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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

143 Takes Centre Stage

The Trustees and their supporting team of the Fylde Transport Trust can be rightfully proud of seeing Standard Car 143 make its first appearance on the Promenade last night. The sight of this open fronted reminder of Blackpool's tramway in the 1920s was almost too true to be believed when it rumbled slowly and carefully past the Tower to the North Pier loop.

A gathering of admiring enthusiasts soon clustered around the tram as Jane Cole,, MD of Blackpool Transport Services Ltd., was invited to 'do the honours' by launching 143 in traditional manner with a bottle across its 'fender'. Thereafter invited guests were taken on the tram to the Pleasure Beach loop and escorted to the top floor restaurant in the Casino Building across the Promenade for this 143 celebratory event organised by Philip Higgs and Eric Berry joint Trustees of the FTT.

The moment of launching. Jane Cole successfully engages the champagne bottle across the fender of 143 after its arrival (below) from Hopton Road shadowed by the Engineering Car. This was Standard 143's very first journey under power on to the Promenade tracks since its abrupt termination in works car service due to the now famous lower deck fire.

A programme of music, dance, film and brief speeches captured the story of the tram's long history from inception at Rigby Road in 1924 to its final years as an Engineering Car, fire and uncertain fortunes which then followed. Both Philip and James Millington recounted the 'miraculous' restoration which brought 143 not only back to life but in an original condition of open balcony and open platform design, complete with finely detailed lining out with red and white fleet colours of Blackpool Corporation Tramways pre 1933.

Father and Son - John and Matt Lodge both familiar faces recording the tramway scene as well as preserving Blackpool's tramway history. On hand for the launch event

Many specialist firms, craftsmen, BTS Engineering Staff and helpers saw the restoration through to final completion especially during the 'big push' of recent weeks at Rigby Road. Film footage from the 1920s to the 1950s provided by Northwest Film Archive generated 'oohs and ahhs' from the audience showing Blackpool's seafront in former times complete with all types of classic trams, including colour film from the pre-war period.

The FTT Launch Programme and below 143 hard at work on the Promenade in the 1920s and condition now represented by the restored tram :

Images : John Woodman and John Woodman Archive

Hosted by the FTT the event was an especial tribute recognising joined up collaboration of many different groups, organisations and individuals enabling this almost lost car to be brought back to life over two decades since its near demise following a fire on the tram. One of my neighbours at the event visiting from Scotland pointed out original brass door handles in the lower saloon which he explained were from a Lanarkshire Tramways tram body he had gifted to the project. The tram in questions having been built in Preston. Proving the saying 'what goes around comes around'. In particular former MD Steve Burd was thanked for his role in gifting 143's remains to the then Lancastrian Transport Trust ensuring longevity and emergence this week. Jane Cole, the current BTS MD had equally ensured this story concluded with a happy ending.

Who would have thought we would see this scene - On the Pleasure Beach loop (with rain interfering play).

Below : Suspiciously like a Lytham St Annes 'Pullman' car. The tram model displayed at the White Tower restaurant in the Pleasure Beack Casino Building greeting guests amid the display of autographs from notable visitors through the years. Note the reversed stairs!

Following the programme 143 then embarked on a tour of the illuminations - its first extended outing which perhaps understandably met with certain adventures for the participants determined to complete the occasion to the full - including the Author. Having experienced dramatic flashes and bangs of circuit breakers being triggered on the steady journey northward, the tram finally came to a halt almost having reached the Cabin. BTS had wisely under the circumstances arranged for the present Engineering Car to accompany 143 on this inaugural journey, preceding it on its northbound trip.

The decision was taken to tow 143 thereafter to Little Bispham loop and thence back to Rigby Road. Lucky? passengers were thus treated to a unique ride in which two successive generations of Engineering Car coupled together completed an extended circuit on the Promenade. Rather than involve a shunting of the Engineering Car at Bispham loop so it could again lead the duo on a southbound direction, it was deemed easier to simply continue on to Little Bispham and return to Manchester Square without uncoupling. The ride allowed close inspection of the finished interior and sampling longtitudinal seating in the lower 'saloon' - a feature which is extinct on other preserved Blackpool trams but common enough up to the 1950s. Given the rush to completion there are still details to be worked on including now adjustments to circuit breaker capacity (an issue above the writer's pay grade to explain) - fortunately Bryan Lindop was on hand to offer expert advice at the correct time. Number 143 returned to Hopton Road - passengers disembarking at various points to North Pier - and now awaits remedial attention. What was most enjoyable was a capacity number of passengers on both decks - and the resulting rain swept appearance of those favouring the open balcony end seats. In true tradition of special tram events (at least in Blackpool) the weather offered an especially wet welcome more or less coinciding with the planned launch timetable - but no matter this was a unique and memorable occasion for which Philip, Eric, James and colleagues deserve fullest applause. Now bring on that rail coach !

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