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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Works Car to Heritage Tram - Number 143

143 still in service in the mid 1950s approaching Talbot Square on Clifton Street.

A wonderful survivor from the fleet of 1920s 'Standard' cars is number 143. Selected in 1958 from those condemned for scrapping at Thornton Gate sidings this enclosed example was fortunate enough to be given a new lease of life. Bispham Depot was home to an 'Engineering Car' needed to traverse the reserved track section north of the Cabin. The concept for 143 was to allow it to operate without need for overhead wire power supply. Rigby Road's engineering staff installed the engine from a withdrawn Corporation bus (a Leyland Titan I believe) in the lower saloon which naturally was stripped of all seating. This was the alternate power source allowing the tram to move under its own power with a full tank of diesel. To provide some level of air quality and reduce noise from the engine when powered the centre saloon windows were removed on both sides. In their place neatly slatted wooden fittings concealed the interior but allowed egress of fumes (and noise). The remaining lower deck side windows were painted over cream from the middle downwards to the bottom frame.

The top deck which had enclosed balcony ends was fitted with a gantry tower in the centre section where the top deck saloon had been skilfully removed above the side panelling. The two enclosed end sections were fitted out as small workshops with tool and storage space. Renumbered '3' in the Works Car fleet sequence, unusually the new Engineering Car was then repainted in a close rendition of the Standard car fleet livery.

In this form the new Engineering Car took up its post at the front of Bispham Depot from 1958 awaiting call outs. Its predecessor (Number 4) then transferred allegiance to Rigby Road Depot, somewhat demoted, but nonetheless kept busy with sundry duties including pole painted on the reserved track section.

It was not long before the Fitters and Overhead Crew complained about the limited space available in manouvering the overhead platform gantry due to the retained end sections and parts of the side panelling. A mark 2 version thus appeared sans end sections and with the mid deck panels trimmed in the same way as predecessor Number 4. Complaints then ceased and in this form Engineering Car 3 carried out its duties, being subsequently transferred also to Rigby Road on closure of Bispham Depot as a running shed. It also gained the luxury of fitted folding doors on both platforms. These were retrieved from a scrapped English Electric railcoach and reinstalled on the Engineering Car to provide some protection from wind, sheeting rain and sea spray which afflicted the tramway to the present day. Thus number ex 143 became the only Standard with 'platform doors'.

Engineering Car 3 in Blundell Street sans top deck features. Number 4 is behind.

A fire in the lower saloon brought the tram's days of service to a summary halt and it became a permanent static fixture at Rigby Road until recovered from possible scrapping by the Lancastrian Transport Trust. Thereafter their aim of returning the car to its original bodywork state of open platform and open balcony design attracted considerable attention and support from the enthusiast community. This eminent objective encountered various challenges but significant progress was made in providing a new top deck, staircases and other features. Differences of views and other priorities saw the project stall for a while but at least 143 was looking again like an original Standard car when it finally returned to Rigby Road Depot in 2014. Now residing in the former Car Body Shop it awaits completion of work to bring it back to life in Corporation Tramways red, white and teak colours. It is hoped that this objective will be reached during 2016 when it will join sister car 147 (Scottish built) on heritage tours. A wonderful survivor with many twists and turns in the story to the tram's eventual return to operating state. Quite a few people and supportersof 143 will need thanking for this especial achievement.

The original design for Blackpool's Standard cars emerges from Blundell Street Depot in 1923 - this is Standard 34. The LTT produced this excellent colour representation of how 143 will appear when fully restored to1920s appearance.

Images : John Woodman Archive


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