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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Transatlantic Travel - by tram

Quite a number of British trams have crossed the Atlantic over the years. Very early on emergent new electric tram systems in Britain had reason to import American built trams - to a UK styling. Liverpool being a classic example with centre entrance double deck open top cars followed by somewhat exotic German trams pulling matching trailers. The latter being more or less clones of similar types then operating in Hamburg. Sadly none of these found their way into museum collections.

Trams from Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool have all made a one way journey across the Atlantic - destined for the international collection acquired by the Seashore Trolley Museum some sixty years ago. Blackpool has provided a mini fleet of trams for US museums and operations with at least one example crossing the Atlantic no less than three times before finally ending up in San Francisco (228/603). No less than four 'boat cars' are now located in the United States - three in California and one on the east coast. Three Standard cars were acquired and shipped to the US starting with 144 in 1955 (also for the Seashore Museum in Maine) then 147 to Ohio and 48 to the Pacific Coast and quite an exciting new life near Portland.

Standard Car 147 en route to Olmstead Falls after unloading from its transatlantic voyage. The hanging traffic light and numerous wires required a constant observer on the tram throughout its road journey. Photo : John Woodman Archive

Finally another Blackpool exile - this time the 'Blackpool Belle' joined Standard 48 in Oregon to operate in a modified form (for a while). Sadly this feature car would meet a dismal end after being sold on to a technology engineering company (goodness knows why) for test purposes which saw only the frame, bogies and controllers remaining before a final demise of the remains.

An equally interesting 'export' and one which the writer was formally involved with saw the lower saloon body of Burton & Ashby Light Railway number 14 being acquired from its resting place near Church Gresley and transferred across the Atlantic to Detroit. This unusual project was the result of a request from the Detroit Department of Transportation for a typical? English double deck trolleycar to join a small fleet of ex Lisbon cars on a newly opened tourist tramway in that city. Given that the line was to the Lisbon narrow gauge (just under 3 feet) a narrow gauge tram was felt essential. Only one candidate was identified and available - in ownership of a local group who had preserved the lower saloon and added a platform extension. Under a formal agreement Number 14 was shipped out (literally) to the middle of Pennsylvania where it received specialist attention one summer. A Lisbon truck with controllers and other equipment were fitted as well as a new trolleymast for the top deck and carefully woven wire mesh to the original pattern. Within a short space of time the tram was fitted out, painted and delivered to Detroit for its inaugural run coinciding with the Republican Party's National Convention held in the city that year.

Below : frenetic work underway in Topton, Pennsylvania to completely restore 14

Smartly painted truck (to Lisbon gauge) fitted under the Burton and Ashby car body in closeup. Note the detailed lining out. Both Images : John Woodman

Detroit's fortunes waned over subsequent years and the entire tourist line closed with the trams and equipment sold off. Number 14 became the subject of great attention when it was put up for sale by the City of Detroit - and in turn acquired a further benefactor in the form of a private English museum. Shipped back to Britain it was given yet a further makeover and repaint to become a remarkable survivor operating on special days along with other transport and industrial artifacts. Perhaps this might trigger thoughts at the Seashore Museum about their Leeds / London and Liverpool relics - in dire need of tlc.

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