Brush Car Day at Crich Tramway Village

Saturday 12th April was a very special day for Blackpool’s iconic Brush Railcoaches, as car 630 entered service in its new home at Crich Tramway Village for the very first time. To mark this occasion, the Tramway Museum Society arranged a special event at fairly short notice, featuring a tram service operated entirely by trams built by the Brush company, along with some very welcome surprises. Andrew Waddington reports on a very enjoyable day out at Crich…

The day of 630’s launch dawned fine and sunny, quite a contrast from the weather we have experienced recently and showing that perhaps the sun does shine on the righteous after all! The action at Crich began, as expected, with a three car service operated by Chesterfield 7, Leeds 180 and London Transport 1622 – all products of the Brush works at Loughborough. Two visiting vintage buses – a Brush-bodied Derby bus and an ex-Blackpool PD3 – added further to the street scene. Meanwhile, the star of the show, Blackpool 630, was tucked up inside the depot but even then it was the focus of many enthusiast’s attention as the first photo opportunity of the day took place before I even arrived on site. The other Blackpool Brush car at Crich, 298, has recently been moved to the main depot area for storage and was brought forward to the front of the depot so that the two contrasting Brush Railcoaches could be photographed: 298 in largely original condition, but looking very untidy in its partly restored state, with the heavily modernised 630.

Once I had arrived at the Museum my first bit of excitement involved some shunting on the depot fan, which served two purposes – to entertain the enthusiasts in attendance, and to maximise the available space in the depots due to the recent arrival of more trams from Blackpool, and the imminent entry into service of a few ‘new’ cars. In order to allow 298 to be put onto track 6 in the depot, Blackpool 167 had been moved to track 8, but soon after my arrival the tram was moved back to its more familiar position in the depot with help from the Blackpool electric locomotive. Then it was 630’s turn to emerge into the sunshine and the tram was moved outside the workshop, ready for its launch ceremony.

Soon after, the loco was moved to track 5 to pull out another Blackpool tram for the second photo opportunity of the day – Jubilee car 762. The tram, which has already become known as ‘SpongeBob’ in its new home thanks to its advertising livery, looked absolutely massive in the depot yard alongside the more traditional trams and certainly caused a few heads to turn! Blackpool & Fleetwood ‘Rack’ 2 was also brought out and lined up along with 630 and 762 to give a line-up of three very different Blackpool trams, reuniting the trio which last ran together during September 2010 when car 2 was back in Blackpool for a brief visit. At around this time, Glasgow 22 left depot for a day of ‘Ultimate Driving Experience’ duty, whilst several other trams were moved around, including Sheffield 74, Johannesburg 60 and Glasgow 812. Whilst none of these are particularly unusual, these movements all added additional interest to the day.

Shortly after 11:30am, the Tramway Museum Society President gave a short speech before inviting pre-paid ticketholders to board the tram for its first passenger run outside Blackpool. Unfortunately the £10 price tag seemed to put off many would-be passengers, but I and several others enjoyed the historic first trip, which included a rare chance to get off and take photos at the Glory Mine terminus, were 630 could be seen alongside some of the other trams in service.

From riding on 630, I was pleased to find that, whilst the exterior looks pristine following its spell in the Blackpool workshops late last year, the interior has been left untouched apart from heavy cleaning, since I last rode on it last autumn. Even the internal advert stickers promoting Joe Longthorne’s show dates from last year remain intact! Although I love the superbly restored trams at Crich, it’s nice to have a workhorse in ‘as used’ condition for comparison and of course 630 still looks very smart thanks to its mid-1990s refurbishment. This particular tram had earned a cult following in recent years and had been referred to as the fastest and most reliable tram in the Blackpool fleet, so it was pleasing to see it achieve some good speeds in its new home.

On its return to Town End, 630 entered normal public service and was soon joined by another Brush-built tram in the form of Cardiff water car 131. In a pleasing move, visitors were allowed to ride on this works car, which proved very popular despite its limited capacity. Both 131 and 630 ran in tandem with a double-deck tram, meaning that the same frequency as the morning was maintained, and so there were less delays than often arise on other event days when large numbers of trams run simultaneously.

Back on the depot fan, the excitement continued as Glasgow 1282 was moved from track 5 to track 8 in the depot, with Glasgow 812 then going in front. Attention was then to be turned to another Brush product, Grimsby & Immingham 14, which was tucked away at the back of the depot. With a row of works vehicles blocking it in, it would have been all too easy to leave it there, but instead the workshop team set about clearing track 4 so that it could be brought outside. This included a rare move of Leeds tower car 2 and some other unusual pieces of rolling stock, such as the modern tower wagon TW4 and the flat-bed wagon. Car 14 was then hauled out into the sunshine by the Blackpool loco and after moving through the gates (meaning it nearly made it onto the mainline!) the tram was eventually placed in front of the workshop. Leeds 2 was then moved to the back of road 4 so that 14 could be put in front later on, in anticipation of its proposed visit to Immingham later this year.

