NOW I KNOW WHY some people drive as they do! They have their roots in history! The first trams used to ride in the middle of the road, and the driver would warn pedestrians of their approach by blowing on a bone whistle. Admittedly, the tram ran on rails, was drawn by two horses, and had a maximum speed of 7 m.p.h! But still…!
I discovered this fascinating snippet of information at the James Hall Museum of Transport.
Established in 1964, it contains an extensive and absorbing collection of ‘land transport vehicles’, housed in 7 large halls and sheds.
Amongst a variety of carriages, I pondered the Cape Cart – a very comfortable two-wheeled cart, the Spider (or Surrey), the Victoria and the Governess Cart. This last one intrigued me as the driver sat facing the side and not the front. This was, no doubt, so that she could keep an eye on her charges, but must have been terribly uncomfortable. I was a bit daunted by a small, enclosed vehicle that told me to Prepare to meet thy DOOM.
I moved on quickly, and studied a smart, black family carriage – shades of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen – and a Mail Coach, with yellow wheels, that seemed to be waiting for the masked horsemen to erupt from behind a nearby copse. The Voortrekker Wagon looked what it was; a big, rough and tough form of transport. A team of 16 oxen, I was told, could pull a load of 2700 kg.
Then there was Texas Jack – a 1929 Steam Tractor, which looked as if it pre-dated Noah, but apparently still works. He sat silently amongst the Steam Rollers, Wagons, Cranes and other steam powered machines. Large and cumbersome they may seem, but they were mighty in their day – noisy and full of character. They did not need delicately monotonous beeps to tell you that they were reversing. The earth-shaking sound and fury, the wind and the smell, left you in no doubt.
The bicycles included the c1869 Boneshaker which had no suspension. By comparison the Penny-Farthing looked elegant, fragile and far more dangerous. (There was a delightful photograph upstairs of a couple, in all their finery leaving the church in Doornfontein after their wedding. He was peddling away whilst she sat ‘elegantly’ and, I suspect nervously on a saddle at the side.)
These gave way to the big red fire engines. Amongst them a 1936 Magirus Deutz with an extension ladder of 45 metres. I was so sorry that I was being watched – they just cried out to be climbed over, bells rung and imagination let loose.
However, it was the motor cars that really caught my attention – Vintage, Post Vintage, Pre-War and Post War. There was a 1900 Clement Panhard, a 1917 Model T Ford and a surprising number of others, in good condition. I remembered some of the Post-War Chevrolets and Buicks. They still look big and strong.
Motor cycles, steam locomotives, carts and, finally, the Trams, Trolley Buses and Motor Buses. They stood smart and ready – even although the last tram ran in 1961. The busses brought back to mind some of those wonderful characters – the conductors. Does anyone remember ‘Dolfie’ on the Craighall run?
In their day they were probably the best that could be made – and were seen as wonderful, modern inventions. I’ll go back again – and I may just take someone with me, who will also want to climb on the fire-engines!
The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 09h00 to 17h00. Entrance is free. There is secure parking within the grounds.
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