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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Lingering relics

A regrettable aspect in the tale of British trams being 'exported' to the USA over the past sixty years has been the total disinterest shown by the Members of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, to appeals for the return of two classic 'English' cars in their collection - for restoration by UK sponsors.

The otherwise excellent museum and its large diverse exhibits (and substantial workshops) includes several 'foreign' acquisitions from the 1950s and 1960s. Trams from Berlin, Hamburg, Rome, Blackpool (of course), Japan, Sydney, Glasgow, Liverpool and Leeds - were shipped to Maine, usually via the port of Boston. One could also mention cars from Toronto and Montreal for the sake of completeness and no disrespect to our Canadian cousins.

It is the two examples from Liverpool and Leeds which are perhaps the most contentious and a continuing concern to the UK tram heritage fraternity. Both trams have been totally neglected throughout their sojourn at Kennebunkport to the point where at least one - Liverpool 293 - is in a totally derelict state; whilst the other, Leeds being of steel frame construction, slightly less so. Neither have ever been on public display, given their now distressing condition, apart from initial appearances on arrival at Seashore decades previously. The Liverpool car being a particularly ill treated acquisition given its role as Liverpool's Last Tram in a special livery for the final week of services in 1957. The Leeds 'Feltham' would have many adherents were it to re-emerge whether for display or operation - in its Leeds fleet colours. One example was fortunately retrieved after closure of that system in 1959 and returned to London and restoration to its original company fleet condition. A further 'Feltham' number 331 also fortunately is preserved and operates at Crich Museum - this is the sole centre entrance prototype of course.

A definitely dated photo of the Author inside the top deck of Leeds 'Feltham' obviously many years ago in the distant mists of time. Liverpool 293 in its badly fading 'Last Tram' colours - again many years ago. It has sadly deteriorated far more since this image was taken.

Successive approaches from UK groups to the Seashore Museum apparatchiks offering to fund and secure the return of one or both trams over the years have been robustly rebuffed. Conversely the Museum has ensured quite extensive work led by one Member to overhaul and make presentable Blackpool Standard 144 - complete in its final green and cream livery (as counterpoint to the red and white example (40) held at the National Tramway Museum. A further member of the quartet of UK trams at Seashore, Glasgow 1274, has been more fortunate in having been kept under cover since arrival, although little or no conservation work has been done on the car - surprising given the strong Scottish American presence in that country.

The example of Blackpool Standard 147 being returned to Blackpool from Ohio a decade or more ago - and its now extraordinary operating role both at the Beamish Museum in Co. Durham, and of course on the promenade line; plus the more recent acquisition of Burton & Ashby 14 from near oblivion in Detroit - to a restored and potential operating condition by a private UK museum in 2016 - show how transatlantic cooperation in the heritage vehicle sector actually works to mutual benefit. In nearby Freckleton two pre-war Lytham St Annes buses have been restored by a private benefactor after lengthy storage outdoor in Canada.

Blackpool Standard 144 uniquely seen on the Seashore running line following its arrival at the museum. It would subsequently gain a repaint in 1920s fleet colours but latterly over recent years had benefitted from the tlc of a Seashore Museum Member and been returned to green and cream. Below : GCT 1247

Glasgow 1247 with a one-time trim Author. A repaint evidently will be needed but whether this has ever happened in the past fifty years is an open question.

Conversely the lamented 'Blackpool Belle' on the frame and equipment of former BCT open toastrack 163 is now purely a memory after disappearing from its interim home in Portland, Oregon (or thereabouts) to a technology group in Texas (I believe) where it was stripped of its former illuminated features construct. An object lesson in failures to recognise the important value of local skills and crafts in previous era. Similarly Blackpool's famous 'Lifeboat' and 'Gondola' likewise were discarded without a second thought in the early 1960s for the sake of providing other groups with the running gear and controls for 'alien' tram restoration projects. How much greater the value would be today if these classic feature cars had been shunted into the back of a depot or warehouse until such time as wiser minds recognised the role they played from the mid 1920s in reviving Blackpool's illuminations. Fortunately such minds are prevalent today ensuring surviving 'illuminated feature cars' being secured for eventual restoration and display here viz : the 'Rocket'aka 'Tramnik One' and the 'Hovertram'. Each being a classic.

But back to Kennebunkport. I visited the museum several times in my days in the US and always tried to at least view the four UK residents there. At some point a pragmatic management and membership at Seashore could well come round to acknowledging there isn't a chance in hell for either the Liverpool car and Leeds 'Feltham' to engender funds sufficient to see them restored at the Seashore museum- even if only as static exhibits. So accepting a responsible offer or proposal from the 'Home Country', which would see them returned to England with private sponsorship in place - would put both trams out of their misery as unwanted lingering relics in Maine.

The sight of the operating heritage trams in San Francisco, Memphis, Philadelphia, New Orleans and a clutch of other US towns and cities shows what can be achieved. Surely its now time to cut to the chase and bring 293 and 526 back home to Britain.

Seashore's busy 'Shops' just a glimpse of one corner with three 'trolleys' being attended to two years ago. The Museum does excellent work on its US collection.

A Cleveland centre entrance car from the 1920s undergoing final detail treatment. Blackpool's centre entrance trams certainly looked somewhat more confined space wise - but with improved seating and lighting fixtures.

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