I caught the number 70 tram down to the Melbourne Tram Museum at the Hawthorn Tram Depot and found a thousand things that I was not expecting.
I couldn’t possibly write something on each of the stories I discovered, detailing the social history connected to this very ‘Melbourne’ form of transport. Instead I’ve chosen one object, the Bundy clock, and will include images of other wonderful things I came across with the hope that you will venture there too.
Today, radio beacons along each route monitor whether the trams are on time. Before this, the city’s tram operators had to find other ways of making sure their drivers weren’t just parking somewhere for the day and popping back to the depot when their shift was over… not to mention keeping to any sort of timetable. Bundy clocks were the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board’s answer.
Bundy was the company name (much like Biro or Hoover) given to road-side green clocks used for time recording. Each tram driver was issued with a Bundy clock key for their shift. The driver would insert the key into the clock when they passed it. Each key had number and depot label. When entered into the clock, it would press against a paper tape and record the time. Their colour was even a standardised Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board green. A Bundy clock is preserved in the garden bed at the South-East corner of the Domain Interchange stop on St. Kilda Rd and there is one in the office of the Essendon Tram Depot, Melbourne’s oldest operating depot.
The Bundy Company eventually merged with the International Time Recording Company, which in turn also merged with two other companies that would later become International Business Machines (IBM – you might’ve heard of them).
All that to just keep the trams on time! Then again, while I was being shown around the Tram Museum it was mentioned that a few empty bottles were once found in the sand box of one tram (and yes, there is actually a box of sand in the undercarriage of a tram that drivers use to create traction when the tracks are slippery). Maybe think of that next time your tram’s running late or, alternatively, say thanks to the driver if you do hop off at your destination on time.
There have been tramways in Melbourne since 1885. It seems like a distinctly ‘Melbourne’ thing, but there are tramways all over the world from Zurich to San Francisco…although Melbourne’s tracks currently span the furthest.
Melbourne (and its tram system) spreed out fast after Federation. Local councils and private companies established separate tramways to serve the new suburbs. One tell-tale sign of this was that trams were painted in different colours by each company. The Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board took over these independent operations in the 1920s. The Board inherited 216 trams that it began to classify in a standardised system, labeling them in classes A-H and J-V. It finally developed a standardised design that was constructed in Melbourne, called the W Class (catch a City Circle tram if you want to hop on one).
The Hawthorn Tram Depot opened in 1916, but the rapid growth of the tram network and introduction of electric cable routes in the 1920s meant it soon had to be expanded. An underground workshop was added in 1917 and it also became the site for the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board driver training school in 1925. A uniform factory was added to the building’s upper level in 1940, producing all of the company’s driver and conductor uniforms.
However, demand for public transport declined as cars became more affordable. Routes changed and the Hawthorn Depot closed as a functional depot in 1965. It still produced Melbourne’s tram uniforms up to the 1990s.
The Melbourne Tram Museum is open on select Saturdays (you can find out when here) and I would seriously recommend that you go there, particularly if you’ve ever wanted to sit in the driver’s seat of a tram and ding the bell.
The Tram Museum is also looking for volunteers. If you’re interested or think you could help in anyway, shoot me a message on the comments page!
Many thanks to Mike, Adam and Norm who showed me around the Museum.