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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Brush Cars time and again

2017 would seem to be the year in which the remarkable role and longevity of the twenty luxury rail coaches built by the Brush Engineering Company, Loughborough in 1937 is recognised in Blackpool.

Numbered 284 - 303 the trams were ordered ostensibly to make up the capacity shortfall on the promenade due to replacement by Lytham St Annes Corporation of its tram service as far as the 'Gynn' - with a jointly operated bus service that only went as far north as Hounds Hill. Whilst the 'blue trams' were both dated and diminutive in size when compared to Blackpool's modern tram fleet of the 1930s', they were certainly numerous and importantly provided a welcome supplement in capacity along the promenade during peak summer season and into the Illuminations.

Turning to the Brush company and away from English Electric for this contract was a major step at the time, given the rock solid grip that the Preston firm had on Blackpool's tram fleet modernisation from 1933, when Walter Luff took charge. The influence of a former English Electric manager later contracted to Brush Engineering could well have had a significant bearing on this one - off contract. The trams themselves came with air powered sliding doors, stylish interior lighting and a more sleek end profile than the blunter look of English Electric's single deck design - of which forty-five examples had already transformed Blackpool's tramway. It is noteworthy that the very last English Electric contract for Blackpool in 1939 (10-21) copied the new deep driver's cab windscreens and sharper end profile of 284-303.

Whilst all of the English Electric railcoaches have since been scrapped or rebuilt for the twin-set programme of the early 1960s, and later OMO car conversion almost a decade later - the Brush cars soldiered on in much diminished numbers more or less until the upgrade of the tram service in the low floor era. A consequence of this remarkable longevity has been the preservation of a sizeable percentage of the twenty strong class. Of course over the decades most of the original classic features of the cars have been lost to successive overhauls in the Body Shop, but the survivors are forevermore known as the 'Brush Cars' in tribute to their original builder. Seven examples still remain at Rigby Road Depot including the skeletal former Permanent Way Car (now 259); plus the extended frame on EMB bogies of the rail carrier trailer. 'Trawler' 737 lineage incorporates a former Brush car now much altered. The Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust has its own classic example (290) which was displayed at the Pleasure Beach in various guises over three years. Whilst the Trust's compound hosts two further privately owned examples 625 and 637, and a local school in Anchorsholme has a well kept car used as a classroom. A further example (284/621) was privately acquired from the Trust for the purpose of restoration and operation at Beamish. It has since been reacquired by the Blackpool heritage tram collection thus going in a complete circle over six years via Kirkham Prison and the Beamish Museum.

Elsewhere Peel Holdings retain ownership of a final 'modernised' example, as does a Derby based energy technology company. Heaton Park is host to 286/623 in its final wartime green replica paint job. The Crich Museum have two examples: 293/630 one of the very last 'modernised' versions; and by contrast a nearly restored 298 after years of dedicated effort by a handful of active enthusiasts buttressed by a wide body of supporters giving financially to the tram's restoration to 1937 condition. All in all out of the twenty cars built at Loughborough in the 1930s - fifteen examples are in the care of various organisations, plus one pared down as a trailer frame at Rigby Road. Not at all bad for this class going on eighty years.

Topically in 2017 the Tramway Museum Society (I am a Life Member) would appear to have woken up to sometimes strenuous lobbying on behalf of 298. The car arrived at Crich accompanied by a substantial five figure dowry from contributions from enthusiasts all over the country. A further fund raising action is now announced to assure the completion of restoration of this high point of luxury tram travel (at least in Blackpool) by the Crich Workshop. Just how much capital funding is required to finish the hard work and substantially completed bodywork on this car? If anything such an appeal for yet more money raises the question on just how does a finite enthusiast community raise the seemingly monumental amounts apparently necessary for a British tramcar to be comprehensively overhauled and restored? There are many equally deserving cars, particularly in the Crich collection, that qualify for overhaul and entry to operating condition for public benefit. One assumes that Blackpool Standard 49 has a far lesser demand on TMS budgets, whilst Dreadnought 59 (another hoary chestnut) will undoubtedly need a Heritage Lottery type transaction if it is ever to reappear anywhere at all from its lengthy rest within the TMS 'reserve collection' at Clay Cross. Ironically 298 joins Leeds 600 inside Clay Cross. Leeds 600 was a final 'fling' in tram development being a rebuild of a former Sunderland single deck tram from the late 1920s acquired by Leeds to test out possible subway operation. The original builder being Brush Engineering. This company had a sizeable order book both foreign and domestic pre 1937.

Above - 2010 and a Brush car is tested on the tracks (and overhead) up to Fleetwood. It is seen here passing through Thornton Gate.

1960 - Fifty years earlier would you believe and two Brush cars are traversing Lytham Road. Both Images : John Woodman

This included centre entrance single deck trams for the Manchurian system in Mukden and delivery of a total fleet renewal for Falkirk of all places in 1928 - again single deck. One modern styled double deck centre car was built for South Shields, later joining Sunderland which had a penchant for such cars; having several in its fleet including two examples also built by Brush. But the Blackpool contract was the high point, and as it turned out the end point of the company's role in tram construction. Of all the British tram fleets and classes of traditional tram - Blackpool's 'Brush Cars' are by far the most numerous of any class now in preservation. This alone is deserving of recognition by the wider transport heritage community. One caveat is needed here - seven out of eight Centenary cars similarly survive in various forms.

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