Balloon 726 put up for sale

The future survival of Blackpool Balloon car 726 has been placed in serious doubt, with an announcement from its owners, the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust, that the tram is being offered for sale to any interested parties. It has been confirmed that 726‘s current owners would be willing to either sell the complete tram, or sell off parts for use to assist with other restoration projects, confirming that the Trust has now ended its interest in this particular tram.

726 last ran in Blackpool during the 2010 illuminations, becoming one of the last Balloon cars not to have been extensively modernised to see service on its native tramway. After a relatively brief period of storage it was then sold and joined the collection of the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust, departing Rigby Road for outside storage at the end of 2011. Despite a further move to the Fleetwood fish docks in 2013, the tram has stood out in the open ever since, exposed to the unforgiving coastal climate and considering that the tram was already in a fairly tired condition, this has probably done it further harm. 726 was a very popular car amongst enthusiasts towards the end of its working life, thanks to the retention of many traditional features such as varnished interior woodwork, swing-over seats and half-drop glazing, but was also noted for its distinctive drooping bodywork which could well be less appealing to anyone wishing to consider buying the tram!

726 was originally one of two Balloons acquired by the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust (710 being the other one) , for intended display at a new museum attraction which remains a pipe dream and seems unlikely to ever materialise. A recent strategic review of the group’s policies has led to a decision to remove some less valuable vehicles from their collection, and as a duplicate of the Balloon cars, 726 looks set to be the first to go. This is in spite of plans to use the tram as the basis of a replica of the famous illuminated ‘Progress’ car as a static exhibit for display on the promenade announced mere months ago, suggesting a lack of direction from the Trust and indicating that this project is also seemingly dead in the water. Furthermore, the FHLT have indicated that a couple more trams are likely to be offered for sale in the near future, presumably in an attempt to raise much-needed funds to move some of its other trams from Kirkham Prison, from where they must be removed by the end of 2014. It seems the Trust has plans to retain Centenary car 641 and therefore moving this tram to alternative premises would seem to be a high priority. Another concern for the Trust involves the trams stored at the docks in Fleetwood and associated rent payments, which is an ongoing issue and the Trustees have already suggested that this could well bankrupt the organisation unless the requested fees can be waived.

What the future holds for 726 now that it is has been declared surplus to requirements remains to be seen, although it is likely that the selling price for the tram will be considerably higher than what the FHLT paid Blackpool Transport for it to try and recoup some of the money which has been wasted in moving it around during its time in the ownership of the Trust. Whilst it would be extremely sad if the last of the Balloon cars to be built was lost forever, it is hard to envisage a happy outcome for this particular car now that Rigby Road is home to fifteen different Balloon cars in various guises, whilst the type is also well represented in preservation with examples held at Crich, Beamish, Heaton Park and the North Eastern Electrical Traction Trust. Therefore, any attempts to save the tram at this stage are unlikely to result in it finding sanctuary, and may well be better off directed towards supporting one of the other traditional Balloons which survive awaiting their chance for a brighter future.

Naturally, any developments regarding the future of car 726 will be posted on British Trams Online as will news on the rest of the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust collection once plans for any of their other trams are confirmed.

A classic and seemingly unrepeatable scene from 2007 with Balloon 726 in its first season wearing a striking advert livery for HM Coastguard. The tram is pictured at the northbound Tower stop, a location which is barely recognisable today! (Photo by Andrew Waddington)

 

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26 Responses to Balloon 726 put up for sale

  1. David Mulpeter says:

    Hi
    Could you please forward me further details of the sale as I would be interested in acquiring her to save her from probable demise if possible
    Kind Regards
    Dave M

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Have a look at http://visitfleetwood.co.uk/

      Do bear in mind though that buying a tram is the easy bit when it comes to preservation – as its current owners have found, transporting a tram is very expensive and that’s assuming you are able to find a place to house it!

    • Phill says:

      Dave-whilst I admire your willingness to do something, here are a few figures:

      Moving a tram costs a couple of thousand per trip. Double deckers are particularly hard, since they don’t fit under bridges.

      Crich has just restored LUT 159 for around £400,000. They are now starting on LCC 1, which is a very good comparison to this tram-both are of similar construction, and both are complete but in poor condition. This has been costed up at half a million, and that is somewhere with plenty of volunteers to help. Admittedly that will be an absolute top quality job, but any deep structural work, which this tram evidently needs, will run into many £100K’s

      (see here: http://www.trolleybus.net/subhtml/1.htm)

      On top of that, you’d need somewhere to store it.

