New home for the Atom Museum

Legendary Richmond collection inspires music video

By Therese Owen

We heard the rumbling trucks going up the hill early one Saturday morning. I went outside and joined my husband on the patio. “It’s over,” he said, with sadness in his voice. “The Atom Museum is over.”

We watched as the empty flatbed trucks wound up the hill towards the home that once belonged to Malcolm Anderson, and his passion, The Atom Museum. The trucks confirmed the rumours. The Atom Museum was moving to Baynesfield, to its new home at the Natal Vintage Tractor and Engine Club (NVTEC).

Over the next few weeks the trucks transported ancient train engines, tractors, pieces of equipment that only the trained eye could identify and, finally, a war tank and a tiny plane.

Shockwaves

“We tried to keep it going up there,” explained Hugh Turner, a close friend and permanent trustee of The Atom Museum. “However, we realised that with Malcom gone, it was impractical to oversee everything. The venue is too remote for us to manage.”

The move to Baynesfield comes three years after Anderson was shot and killed by an employee, who then turned the gun on himself. His death sent shockwaves through the small town of Richmond in the Midlands, and the world over. People travelled from as far afield as Germany and Australia to attend his funeral.

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Anderson was well loved in his community as a humanitarian who went out of his way to help others.

His love of historical machinery began in about 2002 when he was exhibiting at The Royal Show. The NVTEC had a stall opposite his and the rest is history.

“From that day on he was unstoppable,” recalls Turner. “He travelled around South Africa and to places like Australia and New Zealand to bring back collectables. At the end, he had thousands of pieces, from World War 1 heliographs to blacksmith tools.”

In the main picture, above: One of the many and varied engines collected by Malcolm Anderson for his Atom Museum. Picture: Paige Owen

The new home for the collection is at the NVTEC in a specially purposed area called The Atom Shed.

This is in accordance with Anderson’s will, in which he instructed that if, after his death, it was not viable to maintain The Atom Museum in Byrne Valley, it must be relocated to the NVTEC.

In the large collection are two gas engines from the 1920s, as well as a jet engine from the private plane of Lennox Sebe, leader of the former Ciskei homeland.

“Sebe bought the plane only to find out that it had no permit to leave the Ciskei,” says Turrner, with a wry smile. “It ended up in a restaurant and then, years later, Malcom fetched it from Kei Mouth and carted it on his bakkie back up here.”

Mammoth task

About the move Turner confesses: “It has been such a mammoth task I sometimes felt like running away. There is so much that needs to be preserved. First and foremost are his treasured engines, from planes to trains to tractors. The very big engines, like the Stationary Steam Engine, are going into the Engine row. These engines will be run by master boilermaker Keith Stevens.”

Stevens will have his work cut out for him on The Atom Shed’s first open day at its new Baynesfield home. This takes place on the first weekend in December and is sure to be a delight for the whole family, even if you aren’t a petrol head.

Previous open days in Byrne Valley were very popular and a visit by Durban businessman and musician Winston Owen inspired him to write a song called Atom Tripping (watch the catchy song and music video featuring Winston Owen and vocals by Andrew Webster here).

Winston aptly captured the magic of the experience with lyrics like: “Our feet on the atom, liquid crystal and old machines…soldiers of fortune and make believe.”

Perhaps the chorus is most poignant… “1600 measures. We are nowhere, we’re in treasure, forever and ever.”

A screengrab from YouTube of the video “Atom Tripping”.

While The Atom Museum may no longer live 1600 metres above sea level, its new home at Baynesfield will ensure that the memory of Malcolm Anderson and his passion for the preservation of historical machinery lives on. Forever and ever.