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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

A Brush Car Once

The twenty strong class of Brush single deck rail coaches built in 1937 and numbered 284 to 303 up until the entire fleet renumbering of the mid 1960s when they became 621 to 638 - managed to find several different guises over the years.

The first to be altered from its original condition was Number 303 which in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War was selected to trial resilient wheel bogies and subsequently the new 'VAMBAC' control equipment, along with its English Electric counterpart 208. Both cars continued in service thereafter in their newly acquired upgrade status, although 208 was the more regular performer joining the famous 'Marton Vambac' class (10 - 21) which were all assigned to the Marton tram service up until its demise in 1962. Bispham Depot's only Vambac equipped tram was less popular with crews and sparsely utilised on the North Station to Fleetwood service. It would succumb to the scrapman along with 208 and Marton Vambacs in 1962.

The FHLT preserved Brush Car 290 on display at the Pleasure Beach in 2011 complete with flags of Britain's constituent nations : All Images : John Woodman

Private preserved 625 (288) the first of the class to be fitted with new single indicator ends.

Another interesting experiment in 1969 involved the conversion of renumbered 638 (302) which was selected to test out driver only operation (one man operation) - for which a new narrow front entrance door was inset just next to what had been the cab bulkheads at both end. The centre door way was retained for passenger exit. Resistances were mounted on the roof in the trolley gantry base and seating adjusted to allow the passenger flow arrangements from the front entrance. An all cream livery was applied to match the same somewhat bland styling then appearing on Blackpool's new one man operated single deck buses which were taking over services from the rear platform double deckers (crew operated). The experiment was doomed to failure without 638 ever entering service due to objections from Unions over safety concerns. The tram would see its new entrances panelled over, seating returning to more or less the same as previously, and a second lease of life for another decade.

A further Brush car assigned to new duties was 624 in 1971 when it became a Permanent Way Car retaining its familiar profile complete with dual indicator cab roofs, and even its centre entrance sliding doors although these were then manually opened and closed. Painted all green and with interior stripped out - the car managed to survive (just as other Blackpool works cars somehow managed to evade scrapping). It has significant deterioration of its bodywork structure at this time but remains as a relic in Rigby Road Depot having borne a variety of works fleet numbers. Sister car 628 was subjected to a far more dramatic change becoming a rail carrier trailer with a lengthened frame on the EMB bogies and a hydraulic crane mounted on the middle of the trailer platform to handle the loading and unloading of rail lengths and sundry other permanent way materials. Numbered 751 it was 'paired' with 624 as a coupled duo during track replacement and repair duties. This surviving vehicle also remains at Rigby Road Depot with only its EMB bogies giving any hint of its origins.

Quite early on 298 (635) was assigned to preservation in 1977 initially being the subject of an apprentice training programme at Blackpool Technical College and then moving on to a series of extended patient restoration phases under the auspices of a dedicated 'Railcoach Fund' organised by enthusiast Keith Terry. The work saw considerable return of the body to its original 1937 appearance, complete with sliding roof panels, sliding centre entrance doors, ornate detailed interior features including lighting, and much else. Very regrettably all this effort and expense is consigned to offsite storage by the Museum. Another Brush Car gaining an exceptional change of circumstances is 633 which found itself the beneficiary of a sponsor in the form of the Fisherman's Friend company in 2001. Extensive reworking of the body and fitting of lighting features saw the tram reemerge as an addition to the illuminated tram fleet but remaining operable as a service car with cabs at both ends and retaining its centre entrances. The car was further remodelled with even more exterior lighting panels using latest technology in 2015 - however the energy requirement of the new display resulted in power overload problems which have kept it very much 'offline' in its new form.

In addition to 298/635 there are now a significant number of Brush cars in various forms of 'preservation' both in Blackpool and elsewhere. The imminent celebration of the longevity of this class of tram will bring a sizeable number of examples together this month both for static display and on heritage tour operation. Others of course will be less fortunate but nonetheless are reminders elsewhere of the wider fame of Blackpool's 'Brush Cars'. Left : Heaton Park Museum's example on tour service in Blackpool this summer looking very smart.

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