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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tour of the Illuminations

Queuing close to sodden grass in a biting westerly wind is no fun - especially at night and without any lighting or protection from the weather. But that's part of the visitor experience before a tram arrives to thankfully to load up an expectant crowd for a tour of the illuminations. It has always been so even when the queues were at North Pier or Tower for Illuminations Tours going back in time to the late 1950s when the Transport Department cottoned on to the idea of charging premium fares for a ride on an illuminated tram. In those days the tours involved a mini-fleet of special 'cars' which came in a flotilla of 'seagoing craft' from a Mississippi paddle steamer, to a naval frigate, a lifeboat or a Gondola (for a few short years) and latterly a 'Hovertram'. All of these were put into the shade by the 'Western Train' and Rigby Road's nod to space exploration with 'The Rocket' aka 'Tramnik One'. Below : The Frigate heads off with a satisfying full load of expectant passengers as we joined the queue wondering what will show up next and when ......

A welcome arrival in the form of 718 - the only one of this type to be operable. I was told the crew were expecting to staff the 'Trawler' but 718 was substituted due to electrical issues with the new lighting on the Trawler which would appear to be a cause of problems due to the high energy load. Or so I was informed.

The view inside with the driver keeping his cab door open towards the end of the return run to Pleasure Beach.

Fortunately the Western Train and Frigate are still very much part of the Illuminations experience, joined again this year by a rejuvenated 'Trawler'. Whilst the Rocket and Hovertram bide their time for similar rebuilding by Rigby Road workshops. The tram of choice for our (my wife and I) last weekend of the Lights tribute was far less exotic in the shape of 'ghostly' flat fronted 718 which arrived to draw us into its protective cover from the bitterly cold wind that is the norm on south promenade by late October and November. Whilst not denying some disappointment in missing out on the Western Train or the Frigate (the Trawler was confined to the depot with technical fault) - I was quite satisfied in being able to sample the sole operable example of this quartet of rebuilt 'Balloon' cars that represented the future in the late 1990s. Apparantly the other three cars are confined to the depot with all manner of problems and deficient parts that have been removed to keep at least one example (in this case 718) running.

We were on the lower deck - allowing families with children to take up the top deck seats - and without any overwhelming concern over missing out on better viewing of the illuminations displays. It was noticeable as we proceeded steadily north to Bispham that the tram's lack of dehumidifier on a cold night with a full load meant a constant wiping of windows for clearer viewing, and not just for the passengers but also the driver who was seen constantly having to rub clear his windscreen more or less throughout the journey there and back.

A friendly conductor kept passengers informed of progress and helped patiently while quite a few with children opted to get off at the North Pier stop on our way back. It makes all the difference for visitors to know they can speak with the conductor on these trips.

Finally back at Pleasure Beach it was chance to see the Trust's car 641 still in good condition after two years spreading the good news about Blackpool's football team!

Images : John Woodman

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