Lost Trams 7: Liverpool 293

It’s been a while since we had our incredibly irregular feature “Lost Trams” but it is back with a vengeance today as we take a look at a tram which left the UK way back in 1958 – Liverpool “Baby Grand” 293. Sadly like the last tram which we featured in this series this vehicle is now looking very sorry for itself languishing in one of the depots at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Marine.

Built in 1939, 293 was one of 100 “Baby Grands” constructed for Liverpool Corporation Tramways and survived right up to the very end of operations. In fact not only did it
survive until the final day it was the very final tram to run on the Corporation’s tracks as part of the final procession on 14th September 1957. To mark the occasion of the final procession the tram had been painted in a special “Last Tram” livery, mainly cream with green lining and lettering.

With no opportunities forthcoming to preserve the car in the UK the Seashore Trolley Museum in the USA acquired it in 1958 and it was transported to its new home on board the S.S. American Packer during that year. The tram was officially presented to Seashore by British Consul General Robert H.K. Marrett at Kennebunkport’s 1958 Memorial Day Parade.

Never having operated at Seashore, 293 remains stored in one of their “car barns” where its condition continues to deteriorate as time goes on with the last tram livery now in a very sorry state.

Photography of the UK trams at Seashore is not easy as they are positioned in the middle of the car barns. However the current condition of 293 can easily be seen in this view taken on 14th September. (Photo: Stephen Cobb)

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23 Responses to Lost Trams 7: Liverpool 293

  1. Geoffrey Ryder says:

    Also ‘stored’ there in the same state of deterioration is a London Feltham tram and a Glasgow Coronation. How sad that there is no rich benefactor around to pay the shipping costs back to the UK, where there would a better chance of restoration and preservation. Restoration in the US is just a non starter!

  2. Nigel Pennick says:

    Another shameful example of owners who allow historic vehicles to rot away. These trams should be given back to the UK if their owner cannot be bothered to do anything with them.

  3. Pete C says:

    It’s strange that this museum has acquired all these vehicles just to allow them to rot. It would be wonderful if they could be returned to the UK but of course that costs money, as does the restoration which would be necessary.

  4. Nigel Pennick says:

    Repatriation of British trams rotting in museum back lots in the United States is not impossible – just a lot of work and money – steam locomotives recovered from Turkey etc. show it can be done.

    • Jamie Guest says:

      When I was over at Seashore last year I got to see 526 but didn’t have time to see the Liverpool and Glasgow cars. I did see the trucks from the Blackpool car that were being worked on to try and make their wheel profile compatible with the US track. I think people this side of the pond should be very careful before they criticise Seashore. Without the covered storage that has been provided for these trams none of them would exist. The location is not ideal, being near the sea, but at least they still exist along ewith the other 100 plus US vehicles that are awaiting restoration. Just as with the collection at Crich, the restoration is totally dependent on funding. If anyone wants these cars to run they need to fund their restoration. The work done on the restored cars at Seashore is excellent but entirely dependent on funding. If anyone wants to see 293 running again then get some money raised and it will run again. As I mentioned above Seashore have spent quite a bit of their money to have the Blackpool car’s wheels re profiled. If this experiment is successful then there is nothing to stop the British cars running there. The museum is certainly not xenophobic and is happy to restore and run ‘foreign’ cars. I rode on a Sydney car while I was there.


      • Nigel Pennick says:

        Because they are ‘foreign’ trams it is understandable that a museum outside the UK would give a low priority to restoration. Indeed they still exist, but for how long? Vehicles deteriorate in the best conditions, and these do not appear to be in the best conditions. Tramway historians will remind us what happened to the Dublin and Leeds trams that were preserved before being trashed.
        The Sydney tram is of course a single-decker, and the use of Australian trams on the street in San Francisco and Seattle shows they are compatible with US streets. MUNI after all acquired the Blackpool boat recently, not an operating balloon.

