Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Public Bus Transport (Part 2) - Singapore’s First Air-conditioned Public Bus (by Peter Chan)

When STC was placed under receivership, we heard from the grapevine there were many things that could be salvaged for free. So my cousin and I quickly made our way to the Mackenzie Road office, which is now the secondhand car dealer mart to ask for a specific memorabilia, the Isuzu or Nissan bus.

Were you thinking that we were planning to steal the bus?

We saw people taking away company letter-heads and envelopes, ticket-punchers, uniforms, bus destination screens, badges, conductor journey waybills, unused bus tickets, photos, etc. The STC employees were clearly not interested to keep anything and we sensed they lost all confidence working for the company. For many, it was the only company they had worked for in their entire career. Some 800 workers lost their jobs.


Fig 1: Left Photo; Paint-work schema for the front body. Right Photo; Passenger-seat configuration (circa 1969)

I had my first ride in an air-conditioned bus in 1962. It was the Singapore Traction Company (STC) using the Japanese Isuzu bus. STC used a single-deck, one door and one emergency exit Isuzu bus. Although it was a short ride from Collyer Quay to the Victoria Memorial Hall; for 10 cents it was sheer ecstasy because it was the first air-conditioned bus in Singapore albeit for not more than a year.

More Isuzu were later introduced such as the non-A/C version single deck, dual door and one emergency exit version. These newer STC buses were far better in terms of cleanliness than the Chinese bus companies. You could tell by one look at the stainless steel riveted floors and the passenger seats. The Chinese bus companies still stuck to the non-A/C Albion Victors, Leylands and Dennis Falcon buses.

Fig 2: Left Photo; A SBSTransit double-deck VOLVO bus (2008). Right Photo; STC Single-deck, dual-door and one emergency exit Nissan bus (circa 1969)

My next similar bus ride was during the 1968 December school holidays. My cousin and I took a Service 12 travelling from Airport Road to Bras Basah Road, getting off in front of the Raffles Hotel. 1970 was the very last time on STC Service 18A from Serangoon Gardens Circus to Finlayson Green. Both occasions were a different kind of experience from the one in 1962. By this time the Isuzu buses were replaced by the Nissan buses and were no longer A/C.

The Isuzu and Nissan buses were the first Japanese rear-engine air-cooled models on Singapore roads. Due to frequent break-downs the A/C buses was withdrawn and replaced by non-A/C buses. When break-downs occur the bus driver took out one of the passenger seats and placed it at the rear of the bus to alert other traffic users. So that was the reason why I rode in a non-A/C bus although it was Japanese-made.

If passengers could not find a window seat, the best option was to stand just below the ceiling ventilation ducts. That way when the buses speed, fresh air could come in. Unlike their “poor cousins” like the old Albion Victors, these Japanese-made buses were environmentally-friendly; one never smelled the gasoline or inhale the exhaust fumes.

Fig 3: Old versus Junk? Left Photo; A Nissan bus for STC unloading at the PSA Wharf in Tanjung Pagar (circa 1968). Right Photo: A United Bus Company Service 172 passes the STC Depot in Mackenzie Road (circa 1971)

Fig 4: “Second Shot” of the same place but different time. Left Photo; Isuzu bus parked inside the Mackenzie Road Depot (circa 1965). Right Photo; The former STC depot is now a public car park (2008).

Today I can hardly find any non A/C SBSTransit buses, maybe perhaps on a Loop Service. Better still, we have plenty of SBSTransit single-deckers and double-deckers to choose.



**********************************************

Lam Chun See continues ....

It is strange how our brain tends to associate certain objects or names with places and events. Every time I hear the word Isuzu bus, I think of those that were parked at the bus terminus (in the old days we don’t have bus interchanges) at Prince Edward Road just opposite the Singapore Polytechnic Campus. In the early seventies, when I was studying there, we can hear these Isuzu buses noisily warming up their engines like forever in the morning. So loud was the din that even from across the road, we found it a great nuisance.

And then there is the Green Bus. That name immediately brings to my mind Bus no. 175 which we used to take to return to Safti on Sunday nights from Beauty World. In 1969 and 1970, when I was studying at National Junior College in Linden Drive, I used to take the Green Bus.

This is a photo somebody sent to me. I don’t know where he got it from. I suspect it is from the Memories of Singapore website but I couldn’t find it there. Anyway, I believe that green colour bus is a STC bus. Am I right Peter?

42 comments:

Icemoon said...

Nice second shot .. the shophouse behind and its neighbour still look the same!

