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									                      Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter

                                       BOKSBURG HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

  FEBRUARY                                                 February meeting
  Number 164

1-2. What now,
Boksburg Lake?

3-6. Boksburg
   Trolley Buses
                         At the time when it was built by Monta-             owned by Cuthbert Morrall near the
6. History in            gue White in 1888 (as told in the BHA               magistrate’s Court was a popular
   video                 News of September 2006), Boksburg                   venue for professional sporting events,
                         Lake or Dam was just a swamp with a                 skating and fancy dress carnivals. The
                         few mud islands in it. But after a su d-            Assembly Hall, completed in 1898,
6. A.G.M.                den rainstorm in 1891 filled the Lake               was used for town meetings, stage
                         for the first time, entrepreneurs saw a             performances and later for showing
                         way to make money from the Lake.                    the first moving pictures.
                         By 1895, a stream launch, the “Mona”
                         was taking visitors for flips on the lake.
                         A few years later, the Lake had devel-
        Historical       oped into an inland pleasure resort,
      Association        with over 100 rowing boats for hire,
   P O Box 18242         paved promenade lit by electric lights at
    Sunward Park         night, a rose garden with thousands of
             1470        plants, a spring garden, a swamp gar-
                         den, an autumn garden, a refreshment
                         kiosk and a band stand.                             Boksburg Town Council thought the
Web address:
                         Hotels, restaurants, cinemas and other              Lake would last for ever, and printed a
                         entertainment venues sprung up in the               brochure promoting the town and
                         streets nearby. The Vogelfontein Rink               Lake as a lovers’ resort.
E-mail address:
boksburghistori-                            Revised Executive Committee 2008-2009
cal@gmail.com           Acting Chairman                   Phil Beck                          011   896-3742
                        Webmaster                         Phil Beck                          082   467-7805
                        Treasurer                         Lesley Smith                       011   892-5168
                        Secretary /Correspondent          Carole Doig                        011   896-2633
                        Tour Convener                     Pam Beck                           011   896-3742
                        Acting Editor                     Peter Wood                         011   893-1046
                          Do you have any historic old photos, or a heritage-related tale to tell ?? Please, we need them...
                      Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter

                                      February meeting


At a time when no one had cars, the nearby Vogel-           of sewage spills running unchecked into the Lake for
fontein railway station brought 5,000 to 10,000 visi-       months at a time, plus industrial effluent from An-
tors to the Lake and the surrounding town over              derbolt and assorted waste entering the lake have
week-ends and public holidays. Promenade concerts           caused a toxic sludge to sink to the lake floor. The
were held every Sunday afternoon and evening. Vis-          water depth in the Lake has been reduced by the
tors could hire boats, swim and catch fish - catches        sludge at the bottom. But the worst effect of the ac-
of 10 kg per day were apparently not uncommon.              cumulated sludge, is that it uses all the dissolved
                     Ethel Robinson from Australia          oxygen in the water. When the dissolved oxygen is
                     (left) was one of the many visi-       used up, the sludge continues to decay, but in the
                     tors to the Lake in the early          absence of oxygen, the decay process emits foul-
                     years. She married James Pow-          smelling hydrogen sulphide gas. This is why Boks-
                     ell, an Irishman who worked at         burg central residents were complaining of the smell
                     the Witwatersrand Deep G.M, in         of the Lake last Spring. Right now, the Lake doesn’t
                     Boksburg in 1906. Later the cou-       smell too bad - but this is because there have been
                     ple moved first to Egypt, then         exceptional rains this season. All the fresh water that
                     later Borneo & Thailand; descen-       has flowed into the Lake has boosted the dissolved
                     dants now live in New Zealand.         oxygen content and temporarily suspended genera-
                     Four factors contributed to the        tion of hydrogen sulphide. But when the rains end
success of the lake. Water quality was one factor,          and the water stagnates again, the sludge will con-
though this wasn’t appreciated at the time. The role        tinue to decay with malodorous results.
of government (national & local) was another - it was       Helen Fox from Rhodes Univer-
the ZAR government that built the lake, and the             sity Institute of Water Research
NZASM railway that brought the first visitors to the        is trying to mobilise industries
shores by train. Later ownership of the Lake was            plus Ekurhuleni Council &
taken over by Boksburg Council, and running the             learners at schools, to remedy
trains passed first to Central South African Railways       the state of Boksburg Lake. The
then later to the South African Railways.                   Council have contracted Redd
But two of the main factors in the success of the           Architects to draw up plans for
Lake were the roles played by entrepreneurs and the         restoring the infrastructure of
public. Without entrepreneurs, there would have             the Lake grounds, but clearly
been no hotels, shops or entertainment to attract           the future of the Lake does not rest solely - or even
visitors to the area. The most important factor, how-       mainly - with the Council. There is a need for public
ever, was that in the early days the public was             areas surrounding water - Victoria Lake and the Bok-
starved for relaxation and entertainment, and did           kie Park show this. But many “water”-projects, like
not have means for getting places except by train.          Bruma Lake & the Randburg Waterfront, have had
            Today, Boksburg Lake is dead.                   similar pollution problems as Boksburg Lake. Peo-
Fish, crabs and other water life can only survive and       ple’s interests have changed, & the centre of Boks-
flourish in a lake or river if oxygen can stay dis-         burg has migrated to the East Rand Mall. An inte-
solved in the water. But with Boksburg Lake, years          grated plan that grabs the public interest is needed.

