Blackpool Brush Car 298 - The Saga
This tram represents probably the longest tram restoration project in UK history given
the extended sequencing of effort which began back in Blackpool in the 1970s. Thanks to the efforts of a very small number of enthusiasts led by Keith Terry quite vital parts from extant Brush cars undergoing work at Rigby Road were seperately acquired and put away for eventual incorporation in what was to become a classic rendition of this class of UK tram. In particular the sliding roof panels among other unique features. The parts were of course added to the tram itself ahead of work.
A detailed hand duplicated Newsletter (remember those in pre-computer days) produced by the 'Railcoach Fund' was circulated annually to willing subscribers and supporters joined up in a collective desire to see at least one of this twenty-strong class returned to its 1930s as built condition. Much like the marvellous work achieved with Glasgow Coronation Mk 1 1282. On leaving Blackpool number 298 underwent several moves to eventually end up at Weaste in Salford under arrangements with the Mode Wheel organisation, which itself had been instrumental in forthright tram restoration over the years starting I believe with Bolton 66. Now there's a wonderful tram restoration story.
Lacking the resources and Workshop facilities of the TMS and Crich Museum progress on restoration was always going to be an extended process, but nonetheless the 298 team - all volunteers with some outsourced paid specialist services, managed to get the job done to the extent of bodywork reassembly, complete with opening sliding roof panels and 'Alhambrinal' ceiling fittings. The art deco chrome edged interior lighting fixtures were reinstated in pristine condition along with the fine detail of seating and bulkheads in polished wood. And much more on the underframe and running gear.
The tricky bit of reinstating double indicator cab roof domes was an especially difficult job with slightly different profiles or measurements at each end to deal with. -I recall reading about this in several of the Railcoach Fund annual narratives - all produced by Keith personally, along with a detailed Fund Acccounting of monies received and expended. A healthy Fund balance was always maintained and especially so in later years as work slowed due to health and personal limitations of the handful of people dedicated to realising their long held vision for this tram.
At some point these physical constraints, coupled with the space limitations and conditions at Weaste, and possibly renewal (or non renewal) of lease meant the tram being transferred to the care of the Tramway Museum Society. It duly appeared at Crich clearly with a fair amount of detail work needed on the body, but looking reasonably close to complete restoration after a spell in the Paint Shop. It also came most importantly with a really sizeable accompanying fund that was capably managed through the Tramcar Sponsorship Organisation; attracting ongoing standing orders (direct debits in today's parlance). The fullest details of the Fund dedicated to 298 escape me at this point but it is reputed to be well into the six figure range, and no doubt climbing with interest accrual.
From time to time I have personally expressed frustration at the subsequent lamentable lack of further attention given to this tram following its arrival at Crich. With the sole exception of being placed in the 'Exhibition Hall' more or less in in its 'as delivered' state from Salford, complete with components and parts piled up in the tram's interior - - 298 has become something akin to Tutenkamen's Tomb awaiting the attention of a dedicated explorer. Even the Exhibition Hall assignment proved too much for the Museum and a decision taken to exile the tram to the offsite Clay Cross store where it really has now become entombed in a sort of 'out of sight out of mind' exercise in tactical convenience. It joins two other Blackpool exiles of course the Museum's 'OMO Car' acquisition and the fabulous 'Dreadnought' also immured in the darkness of Clay Cross well into the future.
THE logical solution to the 298 story would be for the Tramway Museum Society Members to require their Board to put in place an arrangement whereby this tram is returned to Blackpool and Rigby Road Works complete with attendant capital solely for the purpose of restoration. Just like the living heritage example of 'Box Car 40' owned by the Society, but maintained by Blackpool's now specialist tour team and frequently exercising itself along the Promenade - this level of joint effort and cooperation does work to the benefit of everyone.
It would be a remarkable achievement in 2017 - eighty years on from the delivery of these classic trams from Loughborough to Blackpool, if the mindset at Crich could find itself willing to break away from a seemingly intransigent perspective regarding Brush Car 298 to allow this tram to finally gain its place in the pantheon of UK tram development - for wide public acclaim. It certainly would also give recognition to those who laboured in basic conditions over successive decades to help bring this exemplary tramcar back into working display. I have no doubt conversations have taken place between Blackpool and the TMS to this end; but not being privy to any exchanges there is no certainty that this 298 Saga will finally come to its logical conclusion in my lifetime. One can dream. John Woodman TMS Life Member.
2011 Crich and 298 shows off just a glimpse of its detailed interior whilst stuck in one of the Museum depot buildings.