If you should ever meet up with Queen Elizabeth II for tea, say, at Buckingham Palace, please ask her if she remembers a little Karoo railway station called Klipplaat. Remind her that she asked the local shopkeeper what brand of toothpaste he stocked.
Way back in 1947 when she was still a princess, the young Elizabeth stopped off at Klipplaat when the Royal Family were on their grand railroad tour of South Africa.
During SA’s golden century of rail travel, Klipplaat was a major junction. At one stage you could hardly move for all the comings and goings of the old steam behemoths heading for Cape Town, Port Elizabeth or up to Graaff-Reinet.
This was of great benefit to the local mohair and wool farmers wanting to ship their products to market, particularly in Port Elizabeth. In fact, there was a minor ostrich boom in the area for a while, and the rail system helped that business along too.
And when the Anglo-Boer War came along, Klipplaat was abuzz with British soldiers, quartermasters and mountains of military gear. Not far away lurked the mounted Boer units, waiting to disrupt this rail traffic any way they could. Hoping, of course, that the supplies on the trains included a case or two of Scotch whisky.
In 1979 the locomotives were phased out in favour of diesel and the little village went into decline. Today, there’s a rusty loco standing outside Klipplaat as a memorial to better days. Bikers and overlanders enjoying the wide landscapes of the Karoo often stop here and pose for photographs with the old train in background.
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