Remembering the Brush Cars - 6
A further member of the 20 strong Brush car class to undergo a major makeover was 638 formerly 301. By the late 1960s Blackpool's Transport Department was urgently giving attention (finally one might say) to the need for reduction of crew staffing. This was a critical issue for the bus fleet which had inexorably built up over ten years to a relatively standardised 100+ rear open platform double decker format which offered no opportunity for modification to driver only operation. In fact the last delivery of this type arrived in 1968 in half cab versions (again showing the absolute need for economy) by the Department which had hitherto favoured full fronted vehicles.
Fleet renewal and change of strategy saw the immediate insertion of standard single deck front entrance buses to an off the shelf no frills design - thus reducing staffing levels and costs significantly. The vehicles themselves were of little distinction and further lowered the esteem of the public in their transport system. On the tram side purchasing new trams was totally out of the question - no builders being in the market (at least in the UK). Nonetheless Rigby Road's engineering staff were prevailed upon to trial a one man (person) operated tramcar utilising an example from the single deck fleet. Brush car 638 was selected for this experiment which was hurriedly concocted behind closed doors in the workshops. It should be noted that efforts to improve seating capacity on the year round fleet had been already underway with a previous experiment in lengthening the frame and bodywork of an English Electric rail coach - Number 618 appearing in 1968 with new tapering cab ends and 'slimmed down' look. However laudable an achievement the fact remained that the rebuild still required a two man crew which negated overall value for money.
Consequently the second time round 638 retained its existing frame and bodywork but had a new front (and narrow) entrance inserted immediately behind the nearside at each end of the cab bulkhead. The bulkhead itself being removed for the most part to allow the driver to swivel to his left to take fares, issue tickets and dispense change. The centre platform doors were retained but now airpowered and controlled by the driver.
Alterations to the seating layout was necessary to provide passenger flow with extra internal mirrors for the driver to see the centre platform doors more or less clearly. The tram's resistors were moved onto the trolley gantry base. In line with the now bland all-cream one man bus fleet - Number 638 emerged for its Press Launch (after some Departmental testing) in similar all over cream livery.
More or less immediately the planned introduction of the new one-man operated tram ran into major problems with the Unions who raised understandable concerns over the issue of safety, security and actual physical abilities of the tram driver to manage both controlling the tram and dealing with fare paying passengers on entry, whilst ensuring the safety of exiting passengers from the centre platform - particularly in peak or busy periods. In fact 638 never entered fare-paying service and was only captured by a Workshop Manager out on the road in its original condition on test. His photos are now in my Archive. The tram would end up with its new entrance doors being hastily panelled over, seats further adjusted and reverting to crew operation for several years. The all cream livery remained for a while but subsequently was modified to then standard half green half cream styling of the tram fleet. The Author was offered the car on its withdrawal and then languishing on the Rigby Road staff car park scrap line. But then living in New York and with little familiarity with 638 the offer from Derek Hyde was rejected and the tram succumbed to an early demise. Below : Prototype One Man Tram 638 in its new format and all cream (and chrome) colours on test photographed near the Cabin with Department staff on board and the driver waiting for the photographer to hurry up and get back on board. The very narrow front entrance is notable. Photo John Woodman Archive