Lost Trams 9: Burton and Ashby 14

Our irregular series of “Lost Trams” returns with a look at another American export; Burton and Ashby 14 – a tram that is currently lost completely from the public eye. This tram headed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1980 for use on a new extension to a tramway in Detroit which has sadly since closed which has meant 14 is now stored out of public view.

Burton and Ashby 14 is an open top double deck tram built by Brush in 1906 and it remained in service on its home tramway until closure on 19th February 1927. Although a number of trams were sold off to Tynemouth and District, 14 did not make the trip and remained in the locality before being rescued with the unrestored body put on display outside a Model Railway Club in Church Gresley. It was there that it remained until the City of Detroit decided that they wanted to operate a double deck tram on their extension of the Washington Boulevard tramway. They approached John Woodman – now well known for his involvement in the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust – who had been involved in the export of Blackpool Boat Car 603 to Philadelphia during the 1970s to see whether he could assist and two trams were considered for the role, rather bizarrely both numbered 14! As well as the Burton and Ashby car Lowestoft 14 was also considered but the final decision saw the former chosen.

With the decision made, and sponsorship secured in America, a start was made in the UK to restore the tram with the vehicle transferred to the workshops of a local engineering company. The restoration took place during 1979 and the early months of 1980 whilst over in America controllers and the truck were being overhauled – the Burton and Ashby line had been 3’6” gauge but the line in Detroit was 2’ 11 ½”.The tram started its long journey from the UK in May 1980 heading via Liverpool and New York to Pennsylvania where it would be united with the truck and controllers before arriving in its new home of Detroit at the start of July. It was soon put through its paces of testing and then entered service on the line where it was to enjoy several years of sterling service.

Declining passenger numbers on the heritage tramway in Detroit saw the decision made in 2003 to close the line and led to Burton and Ashby 14 – along with the Lisbon cars also in use on the line – being withdrawn and taken away from public view. A trawl of the internet suggests that 14 remains in Detroit and is now stored in a warehouse in the locality with no public access. It is not thought that there are any plans for its future and that it is destined to remain stored for the foreseeable future.

The photo below shows 14 in the summer of 2001 and was taken by Stephen Cobb during a visit to the United States on an Enthusiasts trip around Lake Erie organised by Travel Bureau Railtours. Although not part of the official itinerary a visit was made to Detroit and much to the delight of those present 14 was seen standing outside the depot and ready to run (it was thought that the line had already closed at this point). Rides were enjoyed by those visitors and a tour was also given of the car sheds to see the Lisbon cars. Just two years later the line was to be closed and 14 was to be stored away from the public eye.

* Does anyone know the exact status of 14 at the moment? If so please let us know through the usual channels!

Photo courtesy of Stephen Cobb

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27 Responses to Lost Trams 9: Burton and Ashby 14

  1. Jamie Guest says:

    I did a bit of digging a few months ago and discovered that it may have been in the atrium of an apartment building that has now fallen on hard times. I think it had the word trolley in its name. There was a photo on a website that seemed to show it in the background. If it was there it would be great to get it back as it’s the only remaining tram owned by the Midland Railway. For those interested there is a great short story by D H Lawrence called Tickets Please which is based on the tramway.


  2. Jim Frisby says:

    Totally agree with Jamie’s comment, it would be great to see it back one day, though where it could be housed might be a problem given the gauge. Maybe a short loop at the Midland Railway Centre as a left of field suggestion?
    On a tangent, I always thought Tickets Please was about the Notts and Derby tramway up to Ripley?

    • Jamie Guest says:

      I’m not sure about Tickets please but I’ve always been told it was the Burton and Ashby. However the Notts and derby would fit with lawrence coming from eastwood.

  3. John Stewart says:

    Repatriated and converted back to 1067mm gauge, it could run at the Black Country Museum. But then again …..

  4. Mel Reuben says:

    Sadly Detroit is an bankrupt city after the crash of the automotive industry, the tram will never run in Detroit again. I agree with Jamie, Jim and John we should try and bring this historical tram back home even if its stored at Crich at least it will have a good home rather than rotting away unloved in a atrium of some festering apartment building.

