Tram Restoration Par Excellence and More
Whilst constant reference is made to the shoals of vintage era trams held in Rigby Road Depot with ever manipulative 'rebranding' by the Paint Shop - in fact very little real restoration in the fullest sense of the term has taken place thus far at Rigby Road. In part due to the continuing call on available resources in the Works abetted by limitations on funding for individual objectives.
Whereas at the National Tram Museum (among other repositories of vintage trams) especial effort and sustained dedication focus on long term projects to realise strategic restoration aims supported by financial contributions. The last important achievement in Blackpool has been the 'near' completion of Standard Car 143 from its almost fatal internal fire which condemned the tram to a twilight existence and near total extinction. Thanks for persistence of an external group taking charge of the remains from Blackpool Transport - Number 143 has reemerged in a condition close to its 'as built' state of the early 1920s. This has had a lengthy gestation for a number of reasons but finally late last year the tram made its first movements along the promenade since the fire which caught hold in its lower deck interior.
Both the Crich workshop and that at Beamish Museum's tramway operation have made massive strides in bringing old trams 'back from the dead'. The imminent appearance of LCC prototype car 1 from 1932 in its original blue and white colours - attests to the dedication and close attention to detail which restoration demands from willing adherents. It may well be that this takes up extended timeframes - but the outcome has to justify the work involved over years. Similarly Glasgow 1017 the former 'Schools Car' used to train GCT drivers - along with Lanarkshire Tramways Company car resurrected from a field - show how even a local/regional group can similarly deliver showcase exhibits with very limited resources.
I marvelled at the commitment of a small group on a farm near the South Downs to similarly bring back to life the sole remaining passenger car of Brighton Corporation Tramways with just a handful of volunteers and total lack engagement from that local Authority. The familiar sight of Bolton Corporation Tramways 66 running along the Blackpool seafront is taken very much for granted - but its reliable and distinctive features are the result again of a handful of people working without public engagement or funding appeals not only to restore the tram completely but also to an operating condition.
Up and down the country, similar groups are immersed in real tram restoration projects that aim to return remnants of an original car, to credible display and operating state. The appearance of a Warrington tram will soon add weight to the successful Wirral Transport collection in Birkenhead, joining a Wallasey double deck example and the original Birkenhead tram restoration. Southampton is fortunate in being home to another south coast enthusiast team delivering full restoration to several survivors of that interesting tram system - but without agreed premises for eventual local display.
Blackpool's enviable resources privy to machinery and equipment so essential in maintaining and rebuilding wooden framed car bodies and electrical equipment from a much earlier age - should gain credible endorsement and engagement of the local Authority - with express aim of creating a world class electric tramway exhibition appealing to leisure visitors and younger generations. Simply running a variety of differing types up and down the promenade in all weather - without a permanent presence in which over a hundred years of tramcar history is eminently showcased to the fullest social extent - merely glances past the impact of these trams on generations of visitors and the community they served.
Rigby Road still offers the prospect of further validating the wisdom of the town and its leaders in hosting a pioneering electric tramway in an era when the last reigning monarch was also a long lived Queen and manned flight merely a fantasy. This site and its 'frozen in time' infrastructure could well host part of a year round, all age, heritage attraction paying its way. By way of reference two closed tram depots in the city of Hamburg have been 'recycled' as supermarkets but retaining visible links with their original purpose through the display of trams used by the transport authority in the later years of tram operation - which ended in 1978.
Above : REWE Supermarket now within the former main tram depot at Lokstedt, Hamburg. Example of one of the final class of Hamburg trams is sited close to the checkout area within the supermarket together with explanatory signage providing details of the Hamburg operation. Number 3363 was recovered from a German tram museum at Hannover where it had lain unrestored since withdrawal in the late 1970s. A second tram depot in Hamburg has been similarly converted to a large supermarket by the same company and it too boasts a similar tram display. Both trams are accessible to visitors on select days each month.
The Author was responsible for export of a further example of this type from Hamburg in 1978 to participate in a German heritage parade along New York's Fifth Avenue. The tram is now on display in the Kingston, NY trolleymuseum.
Unloading of the Hamburg tram shipped to New York in 1978. A sister car was also acquired for the Market Street Railway (tramway) in San Francisco where it is used on special tours. All Images : John Woodman Archive
All this is meandering uneven stroll along a historical pathway - but one with even more relevance in the 21st century's increasing focus on global warming and environmental consequences of unchecked human activity.