The Isuzu bus has the couplet warning that I don't know how many youngsters can appreciate.

驾车块似闪电
撞车猛如暴雷

And the warning was in traditional chinese. Now such warnings tend to be in English, more pictorial and shorter.

Above the number plate STC 139, I see a Laju 35 B.S.J. I wonder what is it. Isn't Laju the ferry in the Laju incident?

Lam Chun See said...

No lah, Laju meams speed in Malay right. So must be a speed limit sign.

Icemoon said...

Then the 35 could mean 35 mph, cannot be 35kmh right haha.

But then I wonder what is the "B.S.J.".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for blogging about the air-conditioned STC buses. I remember when it first started, my mum and my aunt took me and my cousin on service no. 19 at the bus terminal in front of our house which was at Balestier/Thomson junction. The Thomson Road Police Station was on the right of our house. I remember we were all so thrilled as in those days vehicles were not air-conditioned. The bus fare was only 0.15 cents (adult fare) if I am not wrong ! We would alight at Clifford Pier to enjoy the sea view.

We as kids would often rush for the one-seater seat which was in front of the bus and you would be facing the rest of the passengers. We would prentend that we were the king. Most ladies would shy away from this particular seat. I hope someone will know when I am trying to explain here.

Wow, that was 46 years ago ! It sure brings back a lot of wonderful memories.

Lam Chun See said...

When I started work in NPB in 1984, some of my older colleagues had been involved in the project to revamp the SBS. They had loads of photos (slides) of the terrible condition of the old depots and buses. As time went on, nobody wanted those slides and I kept them for my 5S training. Subsequently, after moving a few offices, I must be discarded them. What a pity! How I wish I still have them with me today and share them with you.

Lam Chun See said...

Here's Peter's reply to my question above:

"Chun See - that bus was a STC {model = Guy Arab)in front of the Clifford Pier. There is a pedestrian overhead bridge on the left of the photo which opened in 1964. The overhead bridge is now the Change Alley bridge."

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Anonymous. You mentioned a bus terminus at junction of Balestier and Thomson Rd. At first I simply could not remember that; even though I travelled that way everyday from Newton to Lorong Chuan in the 60's. But now it's coming back slowly. Was it at the spot facing Whitley Road near to where the canal and flyover?

yg said...

icemoon, i think b.s.j. stands for batu satu jamu = mile per hour.

peter said...

Chun See
Your Clifford Pier photo - sorry the bridge is on the right of photo.

The bus depot/workshop at Thomson Road belonged to Tay Koh Yat. The building today is a block of flats and very unique because when it was first built I wondered why they chose red and white colour (until today still same colour). Then I realised it was the Tay Koh Yat colours. The bdly called Tan Tong Meng Bdlg.

Icemoon said...

Thanks for the explanation yg. Now it makes sense.

Victor said...

BSJ = batu se-jam (miles per hour)

Jamu = Indonesian traditional herbs

yg said...

peter, i thought tan tong meng was a heavy vehicle transport company. i think the depot was closer to balestier road, where the concorde building is.

victor, i cannot remember putting a 'u' after 'jam'. maybe, subconsciously, i was thinking of jamu and tongkat ali.

peter said...

Stanley,
I may have got the buildings name wrong (or is there a name change??) but if you come up from Jalan Toa Payoh and approach the flyover towards Whitely Road, the red and white building is on the left of the flyover. At street level, on Thompson Road, it is on the left before turning left into Balestier Road. It was the only tall building in the Thompson Road area until SLF Building came up.

Anonymous said...

Concorde is a modern design (built very much ltaer) when you compare to Tan Tong Meng. Tan Tong Meng is definitely a 1970s type architecture with huge balconies facing Whitley Road.

Lam Chun See said...

I remember one night when the bus went into this depot to fill up patrol. I was sitting at the window seat just beside the pump and was surprised to see how long it took to fill up the tank.

Other times too, the bus would simply detour into this terminus for no apparent reason. As passengers we get very irritated; but in those days, the bus company is king not the customer.

Lam Chun See said...

As a kid, when I took a bus a night, I was always quite mesmerized by the sight of the shadow of the bus sliding pass everytime we pasa by a lamp post. Even today, if I happen to take a bus by night, I instinctively look out for this. But these days, the lights are different and the shadow not so distinct. Those days, the street lights were all white light. Nowadays they are all yellow - what do you call this type of light; I forgot the name.

Victor said...

Our sodium street lamp emits 2200K colour temperature (orange colour).

exakr said...

