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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Standard Cars 143, 147 etc

Blackpool's tram operation survived while other UK systems followed a similar trend of bus (or trolleybus) replacement which began during the 1920s as smaller first generation tramway operators found the capital costs of track renewal (mainly) and updating their fleets from open top (mostly) cars too much of a financial challenge.

A minority of operators pursued modernisation of their fleets, mostly larger systems; although towns such as Rotherham, Aberdeen, Sunderland bucked the trend. A Royal Commission at the beginning of the 1930s recommended phasing out of trams in towns and cities - in favour of buses. For London this spelt the end of any further modernisation of trams or extensions. Blackpool's robust transport system was able to emphasise the mostly reserved track coastal line with Fleetwood as the backbone of a retained tram operation. The huge passenger number fluctuations meant a need to hold on to a fleet of seasonal cars capable of handling the high loadings during the summer months. Hence retention of its 'Standard' cars understandably 'dated' and to the traditional image of the British tram, complete with wooden seating (on the top deck) and spartan interiors in comparison to subsequent 1930s streamline deliveries.

Having built most of the 40 odd 'Standards' with local labour at Rigby Road there was also a desire to continue their operation for as long as possible, well into the 1950s. The one tram service wholly operated by these traditional cars (Marton) was finally upgraded with new track and modernised streamline examples by 1952. Thereafter a cull of the 'Standards' saw their numbers inexorably dwindle up to the end of that decade. By which time a handful still remained, whilst a few were gifted to museums.

Classic tram on classic tracks. Number 147 carefully edges its way from Blundell Street on the former depot entrance curve leading into Princess Street during an enthusiasts weekend in 2005. My Blog of November 19 shows the same curving tracks as they currently exist in late 2017 - soon to disappear entirely.

Blackpool's transport management unthinkingly allowed the complete disposal of this classic British tram from the fleet by 1966. One car, 143, had been assigned to works car duties from 1958 and therefore remained on the 'books' but significantly altered, (it lost its top deck and gained a former bus engine in its lower deck). Several made it across the Atlantic (144, 48 and 147) to 'trolley' museums in the US. Fortuitously one of these expatriates (147) became available in the 1990s and was repatriated to Blackpool in a swap for a surplus boat car which travelled across the high seas in the other direction. Blackpool thus would eventually end up with two representative examples of its home grown tram fleet from the 1920s.

BTS management at the time saw to it that Standard 147 was given a major rebuild to its final operating condition as a fully enclosed tram - and it has become a true icon from the Twenties; albeit in the later green and cream colours adopted from 1933. Its sister car 143, in somewhat woebegone condition after a fire inside the lower deck, subsequently experienced varied fortunes being assigned to the ownership of the Lancastrian Transport Trust who commenced a brave initiative to begin full restoration to the car's original open balcony open platform condition. In time this became too much of a challenge and it was returned to Rigby Road under the care of the emergent Blackpool Transport Heritage team. The tram's final completion to the intended 1920s style however still awaits funds and labour. Below : 143 looking badly damaged standing alongside the Engineering Shop before transfer to the LTT's collection.

Elsewhere as mentioned, Standards 144 and 48 are resplendent in museums on opposite sides of the United States, with 144 at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine whilst 48 is resident on the west coast at the Oregon Trolley Museum. Crich Museum is guardian of sister Standard cars 40 and 49, whilst the East Anglia Transport Museum owns 159 and Blackpool with its duo 143 and 147. Thus seven Blackpool 'Standard' cars typifying if you will the public image of British trams are evidence of a long gone era - with only open Balcony version 40 at Crich currently in operational condition as we head into 2018. No doubt 143 and 147 will return to their familiar journeys along the promenade in due course, and both 49 and 159 will similarly receive care and attention by their respective museum owners so they again provide an active role. Below : Seashore Museum gives 144 a rare outdoor airing in its retro 1920s fleet colours whilst Crich Museum lets 49 similarly take the 'air' in a comparison pose with Leeds Horsfield 180 (or is it 189) two very traditional British tram designs, although the Leeds car from the early 1930s was somewhat more 'modern'. Images : John Woodman

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