      Obviously you can do what you like with your money, but you could easily see it all vanish with nothing to show for it. Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best.

      • freel07 says:

        I fully agree with your comments regarding transportation costs and the difficulty of transporting double deckers around.

        However I must correct you regarding the construction comparison between a Balloon and LCC1. The Balloons are a timber body frame on a steel underframe which is pretty much traditional construction. LCC1 is a totally different animal being a steel framed and panelled tram. This is much more difficult to work with and is suffering from severe corrosion damage.

        • freel07 says:

          Sadly it appears I may have been mistaken in my information regarding LCC1 construction. It appears that it is actually a composite steel and timber car. Apologies for the error. If the moderator wishes to delete both comments please feel free.

  2. Christopher Callan says:

    Ill never tell anyone how to spend their money (its your money after all) But if i had several thousand lying around their are multiple projects safely inside Rigby Road (or other collections for that matter where every penny of your money will be appreciated and maximised). Plenty of Balloons inside Rigby Road that with the money you would need to spend on 726 could be absolutely transformed.

    726 Will be an absolute money pit. Will need to be totally rebuilt and the chances of finding anywhere to actually store let alone operate it safely are remote.

    If anyone buys it all you are doing is potentially facilitating 761 exit from Rigby Road or at best your moving trams from outside the prison to the docks… Which simply delaying the inevitable. 621 & 761 should be offered free of charge no strings attached to Blackpool Trust. 641 should be offered no strings attached to Crich Tramway Village. The rest of the collection needs to be broken up for spares and parts & scrap value to cover costs.

  3. Nev Sloper says:

    Speaking as a fan of the streamlined fleet, that evoke happy memories of many holidays from childhood to the present day, I hate to see any of them lost to the scrap man. However I am realistic enough to accept that we aren’t going to save everything. The bodywork of this tram will need serious attention from a very well equipped workshop with experienced staff & most of those already have examples of the class.
    My personal opinion is that all valuable parts (particularly the seats – I hate sitting on bus seats on a tram!) should be recovered for the benefit of the remaining examples. As you say Andrew, buying it is the easy bit. Railway preservation sites are littered with duplicated examples of diesel locos, purchased by individuals with good intentions, that have little or no chance of ever running again.
    That said, if someone can save it with a realistic chance of restoration & a good permanent home I will be delighted!

  4. Nostalgicyetprogressive says:

    I think we have to regard 726 as irrevocably set on course to follow 646 and therefore money spent on trying to rescue it would be as good as flushed down the loo. Far better surely to support the continued retention of the present heritage fleet the survival of which still depends upon funding without which nothing can be guaranteed. Consider that it now seems likely that the ‘B’ fleet will be disposed of in the not too distant future, having neither run nor even been prepared for service during 2014. This would present further candidates for preservation of which a for more significant tram than 726 would be 700. Apart from 600, no other prototype streamline English Electric car survives – it would be unthinkable that 726 should remain at the expense of 700 going the way of Railcoach 200. Had I money to donate, I’d most certainly put it aside to save 700 when the need arose. In any case, from what I recall about 726, it seemed something of a ‘shed’, ran roughly and a dullness of tone from the bogies spoke ominously of many hairline cracks! But if anyone is set upon trying to save it, then the very best of luck to them – I suspect they’ll be needing it!

    • Ken Walker says:

      If 700 is preserved how much will it cost to ‘un-modernise’ it? I still can’t believe that such an important car was chosen for conversion for the ‘B’ fleet of when plenty other examples were available. I can’t imagine that anyone would want to preserve 700 in its widened form.

      • andrew says:

        What would you rather had happened to 700? Scrap or sale to another organisation who might, like the owners of 726, have not given it due care and attention? By widening the tram it has been retained on its home tramway and can, one day, be returned to its widened form. Perhaps considering this, its widening was not such a crime as you seem to imagine.

      • Andrew Waddington says:

        The situation with 700 has been explained before, but to clarify: at the time it was modified it was anticipated that Rigby Road site would have to be cleared leaving space for only about a dozen heritage and illuminated cars. Therefore it was decided to keep 717 ‘as is’ and not 700, as keeping 2 enclosed Balloons as heritage cars could not then be justified and 717 is a far more authentic restoration. The good structural condition of the car also prevented the need to carry out a major rebuild on another Balloon car to bring the ‘B Fleet’ up to the number requested by Blackpool Council as part of the upgrade plan. The conversion of 700 was therefore the only way it could be kept in Blackpool, and this was done as sympathetically as possible, so that perhaps one day the modifications can be reversed. Had this not happened the tram would have been sold and may well have ended up in the position that 726 is now – i.e. being sold off to the highest bidder regardless of whether its for preservation, spare parts or whatever. When I think about it, what was done to 700 – whilst not very pleasant admittedly – was a very clever move in many ways and I am confident that it will stay in Blackpool indefinitely as a result.

