Modern technology, vintage technology and new friends: Connecting with tram enthusiasts via the Internet.

Says Jack Gordon: "1904-built Newcastle tram 114, a resident tram at Beamish, is seen on the curve into the re-created 1913 period Town Street. The tram has recently returned to service after a comprehensive overhaul, its first since 1996, and a repaint into what is thought to be a more accurate rendition of the Newcastle livery than that which it carried originally. The 'Town' destination blind refers to the Town at Beamish (all of the home fleet carry destination blinds with destinations specific to the tramway) rather than a place in Newcastle. It was in service on all four days of the event, with people continuing to ride it with their umbrellas up(!) on the Saturday, when the photo was taken."

In nearly 30 years as a tram enthusiast I’ve encountered many interesting and generous people, especially during the past 13 years of maintaining a tramway presence on the Internet.

Some of the folks I’ve met have, of course, been little more than the occasional name attached to an email or message board post. Others have been the source of more regular correspondence and periodic meetings for railfanning and fan-trips. Then there is a smaller, core group of individuals who have gone on to become true friends, with whom I have shared not just books, photos and talk of trams but also the joys and sorrows of everyday life. I proudly count several of those people among my very best friends.

Thanks to this blog and to Facebook, the past year or so has witnessed a significant enlargement of my circle of tramway acquaintances, particularly with enthusiasts from the United Kingdom. These new friends range in age from late teens to late 60s, giving one hope that historical knowledge, artifacts and preserved vehicles will continue to be passed with care down the generations, even after living memory of the original tramway era has fully passed from the earth.

This uniformed gentleman seems to convey all the gravitas of an Edwardian motorman manning the helm of 110-year-old Stockport tram 5 at Heaton Park in Greater Manchester. Why does its dash bear the number 53? Read on. Photo by Joe Savage.

In an example of the generosity I cited above, two of my relatively new U.K. acquaintances, Jack Gordon and Joe Savage, emailed me to offer tram photos from recent special events at two British museums for publication on my blog. Aside from their kind willingness to share, Jack and Joe have captured with their photos the graceful architecture of Britain’s early electric cars as well as the camaraderie among visitors and volunteers.

Jack’s photos come from the Beamish Museum’s “Power from the Past” event, which ran from Sept. 1 to 4 and for which a description of tramway attractions can be found in this British Trams Online report. Jack, I should point out, is the founder and executive editor of the online magazine Tramways Monthly. Launched in February 2009, the complimentary publication is attractive, informative and “now read by more than 1,000 people each month (on average) in over 20 different countries.” That’s no mean feat, considering that Jack is not yet 20!

Joe — who’s rather closer to, ahem, my own age — is originally from Newcastle, lives in Bolton and loves “any kind” of old transport. His photos were taken in conjunction with the debut of visiting Stockport tram 5 at the Heaton Park Tramway in Greater Manchester, also described at British Trams Online. I’ve not visited either of these museums — though I rode past Heaton Park on Manchester Metrolink in 2009 — so these photos also provide a tantalizing glimpse of destinations to come.

Beamish, by Jack Gordon

Situated in County Durham, Beamish — “The Living Museum of the North” — isn’t a tramway museum as such but a 300-acre open air museum which includes working vintage transportation vehicles. Its houses, shops, buildings and costumed staff tell the story of North East England and its people in the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. The draw for tram enthusiasts is its mile-and-a-half-long tramway, over which vintage tramcars rumble past each of the period areas, including a stunning Edwardian streetscape.  Its fleet of a half-dozen cars, described here, has recently been supplemented by visiting vehicles from other museums and is complemented by a replica 1913 bus.

Some purists only take sunny day photos. I rather enjoy an atmospheric rainy-day shot such as this, which captures the frequently dour side of Britain’s climate. Here, Jack snapped a 1900 Sunderland tramcar paused on the town section of the line. Says he:

Sunderland 16 is another home member of the Beamish fleet, and is the most recent tram there to enter service following a complete restoration, completed in 2003. The tram was built in 1900. The re-created street at Beamish features buildings from across the North East of England, rebuilt brick-by-brick to give an authentic scene and to truly take visitors back to 1913. The tall brick building is a Barclays bank, and that on the left a Masonic Hall. Out of shot to the right is the location for a new Bakery, currently under construction. Double track is placed through the Town, allowing trams to pass, along with three other passing loops. The remainder between the loops is single track.

