Since autumn 2005 a project has been running to restore the oldest surviving Leeds Tram to running order. This is not an electric car but the only survivor from the horse tram era. Project Manager Jamie Guest fills us in on the history of the tramcar and the progress made to its restoration.
107 was built by G F Milnes and Co at Birkenhead in 1897. At that time Leeds was in the process of electrifying its tramways and rapidly phasing out the horse and steam trams that had worked the system prior to that. However some routes, particularly in the south of the city, could not be electrified straight away, mainly due to a weak railway bridge that needed to be reconstructed to carry the heavier electric trams. There were also problems with the supply of electrification equipment and the existing horse tram fleet was wearing out. Leeds therefore ordered 2 batches of double deck horse trams from Milnes. These were state of the art for the time and are now known as 2nd generation vehicles due to the advances in construction from earlier vehicles. The two main features are that there were only 4 large windows on the sides rather than between 5 and 7 on earlier vehicles, and the upper deck seats were of the transverse garden seat style rather than the longitudinal knifeboard (The Eades car L53 at Heaton park has a knifeboard seat.)
The car was designed to be pulled by 3 horses but for the steeper hills, such as Woodhouse Lane, a fourth horse was attached just for the steep section.
The car ran until 1901 when the horse trams were finally replaced by electrics. 107 was carefully converted to a mess hut for the Highways department. All the running gear, the platforms and the seats both inside and out, were removed. At some point in the 1920’s or 30’s it found its way to a garden in east Leeds where it became a summerhouse. There it stayed until it was discovered in the mid 1970’s by a member of the Leeds Transport Historical Society (LTHS). After negotiations it was donated to the society and was moved on the back of a Ford Transit to a storage site. There it stayed until 2005 when the LTHS decided to see if it could be restored. However a drawing of it was prepared and its identity was discovered when part of the interior paneling was cleaned to reveal the number 107 in gold leaf lettering.
A working group was formed and that winter the car was carefully dismantled and all the parts inspected. A decision was taken to restore the car to the condition it was in on withdrawal and to restore it to working order being capable of carrying a full load of passengers (16 downstairs, 18 upstairs).
Since then the team of 5 LTHS members have been working steadily to restore the car using as much of the original structure as possible and using, as far a possible, the same materials. This has included, only slot head screws and Whitworth threaded bolts. Much work has gone into sourcing the correct materials and there has been ongoing liaison with other societies who are engaged on similar projects.
The tram is now rapidly coming back together and has started to look like a tram again, with both platforms and crown boards installed. It is now 20’ long again rather than only 12’. Design work for all the missing parts, such as the running gear and the stairs is either complete or under way. It is hoped to have new cast iron wheels of the correct pattern (Millers patent No 3) cast later this year, and new pitch pine has recently been ordered for the interior seating and certain other parts.
The project is being funded entirely by the LTHS from donations and partly from the proceeds from the sale of ‘Leeds Transport’ by Jim Soper. Jim is one of the main team members.