        Are we all still awake now!? ;-)

  5. David Edwards says:

    You say that there are 15 different balloon cars in Rigby Road. How many in unmodified condition?

    • Christopher Callan says:

      Balloons: 701, 704, 706, 715, 717, 723

      Modified Streamline: 700, 711, 713, 719, 720,
      Modified Flat Front: 707, 709, , 718, 724

      Worth remembering the modifications can be reversed when they are officially declared surplus in their current role. Depot is packed full of potential projects. the Blackpool story not just about Balloons. Plenty else to tell an plenty of gaps still to fill potentially.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      It depends what you mean by unmodified! 717 is the nearest to a Balloon car in as-built condition but when it was restored it was also modernised in some ways, and of course the work undertaken was so extensive that little of the original tram remained. By contrast the likes of 704 and 715 have had less modernisation, but still look very different from how they did when new. After all a tram that has run for up to 80 years is hardly likely to be very original!

      • David Edwards says:

        The point that I was trying to make is that is would be a pity to allow 726 to be destroyed when it is a lot closer to its original condition than most of the examples at Rigby Road. In response to Mr Callan’s comments I would certainly not class 701 and 723 as unmodified. In my view the modifications to these trams have ruined their appearance.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          I think that’s kind of the point of having 701 and 723 though, to represent different stages in the evolution of the Blackpool Balloon class. What can 726 show that 715 and 717 do not? Whilst it would arguably be nice to have more traditional Balloons there is only so much money available and I for one would rather see a smaller number of trams better looked after, than a large collection of rotting hulks.

  6. Paul D says:

    There is a sense of inevitability about this, and can’t say I’m surprised…

    If anyone has a burning desire to save 726 specifically and has considered the logistics i.e. transporting it, a sensible preferably undercover home and has a serious, viable and properly funded plan for its preservation/restoration, then they have my full support.

    If however it is a rose tinted desire not to see anything scrapped or just a general interest in getting involved with a Blackpool tram, I would strongly encourage them to instead put their funds and efforts into the existing groups and trams with secure future i.e. 702 at Heaton Park or 715 in Blackpool (both potentially operational within the next 12 month’s). Without a properly funded plan in place 726 best serves he preservation movement as a whole by becoming a donor rather than a diversion of effort and drain of funds…

    • John Hibbert says:

      I agree entirely – 726 can provide a wealth of spares for its sisters of which there are many preserved/safe already. There will never again be a procession of green and cream balloons gliding down the prom and we need to move with the times.

      • Nathan says:

        I don’t know about that – perhaps for the E.E. streamliner’s 100th Anniversary, we could have a procession of 717, 706, a restored 700, a restored 726, 715, 701, a restored 279, 600, 604, and maybe even 702 and 236 visiting from Heaton Park and Crich, respectively.

        • Andrew Waddington says:

          Both optimistic and forward thinking! Surely though you’d want one or two more modernised cars in there such as 723, and maybe even a Jubilee car? They would add more than 236 or 702 really. Also, perhaps by then Blackpool may have a more authentic open top Balloon than 706, in the shape of 704?

  7. Franklyn says:

    So you call yourselves enthusiasts or preservationists? Well shame on pretty much all of you for discouraging David from at least attempting to save a part of our herritage! It’s your attitude of “can’t be done” that has left Fleetwood Leisure Trust in the position they are in right now!

    Instead of poncing around taking photograps and claiming to be experts, why don’t you put a bit of effort into helping the people who ARE doing something rather than knocking them?

    In reality 726 is not likely to require any major works that are beyond the scope of a reasonably competent individual. The teak sides are virtually indiscructable. Only the Ash ends (which had to be ash to form the curves) suffer a bit from rot, which is easily replaced. Controllers are bomb proof technology and the electrical systems in an un-modified balloon are about as simple as you can get.

    Restorations done by other museums, particularly Crich, are sometimes very over the top. Crich likes to take everything apart weather it needs to be taken apart or not and it is this total rebuilding from a flat-pack that pushes up the cost. They also cost in their volunteer labour at a certain price, which I understand they have to do if they want to apply for certain match-funded grants etc.

