Railway Station Bookworms

By Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit

“The conditions of railway life in South Africa lend themselves readily to the development of the railway bookworm,” says an unknown writer in the October 1906 issue of the South African Railway Magazine.

“Take the case of the man stationed out in the desert places of the Karoo. There is little or no local traffic and nothing to break the long monotony, except the occasional goods train which rarely stops and the passenger train with its one minute, just enough for the unfortunate hermit to hear the sarcastic queries of the passengers as to why they are stopping at this ‘infernal place.’

“He has very little work between trains, so he must find some occupation or recreation to spin out the long dreary hours. If he has any taste for liquor, then God help him. The records show how many poor fellows have gone to ruin owing to their inability to restrain the craving for drink.

“Where it exists, some seek the nearest female society and are frequently snared into the bonds of matrimony, often to their subsequent sorrow.

“Books are passed from station to station until they are backless, sideless and generally disintegrating. The guards and drivers of waiting trains come jumping into the office for reading matter and occasionally leave an old magazine or so to make up for their depredations.

“Reading is the best thing for a lonely man…”

  • For an insider’s view on life in the Karoo, get the Three-Book Special of Karoo Roads I, Karoo Roads II and Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa by Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais for only R720, including courier costs in South Africa. For more details, contact Julie at julie@karoospace.co.za

3 thoughts on “Railway Station Bookworms

  1. Burton Saunders says:

    Dear Julie – I am so glad to have discovered your website and all the amazing stuff you have posted about the Karoo.I dont know if you have heard of a mountain bike ride called the Freedom Challenge or RASA ( Ride across SA) – 2300 km of off road from PMB to Wellington – my son and I did this ride in 2012 over 22 days through many of the tiny towns you have described in your many books – what fantastic memories. I then circumnavigated the Karoo on sand roads on a motorcycle with my other son in 2018 following Nicholas Yell’s route from his book ” Circling the Great Karoo” Your books bring back so many vivid memories of these 2 fantastic rides.
    Thankyou for such a rich collecton that I can now add to my own.
    Burton Saunders.

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