  5. Keith Gilliver says:

    It was interesting to see a mention of Burton and Ashby car 14 on British Trams Online. I was a member of the Model Railway Club involved with its preservation although joining after the tram body was despatched to the US. The mastermind behind the project was Peter White founder of the Model Rail Club. The tram body was one of three saved by a local business man and used as sheds in his garden. The bodies were 6, 14 and 15. 14 was deemed to be in the best order so was fitted with wheels and moved one Sunday morning using another club members Land Rover as motive power.
    No road closures were requested or low loaders used. After arrival at the railway clubroom it resided in the drive being used as the ticket office for the clubs model railway exhibitions. Parts from the other two bodies were salvaged and the remains subsequently scrapped. As stated restoration proceeded slowly until funds ran out and its the subsequent departure to the US.
    The tram initially was still owned by the club and on lease but was subsequently sold to Detroit. If its location is found then any idea of it returning to the UK would involve firstly the purchase of the tram, funding to ship it back to the UK and then finding a home for it on its return. If it went to Crich or the Midland Railway Centre then it would be only as a static exhibit as neither would be interested in operating it due to its non standard gauge. The Black Country Museum tram system is currently non operational with a lot of money needing spending on it.
    The Burton and Ashby system was fairly unique in that it was not built by a local corporation or town but the Midland Railway to link its stations at Burton, Swadlincote, Woodville, Ashby and Castle Gresley. Very little now remains of the system although developers building new housing developments along the route have been known to find track under the road tarmac.
    The tram sheds survived having various owners over the years but about three years ago were demolished, the local council having declined to list them. The station at Ashby has tramtracks and cobbles on the old station forecourt.
    Several books and booklets have been written about the system but Peter White was involved with the two most factually correct books. The first was called Sixpenny Switchback and published locally in the early 1980s. Following a chance conversation with another of our club members and Vic Mitchell of Middleton Press at the Festival of Model Tramways at Kew Pumping Staion in 1979 a hardback book in his Tramway Classics series was published and this book is still available.
    Peter White was a very good friend of mine and also a local historian as am I and I was involved with the production of both these books. If any one wants any further information on this system I would be happy to help as sadly Peter died nearly three years ago but his vast photographic collection still survives.
    I intended to post two pictures to the site from mine and Peter Whites collection but could not work out how to do it. The first picture is the tram as it arrives at the railway clubroom and the second shows it being loaded ready for transport to the United States.

    • Gareth Prior says:

      Thanks for the extra information Keith. Unfortunately you can’t add photos to a comment but if you email through to me (gareth@britishtramsonline.co.uk) I can add them to the original article. Thanks, Gareth.

  6. Simon Evans says:

    I work at the Midland Railway Trust and we have just acquired a ‘carriage door’ that used to be part of an allotment shed in Chesterfield. This door is of the right proportion to be from a tram, and has the imprint of the brass rubbing strips shown on the sliding doors of the B&ALR cars. Interestingly the glass is etched with a large MR of typical style, with a smaller ‘E T’ either side of it, and inerlaced. At the moment we believe this could have come from one of the B&ALR cars. This was the only panel in the shed with the etched glass, and the photos of 14 as recovered show no glass in it. So was the lettering for Midland Railway – Electric Tramway? I have yet to see a photo to confirm or deny our theory!

    Simon Evans

    • Jamie Guest says:

      A long out of print book called ‘Midland Style’ published by the HMRS in the 1970’s has an official photo of Burton and Ashby car No 1 on page 161. The only livery notes in the text state that the standard Midland armorial device with the full Midland coat of arms with the wyvern on top was in the centre of the waist panels. These look as if they could well have been in lined maroon. The rocker panels, which appear toi be in white or cream carry the wording “BURTON AND ASHBY LIGHT RAILWAYS.” The wrap aroubd dash panels appear to be in lined maroon and the bottom part of the upper deck has light coloured panelling round it as a decency screen. All pannelling is lined. Unfortunately the saloon door near the photographer is open so you can’t seen anything apart from the handle. The far end looks as if it’s closed but the staircase is behind it so not detail of decoration on the glass can be seen. The photo is from the official Derby collection No BR/DY 9903. I think this collection is now at the NRM.


