Northern Rhodesia Transport by Brian Townsend

When we lived at Barleston Park (1957 to 1958) we would travel to school by car. There were school buses but none of them came out our way as far as I knew. My father started off with an Austin pick-up and then progressed to an Austin A70.

Once we had moved into town (I think our first government home was in Stores Road.) I was given a 20 inch bicycle to ride to school and everywhere else that I could. That poor bike took some hammering. One of our favourite games at the local park in Denbigh Road was to ride through the middle section of the jungle-jim, grabbing the overhead bar as we went, letting the bike run on on its own. The winner was the one whose bike travelled the furthest without a rider. The paths at the park were all surfaced with laterite. This allowed us to carry out back brake stops and perform 360 degree turns.

Another trick of Micky and me was when we visited our mothers at the public works department (PWD) stores. They both worked there. On leaving, we would race at speed towards the boom barrier, where the guard was expecting us to slow down while he slowly opened it. As we got near, we would swing our leg off one side of the bike, and standing on only one peddle with our heads positioned lower than the handle bars, ride under the boom. Much to the consternation of the guard, who would hurl abuse at us as we rode off.

When we were at high school, naturally we progressed to 26 inch bicycles. For some reason we didn’t mistreat these as we had our smaller ones. Everyone had a saddle bag in order to take one’s books to school and back. For most of us who didn’t live in Woodlands or Kabulonga, it was a six mile ride to school along well kept cycle paths, passing the golf club and the back of government house.

In summer the cicadas (Christmas beetles) in the trees along the cycle path would provide a high pitched constant buzz as we cycled beneath them.

The main trick with these bikes was to take off the butterfly handlebars and turn them upside down. They then became “semi-drop” handlebars and looked much sportier.

In 1963, I was in form 4 in Ndola, but my parents had been transferred back to Lusaka so I was spending my school holidays at home. The latest thing was to have a Jawa 50cc moped for transport. My mates Dennis, Micky and I were all provided with these buzz bikes by our parents. Dennis Brown actually upgraded from a sort of motorised bicycle where the motor was mounted in front of the handle bars and drove the front wheel by being lowered onto it. Can’t remember what it was called.

There were dozens of Jawas at school at the time. There were a few other mopeds available but this was the most popular. The big problem was the exposed exhaust pipe on the one side. If you slid or came off by accident, this pipe would give you a serious burn on your leg. We all had them.

Naturally, boys will be boys, and most of us grew into bigger bikes. Those were the days of the BSA 650 Besa, the Matchless, the AJS and the Triumph. Japanese bikes like Honda were just starting to appear. The largest Honda available at that time was a 300cc Dream.

My personal upgrade was to a Lambretta 150cc scooter. My friend Norman McLeod then had a Vespa. The big improvement over the Jawa was that there was a pillion seat so you take girls on the back. This was at the end of my school days and of course there were parties to go to. I developed the habit of putting the Lambretta up on its stand and sleeping on the seats with my legs hooked over the front panel if I got tired or needed to sleep off a couple of beers.

Now I had left school at the end of 1964 and my father helped me buy a 1959 Austin Mini. Grey, two doors and with no synchromesh in the gear box. That was what I learnt to drive in and it is still one of my favourite vehicles. We could get 4 of us boys and girls in there and be off to Chilanga or the limestone caves, the Kafue gorge, the Lido drive-in or whatever party was on.

The other vehicles I can remember from that time were: my future brother-in-law’s Vauxhall (pink with that long sloping back); Micky Carle’s green Wolseley; my sister’s Ford Zephyr (which I managed to put into a four wheel slide around the Cecil Rhodes roundabout) and her Fiat 500; Geoff Cochran’s father’s Singer (very smart); Audrey Howes’s Ford Prefect; Richard Mander’s Fiat 600; Glen Heasom’s Ford V8; Rick Stacey’s white Volvo 1800 sport; Cliff Paget’s MG TF; Roy Milham’s Morris 1000 (hand painted in blue); my father’s Ford Taunus station wagon (with the brake lights at the top – a first) and my future father-in-law’s Fiat 124.

Talking of Geoff’s Dad’s Singer, Geoff was driving us in that car to the caves south of Lusaka. There were 5 of us. Glen Landsberg, Jenny Cessford and I in the back seat and I think Chris Evans in the front passenger seat – but I may be wrong. Geoff was showing a good turn of speed at about 70 m.p.h. when we approached a blind bend between 2 hills. He went to slow down as there was a large truck in front of us – only to find out that he had no brakes! They had been adjusted during its service a couple of days before and had slipped so that the brake shoes no longer reached the drums. I recall throwing Jenny on the floor and Glen coming down on top of me. I could hear Geoff, in his Oxford accent saying “oh shit oh shit oh shit”. He then started dropping gears very rapidly and hauling like mad on the handbrake. Amazingly he managed to bring the car to a shuddering halt about 10 feet behind the truck just as another huge lorry came towards us round the blind bend. Well done Geoff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s