                        Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter

                                       East Rand Trolley Buses
James Smith, the speaker at the February meeting,    His original proposal was for a 31 /3 mile route be-
                                                     tween Boksburg North and the East Rand Railway
worked long as an IT specialist at Transnet, but his pas-
                                                     Station. The cost for this scheme was initially esti-
sion in life is different modes of transport. He has a
deep association with the James Hall Museum of Trans-mated at £ 26,000. Although generally favourable
port in Johannesburg and with rail steam preservationto the proposal, the Boksburg Town Council re-
societies. He says:                                  quested a reduction in cost. Accordingly the num-
                                                     ber of rail-less trams was reduced from 8 to 6 vehi-
                             “The era of the Track- cles and the route was pruned by just under a mile,
                             less Tram or Trolley to two and a half miles in length, which succeeded
                             Bus in South Africa in reducing the cost of the system down to a more
                             stretched from 1914 to acceptable £16,700. Although this initiated a sav-
                             1986, a period of sev- ing of just over £9,000, such savings hardly war-
                             enty two years.         ranted the loss of two vehicles and a mile of over-
                                                     head wiring. In fact, the resultant lack of capacity
                             Boksburg was the first effectively ham-strung the potential for future devel-
                             system to open, fol- opment and expansion, when it was most required!
                             lowed closely by Ger- The route selected consisted of a main double over-
                             miston and a year later head wire route from Boksburg (Commissioner
                             by Bloemfontein.        Street) to Boksburg North and Vogelfontein
                                                     (Boksburg Station), with single-wire branches to the
On the 15th of October 1898, a concession was Palace Theatre and the Vogelfontein Sub Station of
granted to Oscar Scheuermann to construct a tram- the Victoria Falls Power Company.
way connecting Johannesburg with Boksburg, via
Germiston. The eighteen-mile route selected linked The order for the six ‘rail-less’ trams was awarded
up with the Johannesburg City & Suburban Tram- to the Railless Electric Traction Construction Com-
way Company Limited’s terminus at Hanau Street, pany Limited of England in late 1912, by Herbert
and continued via the Wolhuter Gold Mining Com- Ainsworth and Co. who were tasked by the Boks-
pany to Boksburg, along Main Reef Road.              burg Town Council with supplying and equipping
                                                     not only the rail-less trams, but also the overhead
It was estimated that construction, once started, wiring and construction of the entire system.
would be complete within two years, and was to be
laid in the centre of the road, for the most part. The six rail-less trams, with a wheel base of thirteen
Construction started on 26 December of that year feet, and an overall body length of eighteen feet
but was suspended before much progress had been nine inches, were the fifteenth to the twentieth
made, due to the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War.     chassis produced by the RET Company. They were
                                                     single-deck front entrance rail-less trams and could
The inhabitants of both Germiston and Boksburg each accommodate 28 seated passengers. The ve-
were hopeful that construction would resume when hicles had solid rubber tyres with the two rear
hostilities ceased. Unfortunately, this did not hap- wheels driven by chain drive powered by two 20-HP
pen and the entire project was abandoned, largely Siemens motors. Collection of current from over-
as a result of the post-war depression and much to head wires was via two independently sprung trolley
the frustration of ratepayers of both communities.   poles, mounted on the roof of the vehicles.
However, following the collapse of the tramway pro-         The livery of the trams was yellow and brown, with
posal, considerable rivalry between these two towns         the municipal coat of arms in the centre of the
had now arisen in the fields of development and             body. All the side windows lowered, so that the ve-
progress. Fearful that Germiston might introduce a          hicles would be cooler in the summer, and the
public transport system ahead of Boksburg, Boks-            seats were of cane construction, and following con-
burg Town Council decided to act. By 1911, the              ventional tram construction, were reversible.
shortage of public transport in Boksburg was a seri-
ous obstacle to growth and development.                     At least one of the six vehicles actually underwent
                                                            trial workings at Leeds in 1913, prior to shipment
Aware that construction and operation of a tradi-           to South Africa.
tional street tramway was beyond their financial re-
sources, the Municipality of Boksburg commis-                William Jeffs, who was the RET representative who
sioned Mr L M Wilms, an acknowledged expert on              was responsible for the construction and installa-
electric traction, to produce a report. In his March,       tion of the equipment, arrived in Boksburg on the
1911 report, he advocated the introduction of a             first Monday of February 1914. He immediately
“rail-less electric tramway” system for Boksburg.           started unpacking the crates which had been
                                                            stored, awaiting his arrival, at the car sheds.