  7. I’m pleased that I found this thread of information even if it is ten months later than when it was started! I am a Director of the Leicester Transport Heritage Trust and I am currently heavily involved in putting a grant bid together to submit to the Heritage Lottery Fund to transform the Edwardian Tram Depot, located at Stoneygate in Leicester, into a Road Transport Heritage & Research Centre. See http://www.ltht.org.uk/tram.htm. Part of our aspiration is to have a tram on display and so far thoughts have centred around a mock up of the front of one of Leicester’s original open-top cars, the loan of Car 76 from Crich or the eventually display of Leicester Car 31 when this is restored (see http://www.leicestertrams.org.uk/). I have also thought about Burton & Ashby Car No. 14 but have always drawn a blank as to finding out about its present status/location. A recent related submission about the B&A system from one of the LTHT members encouraged me to ‘Google’ Detroit-Ashby old tram which linked me to this site. What a great location to display this repatriated tram car. At least it would be in its home county and the Brush body also, of course, has a local connection. The sort of figure that it might take to purchase it and repatriate Car 14 may well be affordable if its part of a large HLF bid but the crucial part is to get contact details of those responsible for it in Detroit. Can anyone do any further digging or make any suggestions? Mike Greenwood

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      Your plans sound most interesting and I wish you every luck with them – a tram or trams on display in Leicester would be amazing, particularly if they could be displayed in an original tram depot – something which has never yet been achieved in the UK. I’m sure that any proposal to try and bring back Burton & Ashby 14 will also be well received by many tram enthusiasts; it certainly sounds like a brilliant idea to me! Here’s hoping you can get your required funding as it sounds like there are some really exciting ideas.

  8. John Woodman says:

    I was responsible for organising the delivery of the body of B&A 14 to Detroit and its complete restoration to operating condition. This utilised a truck from a Lisbon car together with controllers and other fittings.
    The project was approved by the Office of the Mayor of Detroit and a very creative aide – Alex Pollock with whom I worked.

    The tram became part of a small running fleet of former Lisbon two axle cars on a brand new line that was supposed to aid the regeneration of downtown Detroit. Operationally the tram became part of the SEMTA (SouthEast Michigan Transit Authority) fleet together with the Lisbon cars. I believe it has been put into storage somewhere in Detroit and a first port of call for you should be both the SEMTA main office and possibly the Office of the Mayor. They should be able to steer you to the tram’s current status and location. Funding for B&A 14 project was entirely through a grant by the Michigan Bell (telephone) Yellow Pages. This included shipment from the UK to Newark, New Jersey and onward via a ‘trolleycar’ restoration workshop managed by Bruce Thain who had previously worked on the regauging and body alterations to Blackpool boatcar 603 for operation in Philadelphia in 1976.

    I certainly support an initiative to return this narrow gauge tram formerly operated by a mainline UK railway company – for display in Leicester. Any further assistance I can give through my own contacts in the USA – I will be glad to provide to the Leicester Trust.

  9. John Woodman says:

    Very timely update from Neil. It seems that the B&A Car is ‘bundled’ with three former operational ex Lisbon cars – all to that city’s narrow gauge. Given the nature of the sale/auction it is improbable that the Burton car can be seperately bid on. I do not know of any operational narrow gauge US trolley museums so the market for the trams ‘as is’ is probably limited. However remounting Lisbon bodies on to standard gauge trucks has been done previously (Birkenhead in the UK).
    Condition and completeness of the trams is an issue but it seems they are stored within a City facility in as withdrawn condition. A great shame this pioneering newbuild urban heritage tramway has come to this. It has however been followed by a long and expanding list of more successful heritage lines in US towns and cities such as Portland, Memphis, Scranton etc. I feel sure that these four trams will go to a ‘caring’ buyer who may be prevailed upon to seperately offer the Burton car for repatriation to England. Watch this space !

