Blackpool tram joins museum collection

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GLIDING along Blackpool seafront, the Balloon Tram, as she was affectionately known, was a familiar sight on the famous beach resort.

Seventy eight years later, this iconic tram bears the wear and tear of decades of dedicated transport service and millions of passengers.

Chairman David Harrison and Restoration volunteer  John Gilder at The North East Land, Sea and Air Museum.

Chairman David Harrison and Restoration volunteer John Gilder at The North East Land, Sea and Air Museum.

But a Wearside attraction is breathing new life into the vehicle, which was retired from service in 2009.

After buying her for £1,000, a dedicated team at North East Land, Sea and Air Museums (Nelsam), formerly the Aircraft Museum, in Usworth, Washington, is restoring the tram, which was built by English Electric in Preston in 1935.

It is a labour of love for team member John Gilder, whose fascination with trams was sparked by his first of many holidays to Blackpool when he was a toddler.

“In her time she was the bee’s knees of trams,” said John.

“Trams started in Blackpool in 1885 and when she started in the 30s she was a huge leap forward from what they’d had.

“It cost a lot more than what we paid for her to actually get her here, but to us she is priceless.

“She is one of the best examples of this model which are not in service.”

He added: “She would have ran along the seafront at around 20 miles an hour, but she wasn’t designed for speed, she was designed to carry people.”

Ultimately, it is hoped she, and the three other trams which have been recently bought by the museum, will be the star attractions on a new two-mile tram track which the venue is planning to build.

John, a bus driver for Go Ahead, is one of a band of volunteers at the museum.

“This is a chance of a lifetime for me,” he said.

“I’ve been going to Blackpool since 1957 and have loved trams ever since so it’s amazing to be helping in their preservation.

“The jobs of these trams was superseded by super trams, they are good movers, but they’ve got no character or soul.”

Dave Harrison, chairman at Nelsam, said: “There’s something about trams which really interests people.

“They are proving really popular with kids. Unlike other museums, which say ‘Do Not Touch’ we encourage visitors to get on and touch the exhibits, with a volunteer.”

The trams join the museums’ existing exhibits which include 30 aircraft, around 20 military vehicles and a nuclear weapon from the Cold War, as well as recreations of street scenes from World War II.

The first stage of plans to improve the site have been approved by Sunderland City Council and include a new extension which will house new attractions.

Speaking about the planned changes, Dave said: “If we don’t change or alter we will die on our feet. People think that because they’ve been to the museum once they don’t need to come again because they’ve seen everything, which is why we need to keep changing.

“It’s an expensive museum to keep open and we need to keep attracting people.”

*Nelsam is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is £5 for adults, £3 for children aged five to 16 and free for under fives.

More information is available via its website, www.nelsam.org.uk.