To celebrate the recent acquisition of Blackpool Railgrinder 752, as well as the completion of overhaul work on Hull 96, the Heaton Park Tramway held ‘A Celebration of the British Works Car’ on Sunday 30th November. What follows is a review of what turned out to be a very interesting and eventful day for this excellent little tramway. Andrew Waddington reports.
For the first time ever, this day provided the chance to see no less than four trams out at Heaton Park, to the delight of the many photographers present. The star of the show was arguably the newly preserved Blackpool Railgrinder 752, which had just arrived from Blackpool less than two weeks earlier, and was making its public debut. However, 752 had to share the limelight with Hull 96 – or should I say Leeds 6? To coincide with the works car event, the Manchester Transport Museum Society had returned this tram to a previous guise, as after running in Hull it was sold for further use as a works car in Leeds. Although the tram is still fitted out as a passenger car with wooden bench seating, it has been restored in plain grey works livery, and bears the number 6, which was its fleet number when it ran in Leeds. The tram certainly looks very different and attracted a huge amount of interest! After spending the last few years out of service with a motor fault, 6 was officially launched back into service as part of this day’s events programme.
As if all this was not enough, the MTMS had arranged for a Bolton motor tower wagon to visit the tramway for the day. This vehicle is normally displayed at the nearby Greater Manchester Museum of Transport, so it was certainly a nice treat to see it out in daylight. Finally, to complete the day’s vehicle line-up, Manchester 765 was also in operation throughout the day, whilst Manchester horse car L53 was displayed on the depot approach track.
In the morning all four trams were positioned outside the depot for photos, before 765 was pressed into service and 752 was also operated. This tram was used for a ‘Tram Driving Experience’, giving enthusiasts a very rare chance to drive this car for a bargain price of just £10! Unfortunately whilst on test the previous weekend some problems had been experienced with 752’s resistances and so it was decided not to risk taking the car uphill, meaning that it was restricted to shuttling between the Middleton Road park gates and the tram depot. There were further minor problems experienced on the big day with this tram, probably as a result of its lack of use at Blackpool, although the frosty conditions did not help matters. Despite these setbacks the team kept 752 running all day and ensured that everyone who had booked a drive of the car went away happy – top marks for effort there, as it would have doubtless been so much easier just to give up and leave it as a static exhibit for the day.
For many years the delightful Manchester ‘Combination car’ 765 has been the mainstay of the Heaton Park fleet, so it seemed a shame that it had no real part to play in this works car themed event. With this in mind, a plan was hatched to use 765 to re-create a postal car! The tram was therefore fitted with ‘Post Car’ boards above its destination boxes at each end, which it had carried when loaned to Blackpool in the 1980s, and as a finishing touch, a special tramcar post box was hung on the dash panel at one end. Whilst this was not strictly a works car, it did allow 765 to portray a purpose of tramcar operation besides carrying passengers, and it was another very welcome addition to the event.
After being on static display during the morning, Leeds 6 was officially re-launched back into service with a short ceremony at 12:00pm. It had been hoped to fit a bow collector to the tram but sadly this plan had to be abandoned due to a few issues with tension in the bow, although it is still hoped to go ahead with this project next year. However, this was more than made up for by the fitting of a replica chimney to the tram’s roof – this was a very unusual feature of this tram’s works car days!
The exciting events continued shortly after 6’s inaugural runs, with the launch of a new book detailing the history of British works cars. This book has been written by the well-known tramway author David Voice who kindly agreed to sign copies of his latest book aboard Leeds 6. After this more driving experience trips were offered on 752 for a while, before all three electric trams were used for various photographic opportunities. The undoubted highlight of this was a mini-cavalcade from the tram depot to Middleton Road gates and back, consisting of Leeds 6, Blackpool 752 and Manchester 765 in that order. This was a rare chance to see three trams in action together on the tramway, and yet again the assembled photographers were delighted. There was also the opportunity to see cars 6 and 752 running in parallel. Whilst all this was going on the main tram service was still maintained by car 765, and it was pleasing that the tramway managed to keep something resembling a normal service going whilst also keeping the enthusiasts happy. Even tram modellers were catered for, with a competition being held for the best model of – what else – a works car!
The day’s events concluded with the opportunity to see and photograph the trams in the dark until approximately 5:00pm. The idea was to show works cars in an authentic setting, as works vehicles were normally most active after dark. However, Manchester 765 arguably stole the show with its ruby roof glasses being beautifully illuminated by its saloon lighting. The excellent transport photographer Jason Cross even brought some floodlights along, which were much appreciated.
Eight months ago, Heaton Park witnessed arguably the most important event in its history when the Eades reversible horse tram entered service. However, far from resting on their laurels, it is clear that everyone at the tramway is determined to build on the success of that event, and as such, the events of November 30th were even more ambitious. Although it was a shame that 752 could not have run all the way to the Lakeside terminus, and the weather was bitterly cold, this was an absolutely fantastic event which confirmed to all present that Heaton Park has become a ‘must-see’ attraction for tram enthusiasts. Any transport museum in the UK would have been proud to have staged such an enjoyable event, and the very busy schedule ensured that visitors had plenty to see and do. Thanks must go to everyone involved – in particular, to John Whitehouse for overseeing the day’s events, and Alan Williams for handling the role of Driving Instructor so well. Most of all, thank-you Heaton Park for giving Blackpool 752 a bright future after being disused for so long, and for actually running it as well!
So, the moment of truth is here. The official British Trams Online rating of this event is….