Over 80 years of involvement with the community and farmers in East Griqualand and Transkei
In early 1924 a young man, called Denis Louis Byrne arrived in New Amalfi to erect a windmill for a Mr. Wallis. His mode of transport was the evening train from Pietermaritzburg, which arrived before sun up. He worked for a British Company called Stewarts and Lloyds who were involved in the importation supply and installation of windmills, power generation, and water supply for farmers traders and villages in South Africa.
Denis Byrne was a descendent of an 1820 Settler and the grand nephew of Joseph Byrne who brought out the Byrne Settlers who settled around Richmond in Kwa Zulu Natal. He grew up in Harrismith during the Afrikaner Revolution and the First World War. It was very difficult economically and his father who was a bricklayer by trade and had to walk or hitch rides on goods trains to find work in Pietermaritzburg.
The equipment was delivered by goods train and transported to site by the farmers ox wagons. A windmill took approximately five days and then it was back to Pietermaritzburg for weekend. This work continued up to the outbreak of the Second World War. The mode of transport had progressed from a motorbike to Chevrolet Motor Cars that were traded in every year or when they reached 60 000 miles There were no tarred roads in those days and the vehicles took a beating. East Griqualand was off the beaten track and farming activity was mainly wool and the farmers lucky enough to have farms near to the railway line sent cream to Pietermaritzburg on the morning train. The transport of meat products was very difficult due to the lack of suitable refrigeration. Cattle had to be transported by train on the hoof to the abattoirs in the cities. The traders and the missions were the main customers for the products sold by Stewarts and Lloyds.
The call to serve ones country is always strong and Denis Byrne was no exception and he was soon on his way to do basic army training at Roberts Heights outside Pretoria. He was older than the normal recruit and being a technician he was seconded to the 27 th Water Company of the South African Engineers. He was soon on his way to Durban aboard a train and they embarked on a troopship to Mombasa in Kenya. The South African Army advanced into Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia) and eventually defeated the Italian Army. The engineers had to supply water and electricity to the front line soldiers and they often came under fire when the enemy advanced unexpectedly.
He was then sent back to South Africa where they were re-equipped and sent to Egypt to fight the Italians and the Germans who were called the desert rats and were commanded by the famous German General Erwin Rommel. He received a Mentioned in Dispatches for extricating a column of vehicles when the Allies were forced to retreat from Tobruk. He was also present when the Allies advanced from El Alamein, which was one of heaviest Artillery bombardments in history. He was then seconded to the Royal Engineers as a Sergeant Major were he was required to set up water supply points during the advance into Libya and Tunisia. The Allies then advanced into Sicily and the Italian mainland and he was put in command of a Cement Factory outside Naples that had to supply 20 000 tons of cement a week to the Allied Army in order to rebuild the bridges and structures that had been destroyed by the retreating Germans. He also achieved one of his ambitions in life, which was to attend an opera at the La Scala Theatre in Rome.
The Second World War ended in 1945 and it was back to civilian life and in the meantime he had married Lilian Doris Davies who was the daughter of one of the last Tea Clipper Captains who had retired to farm at Golden Gate in the Orange Free State. The Tea Clippers were fast sailing ships that transported tea from India to Great Britain and manufactured goods back to India and Australia making use of the trade winds.
In 1948 Denis Byrne was transferred to Kokstad as a representative for Stewarts and Lloyds and during he wool boom in the early nineteen fifties he and his staff installed a large number of Lister Lighting Plants, Windmills and Diesel driven Borehole Pumps for a large number of farmers who had become wealthy due to the booming wool price. Dairy farming became a viable enterprise and the first Alfa Laval Bucket milking machines were installed, driven by Lister Diesel Engines and on farm cooling became a reality.
The pulsating Rainbird Sprinkler was being imported from the United States and Ames portable irrigation pipes were being imported from Australia to irrigate the growing number of pastures. The economy of he region improved over the following years and three children were born to the family.
Stewarts and Lloyds was a very dynamic company and the regional manager was an ex bomber pilot during the Second World War. Colonel van der Spuy had his own pilot and he flew to the various branches and in his region. In one incident on a visit to Lusikisiki he mist came down and the pilot who was already on his way back to Kokstad had to follow the main road to find his way back to Kokstad at tree top height. There were some very nervous passengers who disembarked at the Kokstad Airstrip. On another occasion on a return trip to Virginia Airport in Durban the nose wheel failed to engage. A very brave Flight Sergeant from the South African Air Force leapt on to the tail plane from the back of a truck which followed the aeroplane down the runway as it landed. He managed to prevent the aeroplane being damaged and the occupants from being injured.
Denis Byrne had two full time windmill mechanics in his employ and a lot of farmers will remember these gentlemen as being rather special people. One erector was known as Jan Hammer, as every thing could be fixed with a few lusty blows with a four-pound hammer. Stewarts And Lloyds had a very active training scheme and every six months a very nervous new trainee would arrive in Kokstad. They left Kokstad a lot wiser having been exposed to the customers and a lot more confident. They went on to qualify as engineers and many of them run their own businesses today.
