One Year Ago
Amid all the camera clicking this weekend recording yet another ostensible commemoration of Blackpool's heritage trams one car was notable by its absence - Standard Car 143. September 23rd 2019 saw this fine restoration make its appearance for the first time on the Promenade in the original open platform condition it was built. Returned to the pre-Luff 1920's livery and with open balcony ends - number 143 fills an important milestone in Blackpool's tramcar history. Sister car 147 in later green and cream and in fully enclosed condition depicts the class in their final state (or many of them) - so seeing 143 with open driver platform and balcony ends sort of tops and tails the story of the Standard Cars which finally left the scene in 1966.
Modification in 1958 to become an Overhead Engineering Car gave 143 a new lease of life when several of the remaining Standards became the object of scrapping contractors lined up at Thornton Gate. Quite resplendent in a fresh rendition of the Standard livery whilst retaining the end top deck 'cabins' 143 replaced Engineering Car 4 at Bispham Depot. The latter itself went on to a third career and a lot of tlc at the hands of the Beamish Museum tramway staff - regaining its original fleet number 31 and similar red and white pre-Luff fleet livery. Another of the class had already made its way into preservation - this time at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine, USA. Number 144 was gifted to the Museum by Blackpool's Council just ahead of an earlier scrapping appointment (this time in Blundell Street Depot).
A considerable amount of attention was given to the launch of 143 under arrangements of the Fylde Transport Trust - with Jane Cole, Blackpool Transport's MD smashing the requisite bottle of champagne on the tram's front fender to mark the occasion at North Pier heritage tram stop. The carefully staged launch event was however fraught with mechanical failures due in part to a lack of pre-testing of the tram on its release from the Engineering Workshop at Rigby Road. Faults with the running equipment have meant 143's confinement to the Workshop ever since whilst remedial work has continued.
The highly public failure last September of the tram's formal launch has given rise to a rethink on the overall management and structure of the heritage operation with decisions being taken to bring it 'in house' and close supervision of BTS operating staff. In the meantime 143 can be detected through open doors of the Workshops - but having to forgo participation in the tour events this year. No doubt this extended and renewed professional attention on the car should allow for its reappearance in 2021. The Blackpool 'Standard' is however far from extinct with running examples at the National Tramway Museum (40 and 49), the East Anglia Transport Museum (159); as well as static display of 144 in Maine and 48 in Portland, Oregon. Whilst 147 retrieved from its US host museum in a remarkable exchange sanctioned by Blackpool Transport's then MD - Tony Depledge, is the flag bearer for the class.