The Water Doctor of the Karoo

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Leon Swanepoel, the Wind Pump Man of the Upper Karoo.

The Water Doctor of the Karoo runs his wind pump surgery from what appears to be a scrapyard of controlled chaos in the town of Carnarvon.

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Spares carefully stacked in the wind pump workshop.

Machinists in the shop are constantly repairing old wind pump parts and, in a pinch, creating them from scratch. Running the show from the waist-high counter at what is jokingly called The Farmers’ Wind Pump Coffee Bar is the enigmatic Leon Swanepoel, who lovingly croons out the names of wind pumps he has known:

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Leon Swanepoel’s 3 Sunset Kings of the Karoo.

“Climax, Southern Cross, Dempster, Gypsy Wonder, Dandy, Star Zephyr, Lloyd’s Aermotor, Malcomess, Ace, Buffalo, Gearings, Springbok, Eclipse, Star Dunell’s, Baker, Mogul…”

He stops. Thinks for a while.

“Did I say Climax? They last almost forever, you know.”

You might think Leon and his crew are dinosaurs, working on obsolete technology. You would be wrong. Just drive around the area. Some farms have dozens of wind pumps whirring away, bringing up the precious water that means survival out here.

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The soft side of Leon Swanepoel…

Carnarvon itself used to have more than 100 wind pumps, and many of them still stand proud in backyards. The town’s groundwater is said to be the sweetest in the whole Karoo.

There’s nothing Leon hasn’t done with a wind pump over the past 53 years of his working life. He can break down a massive Climax and stack all the parts in the back of his little bakkie. He’s taken roots and bees out of boreholes. He’s removed heavy pumping gear from 50m below ground.

“Water is the soul of everything,” he says. “And wind pumps are the heart of the Karoo.”

 

  • Leon Swanepoel: Tel: 053 382 3404
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    Low light, a farm dam and a family of wind pumps…

 

The recently-published book is the perfect gift for someone with any link to the Karoo.lowcovers0002

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