, cialis through the Huguenot Tunnel and past Worcester before stopping off at the Veldskoen Farm Stall for a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and coffee and some last minute planning.

In Touws River we reported to Adelaide at the reception desk of the Loganda Karoo Lodge and after being assigned our rooms and unloading gear we would not need we headed for the sports grounds where the Makadas Country Festival was to take place. Once there we quickly located Karin one of the three kingpins around whom most of the organization for the Festival had revolved; the other two being Deon Steyl and Willie Marais. She pointed out the site we had been allocated and we started to set up the gazebo, banners and telescopes.

The Star People stand at the Makadas Country Festival.  Lorenzo fitted with a solar filter on the left
The Star People stand at the Makadas Country Festival. Lorenzo fitted with a solar filter on the left
The big tent where all the performers did their thing
The big tent where all the performers did their thing
Inside the big tent it was country, country and more country
Inside the big tent it was country, country and more country
Country all the way there and back in the big tent
Country all the way there and back in the big tent
The local Supermarket was a big sponsor and made sure everyone noticed that
The local Supermarket was a big sponsor and made sure everyone noticed that

Here is some background to this Country Festival’s rather unusual name for the unenlightened reader. The railway line from Cape Town to Johannesburg traverses relatively flat terrain as far as Worcester and then begins to gain altitude. Initially relatively slowly until it passes De Doorns and then there is a long climb up through the tunnels to the top of the Hex Pass. In the days when trains were pulled by steam engines a long climb like that required lots of steam and to produce that used a lot of water. Touws River originally came into being as a station where the steam locomotives could replenish their water supply before the long haul through the Karoo to Beaufort-West. So the town was in every sense a railway town and even administered by the South African Railways up to a point in the 1950’s. The electrification of the railways and the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives brought the steam era to a close and also reduced the importance of Touws River for the South African Railways and they began a process of staff reduction.

Apart from the main line a rural line also operated from Touws River to Ladismith.  This line was opened in 1925 and was, in many ways a life line for the farming communities along the route; it delivered and collected letters and packages; took cans of milk to the dairy in Ladismith and returned the empty cans; conveyed farm produce and farming equipment and, of course, transported people.  There are many tales of the train stopping, on request, in the middle of nowhere to drop of a passenger or goods of some sort and also of people flagging down the train because they had to go to either Ladismith or Touws River. These slow trains were also known in Afrikaans as “Melktreine” or “Milk Trains” because they quite literally stopped everywhere along the route to pick up cans of milk.

This train became known locally as the Makadas. Obviously this was not a line that was ever going to be electrified and neither was it a line generating a large profit for the Railways so eventual closure was probably unavoidable. Then Mother Nature provided the Railways with a perfectly watertight reason for closing the line; the great flood of January 1981. This flood decimated Laingsburg, Montagu and large sections of the Karoo on either side of the Buffels, Touws and Groot Rivers washing away farms, entire orchards and also about 50 km of the approximately 144 km railway line between Touws River and Ladismith.  Despite protestations and numerous appeals by many people and organizations the Makadas line went to a watery grave never to be resurrected. There are several versions about the origin of the name and none of them are really verifiable so I will give them all here.

A stand with wooden toys featured a Makadas model
A stand with wooden toys featured a Makadas model

The locomotives that exclusively worked the line from 1925 to 1968 were Class  7 locomotives and they had a very distinctive sound which was totally different from their successors, the Class 24’s that made their appearance in 1968 and eventually took over completely in 1972.  Makadas is, according to one source an onomatopoeic word representing the Class 7’s distinctive sound.

The second explanation of the name is linked to the fact that the train regularly carried loads of dry manure which was smelly and gave of a very fine dust. In the early years of its operation the train crews were all English speaking and they apparently referred to it as the “Muck and dust” train because of this specific freight.  Afrikaans speaking people are known for their tendency to mangle words from other languages until they sound vaguely Afrikaans so it would not have been difficult to convert “muck and dust” to Makadas.

The conductor of the Makadas used to walk up and down the platform urging slow moving passengers along by shouting “Make a dash” and this too would have been easy for the Afrikaans ear to convert to Makadas.  The “Make a dash” is also attributed to the fact that passengers waiting for the train would sit under trees, often situated some distance from where the train would stop and, when the approaching train was heard or seen they would “Make a dash” for the siding, halt or station.

We put Lorenzo up and fitted its solar filter and we were soon in business showing interested parties the Sun and the sunspots.  Later in the afternoon we also had the moon to show people and, as the Sun set we set Maphefo up too. Maphefo had not been set up for Solar viewing because I had forgotten the solar filter. By the time it should have been dark we realized that there was no way it was ever going to really be dark because of the floodlights around the sports grounds and the extra lighting that had been erected for the Festival. So we had the Moon, Saturn situated about 10 degrees away from a particularly bright spotlight, the Pointers, Mars, Antares, three of the stars in Crux and a few other objects. By 21:30 the stream of viewers had dwindled to a drop or two here and there so we packed up.  Security at the site was excellent so we left all our banners, tables and chairs on site and headed for the Loganda to get some well-earned rest.

