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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Basle's boat cars

Not quite Basle 'bathtub trailers' - but pretty exotic all the same. Actually a three axle trailer of the suburban BLT system with a Basle Swiss 'standard set' passing on route 2. The top image shows the trailer in a promotional design for the Cantonal Savings Bank (Basel land) whilst the other has clearly some type of folklore ogre tacked on to the end. .No prizes for guessing what it is. Both Images : John Woodman

Blackpool wasn't alone in the 1930s in seeing value in providing special tours on open trams. Apart from the familiar 'toastrack' trams which were features of other UK seaside resorts such as Llandudno, Southport, Weston SuperMare and on the Isle of Man - both horse and electric versions there. A less exotic locale - Grimsby proferred tours on an totally open two axle tram (not with cross bench seating).

Perhaps this latter design focussed minds far away in Basle, Switzerland where two similar trams were built in 1938. However these were open trailers with transverse wooden seats towed behind one of that city's ubiquitous two axle trams of standard design painted all-over green. There wasn't much time for this initiative to catch on as the war intervened and Basle found itself on the front line, literally with one route running over the border into France, which of course was both occupied (the northern half) and collaborating with Germany (Vichy) in the south.

It was only in 1945 when peace came to Europe (of a sort) and thousands of US GIs with swollen wallets were given free rein to sightsee. Special coaches and tours were laid on to take them to destinations untouched by wartime destruction such as Copenhagen and Switzerland. In Basle the city's tramway operation speedily placed its 'bath tubs' into service specifically for visiting American military - with special tours being promoted 'in English' to US personnel. My father in law was on one of the trips organised by special US military coaches to Denmark - he being stationed in Bremen and Bremerhaven which were north German ports made available to the US military based in their zone of Germany- which ran south from Kassel to the Swiss and Austrian borders.

The Basle 'bath tubs' were far from the elegant style of Blackpool's boats but served the same leisure purpose in summer months. Many years later the Zurich tram system created its own open trailer - this time a bogie car trailer with the top half of the body removed and some elegant canvas awnings over seats and fixed tables - for this tram served icecream! It was towed by an enclosed version which offered beer and wurst among other hot delicacies. The duo operated a city sightseeing service of some 45 minutes duration; enough time to consume one or other (not both) of the comestibles on offer. Of course Blackpool tried this with sponsorship of the Walls Ice Cream brand but its early attraction faded quickly and the installed ice cream equipment removed - but the redesigned interior remained. Now we have an ersatz offering of fish and chips on board courtesy of Harry Ramsden's. Having yet to sample this promotion I reserve comment. Somehow the idea of riding around on an open car consuming Blackpool's best ice cream (Notrianni's) on board seems a more ideal temptation - of course on a warm sunny day. Who knows? the concept may find its way into the Heritage 'to do hopper'.

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