    • BigG says:

      I am not certain that I share your optimtism about these trams (lot 1050, which includes the B&A car, actually contains 3 cars). The bundling together of three cars towards the end of the sale when lots 224, 225, 226 are each of a single car each of which is possibly more saleable in the US market. I am inclined to think that the possible destination anticipated by the auctioneers is the scrapyard. If you do have current contacts in the US who can research this a bit further for you, and who might even be able to follow up after the auction if necessary, I suggst that you make contact. The opportunity to do anything may not be around for too long and I have already detected that there is some interest in the enthusiast fraternity in possible action.

  10. Your histories regarding Burton & Ashby #14 are most interesting and informative. Our small museum, Michigan Transit Museum, was formed in 1973 partially to bring back streetcars to Detroit. Originally, the Downtown Trolley Line was our project. however, rising costs and redevelopment forced a relocation to Washington Boulevard in Downtown Detroit, wherein the City of Detroit took over the project. Basically, we were told that we were not needed. Overall, there were nine trams in the fleet, mainly from Lisbon, but also from Vevey, Switzerland and, of course, Burton & Ashby #14. The fare was 50 cents. The line did not transfer to the rest of the City bus fleet and, especially in the later years, ran very sporadically. The 2.9 mile elevated People Mover (linear induction) took away many of the Downtown visitors and Washington Boulevard continued on a long decline. With the Super Bowl scheduled for 2005, the City abandoned the line in 2003 and coverted the street back to a boulevard.
    #14 was stored for a number of years inside the abandoned Shoemaker carbarn on Detroit’s east side, until that structure was demolished. The upper level was removed at that time, to facilitate entry into the carbarn. Since then, #14 reportedly has been stored with the other trolleys inside the main bus garage in Detroit.
    As the nine trolleys were acquired through a combination of Federal, State, and City funds, along with the donation of the Swiss tram, the exact ownership of each trolley has been in question. I suspect the three trolleys that are being auctioned were purchased with City of Detroit funds, and, therefore, are free to be sold. Detroit’s Federal Bankruptcy Trial is expected to be completed within the next week or so. The auction appears to have an online component, so I wish you much luck !
    Incidentally, our Museum is centered around the Mount Clemens Station, which is one of the original Grand Trunk Railway Stations. It opened for business on 21 November 1859 and was designed by Francis Thompson, with imput by Robert Stephenson. #14 would feel right at home in Mount Clemens, however … The Museum’s website can be found at: http://www.michigantransitmuseum.org

  11. Tim Stubbs says:

    Re Burton and Ashby 14, anyone interested in the project to purchase the car and return it to the UK, is invited to a meeting on Saturday 1st November to be held at 3pm in the Academia Room at the National Brewery Centre, Horninglow Street, Burton upon Trent. Otherwise please e-mail any expressions of interest to tim@timstubbs.vispa.com

  12. Richard Powderhill says:

    I read recently that Detroit was going to invest in a new style transit system, as with other U.S.A. cities using modern tram/streetcars. Might this help the stored museum cars somehow?

    • The Woodward Avenue Streetcar line in Detroit is under construction. The streetcars reportedly will be able to operate short distances without overhead wire, to facilitate the continued use of balloons during the annual Thanksgiving Day parade. The Line is being funded privately by a number of very wealthy sources. Whether or not they are interested in any of the stored trolleys up for auction is a mystery to us. We have been attempting to contact them regarding our Detroit PCC 268. Burton and Ashby 14 appears to be attracting some interest.

  13. Colin Smith says:

    Hi everyone, I live in Burton on Trent and saw that this tram was to be auctioned in last weeks local Burton paper. Now I see that there has been a meeting to discuss this last week at The National Brewery Centre. We in Burton on Trent need to get this tram back to Burton but have we enough time, no we have not, just hours to go before the auction and miles away.
    Need some private investors to put some money up to purchase 14 and then return to Burton, anybody out there want to share my thoughts. What will it get sold for at auction????? what will the cost be to transport back to Burton ??????. Colin

    • Gerald Anthony says:

      Hi Colin, I note the tram has been secured, do you know its destination when it comes back to GB. Are you interested in the old buses of the Burton Corporation Transport Undertaking.?

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