Bolton's 66 - A Never Ending Story
The sight of a Bolton Corporation double deck tram from the turn of the 20th Century trundling sedately along Blackpool's seafront had become an all too familiar sight over the years. Forty years in fact. It was the 5th of July 1981 when the fully restored car began its nostalgic service in Blackpool. The culmination of over ten years of hard work by a dedicated group of Bolton area enthusiasts Jack Batty, Alan Ralphs, Gwynne Thomas and Derek Shepherd combined efforts selected a lower saloon remnant on a farm after researching several other extant tram bodies and decided to focus their efforts on restoration of former number 66.
The search for Brill type 22E bogies was a more fraught experience with approaches made to Irish owners of Hill of Howth cars, State of Victoria in Australia which successfully aided the continued operation of period trams in both Bendigo and Ballarat, and Belgian groups who were owners of a set of redundant bogies of the same type originally from the small Durener Eisenbahn. Parts were contributed by the Crich Museum whilst Liverpool controllers and electrical components originated from Stockport's tramway. A completely new replica top deck was built by a Bolton cabinet maker (shades of restored Blackpool 143) - to the all enclosed style pioneered by Bolton's tramway.
It was the 1985 Blackpool Centenary of Electric Trams which spurred on completion of the tram with advance announcement by the Council's Centenary organisers of plans to host and operate selected trams from other museums and groups as part of the celebratory events. By agreement with the Bolton Group Blackpool's then municipal transport department arranged for the finished car to be tested in Blackpool ahead of the Centenary year as a working example of what was being proposed. Accordingly Bolton 66 in its magnificent period livery arrived at Rigby Road in June 1981 and prepared for limited operation. After initial test and press runs the Bolton group had the satisfaction of seeing their labours transformed into a practical working tramcar carrying farepaying passengers for the first time since its withdrawal in the 1940s.
Blackpool had given away or scrapped all of its own once substantial fleet of 'Standard' double deck trams built during the 1920s and had to rely on the loan of open balcony car 40 from Crich to 'fill the gap' in historical reference for the Centenary Parade in September 1985 - itself an unforgettable experience with huge crowds along the entire promenade and brilliant sunshine. Since those halcyon days Bolton 66 has provided a reliable traditional British tram ride for visitors (and multiple enthusiasts) for four decades - and is as much a part of the Blackpool heritage fleet as the green and cream members in a sizeable collection assembled since the lightrail upgrade.
As far as I know Bolton 66 is the only working example in the UK of an open platform double deck tram with enclosed balconies - but happy to be corrected on this by eagle eyed readers. As such it is a marvellous ambassador for Derek Shepherd and his colleagues who subsequently went on to create the ersatz Tramroad open car now at Heaton Park, as well as restoration of Pantograph 167 also for the 1985 Centenary in Blackpool. (among many other achievements). When Blackpool's own open balcony standard car 143 finally enters service it will provide a wondrous contrast with fully enclosed sister 147 and Bolton 66 - providing a brief shared encounter with travel in the 1920s.