Some weeks ago my friend Connor invited me to join him for a visit to the Pietermaritzburg Model Engineering Society (PMES) and since I had never visited the venue before I decided to take him up on his offer. Located in the quiet middle class suburb of Bisley in Pietermaritzburg, the Model Engineering Society was founded way back in 1922, but went through an extensive period of inactivity before being resurrected in the 1970s.
After using various venues, including members’ homes for meetings, it was decided that a permanent site had to be found at which a miniature train track could be laid and normal club activities could take place. After an intensive search for a suitable venue the present site at 78 Rudling Road was identified culminating in the signing of a 25-year lease with the Pietermaritzburg City Council in 1985.
After an extensive amount of work, which included the levelling of what was in effect a series of dongas and heaps of builders’ rubble, 250m of track was laid and steam train rides started on the first Sunday of November 1987. This portion of track is known as the “inner circuit” and was followed nine years later by the establishment of the “outer circuit” which consisted of 450m of track laid over a period of just four months.
In fact, 1996 was a watershed year for the Pietermaritzburg Model Engineering Society. Not only did it herald the building of a second track it also resulted in the establishment of a foot bridge and a ticket office culminating in the hosting of the National Model Engineering Society Meet, which was an overwhelming success. The proceeds of the meet allowed the PMES to construct a tunnel which is probably the most appealing feature of the ride for passengers both old and young.
In 2001, a third section of track was built increasing the overall length of the track to just under a kilometre. The PMES’ grounds, track and facilities rank amongst the best in the world and they not only aim to keep it this way, but also hope to continue making improvements and additions.
After a tour of the premises I was certainly impressed with what I saw. The lawns were all neatly trimmed and there was plenty of shade under which to sit and relax and enjoy a cool drink or two. But of course the real attraction were the immaculately turned out miniature locomotives which looked liked mini replicas of the massive steam trains of yesteryear.
Both adults and children can enjoy a ride on anyone of four locomotives which are powered either by steam or by diesel fuel and after going for two flips around the near one kilometre track I could see why this venue has become so popular for visitors both young and old. Although the rides are by no means exhilarating they are unquestionably interesting as the trains negotiate sharp bends, cross bridges (one of which is nine metres long) and travel through tunnels. With each locomotive clearly distinguishable from another everyone had their favourites and at times it was difficult to discern who was having more fun, the children or their parents.
The PMES is a unique venue that offers families a safe and affordable (each ride costs just R5) way to have fun together while appreciating the beauty of nature and enjoying the ingenuity of man at the same time. The attention to detail found in the locomotives as well as ‘Old Clem’ (the resident steam powered tractor) has to be seen to be appreciated and I can only wonder how long it must have taken their builders to shape them into the finished products they are today.
This venue is open to the public on the first Sunday of every month from 10am till 4pm (train rides are from 10.30am till 3.30pm) and for those who often forget their lunch at home you’ll be pleased to know that a variety of cool drinks and eats are always on sale. The PMES also hosts birthday parties and private functions on request. It’s a venue that truly has something for everyone and is not to be missed.
Telephone: +27 (0)33 344 2327 (Charles)
Address: 78 Rudling Road, Bisley, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal