Welcome to Week 17 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the James Hall Museum of Transport.
I was prepared to hate the James Hall Museum of Transport.
The only thing I really knew about the James Hall Museum of Transport (which most Joburgers refer to simply as “the Transport Museum”) before I went was that it’s about cars. I have zero interest in cars. Also the first room of the museum makes a bad first impression — full of badly lit, dusty exhibitions — and I kind of wanted to leave within five minutes of arriving.
But I was with my friend Kate on our whirlwind tour of Joburg South, and neither of us had been to the Transport Museum before. We wanted to give the place a chance. And besides, admission was free. We persisted and in the end we both loved it.
Inside the James Hall Museum of Transport
The Transport Museum takes visitors on a chronological tour of the history of transport in South Africa, from the 1870s through the 1980s. There’s a lot of strange stuff to wade through, including the aforementioned dusty-carriage-fake-horse combos and an outdoor section filled with broken-down Joburg City buses and other stray vehicles.
If you reach this point and want to turn back, don’t. The best is yet to come. Push through to the fire engine room and all will be well.
The fire engines were fun to look at, as were the antique bicycles. (There’s a penny-farthing — one of those funny-looking bikes with the giant front wheel and tiny back wheel — but I didn’t get a good photo.)
Then we got to the cars.
I know I said I don’t care about cars. But looking at several dozen shiny, perfectly maintained antique automobiles all in one room is awesome. I was amazed with how big and powerful the mid-20th-century cars were compared to the cars of today. (Yes, I know they guzzled gas and put us well on our way to destroying the earth. But still.)
Kate and I became obsessed with photographing hood ornaments.
The only South African hood ornament in the museum. I actually read the placard that went with this car. The Protea was the first South African sports car, built in 1957, and there were only 20 units produced. This car is one of two known surviving Proteas.
The museum’s last room — the one full of trams and trolley buses — was my favorite room by far.
I’m not sure what it is about these trams and trolleys. But looking at them made me long to travel back in time, just for a day, to ride one myself. We even got to climb inside a couple of them.
The top level of the tram, which is a lot less comfortable-looking than the bottom. You guessed it: The black passengers had to sit up here. This is a part of South Africa’s history that I’m happy not to revisit.
The newer buses were interesting too.
Before leaving, Kate and I had a nice chat with Malindi Mavhulavhula, a museum employee whose personality is as cheerful as his name. Malindi let me take his photo with the buses.
The James Hall Museum of Transport is at Pioneers’ Park, Rosettenville Road, La Rochelle. Admission is free. Opening hours are here. Call +27-11-435-9718 for more information.