It was then time for a guided workshop tour which was offered to all passengers on Blackpool 630’s inaugural run. This gave a sneak preview of the magnificent work undertaken on London United 159, whilst Blackpool ‘Boat’ 236 was also the subject of considerable attention. Also present were Berlin 223 006-4 which looked very smart in its recently applied cream livery, Leeds 345 in the latter stages of an overhaul, and Paisley 68 which has recently entered the works for a repaint in orange & blue as Glasgow 1068. Clearly there are a lot of things to enthuse about at Crich at the moment, so it was nice to be able to see some of the trams involved up close. However, believe it or not, the best was still to come!

The final photo opportunity of the day was to feature a very elusive tram indeed – in fact, I have been an annual visitor to Crich since 1990, and had never seen this particular tram outdoors before. So, when a good friend of mine announced that Douglas Southern Electric Tramways 1 was going to come outside, my jaw must have nearly hit the floor! Sure enough, on leaving the workshop, I found that the Exhibition Hall doors had been opened up and the electric tug was coupled up to Douglas 1, which was then cautiously moved onto the traverser as a small crowd of enthusiasts watched in amazement. The seemingly impossible had finally happened, and Douglas 1 was put on display on the depot fan for a while. The connection with the theme of the day is that this tram was built in 1896 at the Falcon Works in Loughborough, before the Brush company took control of the factory, and therefore it was decided to include it in the day’s events. Again, this was not as simple as it sounds as car 1 is rather delicate and due to its unusual wheel arrangement a guide rail had to be used to assist with moving it out of the Exhibition Hall. Whoever made the call to get this tram out for the event, I cannot thank you enough! Its appearance meant that every Loughborough tram at Crich had moved during the course of the day with the sole exception of Derby 1, which is considered too delicate to move unless absolutely necessary, but there were certainly no complaints at the selection of trams which were displayed for visitors to enjoy.

The final advertised event of the day was the chance for two lucky competition winners to drive Blackpool 630 for a round trip of the tramway each, and would you believe it, I was one of them! To drive this fantastic tram rounded off a day that I genuinely thought could not get any better, and this was a really enjoyable experience for me, especially as I had never driven a tram at Crich before. Going right up to eight notches on this beast between Wakebridge and Glory Mine is something I’m going to remember for a very long time! It was especially nice to drive 630 having already had a go on sister car 623 at Heaton Park – the question being, has anyone else driven two Brush Railcoaches on museum tramways before? If anyone knows then I’d be interested to know for sure!

Even that wasn’t quite the end of the day’s excitement as Berlin 233 006-4 came out and performed a test run to Glory Mine and back, which was deemed successful enough for it to be passed as fit to run in service the next day. After that, and the last few of the non-runners had been put away, all that was left was for the final trip of the day which was naturally performed by Blackpool 630. A duplicate tram had been planned, but as all the waiting passengers wanted to ride on 630, it ended up being put to bed earlier than planned! This was a fine way to end what had been, according to several of the people I spoke to, the most enjoyable event at Crich for several years. I had appreciated having some good company and having a mouthwatering selection of trams to enjoy, and even the weather played its part by staying fine.

When the Brush car event was first announced there didn’t seem to a huge amount of enthusiasm, especially in view of the modest number of appropriate trams that would be in service, but the day exceeded all expectations and saw far more exciting things happen than has been the case on many of the bigger enthusiast events at Crich in recent years. Everyone involved deserves considerable praise for pulling out all the stops to create a really memorable occasion, which everyone who attended seemed to enjoy very much indeed. Just being able to ride on 630 again was probably enough for some people, but with works car rides, unusual line-ups and the amazing sight of Douglas 1 displayed on the traverser, the workshop team and everyone else involved in making the event happen really excelled themselves. It was also pleasing to speak to a few of the TMS working members who were clearly keen to ensure that visitors were enjoying themselves, and who also indicated that the event was a response to some of the criticisms that have been directed at Crich events on various websites in the past few years.

For a while it has been suggested that the TMS need to do more to encourage tram enthusiasts to support the Museum, but no such criticism can be directed at the Brush event which ticked all the right boxes. Hopefully the positive feedback which has been deservedly received by the TMS for their efforts on this day will encourage similar efforts to be made for future events. For now though, I close by saying a very big well done and thank-you to everyone who made this day such a special one. Finally though, extra thanks must go to Peter & Sue Whiteley, who fittingly crewed Blackpool 630, and made an excellent crew for my own driving opportunity. Their financial contribution has ensured that 630 is now part of the running fleet at Crich painted in a superb livery, and here’s hoping that the tram will have many more years of service ahead of it as a tribute to their generous donation.

Also on British Trams Online

Gallery 296: Blackpool Brush 630 Launch at Crich May 2012 – 44 photos from the day

This entry was posted in Crich Tramway Village, Event Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.