Almost 10 mechanical museums to visit with an autistic, boy-genius in Cape Town

Dale Humby bio photo By Dale Humby
Close friends of mine have a high-functioning autistic son of 11 who is crazy about anything mechanical. I'd say he was obsessed, but him mom says that obsessed is just a word that lazy people use to describe someone who's dedicated. William's particularly dedicated to Technic Lego and Mechano.

As a kid I remember going on plenty of outings with my parents to museums with a mechanical theme. Even 20 years later I could probably still describe their layout, how they worked and why. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to study mechanical engineering and work on big machines.

Josephine Mill, Newlands

An operating water-wheel powered stone mill. The foul they produce is used to bake fresh bread. Loads of belts, pulleys, gears, shafts and moving parts to keep Will happy.

Steam train, Cape Town to Simons Town

After riding a steam train all I wanted to be 'when I grew up' was a train driver. Little did I know that the romantic age of steam had long passed. To me there is nothing more raw and mechanical than steam powered machines. Babbage had it right when he designed a steam powered computer.

Kleinplasie, Worcester

Just over an hours drive from Cape Town the Worcester Museum has an industrial agricultural display, including my favorite- a donkey powered water pump. (Bonus points: fly in to the Worcester airstrip, visit the museum, have some lunch and fly out.)

Mostert's Mill, de Waal drive

Another stone mill, this one powered by wind and sail. Much simpler than Josephine's mill but no less fascinating to watch. Open and woking on the third Saturday of each month (wind permitting.)

Water tunnel tours under Cape Town, Castle of Good Hope

Okay, so not really mechanical but something I wanted to do, anyway. Old water tunnels that used to carry water from the mountain to feed the Company Gardens. A new perspective of history of Cape Town.

SAS Sommerset, V&A Waterfront

Not currently open to the public, but open during school holidays for children's sleepovers. Once a coal burning ship it was converted to burning oil. Engine room is dingy, cramped, smells of oil and is jam-packed full of pipes and brass fittings- just as it should be.

Fort Wynyard, Green Point

Also closed to the public, but hopefully opening soon. (Best call the Simons Town Museum for details.) I remember being able to sit on and manoeuvre the anti-aircraft guns. My brother, cousins and I used to hand crank the ack-acks raining imagined destruction on Table Bay.

Athlone power station, Athlone

My uncle worked for Koeberg and managed to get his son and I a tour of Paarden Eiland coal power station shortly before it was demolished in the90's to make way for a container depot. The one at Athlone is likely almost identical inside. Wandering amongst the coal conveyors, boilers, turbines and generator halls was a surreal and fascinating experience. (I wonder if any coal power stations up-country are open for tours?)

Do you know about other mechanical themed outings for William? Let me know and we will take him.