Group photos are the in thing at events like this
Group photos are the in thing at events like this
Viewing the Moon during daytime was a novelty for most people
Viewing the Moon during daytime was a novelty for most people
Lorenzo takes a break from solar viewing
Lorenzo takes a break from solar viewing
Thse guys are part of the cleaning staff that patrolled the grounds and kept everything super clean
These guys are part of the cleaning staff that patrolled the grounds and kept everything super clean
These guys new where the stars were so I must have been pointing something else out
These guys from Drie Kuilen private reserve knew where the stars were so I must have been pointing something else out
Light pollution was really terrible
Light pollution was really terrible
This spotlight was one of several that turned night int day
This spotlight was one of several that turned night into day

On Saturday morning we started the day by setting up Hans van der Merwe’s water rocket and what a hit that was.  Everybody wanted to help refuel, fetch the rocket pull the “firing-string” and in general, get involved.  Lorenzo did duty as a solar scope all day and by the time sunset approached all three of us were quite fed-up with showing the Sun. We were all three “medium-rare” after spending the whole day out in the Sun.  We decided to pack away everything except the two telescopes so that we would not need to do so in the dark when it was time to go home. An important aspect of the Festival was how clean everything was. There were small teams of cleaners doing the rounds on a regular basis.  They picked up every scrap of anything lying around and put it refuse bags they carried with them.  The same applied to the toilets where a team come round on a regular basis and made sure nothing was blocked, thet the tanks were full and that there was enough paper. Ten out of ten for the organizers of the festival on these two counts.

The water rocket was a lot of fun and is very easy to make
The water rocket was a lot of fun and is very easy to make
Everybody wanted to be part of the rocket launching
Everybody wanted to be part of the rocket launching
Auke retreats in expectation of the blast from the lift-off
Auke retreats in expectation of the blast from the lift-off
The yellow cones indicate distances travelled with different amounts of water and different pressures
The yellow cones indicate distances travelled with different amounts of water and different pressures
The rocket on the launch-pad
The rocket on the launch-pad

 

Ear protection was not essential but this young rocket scientist felt he should wear some
Ear protection was not essential but this young rocket scientist felt he should wear some
Some viewers were too short to reach the eyepiece and we had forgotten to bring a stepladder
Some viewers were too short to reach the eyepiece and we had forgotten to bring a stepladder
Finding the Sun with a Dobby is actually quite tricky, believe it or not
Finding the Sun with a Dobby is actually quite tricky, believe it or not

After sunset we had both Lorenzo and Maphefo set up to view the Moon and the few other objects visible under the heavily light polluted conditions. By 21:00 we had run out of viewers and decided to head for the Loganda, supper and sleep. Snorre spent both days sleeping in his carry cage under the tables in the gazebo and only needed one or two excursions to the nearest sandy patch to relieve himself during the day. Our room in the Loganda had a wide windowsill and he spent two very frustrating mornings there watching the pigeons parade up and down on the outside windowsill, totally unperturbed by his whisker twitching presence on the other side of the glass.

The viewers were already gathering as Auke unpacked Maphefo
The viewers were already gathering as Auke unpacked Maphefo
Just check out the Light pollution levels as Auke and Lynnette operate Maphefo and Lorenzo
Just check out the Light pollution levels as Auke and Lynnette operate Maphefo and Lorenzo
Lynnette and Lorenzo actually managed to show people Saturn.  No mean feat if you consider there was a spotlight about 10 degrees away from Saturn
Lynnette and Lorenzo actually managed to show people Saturn. No mean feat if you consider there was a spotlight about 10 degrees away from Saturn
Auke demonstrating to viewers that  Maphefo can view terrestrial objects a well
Auke demonstrating to viewers that Maphefo can view terrestrial objects as well
And this is our next outreach vehicle.
And this is our next outreach vehicle.

After breakfast we returned home to the usual grind of unpacking and packing away and wondering if it was really worth all the trouble. Despite all those doubts we will do it all again.

Talk at the Hermanus Astronomy Centre – 02 October 2014

Once upon a time when the Western Cape was young …

A tale about why everything isn’t just flat everywhere.

On Thursday 02nd of October Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Hermanus.  The first port of call was Lee’s new place in Sandbaai where Snorre was confined to his carry box, because we were uncertain what the reception from Lee’s three resident felines would be. All went very well but, just to be on the safe side, we confined Snorre to Lee’s spare bedroom when the three of us left to have supper with Pierre de Villiers, the chairman of the Hermanus Centre.

The three resident "Moon Cats"at Lee's place
The three resident “Moon Cats” at Lee’s place

After a pleasant meal at Lemon Butta and some impromptu whale watching we headed out to the SANSA (South African National Space Agency).  They are housed in the buildings of the erstwhile Hermanus Magnetic Observatory.

The whale festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales  were there doing their thing
The Hermanus Whale Festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales were there doing their thing
Just a puff of vapour and a section of  its back hints at the presence of the whale
Just a puff of vapour and a section of its back hints at the presence of the whale
A big splash of its giant tail
A big splash of its giant tail
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives

Pierre introduced me and I then presented my talk. This covered the geological origins of the Western Cape and I took the audience in a time journey from the deposition of the sediments forming the Malmesbury shales in the Adamastor Ocean through to the present. Along the way we stopped of briefly to look at the formation of the Agulhas Sea, sedimentation of the material that forms the Cape Fold Belt Mountains, the folding and uplifting of those sediments and eventually the breakup of Gondwana and subsequent erosion down to its present day appearance.

Pierre de Villiers introducing me
Pierre de Villiers introducing me
The title slide of my talk
The title slide of my talk
Members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
Some of the members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk

After the talk we stopped off at Lee’s place for coffee and to collect Snorre.  Then we headed home to Brackenfell and packed for the weekend’s activities at the Makadas Country Festival in Touw’s River.

Snorre in his "I am taking over" pose at Lee's place.
Snorre in his “I am taking over” pose at Lee’s place.