Steam Whistle Stop still on track

The Steam Whistle Stop at the Sedgefield Station no longer sees the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe stopping at its door twice daily, but the owners remain positive. Photo: Fran Kirsten.

SEDGEFIELD NEWS - Joe and Louisa Groenewald had left their lucrative jewellery manufacturing business in Pretoria to provide a better quality of life for them and their two children. Little did they know that they would be faced with a daunting fight for their economic survival in the first African Cittaslow town, Sedgefield.
 
"We were always so busy with our businesses that we never had time to listen to the stories our children wanted to share. Always saying, 'I'll listen when I get home', and of course when we'd finally get home, the children were already asleep and we'd never get to hear those precious stories," said Louisa.
 
On realising in 1997, that they were drifting apart as a family, they packed up their Pretoria home, bought the Steam Whistle Stop at the Sedgefield Station and moved to the small town. "Living in Sedgefield provided a wonderful life, the children played games in the street and our business blossomed with the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe stopping right on our doorstep twice daily."
 
Then in 2006 torrential rains came down and with it started the Groenewalds' long struggle to keep their business afloat. "Although we knew that the track had been damaged we never in our wildest dreams thought that it wouldn't be fixed," Louisa said. "Nobody really told us that those rains meant the end of the Choo-Tjoe's trips between George and Knysna. We just heard it via the grapevine."
 
In the blink of an eye the couple lost 68% of their income. "It was very hard on Joe, being the head of the household. He worried about the future of our children. Our son Marcel was in matric at the time and thank God he received bursaries to go on to complete his BCom degree. Kaylee was already studying at the hotel school so she didn't need funds from us to continue her studies."
 
Without the train's commuters the Groenewalds had to look to the locals to make their business survive. "I was 45 years old and realised that we just couldn't start again at our age. The economy was in such shambles we could not start our jewellery business again. It is a dangerous game to be in and far too risky. While we had previously acted more as a kiosk for the commuters, we know had to extend our business to include breakfasts and lunches."
 
Joe took to the streets and stood on corners making and selling boerewors rolls to supplement the couple's income. "It was dreadful to see him standing there day in and day out. After a year I just said 'no more'."
 
The Groenewalds say that if it were not for their Faith, the love and caring of the Sedgefield community and The Wild Oats Farmers' Market, they would never have survived.
 
Nine years after the Choo-Tjoe stopped chugging past their pretty little restaurant the Groenewalds are still there, Monday to Saturday. "It still surprises and thrills us when international tourists, who had commuted on the train pop into our shop. They recall buying one of our famous pies and tell us how impressed they are that we survived the tragedy of the train no longer running," Louisa said.
 
In encouragement to other business owners who may be struggling to keep their businesses afloat, Joe said: "Stay positive and take one day at a time. Eventually you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Be consistent in everything you do. Do not run around like a headless chicken (even though you feel like one). Whatever you do, don't look back at what was, you will not only lose your entire day, but will miss the doors that are opening up right in front of you."
 
Louisa concluded: "Today, life is much clearer than ever before. We do what we have to, to survive. This here [The Steam Whistle Stop] is our baby, we have put everything we have got into this. We never want to leave Sedgefield or our baby behind."
 
 
Despite the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe's trips, which had sustained Sedgefield's Steam Whistle Stop, stopping in 2006, the little restaurant still operates. Photographed is Joe Groenewald delivering a meal.  
 
 
Although the kitchen at the Sedgefield station's Steam Whistle Stop is small, the meals prepared in it are full of flavour. From left are Nelisa Falentsini, Pumla Mbaligontsi and Louisa Groenewald. 
 
 
From left: Pumla Mbaligontsi, Nelisa Falentsini, Louisa and Joe Groenewald and (not photographed) Silvia Khulu warmly greet all visitors to the Steam Whistle Stop at the Sedgefield Station. They remain positive even though the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe no longer supplements their income. 
 
ARTICLE AND PHOTOS: FRAN KIRSTEN, KNYSNA PLETT HERALD CORRESPONDENT.
 
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