Category Archives: transport

“I’ll Meet You Halfway”

You needed not be a member of The Partridge Family to sing this out in celebration of the climactic thrill generated when the upgoing tram met the downcoming one, and passed each other at the mid-point of the funicular railway – with passengers on one car waving and hollering at those on the other track.

Yes, Penang Hill had always been a favourite destination for family outings.  My first visit was made when I was around 5 years old.

Back then, the trams were of wooden construction and without airconditioning, but the natural ventilation was cool and refreshing, and the trams travelled at a tranquil, leisurely pace.

Sadly the trams today are too modern – fully enclosed, with aircon, and shoot up and down like express trains.  To rub it in, the Middle Station has also been eliminated – sorry, can’t meet you halfway.

Of Side-Cars And Sidekicks

I wonder how many of us here remember, or have seen one, or have taken a ride on the “car side” of the three-wheel contraption ? I remember the last time I saw one was like 50 years ago – I think back then it was kinda chic with the better-off folks.

These machines had proper suspensions for both the side-car, as well as the motorbike itself, with creature comfort taken well into conideration. 

Well, in old war movies, this mode of transportation was popular with the German troops.  The side car of those times usually had a machine gun mounted in front, to take care of any unfriendly encounters.

Am not sure if present-day JPJ (Road Transport Department) approves of this kind of vehicle.   But never mind, let your memories flow….don’t forget to take your doggie along ….

The Railbus That Was No Real Bus

Look, it’s a train, no, it’s a bus….aiya, no lah, it’s a Railbus, haha

In 1987, KTM started operating a fleet of 10 Hungarian-made “railbuses”. Among the routes were :-

  1. Kulai/Singapura/Kulai
  2. Ipoh/Kuala Lumpur/Ipoh
  3. Ipoh/Butterworth/Ipoh
  4. Gemas/Mentakab/Gemas
  5. Port Klang/KL/Sentul
  6. Butterworth/Arau/Butterworth

I remember travelling once in the early 1990s from SGP to Kulai for a work assignment (my company had a factory in Bandar Tenggara).

There were many complaints though….no aircon, trains were wobbly,etc. After a few years these were withdrawn from service.

Has anyone else travelled on one of these railbuses ?

Hedged My Bets On A Hatchback

It was my first “proper” car after driving a couple of junks that were not not much younger than I – the Mazda 323 Hatchback.  The two-box design was all the rave in the late 70s/early 80s, and I thought it would put the “unexciting” me into the chic league!

It claimed to be miserly on fuel, with 40mpg, but I soon found out that Mazda had simply put a gearbox that was in overdrive. If one went around corners at below 20mph on 3rd gear, the whole car would shudder.  I had to insert pieces of sponge here and there to overcome the vibrations.

Many sweet memories though. It was the car in which I took my first girlfriend for a date, … and drove with her all over Malaysia,…until we got married. Gave it to my sister, when we migrated to Singapore.

All’s Not Lost On My Copy-Cub

Prior to early 1970s, all Cubs in Malaysia were sired by Honda-san.  (Our family owned a series of Cubs in succession). Then Yamaha and Suzuki decided to bring forth their own Cubs – copies of the Hondas.

In 1978, my father bought me a new Suzuki FR70. With great joy, I rode off this 2-stroke 70cc bike for the final year of my MU studies.

My late uncle remarked that we should not have bought Suzuki, since in our Hokkien dialect it sounded like “lost it all” (输输去). Nonetheless, it served me well and I did graduate.

The 2-stroke engine’s domain was in the mid-to-high rpms – at low rpm, torque was poor, unlike the rugged Honda kapcai’s. The “zhng-zhng” sound was very different from the “put-put” sound of the 4-strokers. Overall, it was a fun machine.

Hindsight Was Mandatory

Up to the early 1970s (if I remember correctly), all lorries above a certain tonnage were required by law to have an Attendant at the back.  Apparently, it was to help the driver in front navigate safely through the streets, especially when going in reverse.

“Kelindan Lori” was not a glamorous job by any measure; rather, it was often fraught with danger, toils and snares.  Be it rain or shine, the person had to sit or stand among the goods onboard, without any physical protection.  On top of that, the attendant also had to double up as the primary loader and unloader for the goods.

But in those days, jobs were hard to come by,  thus there was no lack of takers for this strenuous work.  

Thankfully, these days life for workers in the transport industry has seen substantial improvement.

Beyond Sound Agreement

In late 1962, the two European rivals, Britain and France, put aside their differences, and signed a treaty to jointly develop and produce a commercial passenger aeroplane that would fly beyond than the speed of sound.

The resultant aircraft — aptly named “Concorde” — was a magnificient engineering triumph and a showcase of mastery of aerodynamics.  It fired the imaginations of impressionable young techie-wannabes like me. 

But commercially, the project was an epoch failure – with the press calling it “The Fastest Flop”.  Skyrocketing oil prices especially in the years following the Arab oil embargo, made it economically unviable.  The rise of environmental concerns such as side-effects of the “sonic boom” also hastened its demise.

The crash of Air France flight 4590 on 25 July 2000 put the final nail in the coffin for this beautiful speedbird.

Once Upon A Tiger…

This was Malaysia’s first-and-only homegrown tiger, assembled at the Capital Motors plant in Johor state.  Enter the Bedford Harimau BTV (basic transport vehicle) that was introduced in the early ‘70s.

I best remember the sales slogan in Chinese, “無所不適無所不能” meaning “Nothing Is Unsuitable, Nothing Is Un-doable” – in short, everything can lah!

Ex-factory, the vehicle came stark naked, with bare chassis and a driver’s cab without doors. The buyer then could configure his pet cat to his liking and build up the superstructure to suit his particular or peculiar needs.

Unfortunately, due to the rapidly changing economy landscape in Malaysia (not anticipated by GM), the sales did not roar like tigers but eventually tailed off into muffled mews of a dying cat.

All Routes Led To Puduraya

Of course this is an exaggeration (not all roads led to Rome, even in its heyday).  But this was the base terminal from which many express buses from all over the country operated.

During the 4 years of my studies at UM (1975-79), I called at this “mother-of-all-bus-terminals” at least 2 dozen times, as I travelled between Kuala Lumpur, and home in Penang.

Back then, it was already a hive of hyper-activity.  The upper floor which housed numerous ticketing booths and eating spots was always swarming with travellers of all shapes, sizes and colours, as well as hordes of bus touts crying aloud the names of almost every major town in Peninsula Malaysia.

The lower floor roared with high decibels of engine noise and fumed with diesel smoke from the arriving and departing buses. 

Those were the days – I have not been back there since 1980.

My Brief Civic Engagement

1984 was the landmark year for me.  With a new family and a career brimming with great expectations, I was about to embark on my next great acquisition – a brand new car.

The 4-door saloon version of the 2nd Gen Honda Civic had just been launched, and it had all the qualities that set my heart aflutter, and an affordable sticker price of RM20,500.  That Honda salesman probably closed the easiest deal of his life, as I practically sold the car to me on his behalf !

A week later, I was offered a new job in Singapore, and after much heart-rending discussions within the extended families, wifey and I decided to uproot from Penang to settle on the Little Red Dot.  The RM1,500 deposit had to be forfeited.

Inexplicably though, I never owned another Honda nor Civic after this brief engagement.