        • Nathanael says:

          Frankly, these vehicles are kept in much better conditions than most historic American trams — and there are a lot of historic American trams being left to rot, and America had more trams than the UK to start with.

          Crucially, they are stored indoors. You might be surprised how many historic vehicles are stored outdoors in open yards, which is deadly for them. Indoors, with the rain kept out, they don’t deteriorate very fast. Outdoors — they go extremely fast.

          Illinois Railway Museum, one of the largest in the world, finally established a policy that any new acquisition must come with funding to build barn space for it. However, this means that hundreds or thousands of historic vehicles without such funding really *are* rotting away.

          Compared to that, this tram is in fine, fine shape.

  5. mar,in d johnson says:

    I was on the Seashore website not so long back ( worth a look ) , They have a picture of there coronation , with regard to there feltham there photo is of it just leaving leeds and nothing recent . what state do you think it is in if they can not post a resent photo . It is very sad that all the brit trams are left to go to ruin not just the Liverpool car . Do go to there website and look for your selves . I implore some one to bring them all home asap ,

  6. Freel07 says:

    Whilst I agree that it is sad to see these trams deteriorating would they actually still exist at all if someone in the States hadn’t bought them and transported them over there? I somehow doubt it. Has anyone actually tried to repatriate one of them?

  7. Phill says:

    Whilst repatriating them would be nice, remember there are examples of at least one of each of a feltham, baby grand and coronation here that could be restored far cheaper. Quite rightly, any proper museum would insist on there being funds for shipping AND restoration. Imagine if they wound up dismembered in containers spread round the country. Instead, why not restore the ones here then spend the shipping money on restoring something else.

  8. Stephen Cobb says:

    As the provider of the photograph, I would like to make a few comments concerning the Seashore museum for those who haven’t been lucky enough to go there!

    a) The collection of major exhibits is huge – somewhere nearer 250-300 items, I would say, when you include buses and trolleybuses into the equation – but bear in mind, they have been collecting exhibits since 1939, rather earlier than most European museums.

    b) Given the size of the collection, the UK exhibits are a very small proportion of the total – 4 trams and an RTL, from memory. They also have a few trams from elsewhere in the world – a Sydney car is operational, but there are others from Berlin, Hamburg, Rome, Nagasaki and a Budapest Subway car which are basically in “as aquired” condition.

    c) Having explored every corner of the site on my recent visit, the scale of restoration work required on the collection is substantial and would take decades, even given unlimited manpower and finance. I had visited the Museum once previously, in 2004, and still found items this time that I didn’t see before, particularly buses.

    d) The success of any museum depends on its membership, volunteer base and finance and this is where a number of US museums are having problems. The aging volunteer workforce is a problem in UK museums, but it appears to be worse in the US, not helped by the fact that the likes of tramways and interurbans vanished from the scene a lot earlier than they did here. Some US museums rely on volunteers driving large distances from where they live and increased petrol prices over there are taking their toll. Boston is the largest catchment area for Kennebunkport, and that is still a 70 mile or so drive away. One chap I spoke to at the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Pennsylania a couple of years ago had a 280 mile round trip to get there from Allentown!!
    Some museums are certainly struggling to retain enough volunteers to open up, let alone operate and this has been the case with a couple of sites I have visited over there.

    e) Cars restored to operating condition at Seashore are basically the tip of the collection iceburg (my estimate is 20-30 restored vehicles), but it has to be said that they certainly make an excellent job of the completed items.
    This Shore Line electric loco of 1906, their most recent restoration, shows the standard they achieve

    It will be interesting to see how soon they get the Blackpool car operational, as it is currently in their restoration shop receiving attention, although what I took to be its wheelsets were sitting ouside that shed, albeit freshly painted.

