One of the routes to Sabie passes Old Stone Joe on the N4 Highway from Gauteng.
Ever since I can remember, Old Stone Joe has been a feature on what was a narrow little dirt road, which is presently known as the N4 Highway between Machadodorp and Nelspruit. His domain is at the Patatas Nek pass on the right-hand side of the road looking down the magnificently beautiful Schoeman’s Kloof.
The pass’ name is a recollection of the wagoneers who stopped for an outspan at the top of the pass to rest, feed and water the oxen after climbing out of the Lowveld. They used to cook “patatas” for their meal while the animals were resting.
Old Stone Joe is an enormous 2.5 meter high rock that was unearthed and loosened by road builders when they constructed the original main road in the latter part of the 1920’s. He was named Joe after the man Joe Barbas who helped unearth him and has the appearance of a sculptured man who must have been recognized and saved as such. He has an enormous paunch as he gazes down at one. He was used as a fence post at one stage.
I have been a traveler on the “N4” since 1944.
From 1944 to1947 my father used to convey us to the “farm” in the “Lowveld” every second weekend. He owned a little old 2nd hand 1938 two stroke, three cylinder wooden bodied Auto Union DKW, with a 650cc. motor. It possessed enormously huge owl-eye like headlights and a tall narrow grill. It used to carry the cook/bottle washer, my father, mother, me, my little baby sister and the dog, as well as all our luggage, and lots of “things” tied to the car roof…for the “farm”.
The little vehicle invariably suffered a lacerated tyre somewhere between Machadodorp and Nelspruit, which was blamed on the accursed “Bloody Machadodorp Shale”.
Both the dog and I used to suffer from serious motion sickness, with inevitable after effects. I won’t even discuss the type of journey we used to endure through rain, mud, heat and then of course the powder fine dust that crept in everywhere amidst on going curses; especially when another vehicle passed us going in the opposite direction. If it rained the windshield wiper was a little toy like gadget that smeared instead of wiping !
However, once we reached Old Joe, who sagely observed all passers-by while his stoic presence offered comfort like a lighthouse to stricken ships, (vehicles), we reckoned that we were in the “Lowveld” proper, and that our destination was reasonably close. We could then begin to contemplate the end of the journey. I used to ask my father when we would reach the “farm”, only to be told that it was not far, but “just around the corner”. They were the longest corners that I ever endured.
The story goes that one had to open and close “concertina” wire farm gates all the way from Nelspruit to Middelberg before the public road was proclamated.
The road was eventually upgraded to a comfortable new tarmac highway during the 1950’s by the P.C.Zaanen Company, who constructed the road all the way from Middelburg to Nelspruit. The new highway still went over Patatas Nek and followed more or less the original route. Old Stone Joe was retained as a mile-stone as he kept a dutiful eye over all travelers.
After some years of just being a silhouetted fence post, Joe eventually took on a personality through the ingenuity of the late Major Claude Graham from White River, who kindly and enthusiastically used to guide groups of bored teenagers on expeditions and picnics during school holidays to decorate him. He has taken on many colourful personalities over the decades being decorated as a chef, toff, pirate, or waiter, etc. Now that the highway has been upgraded into a “super” highway, the services of Joe have been retained and he still does his duty as a sentinel landmark along the N4.
These days he has been placed on his own pedestal/cairn where tourists can stop for a picnic, or to have pictures taken. He has been adopted by various organizations who regularly commission Ghost the Cartoonist from Nelspruit to decorate him.Tourists can safely stop next to him.
To get to Sabie from the N4, turn left on to the R539 at Barclayvale. Follow the route past Sudwala to the R37. Turn left towards Lydenburg/Mashishing/Sabie and follow the sign-boards. Sabie is approximately 50km. from the N4.
By the way mind you…observe Joe carefully. He may just wink at friendly kids .
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