As a bus ethusianst, I'm quite delighted at your recent two posts about the buses from Singapore's past. Having been born in 1987, I do not really have any contact with these old buses, and only dim memories of riding similar later descendants of these kind of buses in the early 1990's - I still remember the old Hinos and Nissan Diesels that comprised virtually 100% of then-Trans Island's bus fleet (now, only one similar Nissan Diesel model, commonly seen on routes 178, 852, and 975, remain). By then, two-men operation has been largely phased out; tales of how two-men bus operation came only as second-hand accounts from my father.

Official accounts of Singapore's public transport history likes to put Singapore's first air-conditioned bus as an SBS Mercedes OF1413 (or was it OF1417?) bus bought from Singapore Airport Bus Service - though I guess you old-timers and us bus ethusiansts all know that this is wrong for quite some time. I heard from somewhere that the air-conditioned Isuzu was withdrawn because - ironically from today's viewpoint - the air-conditioning was not very popular with the commuters. It was then relegated to a mainly charter bus role.

By the way, the Green Bus routes 170, 171, and 172 you mentioned in the last post still exists today - as SBS Transit route 170 and SMRT routes 171 and 172. Of course, routes 171 and 172 today has gone through major changes; it's barely recgonisable from a historical viewpoint, but route 170 has stayed largely intact - a true living relic of Singapore's past. Other routes you mentioned has mostly been withdrawn a long time ago - the routes you see today use recycled numbers.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See,

The No. 19 bus terminus was right in front of Jln Raja Udang. I was staying at the row of shophouses next to Jln Raja Udang. It was a 2-storey shophouses and kind of crescent shaped. There was a furniture shop, a photo studio called Peking and a stationery next to it. Behind the shophouses is now where Tan Tong Meng Bldg is (I think). I have since migrated to California and this is the best I can recall.

Lam Chun See said...

I thought that name Peking photo studio sounded familiar. I checked and to my pleasant surprise, I found that I still have the envelope that holds my passport photos. The address is 592-D Balestier Road, Singapore 12!

Lam Chun See said...

Hey, maybe it's time to start a Balestier Road heritage trail. But I don't think I can dig out enough memories for more that 1 post. Peter - how about you?

peter said...

Unfortunately I never did venture into Balestier Road area until recently for "tau sah piah and the duck rice store. If you include Moulmein Road area, yes I had been around there - first to be warded at the Middleton Hospital (guess what is the new use for this hospital today) and saw what I thot was the most beautiful nurse I ever seen and fell more sick after that (at that time lah), the sports field where there was a Malay Football club (now the flyover), Indians playing cricket a technical school and Rumah Miskin Police Station (later became SANA).

Zen said...

Whenever I am around clifford pier I have a strong urge to go in and have a look. Looking at the vast expanse of the sea and breathing in the fresh sea breeze would make me reminiscing my past career with the port, like turning page by page of a book, recollecting good and memories of former years from the era of cargo vessels to the arrival of modern container ships. In the midst of activities, this pier can provide serenity to a wandering mind. The pier was known to the previous generation as: 'ang teng bei tou'(in hokkien). Apart being a useful gateway for people to pray at a temple in kusu
island. the pier had a darker side. Quite a few depressed people chose the pier as 'ideal' spot to commit suicide by jumping off it and drown themselves. So there was a popular admonishment at that time: "if you are not happy, why not jump off ang teng bei tou?"

peter said...

I thot the Cantonese call it "Hung Tang Ma Tow"? Got anything to do with prostitution? I did see women from the trade hanging in front of the Clifford Pier soliciting for Ang Mo sailors in the late 50s. The women were dressed in cheong-sams, so it tells me that that this was a Chinese area. I saw some of the women boarded the bum-boats anchored next to Clifford Pier, heading in the direction of ships outside Teluk Ayer Basin.

peter said...

I believe in the 1960s the Goverment organized a sea sport at a jetty in front of the now Fullerton Hotel - Fullerton One? People had to crawl on a greasy pole and the winner was the one who reached the end of the pole to pick a flag. May fell into the water. PESTA SUKAN or something like that

Victor said...

Peter said: "Got anything to do with prostitution?"

I didn't bring up this sleazy topic hor but since you mentioned it first, did you know that history repeated itself in the 1980s? Many women from an ASEAN country were fond of soliciting near the Red Lantern Restaurant area at night. But this time they catered more to locals, I think. Couldn't confirm that personally because I behaved myself.

Tom said...

Tom said...
I remember traveling on the old single deck bus that use to pass Selarang it took us in to the city. I just cant remember the Number or the colour,I think the colour was green?.may be our friend peter will know.in fig.2 when I saw the Bus in the left hand photo for afew seconds I thought the bus was from some were in the city of Edinburgh were I come from , the bus just looks the same as ours.

peter said...