    • Jamie Guest says:

      To add to Stephen’s comments about the Blackpool car. The main reason that the Briotish trams ahven’t run is due to the incompatability of our wheel profile with US trackwork. US Trams generally ahve the deeper flanges and narrower back to back measurement of main line railway stock as there was an awful lot of inter running between main and ‘light’ rail systems, particularly for freight. Randy Leclair, the CME at Seashore has spoent considerable time working out wheel profile that will enable the tram to run on their track at Seashore without the expense of either new tyres or new wheelsets. This problem of wheel profiles is one of the main factore that scupperred the dream of trams at Middleton in 1960 and hasn’t gone away. I hope that the experiment suceeds and that the car starts to run at Seashore.


  9. Bob Hall says:

    There may be another practical reason for British double-deck trams being neglected by American museums. Because that country operated only single-deck cars the overhead lines were lower than in GB. Here, the Board of Trade stipulated a minimum wire height (except in unusual situations) of 21-ft., although most large systems latterly reduced that to 20-ft.
    It is recommended that supporting structures shall be of such height that the lowest point of trolleywire shall be at a height of 18 feet above the top of rail under conditions of maximum sag unless local conditions prevent. On trackage operating electric and steam road equipment and at crossings over steam roads, it is recommended that the trolleywire shall be not less than 21 feet above the top of rail, under conditions of maximum sag. I suspect that American museums have wire heights not exceeding 18-ft. and any greater sag might interfere with the safe operation. Yes, I know that we had many instances of 17-ft. and even lower where d-d cars ran safely, but a continuous lower height might not be favourable.

    • Jamie Guest says:

      That’s very useful Bob. I do believe that the Feltham did operate at Seashore when it first arrived so perhaps height isn’t a problem there. Certainly the freight motors appear to be quite a bit higher than most of the cars. I don’t know about the other British cars there.


  10. Paul says:

    At this point, aren’t many of these sort of cars chips for bargaining? If Seashore can’t get them fixed up, and someone in the UK can, wouldn’t it make sense to buy back the car, leaving funds that Seashore can use on a more pressing project, while the British car comes home and goes back into service? San Francisco did just that, buying back one of its 1914 streetcars that was sent to a Los Angeles area museum in 1958; that museum got funds to put where it needs them, SF got a rare streetcar back for restoration and service on the “F” line.

    Sometimes though, some pointed “tsk tsking” helps also: San Diego had let the Star Of India rot almost to sinking until a Brit came over and harrumphed about the mess the ship was in, and San Diego got its act together and finally restored the vessel. Given America’s new religion of Tax Cuts Forever, even when at war, I’m not sure how well this would work. But, I would imagine that with the pound sterling worth more than a dollar and a half, someone over there has the money to buy a rotting British streetcar over here, it’s just a matter of finding him. Or her.

  11. Steven says:

    Is there anything that can be done to bring home Liverpool’s last tram. Baby Grand 293 is just languishing in an American museum’s barn not on display just looking like an unwanted item. Any suggestions on what can be done. I recently e-mailed the museum to see if they would donate 293 back to its home city as a gesture of good will. The replied stating that the museum has no plans to let her go!!!!!

    • Paul D says:

      Sounds like you have done all that can be done in asking the question (though you expecting them to ‘donate’ it was probably unrealistically optimistic and never likely to get a positive answer.)

      If they are not willing to part with it, they can’t be forced to; and too much nagging by well-meaning but naïve enthusiasts will only make the desired outcome less likely…

      • Steven says:

        Asking them if they would be willing to donate it back was probably a big ask. However the Tramcar is not on display and to be honest I don’t think it is wanted by the museum. They just seem to want to let it rust and corrode away. If the funds could somehow be raised to pay for the shipping and transportation to bring the tramcar home then I think the museum may consider. Obviously raising the funds would be a huge problem but some day this car has to return to Liverpool. It would be great to see it sitting along side its sister cars 245 & 869 whether this is in The Wirral Museum or at Crich..

