Cradock’s Windmill Crafters

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Ben Taks, one of the windmill crafters of Cradock.

Words and Photographs by Chris Marais

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the decades, dozens of crafters have fashioned the little Karoo windmills you see outside the towns of Cradock, Middelburg and Colesberg.

There is, however, one man who stands out as a legend among windmill-makers: Oom Das Mowers.

Oom Das, the ‘godfather’ of the Cradock crafters of old, died in 2002, and is still fondly spoken of.

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Young crafters learning the ‘trade’ at a model windmill store outside Cradock.

“Oom Das! He was a demon with a wire,” recalls Ben Taks, standing among his miniature spinning blades on the Cradock – Port Elizabeth road. “He didn’t even need a pair of pliers. Oom Das could just bend it into any shape he chose using his teeth. Ja, that was a man.”

The traditional Karoo wire-crafters’ circle numbers around 15 men. Theirs is a life of ‘feast and famine’. During the tourist seasons and holidays, business is brisk. Then, as with most little enterprises in the Karoo, when it’s quiet, it’s deadly.

The next time you buy a little roadside windmill, have a look at its components. Apart from the wire, you will see artfully-glued bottletops, parts of spray cans, coffee tins, window blinds and any number of items discarded on the rubbish dumps of a small Karoo town. And the costs of wire, paint and thinners are going up all the time. The crafters also say they need somewhere safe to work and store their products.

Hopefully the Karoo wire-crafter will be with us for generations to come…

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Take one home and you will never forget your stay in the Karoo.