Tom
That was Changi Bus, either a #1 or #2 but they had special services for RAF Changi personnel then.

Can u send us photos of a similar bus from Edinburgh? Interesting observation.

peter said...

Victor
By that time that ASEAN got involved it was ladyboys rgt int eh 1980s? I believe the problem extended into the private car park of Overseas Union House.

Anonymous said...

Chun See, you are right. Peking Studio was at 592-D Balestier Road. We lived above it. The children of the studio were my childhood friends. I think the building is still there and its now known as Bright Centre.

yg said...

hi anonymous - the one who lived above peking studio, i also had some passport/ic photos taken at the same studio but unlike chun see i don't keep old stuff like the small envelope. if i am not wrong, the owner of the studio was a hainanese. i also used to buy stationeries from the shop next door. somewhere along the same road there was an old shop from which we used to get charcoal when we had bbq.

Zen said...

Tom - The British had a significant presence in this part of the world for some two hundreds years, leaving behind many things for present Singaporeans in this country to connect with its past history, from large building like the supreme court to the 'made in England' stationery. When my father passed away in 2001, he left behind some souvenirs in his drawer, in which one was a letter opener inscribed with the words 'HMS govt'. Unfortunately I lost it during house removal. So it is not surprising to find things in UK (even a bus) resembling one in Singapore.

Lam Chun See said...

About that Peking Studio, I think I took my passport photos at their Toa Payoh branch. I just don't recall goining to Balestier Road to take passport photos. More when I blog about this later.

Tom said...

Tom said ,
Peter I had another look at fig. no 2, the Edinburh Lothian Bus , does look very similar, But there is a wee bit of a difference, I will send you a photo of the bus , and see if you can spot it, if you do, see if you can put it on good morning yesterday , and let see if some else good spot the difference. Zen that letter opener could have been worth a few pounds .

Anonymous said...

Hi yg, you are right, the owner of Peking Studio was Hainanese. He also had another branch in Toa Payoh managed by his son. The stationery shop's name was Chang Chiang and the charcoal place must be the little squatter hut managed by an elderly couple on a small lane maybe Jalan Raja Udang ?

yg said...

anonymous, i think the charcoal seller's squatter hut was between jalan raja udang and jalan datoh.

the now famous loong fatt tau sar piah was already being sold at the corner coffee-shop when you lived above the studio.

along thomson road, the thomson medical centre was just no. 329 wc cheng's clinic. then there was a row of shops along thomson road just before the junction with balestier road. i used to have my bicycle fixed at the bicycle shop, which also repaired motor-cycles, especially scooters.

peter said...

Now I remember that before Thomson Medical Center there was a block of flats and a large carpark in front. You need to drive up a steep gradient to get to this flat. My music school was on the ground floor, run by an ang mo lady. I think 3 storey because the staircase for the apartments upsides from the front. That would be around 1968. I hope I can find the music school receipts.

Anonymous said...

Yg, We moved out from Balestier Road around 72 and don't remember any tau siah piah. I remember there was Season Cake Shop.

And one of the shops at the row of shophouses where Thomson Medical Center now sits was a tailor shop. Thomson Police Station was also next to it. Also was Singapore Telecoms.

Now Balestier Road is full of nightlife, I heard. Do you remember the wet market further up from Thomson/Balestier junction after Balestier Hill Schools and after Tai Gin Road, Ah Hood Road ? Is the market still there ? My mum used to do her marketing there and I would tag along just to buy toys which were being sold outside the market.

Anonymous said...

yg, I think this is going to be so interesting. We are digging more and more into the old Balestier Road bringing back many memories ! Did you live there ? My sister who is 10 years older than me had a lot of friends who lived in Balestier. Some of them at the kampong behind Lee Kuo Chuan Primary School. We can blog about the kampong someday. I have fond memories of the kampong.

There was a kampong at the junction of Thomson/Balestier which was just next to Peking Studio shophouses. There was this Chinese family who operated a chap gee kee den. My mum used to place her bet there and sometimes I would be her carrier. The grandson of the chap gee kee operator was my classmate at Lee Kuo Chuan Pr Sch.

Lam Chun See said...

Dear friends, this is also getting quie interesting; and exciting for me. Could I please ask you to hold off your inputs and comments about Thomson and Balestier for just a while. I plan to start a new thread about this area very soon; maybe tonight or tomorrow latest.

Thanks.

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