A delightful Sunday weather wise tempted me to drive (with wife) to Heaton Park and join a long queue of vehicles patiently waiting to enter the car park off Bury Road side.
The weekend included a dog walkabout event hence sight of mixed breeds of all types being paraded/walked through the park by their owners. However my attention naturally was focussed on the expansive display organised by the Heaton Park tramway group and I was not to be disappointed.
In brilliant sunshine the Lakeside depot (about which later) had MCT 173 along with 765 in the open air, joined by a marvellous restored body of an early horse bus (with much more work to do of course). Two trams were providing service and I opted for an initial ride on Hull 96 resplendent in a pristine paint job and proudly carrying Kingston Upon Hull's coat of arms. The ride down to the original depot (and park gates) allowed a look inside the workshop which held Stockport 5 undergoing comprehensive attention after problems had been found under the top deck flooring. A delightful model tramway bearing large scale models of Manchester area trams (plus a Blackpool Centenary car) attracted the interest of young visitors (and myself). Whilst John Eades' toolbox was the subject of my camera - a rare piece of tramway heritage preserved and displayed.
619 broadside on. Below : A marvellous model of a Manchester 'Pilcher' car of which 38 were built and all sold on for further service in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Leeds and Sunderland. Right : An equally marvellous model of a Bury Corporation bogie car in fine detail. On display in the Heaton Park depot and museum shop.
Heading back we rode on former Blackpool 619 and even earlier OMO something or other. Now a popular stalwart in summer months 619 showed off its air hooter and giving fright to a large canine population at pedestrian crossings. Retaining its Blackpool fleet number and colour scheme - it was a familiar sight having last ridden on it in service to Bispham quite some year back. The Heaton Park volunteers were customer friendly welcoming visitors of all ages and encouraging rides. I was very impressed with their informal style and enthusiastic light touch on things tramway.
All too often one can be beset by minutae of this or that tram and consequent glazing over of eyes by most of the public - whose sole interest is a ride on an old tram full stop. Only hardened veterans such as myself would find the background detail to be
of particular relevance. In this case David ic the Lakeside Depot end for the afternoon readily encouraged my inspection of the interior of the depot itself to view two exiles from Rigby Road. Balloon Car 702 and Rail Grinder 1 filling the end on two tracks made for compelling viewing. Balloon 702 (like 710) was showing its age and wear from external storage, whilst it seems Grinder 1 would go on for ever although I was advised it had defunct motor and awaited some tlc. The Balloon car's future is still to be resolved given other priorities such as Stockport 5 and Manchester 173 - but at least it is in good hands and retains its swing back seating and relevant parts.
A rare artifact - the designer and builder of the Eades patent reversible horse tramcar - self explanatory label but a pity we can't see the contents under glass.
David carefully explained the medium term (or is it near term?) plans for Metrolink 1007 which is now in the group's ownership and stored by Metrolink. There are plans for it to be transferred to Heaton Park - initially inside a lengthened Lakeside Depot structure. However bold plans for an extension through the Park from the depot with high platform stops to the Metrolink Station serving Heaton Park are under detailed review. 1007 would be used to provide a 'shuttle' service along this extension but its length and weight etc precludes operation on the existing tramway running from Lakeside. A purpose built stub track length has been put in place to allow the Metrolink car to be offloaded onto the depot trackage and shunted to covered storage. This would be the first second generation tramway / light rail design to enter preservation in the UK and no small feat for this 200+ strong Heaton Park group which counts about 50 active members and volunteers for exceptional days and events like today.
I was glad to make a small contribution in attending the 2 July Open Day together with my wife - and have to say we much enjoyed the visit and 'banter' with volunteers manning the event. One conductor informed us he had first joined the tramway group at the tender age of twelve and his most memorable moment thus far had been when he was informed (with others) that tea bags would be provided at no charge - but on the basis of one tea bag per volunteer per day ! Now seventeen he has benefitted greatly from the many skills in his workshop time, to the extent he now has a regular job with a major bus group in the Manchester area. This encouraging anecdote we took away with us back to Blackpool.
There is nothing like riding on a 'California Car' in the summer sun through a country park.... Nowhere else in Britain other than Heaton Park. More images from Heaton Park's open day to follow in the next Blog