Every little South African town has its quirks and special features, and Fauresmith in the southern Free State is no exception. With its old loco as an historic reminder of the days when steam trains chugged along its main street, Fauresmith has retained its other specialty: breeding superb endurance horses.

Did you know?

Because of its long equestrian history, Fauresmith has a tradition of expert resident whip makers.

In the mid-1800s, the small southern Free State town of Fauresmith nearly beat Bloemfontein in the race for provincial capital. In fact, it was so close that three more votes would have swung the deal.

No matter. Did Bloemfontein have a railroad track running right through the middle of its main street? There were once only three places in the world where this transport phenomenon happened. The other two were Tula Homa, Tennessee (USA) and Wycheproof, Victoria (Australia).

Back in its younger days, downtown Fauresmith must have been a sight to behold: a puffing steam train chugging through town, with farmers on horseback riding alongside it. Legend has it that the only railway traffic incident on record was the demise of an unlucky rooster. A pensioned-off loco now stands in the main street on a section of tracks.

Says the late TV Bulpin, one of South Africa’s premier travel writers of his time: ‘This elderly locomotive now spends its time watching the traffic go by and wishing there was still enough steam left in its boiler to allow it at least a few more whistles at the girls.’

These days, Fauresmith is better known for its annual National Equestrian Endurance Race in the first week of July – mid-winter for this part of the Grassy Karoo. It’s a real test for horse and rider that covers more than 200 kilometres over three days. Entries for what is now recognised as one of the world’s most challenging horse marathons have grown over the years to more than 300.

In a rather more gruesome historic vein, Fauresmith was also the site of three public executions in the latter half of the 19th Century.

The first murderer killed his wife because he wanted to marry a younger girl. The second killed a transport rider as he slept under his wagon. The third killed a Mrs Rossouw while she was doing her laundry at a fountain steam near the eastern entrance to Fauresmith. A sign to the ‘Murderers' Graves’ – about 1km out of town – points the way.

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