#Gauteng52, Week 17: The James Hall Museum of Transport

by | Apr 26, 2017 | #Gauteng52, Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings | 4 comments

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.

Outside the Transport MuseumThe James Hall Museum of Transport, which looks underwhelming from the outside.

Carriage at Transport MuseumA 19th-century carriage, complete with full-size plastic horses, in the “animal-drawn vehicles” collection. This part of the museum, which is the first room after the entrance, was a bit sad. 

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.

Room full of fire engines at the James Hall Museum of TransportA well-lit room full of bright red antique fire engines. Now we’re getting somewhere.

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.

Wolesely hood ornamentI don’t know what a Wolseley is, and I don’t care. But this car is cool.

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.

Chrysler hood ornament at James Hall Museum of Transport Chrysler.

Ram hood ornament Dodge, I think. Why don’t cars have hood ornaments like this anymore?

Protea hood ornament in Transport MuseumThe 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.

Trams and trolley buses at James Hall Transport MuseumAn old-school Jozi tram. It looks nearly as tall as it is long.

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.

Kate in tram
Kate in the tram.

Top floor of tramThe 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.

Bus at Transport MuseumI love the cartoon knitting lady.

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.

Malindi at the Transport MuseumMalindi, possibly the happiest Joburg City employee I’ve ever met.

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.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.


  1. autumnashbough

    I think hood ornaments were retired (or at least recessed) because they were stolen off cars.

    Well, I hope you nephews come to visit you when they are 2-3 because the fire engine room would be to die for for most little boys.

    • 2summers

      Yes, I was actually wondering if that was the reason. It would certainly be a problem here in SA. And now you’ve got me excited thinking about my nephew’s first visit ❤️

  2. Pamela Malevu

    Thanks Heather ,now we can all sit on the top level of the tram lol very interesting story and nice pictures too,good work.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Pamela, yes I always choose the top level of the bus anyway – better view 🙂


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