Tom Hodgson explains the sheer engineering skills of wagon building employed by wagon builders in the early days. Exact replicas of ox wagons (on display) were built to scale by Tom and are no longer for sale as only 50 units were built and all have been sold, the strongest demand being the overseas market, as collector's pieces.
Retired insolvency practitioner, Tom Hodgson, who resides in Hoekwil, had an audience spellbound by anecdotes of the early pioneering days when ox wagons had to cross our treacherous Outeniqua mountains on wagons especially built to withstand the broad perspective of harsh conditions. The old toll house is an ideal venue as traces of the infamous Cradock Pass (completed in 1815)) can still be seen through a window of the old toll house and the toll house itself nestled on the Montagu Pass (completed in 1848) added to the authenticity of the occasion. It took three days to cross the Cradock Pass while many ox wagons had tumbled down the mountain slope as there were "steps" of 1,2m over which the wagons had to be pulled by no less than 18 oxen. Much later the Montagu Pass took 3 hours to cross but tested the wagon driver's skills to the limit having to negotiate all the sharp bends and "noutes" (narrow parts).
The engineering skills of early wagon builders are legendary in the Southern Cape area with the bonus of having various indigenous wood types available. Specific wood types were selected for different parts of the wagons as strength, flexibility, density and wood grain were factored into making the wagon withstand the harsh jarring and twisting while crawling over rocks and through deep crevices where no roads existed. The articulated suspension and ability to dismantle the "Kakebeenwa", then to be carried over unsurpassable sections were unique to the South African wagons. Running historically parallel to our trek into the hinterland were the pioneers of America who also trekked over the vast flat plains of the Wild West, but their wagons were not as versatile and of a more simple construction not having to face the initial rugged conditions we had to endure.
Fascinating too was the special bond developed between the oxen and the wagon drivers as the oxen would be called by their names, they would step forward and be harnessed into their usual order. More talks about this fascinating subject will be held in future.