Springbok Bus Roots

1950s Motor Buses & Trackless Trams of Cape Town, South Africa



My earliest recollection of bus travel in Cape Town was travelling on an open rear platform single-decker about 1950.  The memory is vague because it is the only recollection of a single-decker motorbus with this configuration that I can remember.  Certainly all other memories of single-decker half-cabs are of buses with single entrances placed at the front.  The 1936 order for Daimler COG6 buses included four single deckers with rear entrances.  These buses were re-bodied with double deck bodies in 1943 and the single deck bodies fitted to older Leyland Lions.  The last of the pre-1935 single deckers disappeared around 1951. 


Claremont railway station was an interchange where City Tramways motorbuses met suburban multiple units.  I can still remember the Daimler and Leyland double-deckers at this suburban terminal on a hot afternoon, the smell of rubber and hot oil and the sounds of loose panels vibrating against the background noise of diesel engines ticking over.  Conductors in their khaki uniforms with cash and ticket dispensers would chat to their drivers or stand in front of their bus guiding the driver as he changed the destination blind from inside the cab.  It was near here that my grandfather took me shopping for a Dinky Toy when I was about four.  My choice was, naturally enough, the half-cab Double-decker Bus.  I was offered a choice of red and cream or green and cream and I chose the green and cream because it most nearly represented what could be seen outside on the street.  A shrink would have a field day with all this, but then I have news for them - I don't believe in witch doctors!


I started school in 1950.  The school consisted of only two or three classes taught by a single teacher and her assistant.  At about this time City Tramways acquired five front entrance Leyland Tigers and eight Daimler CVG6 single-deckers without passenger doors.  One day during my first year at school, we were all sent home because a tragedy had occurred.  One of my classmates had been killed when he fell (or jumped) out of one of these buses as it was rounding a left hand corner and he was dragged under the back wheels.  The next deliveries of single-deckers were front entrance Leyland Olympics with passenger doors.  The tragedy outlined above was brought to mind when reading Doug Jack's "The Leyland Bus" in which there is an illustration of one of City Tramways Olympics, complete with what looks like a man catcher forward of the nearside front wheel.  Did this tragedy result in this device being trialled?  I cannot recall anything like this on these buses in service. 

While we had a 10 minute service by trackless tram on routes 4 and 5, the hourly Molteno Road service terminated only a block away from home and this was served by single-decker buses including the Olympics.  My sister and I referred to these buses as the "Shut door Mollies" in reference to the novelty of buses with passenger doors.


My drawing shows one of eight HR44 model Leyland Olympic used on Molteno Road, Highlands Estate, Walmer Estate and Ocean View Drive services. City Tramways also had a further eight ER45 model Olympics with a rather "rivetty" looking body, heavy bumper and posh three strut headlights. Some of these were based at Diep River Garage.


The single-decker bus fleet also comprised five half-cab Tiger OPS3/1s and eight Daimler CVG6SDs - the latter with MCCW bodies off Thornycrofts acquired by the sister company, Port Elizabeth Tramways.  Usually they worked the B6 to Walmer Estate and occasionally appeared on Molteno Road.  South Africa in general and City Tramways in particular continued to place half-cab Tiger OPS4/5s in service throughout the 1960s.  The last of these wore bodywork with contemporary angled front headers - definitely mutton dressed as lamb!

Probably the motorbuses I travelled most on were the pre-war Daimler COG6s used on E4 Newlands and E6 Kirstenbosch services on my way to school at Newlands.  Quite sporty looking machines with their angled back Weymann bodies and they always appeared to be quick off the mark.  Kirstenbosch incidentally is one of South Africa’s major botanical gardens.


I should mention here that I attended the South African College School which went through the process of relocating from a convenient central city location adjacent to the Botanical Gardens - the site of the original vegetable gardens for which Cape Town was founded to fight scurvy amongst seafarers - to the suburb of Newlands, known to sporting Kiwis as the Cape's main rugby and cricket venues.  It is also the home of South Africa's Castle Brewery - now available in New Zealand.  I can recommend the Stout! 


Part of my primary schooling was in town then out to Newlands in 1957, back to town for secondary schooling then back out to Newlands again in 1959.  What a pain!  From Oranjezicht route 5 trackless to town, then if you were quick an E6 Kirstenbosch to the school gate or an E4 Newlands 1/4 mile away or a 12 Wynberg trackless 1/2 mile from the school gate when running late!  Home was in reverse with the added bonus that if I caught an E6 into town I had the option of catching an Olympic or Tiger on the Molteno route that was closer to home than the 5.  The crews on the Molteno route were quite friendly and as I got off at the terminus, I was allowed to change the destination blinds for them. 


Contrary to some reports apartheid DID apply on City Tramway vehicles – it was the law.  There is also a piece of urban mythology that suggests apartheid did not apply to the un-prefixed trackless tram routes and that the C prefixed routes were for coloured people while the E prefixed routes were for Europeans.  Incorrect.  There were A, B, C, D, E and F prefixed motorbus routes operating through and to both black and white areas.  It is true that the Cape Town Motor Omnibus Company operated European only E services in the early 1930s.  They were soon to be absorbed by the tramway company.  This is probably the basis for this  myth.