Before we move on to another of Jack’s photos, I would be remiss if I did not present at least one photo of the Beamish streetscape on a brighter day, courtesy of another Internet friend from the U.K. This February 2011 view shows the same tram in almost the same spot, albeit from a different vantage point:

There are several things I enjoy about this photo. Obviously, it is a nice broadside view of Sunderland 16, showing the tram’s solid, classic lines to good effect, down to the ruby-tinted glass in the upper clerestory windows. Even in its dignified maroon and cream livery, a car like this would have brought a splash of colour to Edwardian Sunderland, standing in stark relief against cobbled streets and sober structures which were probably a good deal more soot stained than the lovingly maintained museum pieces seen here at Beamish.

What’s so much fun about this picture — and why it is especially relevant to this post — is that it’s not only another contribution from an online friend, but from someone who is ostensibly not a tramway enthusiast! Carl, who currently tweets as @citizenx103, lives in the North East. I’ve been following his tweets for a year or so, and he was kind enough to mention me when he originally posted this image after a visit to Beamish about seven months ago. Over the years, friends and family who are not transportation enthusiasts have often paused during their travels to snap photos of trams and buses especially for me in such diverse locales as Japan, Italy, Greece, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Memphis, Spokane, Seattle and here in County Durham, England. It is nice to be acquainted with so many thoughtful people.

Continuing with Jack’s pics:

Were it not for the trio of liveries from different cities, this photo could well depict a clutch of extra cars waiting at the edge of the town tramway for throngs of Edwardian fairgoers or football fans. As Jack describes the scene:

Two of the Museum’s ‘local’ cars, Gateshead 10 and Newcastle 114, wait at Pockerley, the site of an original Georgian Manorhouse and Steam Waggonway, whilst the cars ahead complete the climb up the notorious Pockerley Bank, a 1-in-16 gradient. Trams are limited to one at a time up this stretch, thus the wait. The procession traversed around the circuit back into the Town, except for [Blackpool] 31 which turned here at Pockerley and headed through the town to meet up with the rest at the fleet back where the previous photo is. This is because the tram is currently only running with one motor, due to a defective second motor that was not repaired in time for the event, leading it to be a static exhibit during the day at the event and making one appearance for photographers – empty – on Saturday night. Note the ‘Circular Tour’ headboard – one is sited at each end, and they are replicas of those originally fitted on the trams when they worked the Circular Tour in Blackpool. It is hoped that this can make future appearances as, in my opinion, it is a lovely embellishment to the tram that adds to the car’s story!

A pair of Blackpool veterans — albeit one in disguise — meet again at Beamish:

Two trams which were hoped to take a starring role in the event, but sadly had to be sidelined on the day, were Blackpool ‘Balloon’ 703, masquerading as Sunderland 101, and Blackpool Marton ‘Box’ 31, of 1934 and 1901 origin respectively. The trams are pictured together outside the depot at Foulbridge, where they were on display for each day of the event. Balloon 703 is owned by the Lancastrian Transport Trust and is on loan to the Museum, awaiting a few minor jobs before it can hopefully enter passenger service before the end of the year, the tram being intended as a winter car. It is painted in a fictitious Sunderland livery and number, with inspiration from cars 99 and 100, the latter still extant in its original identity of Metropolitan Electric Tramways 331, to allow it to better fit in at the Museum, which favours trams from the North East for obvious reasons! Inside the tram is still ‘as withdrawn’ from front line service in Blackpool in 2009. Marton 31, on the other hand, has a defective motor which it had been hoped could be repaired in time for the event but this was sadly not the case. … It was one of the stars of the 125th Anniversary events in Blackpool last year …

Heaton Park, by Joe Savage

Manchester 'California' car 765 of 1914, centrepiece of the historic tramway in Heaton Park, is seen on the double-track portion of the line earlier this month in a Joe Savage photo. Such combination cars were popular in warmer climates; one has to wonder how appropriate they were for Manchester.

This vintage tramway is situated in Heaton Park, a large municipal facility located 4 miles north of Manchester city centre, with an eponymous Metrolink tram station nearby. The park was served by trams until the 1930s. The museum tramway opened in 1980, operating over an original double-track spur which had lain dormant beneath the tarmac for decades, while an original waiting shelter was reborn as a depot. This July 12 Manchester Evening News report, which includes video, marked the opening of the line’s latest extension. It added another 360 feet of track and “means visitors can now ride the rails from the tram museum at Middleton Road all the way to the café by the lake.”

