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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Balloons to go

Both Images : John Woodman

The return to Rigby Road Tram Depot of yet another Blackpool exile in the form of Sunderland 101, or as it will no doubt be known Number 703 in future, prompts a brief look at this class of twenty seven trams delivered in 1934 and 1935.

Remarkably with return of 703 this month from service at Beamish this brings a total of thirteen examples at Rigby Road, all of which can be considered to be 'Balloon' cars, even though several have been treated to the 'Light Rail' upgrade with extended platforms and all manner of electrical goodies. A further four former 'Balloons' can be added in the form of the rebuilt 'flat front' design which was fortunately short lived in its application. Yet a further former 'Balloon' is also back at Rigby Road in the shape of Jubilee Car 761 transformed out of all recognition from its 1935 design to become a front entrance car in 1979.

Thus a total of eighteen trams of this iconic class still remain in Blackpool, confounding the original intention of Blackpool Transport management to cull the traditional fleet to the bone as it were. Slightly further north in Fleetwood the FHLT hold two cars in storage at Wyre Dock. The National Tramway Museum at Crich naturally has a survivor in the form of 249 returned to its original fleet number on display in the Exhibition Hall; along with Jubilee 762 rebuilt like sister Jubilee car 761 to a new design in the early 1980s.

Other preserved examples include the cars held at Heaton Park (or for Heaton Park) and the North East Air Sea Land Museum near Sunderland. Between them 702/708 and 721 are kept in preservation. The rumour mill maintains that the Balloon which went to Perth (716) still exists in private ownership. (See Above 716 being towed out of Rigby Road for the long journey north)

This represents a total of twenty five from the original twenty seven still existing in 2017. Only two 'Balloons' have succumbed to scrap. Number 705 met an untimely end in the famous head on collision with 706 at the Pleasure Beach terminus, and 722 which developed a fault in its mainframe after a less violent collision - scrapped in Rigby Road Workshops in 2009/10. (See Above 722 in the Body Shop at Rigby Road awaiting its fate).

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