Encounter with The Beast


“The Hilux can be temperamental, the electrics need some work, but it’s the farm workhorse.” Isaac’s words rang in my ears.

Volunteering to drive the Toyota 35 kilometres to town to collect the post and a drum of kerosene had seemed the least I could do to help. The euphemism “farm workhorse” conjured up the image of a trusty old vehicle, nurtured and maintained.

The reality was a chassis with wheels, three of which appeared to align with the Planets. As I drove down the farm track the wind ruffled my hair (the side windows had dropped out long ago), the speedometer needle wafted at imaginary flies (real ones had already jumped ship) and the fabled Toyota leaf suspension soon had my kidneys prepped up for a Heston Blumenthal dish.

Arriving outside the post office in the one street town of Reivilo, South Africa, I was so relieved to come to a halt that I turned off the engine and removed the key. Mistake!

There is nothing quite like the feeling of turning an ignition key in a strange vehicle in the middle of nowhere and hearing the sound of silence! Fortunately Isaac had given me the solution to what he suspected was an “intermittent” electrical fault, I just had to open the bonnet and waggle the red battery cable.

As the gathering of locals grew to Soccer City Soweto proportions (there is not much on TV in Reivilo, in fact there may not be a transmitter mast) I strolled nonchalantly to the bonnet and spent 10 increasingly frantic minutes releasing the clasp. Relieved to see there was at least an engine I gave the red cable an affectionate waggle, casually got back in the car, acknowledged the admiration of the audience, turned the key…silence!

It took sometime to realise that the Toyota key on the ring was not the correct key, the ignition key was, of course, marked Mann Diesel. Then, in switching between keys I inadvertently managed to engage the steering wheel lock! To the casual observer (and there were now plenty) it might have looked as though a crazy white man was trying to steal the steering wheel.

So then, 30 minutes in to the impromptu street theatre and I was back at the beginning. All I needed to do now was start the car! With smug satisfaction I regarded my audience for the final time and turned the key. More silence!

It was then that I remembered Isaac’s Plan B…. “Give any part of the engine that looks electrical a thump” Now this turned out to be a real crowd pleaser, street vendors were soon doing a roaring trade in pap (maize porridge) and gravy.

Brimming with confidence after venting my frustrations on every part of the engine, (non-electrical as well as electrical), I skipped back in to the driver’s seat, turned the key, and the suitably chastened Toyota spluttered to life, then died!

The crowd, sensing an interval, took the opportunity for a ‘comfort’ break and more sustenance, I slumped over the wheel. I then recalled Isaac’s last shouted instruction regarding the “farm workhorse”, “Don’t forget to press the black button underneath the dashboard, this overrides the anti-theft fuel cut off device”.

Anti theft device? If I was Isaac and I encountered a car thief who could start this motor in less than 45 minutes I’d employ them as the farm mechanic!

Finding the “little black button” was akin to the hunt for the ‘G-spot’. Many a time I thought I was pressing it, only to find I was in the wrong area. Eventually by kneeling in the road and adopting an appropriate praying posture I found it and much to the disappointment of the street vendors the Beast started!

Laughing inanely with relief and trying to adopt the countenance of a ‘been there, seen it, done it’ Afrikaans cattle farmer, I happily drove back down the main street. OK so it may have been the biggest event in town since the lead mine closed but I was on my way.

The Wesmark Farm Co-Operative building soon loomed in to view so I drove in, confidence brimming, picking up the mail was a distraction, it was time to fill the 210 litre drum with kerosene.

Being a law abiding Brit I naturally noticed and obeyed the big red lettered instruction sign on the containment wall holding the kerosene tank.

“Kakel asseblief you enjin”

(Please Turn off Your Engine)

R Spilsbury

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