Mutare Mu­seum's tourist spec­ta­cle

The Manica Post - - Education / Entertainment - Lib­erty Dube En­ter­tain­ment Cor­re­spon­dent

AS one ar­rives at the Mutare Mu­seum they are wel­comed by a gi­ant trac­tion en­gine stand­ing at an im­pos­ing height of about three me­tres. Vis­i­tors such as school-go­ing chil­dren are fas­ci­nated about this en­gi­neer­ing mas­ter class which rev­o­lu­tion­alised the lo­co­mo­tive industry and to­day proudly dom­i­nates the en­trance view to the mu­seum.

IT HAS be­come one of the ma­jor fea­tures at the mu­seum which draw scores of peo­ple from all walks of life.

A trac­tion en­gine is a self-pro­pelled steam en­gine used to move heavy loads on tracks. Re­gard­less of its sheer size and slow­ness trac­tion en­gines rev­o­lu­tion­alised agri­cul­ture and road haulage at a time when the only al­ter­na­tive prime mover was the draught horse and carts.

It is one of the two 1896 Bow McLach­lan trac­tion en­gines specif­i­cally made for the Man­ica Trad­ing Com­pany to trans­port goods from Chi­moio to Harare us­ing wag­ons in tow. Pow­ered by a two-cylin­der com­pound steam en­gine and steered by worm gear and chain, this ma­chine was later used for haulage on var­i­ous mines. For­merly on dis­play with the Min­ing An­ti­quaria Col­lec­tion at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Bu­l­awayo, the trac­tion en­gine was trans­ferred to Mutare Mu­seum in 1985 as part of an ex­er­cise to cen­tralise road trans­port re­lated col­lec­tions at this mu­seum.

Mutare Mu­se­ums Cu­ra­tor of An­tiq­ui­ties, Chiedza Zharare, said the trac­tion en­gines were be­lieved to be used to cart gold ore and other goods to the Theta Mine, near Kwekwe from sur­round­ing small mines like the An­te­lope mine, Kaka, Aber­com­bie, Park gate and Bow­bell mines.

More were im­ported into Rhode­sia as a sub­sti­tute for oxen in the pe­riod af­ter the cat­tle pop­u­la­tion had se­verely been af­fected by rinder­pest. Un­til the qual­ity of roads im­proved around the 1920s, there was lit­tle de­mand for faster ve­hi­cles and en­gines were geared ac­cord­ingly to cope with their use on rough roads and farm tracks. How­ever, the ad­vent of petrol lor­ries which proved to be more ef­fi­cient and tighter re­stric­tions on road steam haulage started to sig­nal the demise of the trac­tion en­gine,” she said.

The first steam pow­ered ve­hi­cle was built around 1672 by Fer­di­nand Ver­biest, a mem­ber of a Je­suit mis­sion in China and was used as a toy by the Chi­nese Em­peror.

In South­ern Rhode­sia, now Zim­babwe, the steam en­gines were first im­ported in 1894 by The Bri­tish South Africa Com­pany (BSAC) which used them to haul goods from Beira port to the then Umtali (the present day Mutare).

To­day trac­tion en­gines are a sig­nif­i­cant tourist at­trac­tion and it is es­ti­mated that about two thou­sand of them have been pre­served across the world and the one at Mutare Mu­seum proudly stands out as one of them.

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