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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Help from Perth, Western Australia

The story of Blackpool's 'Balloon' cars has a certain fascination, given that their origins lay on tram tracks along Broadway, Manhattan in the form of low floor centre entrance cars introduced in 1910-1912 as 'stepless cars'. Nothing new then in this regard.

A solitary double deck example was tested - the famous 'Broadway Battleship' but this did not find favour. That design was however picked up by visiting UK tram engineers in the aftermath of the Great War - and resurfaced in the form of the experimental centre entrance Feltham car. We all know its subsequent history and remarkable survival into preservation as a prize exhibit at the National Tramway Museum.

English Electric's design team, on the lookout for innovative styling and radical new approach for a new generation of cars in the early 1930s - took up licenses and patents on aspects of the centre entrance Feltham; resulting in a family of new streamline trams which found their way on to a handful of UK systems, the most famous and longlasting of which was Blackpool - of course.

Thousands of miles away on the other side of the world two examples of those early 'stepless cars' were acquired for two seperate Australian tram operations, one of which was the city of Perth. There new low floor car number 63 would enjoy a remarkable longevity well beyond those of its more numerous US cousins and its Australian twin.

In fact 63 lasted into the early 1950s until sold for alternative use locally. The tram being steel framed and mostly metal bodywork - would continue to linger on until the era of tram preservation and its recovery to provide the impetus for the West Australian Tram Museum and movement. A prized part of the collection at Perth, its importance is recognised by becoming the official emblem for the Museum and its society. A TMS Member very recently visited Perth and made a point of inspecting the tram - still in its unrestored state given the costs and technical issues with an American designed and built tram imported into Australia before World War One. A fuller story of number 63 and its ilk in the United States will form an integral part of the forthcoming title being published this summer 'Those Elusive Centre Entrance Double Deck Trams'.

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