The Museum That Will Blow You Away ... Literally

The Museum That Will Blow You Away ... Literally

Wind pumps on display in Loeriesfontein, South Africa.

SourceAndy Bytheway/CC

Why you should care

Because Loeriesfontein’s worth a visit just for this.

Nimric. Star. Dandy. Hercules. Atlas. Mogul. Beatty Pumper. These are just some of the names of the 31 well-oiled wind pumps that scatter the grounds of the Fred Turner Museum in tiny Loeriesfontein, South Africa. Trying to think of the second-coolest thing to do in this dusty, windswept dorp (Afrikaans for “town”) may take a while. But there’s no doubt that the wind pump display is Loeriesfontein’s No. 1 attraction.

Before you ask, let’s clear one thing up. Windmills harness wind power to grind corn or wheat into flour. Wind pumps make use of exactly the same principle to draw groundwater to the surface. “Without wind pumps, much of South Africa’s parched hinterland wouldn’t be habitable,” explains Floors Brand, the chairman of the committee of volunteers that keeps the museum going.

The display at Loeriesfontein is one of only three in the world (the others are in Texas and Canada), and there’s a lot more to it than trippy photo ops of flotillas of steel sails navigating cloudless skies — although those are an obvious draw.

Your guide will turn up to regale you with fascinating tales of the hardships faced by the trekboers and heartfelt stories about favorite wind pumps.

Entrance to the museum is free (but donations are very welcome), and it is open all year round, Monday to Saturday. That said, there are two very distinct “seasons.” In August and September, the museum is open from 9 to 5. This is when huge swaths of South Africa’s west coast erupt in a magnificent floral display of oranges, yellows, whites and pinks, drawing visitors from all over the world. It’s no accident that the Hantam region is named after a Khoi word meaning “mountains where the bulbs grow.”

For the other 10 months of the year, the museum is unstaffed. But there’s a list of names on the gate you can call, and, minutes later — there’s no such thing as gridlock in Loeriesfontein — your guide will turn up to regale you with fascinating tales of the hardships faced by the trekboers (nomadic farmers of mostly Dutch descent) and heartfelt stories about favorite wind pumps.

The indoor component of the museum has previously housed a hospital, a school and a Baptist church — the bland, tiled immersion font looks rather odd among all the family bibles, traditional furniture and ox wagons. There’s even a rhino skull in there.

Flowers Loeriesfontein

Spring flowers at Loeriesfontein

Source Gezina Louw/CC

The wind pumps occupy a smallish patch of scrubland at the back of the museum. The collection, a good variety of specimens, has been donated from all over South Africa and lovingly reassembled by a local mechanic. Some of the oldest pumps on display are not wind-powered — one is driven by donkeys, others are hand-operated. The museum’s oldest pump is an 1892 Dandy, which was manufactured in Batavia, Illinois. With the exception of the locally manufactured Gearing, most of the early wind pumps were imported — from America, Canada, England and Australia. That all changed when World War II broke out and the local industry was born. Since then, the Climax, a British pump adapted for South African conditions and manufactured under license, has dominated the South African market. Between 1944 and 1973 alone, 150,000 units were sold.

Over the years, I must have driven past at least half that number, but this is the first time I’ve ever given them much thought. Road trips are about to get a whole lot more interesting for me.

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