In 1969 Denis Byrne reached the age of 65 and as with all corporate companies this means retirement and with the lack of a suitable replacement and the poor economic conditions at the time it was decided to close the Stewarts and Lloyds Branch in Kokstad. The intention was to service the area from Pietermaritzburg with a representative. Denis Byrne had in the mean time established a carnation nursery and was going to supplement his pension by supplying flowers to the local community. This was not to be as the telephone rang non-stop and the plans for the carnation nursery had to be put on the back burner.
Tube and Product Distributors was established on 20 July 1969, the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, the business was set up in the old premises of Stewarts and Lloyds situated at 45 Barclay Street in Kokstad, which had been the old milk depot. The building belonged to Dr Lewis and as the rent of R 60,00 per month was a little expensive it was decided to share the premises with an ex employee who ran a field service organization.
Times were tough but thanks to the excellent support from the local farmers and business community the business grew and a counter assistant named Bernard had to be employed. Lilian Byrne, who had been retrenched from a large wholesaler, as the bookkeeper, followed him. The next employee was Ralph Sampson who is still employed by the company and controls the small engine section to the present day. Ralph is always willing to help and he has mastered the art of stainless steel welding. This led one client to comment that his welding is better than welding produced under factory conditions.
The nineteen seventies brought about the arrival of Eskom that spread its fingers into the rural community and this meant huge economic improvement to rural areas. Farmer could enjoy the comforts of electrified households, on farm cooling of milk could now be carried out instead of relying on diesel power. The electrically driven irrigation scheme had arrived and the possibilities were endless The first schemes had portable pipes which had to be moved three times a day and required a lot of labour. The dragline followed, first with the scattered system, which was cheaper but very difficult to manage. This led to the full line dragline system that has endured to the present day but is being phased out by more modern methods.
Patrick Byrne joined the business in 1974 having completed his schooling at St Aidans College in Grahamstown, a year in the Naval Gymnasium at Saldanha Bay. This had been followed by seven years of training with Stewarts and Lloyds, which included a higher national diploma in mechanical engineering.
The percussion drilling rigs had replaced the old stamper drills that took anything up to a month to construct a borehole. A borehole could now be drilled within twenty-four hours and the use of boreholes for irrigation became a reality. William Green on the Cedarville Flats became one of the first farmers to use boreholes to irrigate pastures. The number of production boreholes on the flats haves increased dramatically and it will soon be to monitor this valuable resource and the concerned parties will need to protect it for future generations.
The first pivots arrived in the late nineteen eighties, but they did not become a major method of irrigation until the late nineteen nineties when labour laws were tightened. Farmers margins called for a more efficient method of irrigation became necessary. Tube and Product Distributors acquired the Valley pivot franchise and have installed over seventy machines in the area to date. The demand for this very efficient machine has been curtailed by the on going drought and poor economic conditions. Droughts and floods are phenomena of our country, but the protracted drought that is the worst in living memory, continues to be a rather worrying factor. Valley pivots were developed in the United States of America over fifty years ago are thoughly tested before being released onto the market and the application rate can be controlled to make the best use of precious water resources.
Kippy Bryden is an icon of farming in East Griqualand and is one of the major clients. He started in the late sixties on his fathers farm, Waterfall situated eight kilometers from Kokstad, He started with twenty heifers a small Lister Diesel driven irrigation scheme and a small Delaval bucket milking machine. Nearly forty years later he irrigates nearly four hundred hectares of pastures and maize in order to provide food for his dairy herd. Five Valley Centre Pivots are used to irrigate the pastures and the maize when necessary. Over 20 000 litres of milk is produced every day and is extracted by two forty unit DeLaval milking machines. Kippy is ably assisted by wife Ingy his two sons Tigger, Rory and his daughter Gay. They are now a major employer in the area and are huge benefit to the whole community.
The lack of profit in beef farming and the problems with theft of sheep led farmers to look for other sources of income. Cabbages and potatoes became a good source of income and one of the leaders is Mark Dorning who introduced washed potatoes to the area and delivering large truck loads to the Markets around the country. This has now become a major industry with a growing number of farmers sourcing their income from vegetable farming.
The growth of the middle class in the area and in the former Transkei has become a major source for produce in the area and there are a number of projects, such as apples and peaches under shade cloth. Tomatoes, cucumbers and a variety of food crops are produced in tunnels. A cut flower project is on the verge of completion for the previously disadvantaged community and with correct management could become one of the major income producers of the future.
Dairy farming has always been the backbone of farming in this area and the trend over the last few years has become bigger and bigger and the number of farmers with large herds is growing exponentially. Herringbone Parlours could accommodate the large herds of three hundred cows and more. The herds are now increasing and the bigger DeLaval Rotary milking machines have put in their appearance. These machines allow the operator to observe all the cows while standing in one place. Mr. Chris Pretorius, who farms near Franklin, recently installed the first of these modern machines.
The third generation of staff at Tube and Product Distributors is now making itself felt in the area as we are leaders and innovators in our field of supplying irrigation equipment, milking machines, borehole pumps and other equipment related to water supply.
We are an accredited supply and service centre for KSB Pumps, Mono Pumps, Orbit Pumps, Grundfos Pumps, Pedrollo Pumps and a host of other products related to the water provision industry. We have recently acquired the Yamaha agency for engines, generators and water pumps.
We have recently semi privatized the majority of our workshop staff who now provide their own expertise and are remunerated directly for the labour that they generate. This means that they have a direct interest in the profitability of the company and as a result the quality of their work has improved.