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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

A Balloon Export

Before readers get excited over what seemingly might appear to be a further Blackpool tram heading west - the headline refers to a much earlier shipment.

Well before the now familiar Seaton narrow gauge line began its odyssey in Devon its originator, Claude Lane (ex Blackpool tram driver) had embarked on creating/building replica Blackpool trams starting with an open boat car and then a 'Balloon'. To a much narrower gauge than the present Seaton operation the initial examples were shown off at a Garden Fete in Barnet, north London, then to a summer venue in Rhyl and latterly a more extended running line in Eastbourne. Eventually even this too had to close due to the local council opting to build a new roadway across the temporary leased land.

So understandably Claude and his team upped sticks to find a permanent and welcoming location on which to develop their plans. A recently closed branch line running along the River Axe to the coastal town of Seaton had become available in timely fashion and was acquired. This provided an extended running line with a private right of way leading to the fringes of Seaton. The Eastbourne set up was laboriously transferred lock stock and trams to the new site and construction of what is now a highly popular tourist attraction began. What was Eastbourne's loss is now Seaton's long term gain.

Claude's enclosed double deck 'Balloon' car numbered 23 with its restrictive dimensions and narrow gauge profile was not suited to the Seaton development and put up for sale. It was then acquired by an American enthusiast and shipped over the Atlantic to become a feature on a private garden line in Connecticut - where it may still rest as far as I know. Rhyl I think - with young passengers sampling the Claude Lane diminutive boat car and the 'Balloon' parked alongside. John Woodman Archive

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