Bulawayo: National Railway Museum
Bulawayo: National Railway Museum.
It is hard to get moving when there are people to entertain!
I left the hotel in reasonable time this morning, on my way to visit three museums in Bulawayo. My intentions were good. Then, I ended up walking past a place that was selling Johannesburg bus tickets…
I guess I am headed that direction so I went inside to inquire.
Two women were sitting at a desk. I told them silly stories and made them giggle for about an hour. I was having so much fun that I sort of lost track of time while I was teasing them. In the end, I found out that the bus from Bulawayo is $25 for 11 hours and it leaves at 16:00. I knew I needed to get going to some museums as the day was being eaten up, but then I got distracted trying to track down a printer to make some more Beaver stickers. It does not seem like I am going to get that done here. Nor am I going to be able to get my good camera fixed.
I ate some mopane worms at a market with ladies selling them and then stumbled upon a coal power plant in the middle of the city. If you think your city is ugly, you should see what one with a power station in the very center of it looks like. The power station was built in 1862 and has been running since.
I showed up at the power station to meet security and try and talk my way inside. There are four turbines in the station, but only two of them are in working order to make electricity. I told my new friends about the coal power station next to where I grew up, showed them photos of the power plant and photos of the coal mine. They were pumped to know that something similar existed in Canada. I asked if I would be able to have a look around. They seemed excited to give me a tour of the place. I had to go and register with reception first to get a pass. I made my way to the building they directed me to.
I walked right past the reception and I tried to start with the guys in the head offices first. I entered their open doors and told them who I was and showed them photos of the power plant in Coronach, Saskatchewan.
They were enthusiastic to know about our power station. I was sent to another office.
They sent me to the reception.
A local woman in her 50s who looked to be “all-business” and “play-by-the-rules” was behind the desk at reception. I had a feeling she was a dead end, which was why I skipped her in the first place.
She told me that it would take two weeks before I could be granted permission to get a pass. I asked her if that was her way of trying to get rid of me. She said it was standard government procedure. I did not believe her, considering everyone else had told me to just go and get a pass, but she was the decision maker and she had made one.
I left the office. I was disappointed. I would have loved to have been inside of that property…
So, I headed where I was originally going and made it to the National Railway Museum of Bulawayo. I entered the building to meet a wonderful elderly Zimbabwean gentleman named Gordon Murray in a cluttered office. Gordon, who spent 39 years working on the railways, describes, “…it was magic” when he speaks of his time on the job. I met a wonderful man to chat with, who was very passionate about what he does and has done. It was refreshing to meet a man like him.
I enjoyed my talk with Gordon so much that I asked him if he would guide me through the museum. He was happy to show me around. The museum has existed since 1972 and Gordon has been running it since sometime in the early 2000s. He began to explain some of the engines to me that were parked at the museum.
The highlight of the museum, besides the trains and engines themselves, was the information that Gordon supplied. He told me that a 7th class 1903 coal-powered steam-engine had 1,120,750 miles on it. I asked him if those old locomotives had odometers on them. Gordon explained that the people running the railways knew all of the distances from point A to point B. Every train engine had a journal for each of the journeys it made. That means that someone had taken the time to add up every trip that an engine had made over a 30+ year period to come up with that exact number from its historic journal. An impressive dedication to math to find the mileage on that engine! Another parked next to it had 1.6 million miles on it.
The other highlight for me was the Jack Tar engine from 1889. When the bridge was being built over the Zambezi River at Victoria falls, the engine arrived at the top of Southern Rhodesia, which was the name for Zimbabwe at the time. The engine was taken apart and sent across the gorge in pieces on a cable and reassembled in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) on the other side. It was the first engine to arrive in Northern Rhodesia. It was then used to help build the bridge from the northern side of the gorge. Once the bridge was completed, Jack Tar was the first engine to cross the Victoria Falls Friendship Bridge.
I departed the museum after a couple of hours, a better person for having a chance to meet Gordon Murray. If you are in Bulawayo, please stop by the museum to visit this soft spoken and polite man who loves his job so much that you do not even have to like trains to appreciate his amazing wealth of knowledge and dedication. Visiting with Gordon made my day today!