                       Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter

                                DIARY of Events
                                   Trolley EVENTS
                         East RandDiaryOFBuses, continued
Such was the excitement and interest shown that the          Hill, why that’s nothing – you should see our York-
gates entering into the yard had to be closed to prevent     shire hills. We could bring the car up in its own
the influx of sightseers.                                    length if necessary and tear up the road.”
It was estimated that each tram would require about a   When asked by the reporter why “in less than
week to assemble, which meant that the official open-   twenty miles we would have four different systems
ing would only be possible some time after the 16       of municipal locomotion – track cars in Johannes-
March. In order to obtain the most publicity for the    burg, Cedes-Stoll trackless at Germiston, RET
event, it was suggested that the official opening shouldTrackless at Boksburg, and motor buses in Be-
be accompanied by a gala. A committee was immedi-       noni.” William Jeffs replied; “It was a pity from
ately formed in order to organise the gala.             the utility standpoint that Germiston and Boks-
                                                        burg had not both adopted the RET system, be-
Within a week, two ‘tram cars’ were up and running,
                                                        cause then it would have been possible for the
and the only outstanding work required for the route
                                                        cars of those municipalities to run right into Jo-
was at Vogelfontein, across the South African Railways
                                                        hannesburg if necessary. The Boksburg cars
line, which linked the ERPM section to the Vogelfontein
                                                        could easily use the Johannesburg lines, but the
section. However, following approaches by the Boks-
                                                        Germiston cars would be unable to do so, and as
burg Town Council, the S.A.R. management agreed to
                                                        Germiston intervened inter-communication would
have the necessary work undertaken immediately.
                                                        not be possible.” This lack of standardisation and
                                                        co-operation was to prove a costly mistake, as
                                                        Germiston was to discover.
                                                             The first trial trip was undertaken on the after-
                                                             noon of 20 February 1914, and the first “rail-less
                                                             tram” in South Africa emerged from the Boksburg
                                                             tram shed and made its way at a good rate up to
                                                             the Boksburg North terminus
                                                             “Everything went well until the terminus in Boks-
                                                             burg North was reached, where some difficulty
                                                             was experienced in making the turn. A big crowd
                                                             watched the return journey, which was success-
                                                             fully accomplished until the subway was reached,
                                                             when the “juice” gave out owing to some mistake
                                                             in the converter station. However, the car was put
                                                             back in the shed all right. The trial trip was a
                                                             complete success, notwithstanding the fact that it
                                                             had to be made with make-shift booms, as the
                                                             proper booms had not arrived from England.”
                                                             With all six vehicles now assembled, trial work-
                                                             ings were made with car number 1, using make-
                                                             shift booms, which unfortunately snapped. By the
                                                             beginning of March, the booms had still not been
                                                             delivered, and in order to train the drivers, booms
                                                             were borrowed from the Johannesburg Municipal
                                                             Tramways. The booms from England eventually
Construction of the overhead wiring proved easier than
                                                             reached Boksburg in mid March.
anticipated as extensive use was made of the old street
lighting poles. Bracket arms were simply attached to         Another associated development was the tarring
the existing street light poles, from which the overhead     of the Boksburg North Road. The municipality de-
wiring was suspended, and to counterbalance the wir-         cided that unless this was done immediately, the
ing, the poles were back-stayed. The ERPM section was        broad solid rubber tyres of the trolley buses
electrified for single running and started at the junction   would quickly destroy the road surface.
of Cason Road with Sixth Avenue and finished at the
                                                             A second trial working was undertaken on 13
ERPM Club, which completed the circular route.
                                                             March, but this time using the western section of
Mr Jeffs was interviewed by the East Rand Express            the route, from Commissioner Street and Union
newspaper, and in the article which appeared on 14           Road over the newly constructed level crossing at
February 1914, he was quoted, on being asked about           Vogelfontein to the terminus on the Main Reef
the brakes fitted to the RET cars; “The Boksburg North       Road.