Until recently, the museum’s own fleet consisted of three electric trams and one restored horse car, with the star attraction being 1914 Manchester ‘California’ car 765, which was the centrepiece of the original project. Over the years, the park’s own cars have gone on tour elsewhere (notably with 765 at Blackpool), while cars from other museums and Blackpool have been visitors to Heaton Park.

The latest visitor is Stockport Corporation Tramways car 5, which was built at Preston by Dick, Kerr & Co. in 1901. Background on the car can be found here, on the Blackpool Tramway 125 website. The car arrived at Heaton Park from Blackpool in late August for what is expected to be a minimum three-year stay, according to the park’s website. I believe Joe captured the following images at its debut event a short time afterward.

While Joe did not supply captions with his photos, most depict of Stockport 5 around the park. The images of trams, uniformed volunteers, enthusiasts and visitors speak for themselves. As it turns out, Jack wrote a bit about Stockport 5’s departure from Blackpool and its arrival at Heaton Park for Tramways Monthly.

Here we see Stockport 5 alongside Stockport Corporation Transport bus 97, a 1969 Leyland PD3 with East Lancs body, bearing registration MJA897G. The bus comes from the collection of Greater Manchester’s Museum of Transport, and is a suitable partner for car 5 on this occasion. As it turns out, 2011 marks the 110th anniversary of both car 5 and Stockport’s tram system, as well as the 60th anniversary of the network’s closure, on 25th August 1951.

If I am interpreting Peter Gould’s roster and history correctly, No. 97 would have been the final vehicle of the final order of buses built for Stockport Corporation Transport before the system was was absorbed into the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive (SELNEC) on 1st November 1969. No. 97 appears to be the vantage point from which this vertical view of the tram was taken.

Thus, these two vehicles are historic survivors. But why is car 5 wearing the number 53? Jack says that was done to commemorate car 53, reportedly the last tram to operate on the original system in 1951.

Shades of red were the order of the day at Heaton Park during the Stockport event, albeit carried by trams from three different systems in England’s North West.

Above we see Stockport 5 and Manchester 765 framing what has been christened car 7, formerly Blackpool replica Vanguard 619. As described on Heaton Park’s website, this vehicle began life as railcoach 282 in 1935, renumbered 619 in 1968. It was reborn in 1973 in the dramatically rebuilt one-man-operated car 7, only to undergo another radical transformation in 1987 as a replica of a turn-of-the-century toastrack tram, once again renumbered 619 and dressed in chocolate and cream. It was sent to Heaton Park in 2010, and after an offseason repaint was relaunched on Easter Sunday 2011 as car 7, memorializing not only its OMO number but its position as the seventh electric car to run on the park’s heritage tramway.

Smartly uniformed crew members pose for their portrait on the platform of Stockport 5. I don’t know the name of the gent at right. If I am not mistaken, however, his colleague at left is none other than John Whitehouse, who is the museum’s commercial and operations manager as well as being proprietor of East Lancs Model Tramway Supplies.

Here we see another notable name among contemporary British tramway enthusiasts, and a recent addition to my cadre of tram friends on Facebook. Andrew Blood, all smiles on the top deck of Stockport 5, is associate editor of Tramways Monthly. According to Jack, Andrew “is largely responsible for the online presence of the publication, looking after the ‘Latest News’ pages, as well as our social media.”

I have a special fondness for photos like the one above, which show enthusiasts in their natural element, doing what they love most of all. I’ve attended more than one fan-trip here in North America on which the more irascible variety of enthusiast has screamed bloody murder at anyone who, accidentally or otherwise, strayed into their shot and distracted from the vehicle with a bit of humanity. I get it — there are times when all you really want is a perfectly composed photo depicting only the vehicle. For many, that’s the whole point of a fan trip. The journalist and historian in me, however, also sees the value in capturing the public in a picture of a public transport vehicle, and that includes those members of the public who attend these events and share our passion for historic vehicles. It’s a testament to our common interest and camaraderie.

We shall close with a cozy shot of Stockport 5 tucked away beneath the depot’s graceful arches, bathed in the golden glow of modern overhead lighting.

Thanks to Jack, Joe and Carl for their photos, to Andrew for his efforts to help make Tramways Monthly a valuable and entertaining source of tramway information for readers around the world and to John for providing a valuable source of British model tramway supplies. I have yet to meet any of these people in person, but already they have helped enrich my knowledge of Britain’s tramways and my desire to see more of their nation, its people and its transportation heritage.

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