  12. Malcolm Chisholm says:

    I visited Seashore yesterday (9th June) and yes, 293 is in a sorry state, with a hole in the roof and the damp salty air continuing to take its toll. The cars are all privately owned or sponsored and any car to be restored just needs enough funding.

    The Blackpool car had had its wheels re-profiled and is waiting for its motors to be repaired, but the money has run out for the time being, so it sits in the restoration barn, waiting for the cash to roll in.

    If you want to raise cash for a good cause, try Crowdfunding. You set up a legal entity, such as “The 293 Restoration Fund” and advertise what you’re raising money for. Interested people will offer money, but the amounts depend on what they think of your ideas. Many small businesses raise money in this way with the offer of a better financial return in the future. Tram preservation doesn’t offer a financial return, but could offer a “nostalgic” return to people who like the idea of restoring some of Liverpool’s heritage.

    So your target groups would be transport enthusiasts, Liverpudlians (both at home and ex-pats), Liverpool businesses (commercial sponsorship deals?) and heritage enthusiasts plus the public at large. You’d have to make sure that if the project failed to start, you returned the money.

  13. A. D. Young says:

    Blackpool 144, Liverpool 293, Leeds 526 and Glasgow 1274 are owned by the Seashore museum. They have never been interested in repatriating them. They are seen as an important part of their collection (foreign cars) and the theory is that they will get around to them, as they will all the others that presently await work.

    To those who clamour for their instant return, the museum’s answer traditionally has been “where were you when these cars became available between 1957 and 1962?”

    I believe that to be an unassailable argument. Theirs was the risk, theirs was the money, theirs was the belief that ultimately these could be made valuable exhibits.

    It was a museum mindset reminiscent of that which later justified their controversial “Operation Last Round-up” acquisitions policy ie. never mind the theory, get ’em while you can and worry about their long-term future only once you own ’em.

    You want to donate money and services for their restoration? I don’t know the logistics involved but in principle the museum is all for that.

    Unhappily, past attempts have faltered in midstream (Leeds 526 for example) and in any event museum supervision of such efforts in the past, I believe, was less than optimal.

    Personally, I believe that some form of extended museum to museum loan or even a trade might be one solution to speeding up the process of restoring these cars. Of course, money would have to change hands too. How could it not? This is an expensive business.

    But at least these cars are under cover and their whereabouts is known.

    Not so with Burton and Ashby car 14, formerly on Detroit’s Washington Avenue heritage service. Where is it now? Last I heard it was tucked away in storage facilities rumoured to be Detroit bus garages (I emphasise the word “rumoured”) along with the other cars of the former operation (ex-Lisbon vehicles, a unique open car and a car from Vevy Switzerland).

    B&A 14 is surely a repatriation candidate, but the money required, its 3′ gauge and the fact no one credible has confirmed its present whereabouts are surely major obstacles.

    I know for a fact Blackpool 144 has run at Seashore, not regularly but frequently in the 1950s and 1960s. I chartered her myself in July 1965 for a run. Its wheel profiles prevented it venturing beyond the confines of the yard however.

    Ditto Glasgow 1274. The late Fred Perry told me that when it arrived, it was checked over and then “run,” derailing almost immediately because it was out-of-gauge. That was that.

    Liverpool 293 may have been run for a short while after its arrival but I cannot confirm this. Ditto with Leeds 526 but Fred Perry said it didn’t.

    A. D. Young

  14. Stephen Cobb says:

    I’ve just returned from a holiday in Pennsylvania and was talking to someone last Monday who turned out to be an Operator at Seashore Museum (despite it being a very long way between his home and Seashore!).
    He intimated that some work has recently been carried out on Liverpool 293 (the type of “work” being unspecified), but I got the impression that it was with a view to restoring it to operating condition.
    I cannot add any more to this, but it will be interesting to see if that is the case.

    He also stated that the work on restoring the Blackpool car there to operational condition is now well advanced.

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