                      Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter

The Boksburg Gala, advertised as a four day carnival      pansion suggestions soon appeared in the local
of fun, frolic and frivolity, was scheduled to run from   newspapers.
Wednesday 25 March through to Saturday the 28th of
                                                          Much as the Town Council would have dearly
March, with Wednesday being the official opening
                                                          loved to construct these extensions in order to
date for the rail-less electric trams.
                                                          expand the service, the existing service was al-
Although the official opening ceremony had been ad-       ready failing to live up to expectations, especially
vertised, in the East Rand Express of 21 March 1914,      financially. By June the passenger figures were
as going to be presided over by Sir George Farrar         clearly showing a steady decline, and there were
DSO, his daughter, Miss Farrar actually performed         even calls from within the Town Council to aban-
this task on his behalf, assisted by the Mayor of Boks-   don the tram service altogether.
burg. All the rail-less trams were lined up in Commis-
                                                          At the end of May, the Works Committee dis-
sioner Street ready to take the invited guests to the
                                                          closed that the receipts per car mile, in April,
Lake, where a gala fete had been arranged. The ser-
                                                          were 9.13 pence, with expenditure estimated at
vice was officially opened amid great rejoicing, on
                                                          8.95 pence per car mile, which gave a small
Wednesday 25 March 1914, and South Africa wit-
                                                          profit of 0.17 pence per mile. Thus revenue was
nessed the inauguration of a new form of electric trac-
                                                          barely covering the operating costs. With two of
tion public transportation: the trolley bus.
                                                          the six cars almost permanently under repair,
The proposed time table was passed by the Boksburg        any attempt to extend the service would require
Town Council, without discussion, in early March.         additional vehicles and the Electrical Engineer
During the first week of operation, the electrical        was tasked with sourcing the cost of supplying
equipment had to withstand some violent thunder-          two additional smaller cars. While the two chas-
storms. Lightning struck the overhead cables in Sixth     sis and electrical equipment would have to be
Street and the Victoria Falls Power Company’s sub         imported, the bodies were to be constructed lo-
station, which caused a power-cut lasting one and a       cally, in order to reduce cost. Eventually, an en-
half hours, and brought all the trolley buses to a        quiry for a further two chassis was forwarded in
standstill. Initially speeds were kept to around twelve   1915 to the RET Construction Co. Ltd. Due to
miles an hour, but as the drivers became more famil-      the First World War, this enquiry was never acted
iar with the vehicles, speeds rose to 20 miles an hour.   upon and indeed it is extremely unlikely that,
                                                          had the order been ratified and the vehicles actu-
Unfortunately, problems were encountered almost
                                                          ally been delivered, the Council would have been
from the outset, with the effect of vibration on the
                                                          able to provide payment for them.
rather flimsy ‘tram’ bodies. All six car bodies had to
be strengthened, but it was mainly mechanical work        As revenue continued to fall, the burden of oper-
that restricted the operational fleet to only four cars   ating the ‘trams’ threatened to increase the rates
until at least June of 1914.                              by an additional assessment rate of ½d. This in
                                                          turn provoked an outcry by the ratepayers who
It was noted in April that the new ‘tram’ service
                                                          placed the blame on the Boksburg Town Council,
needed to be improved in order to be able to compete
                                                          by their granting and renewal of bus licences
more effectively with the motor buses. This was to be
                                                          along the ‘tram’ route for six months, until the
an ongoing problem for some months to come and
                                                          end of June 1914.
was only solved in June 1914.
                                                          Finally in early June, a special meeting of the
Meanwhile a short extension was proposed, in the
                                                          Boksburg Town Council determined “that in
form of a loop off the main route to serve the Vogel-
                                                          terms of Section 61 of Ordinance No. 9 of 1912,
fontein Railway Station and the Palace Theatre. This
                                                          the Council close permanently for motor bus
loop came into operation on 16 May 1914 and en-
                                                          traffic as from 1 July 1914, all streets where-
abled the service to be re-organised into two sections.
                                                          upon tramway routes have been or are being es-
The first section ran from the terminus in Sixth Street   tablished by the Council.”
to Vogelfontein, opposite the Vogelfontein Station,
                                                          By the end of June, the Boksburg Town Council
where the ‘trams’ met every train, while the other sec-
                                                          was confronted by a new financial crisis, due to
tion comprised the circular route from the Boksburg
                                                          the closure of the local mines. As unemployment
North Hotel. From this hotel, the cars ran down Sixth
                                                          rose, patronage of the ‘trams’ continued to fall
Avenue and Hoofd Street to Commissioner Street,
                                                          and there were renewed calls within the Council
then along Commissioner Street, up Union Road to
                                                          to close the trams down, or at least store them
the ERPM offices, and then back by way of the Main
                                                          inside the tram shed, until conditions improved.
Reef Road to the Boksburg North Hotel.
                                                          This suggestion was ignored, but it was agreed
Despite the attempt to split the service, further ex-     that payment for the vehicles would be deferred