    Plenty of people restore classic cars from complete wrecks. 726 is not that bad and could easily be restored for well under £20,000. get your transport from a friendly haulier (maybe as a return load) and that price can be cut too. Various companies have plenty of experience in transporting Balloons all over the place. There’s nowhere more inaccessible for a high load than Crich and they make it there ok.

    Vintage trams are easy to work on as most of them were built by hand. You won’t find any pressed steel panels you need to get remanufactured, curcuit boards to go wrong or broken plastic parts that are now unobtainable. If a balloon was that difficult to rebuild then Blackpool wouldn’t have bothered doing as many as they have over the years.

    David, if you need any help then reply to this post and I’ll be in touch.

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      That is just one opinion though… if no trams were scrapped then we probably wouldn’t have such finely restored tramcars as Chesterfield 7, Liverpool 762, Manchester 765, London 1622 and others which have all benefitted from parts from other vehicles.

      If anyone is genuinely able to find a GOOD home for 726 (i.e with a reasonably secure future, undercover and some potential for future restoration) I for one would be highly delighted. But where would it be? Any museum that wanted a Balloon car has had ample opportunity to get one by now and as stated above, Rigby Road is full of them. There is only so much money and manpower available and for my part I would rather see some of the many neglected preserved trams in the UK given a chance to shine again instead of throwing money at another Balloon car, especially if it were simply to be moved to another remote field. And I say this as a great fan of Blackpool trams who has certainly been prepared to put his hand in his wallet to help them in the past. As I say though, this is only my opinion and I accept that not everyone agrees.

      • Freel07 says:

        Good to hear some commonsense on this Andrew. Having surveyed a number of the Brush and Balloon cars in 2010I can honestly say that the good ones were accounted for a long time ago. The underframes on many of the others are in very poor shape due to corrosion hence Blackpool spending so much on new frames for the modernised Balloons. The expense involved in replacing an underframe is significant. I have photos of a number of cars proposed for saving that showed holes in sections of the solebars. 708 and 716 were both in poor shape underneath and a couple of the Brush cars we looked at were also suffering severe corrosion. Also looking at the condition of the interior panelling of the 2 Balloons above the body frames were suffering from water ingress before their periods of external storage.

        I have great admiration for anyone attempting to take a restoration on but they must be well aware of the magnitude of the task.

    • Phill says:

      Ho ho ho, this’ll liven things up…

      No one is saying it’s not possible, just that it seems a bit pointless. I think you’re underestimating a lot, including cost of materials and cost of the skills needed to, say, rebuild your wooden ends or machine up parts. I believe a dorlec overhaul of a motor, for example, starts at a grand to look at it, per motor. By the sounds of it this is one of the worst surving balloons, so the cost will be higher whatever standard you do it to. All to get yet another balloon tram.
      I’m sure we all admire Davids enthusiasm, but I think it only fair to warn him that these things can, do and have become money pits.

    • Ken Walker says:

      We are enthusiasts AND preservationists but most importantly REALISTS. It is just totally impractical to preserve every single balloon or railcoach or centenary car or whatever. As Andrew Waddington says every museum that wants one has had ample opportunity to obtain one, and preserving every surviving example would ensure a complete absence of obsolete spare parts as well as diluting manpower and financial resources. Look at the number of ‘preserved’ railway locos that are rusting away in sidings due to lack of resources, and that is in most cases with only a tiny fraction of a particular class being ‘saved’. How are projects like restoring a Brush railcoach to original condition or restoring a towing car as an English Electric railcoach (both of which do not currently exist) going to ever be completed if the financial resources are so thinly spread? If you and David between you have the financial resources to restore 726 then I’m sure you have the blessing of all of us. But I think there are far bigger fish to fry.

    • Paul D says:

      As ever Franklyn you appear to be missing the point of most posts…

      No-one has told David not to buy 726, but have pointed out the many and varied pitfalls and problems likely to be encountered along the way. I count at least three posts (including my own) saying ‘if you have considered all this and still want to go ahead best wishes’. Posters making such comments include at least one I believe is part of the Crich Workshop team and I speak as an active member of another group. Can you please confirm your experience and qualifications to make your assessment above of the condition of 726 and your estimate of the cost of restoration?

      David, as many have said, if you really want to save 726 go for it, but do heed the very sound advice in (most) posts above and do talk to the existing groups about their experiences – don’t go it alone. It’s not that anyone wants to see 726 scrapped, it’s that they want you to ensure you are aware of the scale of the task you are considering taking on and don’t want to see precious funds wasted.