                         Boksburg Historical Association - February 2009 Newsletter
until they had given “greater satisfaction.”                               History in video
Despite these initial problems, after June 1914 the         For those of you with DSTV, remember not just to
rail-less trams were largely successful in service, for     look at the “documentary” channels. Several inter-
                                                            esting heritage-related series have recently been
they managed to remain in service until 1925. During
                                                            broadcast on other, unexpected channels:
their first ten years in operation, it was estimated that
they carried half a million passengers a year or over
forty thousand a month. However the daily figures give
passenger figures of just over 1,500 at a time when,
after 1914, Boksburg was undergoing rapid expansion
and growth. Ironically, it was this very growth that was
partially responsible for the demise of the system.
When the system had originally been constructed, it
had followed the areas where the greatest densities of      A fascinating, multi-part series on the Border War
population were situated. As continued growth had be-       of 1975 - 1990 by Linda de Jager was recently
come limited within these areas, Boksburg’s housing         broadcast on Kyknet. Reminiscent of the BBC se-
expansion had been compelled to focus on new areas          ries “The World at War”, Grensoorlog will hope-
further away from the existing rail-less system.            fully become available on DVD at some stage.
One option would have been to construct new routes in
order to tap these new areas for potential passengers.
In fact the Council did eventually choose this option,
but using motor buses and not rail-less trams. Unfortu-
nately, the somewhat short-sighted approach of the
Boksburg Town Council back in 1912, to reduce the
original order from eight to six vehicles, had effectively
hamstrung any future rail-less electric tramway expan-
sion. Any possible improvement and expansion of the Aljazeera recently broadcast the Fort Greene film-
service now required the purchase of new and increas- works and Left Hand Films series, filmed by cam-
ingly expensive rail-less tram equipment.                  eraman William Kalmer, on Chris Hani Barag-
The high cost of electricity, at 2.85 pence per unit, wanath hospital, Saving Soweto. Contemporary
from the Victoria Falls Power Company, also played a history at it grittiest and most fascinating.
role in the withdrawal of the rail-less trams.
                                                                         Annual General Meeting
By 1925, the entire rail-less electric tramway system       Date: Saturday 7th March 2009
was somewhat down at heel and in urgent need of re-         Venue: Boksburg High School.
furbishment and investment. A further depression in         Time: 8.30 for 9.00 a.m.
the coal-mining industry had done little to assist the      AGENDA:
municipality’s financial position, and unable to re-        1) Welcome
invest in the concept of rail-less traction due to finan-   2) Present & apologies
cial constraints, the municipality decided to purchase      3) Business
new and cheaper Berliet motor buses, from France, to          3.1 Approval of previous minutes
provide the necessary services. Withdrawal of trolley         3.2 Matters arising
buses started at the beginning of October 1925.               3.3 Acting Chairman’s Annual Report
On 31 October 1925, the last surviving rail-less electric     3.4 Treasurer’s Annual Report
tram was withdrawn and the overhead wiring was im-            3.5 Other Reports
mediately dismantled. The overhead wiring had origi-            3.5.1 Webmaster
nally been advertised by RET as being compatible with           3.5.2 Secretary
standard tramway fittings, and therefore was pur-               3.5.3 Archivist / Tour Organiser
chased in its entirety, by the Johannesburg Municipal           3.5.4 Acting editor.
Tramways. Sadly, no further use could be found for the 3.6 Election of Executive Committee Members;
worn-out rail-less trams’ chassis and bodies, and they          Chairman & 5-6 other members
were scrapped.”                                             3.7 Acceptance speech by Chairman
                                                            3.8 Any other business
Ian Downie of Benoni has been invaluable in researching 4) GENERAL:
the local early trolley bus history. The tale of Germiston, 4.1 Members Subscription fees for 2008
the second S.A. town to have trolley buses, will be contin- 4.2 Other General
ued later. James Smith, together with Richard Sabatini, is 5) Speaker: Long-time Boksburg resident Annette
busy researching a book on all South African Trolley Buses.     de Jager will share fascinating insights about
Any information - particularly photographs-will be              “ Boksburg as I remember it”.
welcomed . James.Smith@absamail.co.za

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