Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visit to the Crich Tramway Village - Part Two

Frank writes...

This is a continuation of part one of the visit my wife and I paid to the Crich Tramway Village in England.

The centerpiece of the museum (in my opinion, anyway) is the Exhibition Hall, shown above.  It's a barn maybe 100'x150' with some of the museum's most historic trams arrayed around the building in generally chronological order by date built.  When you walk in you're presented with the above view and you can tour the hall moving clockwise from left to right.  For some reason there was a Houdini impersonator there when we arrived, hence the crowd of people visible in the photo.  This was ignored; I was there for trams!

The displays are very professionally designed.  Equipment is grouped by decade, with banners hanging from the ceiling and freestanding signs like the one above noting each decade.  The displays start with the 1860s, featuring a horsecar from Portugal, and end with the 1960s and a VAMBAC (Variable Automatic Multinotch  Braking And Control, a control system similar to that on a PCC) car.  On the front of the freestanding signs there's some information on how transit evolved during that period.

And the back of the freestanding decade-specific signs, as shown above, have information on general cultural milestones or highlights from that period.  It's a good way of tying the development and evolution of street railways to a broader historical context.

In addition to these signs, there are display signs for each specific piece of equipment.  Shown above is a sign for a Brill-built snow sweeper (or "snowbroom" in the Queen's English) from Belgium, a nice piece of equipment that would like perfectly at home in any U.S. trolley museum.  As noted in the sign, though, it wouldn't have worked very well in Britain!  These signs are similar in content to the "Kevin McCabe signs" currently worn by many of the cars at IRM but are less bulletproof, not having to be weather-resistant like ours, and include an in-service photograph.

One of the interesting displays, shown above, is an unrestored horsecar body from the Leamington & Warwick that was built in 1881 and retired in 1905 (!).  It was used as a shed in an orchard for over eight decades before coming to Crich.  Note original features including paintwork and remnants of the "knifeboard" longitudinal rooftop seat down the center line of the car.

Here's another fascinating one: the frame of an Eades reversible horsecar (er, horse tram).  The idea was that the entire body of the car would rotate on top of the frame, making the use of single-ended horsecars possible without need for loops or turntables.  Incredibly, one of these is preserved intact and operational in Manchester.

And here's another interesting piece: a steam tram engine, known as a "steam dummy" in the U.S.  I'm not sure whether any quite like this were preserved in America.  This example was built in Britain for export to Australia, but spent most of its life as a shunter at Beyer-Peacock, which built it.

And then, of course, we get to the electric era.  Derby 1 is fairly typical, not only of British tram design but also of the unparalleled standards to which the equipment on display at Crich has been restored.  This car, the first electric to run in Derby, was built in 1904 and sold when that city's tram system closed in 1934.  The body was acquired by the museum in the 1990s and immaculately restored.  Double-deck, single-truck cars like this were typical of British tramway systems.  The older ones seem to have usually been built with open upper decks, while later ones had both upper and lower decks enclosed.

Here's an interesting one: a suburban car, something like an interurban car, from the Hill of Howth Tramway in Ireland.  It was built in 1902, the same as our car 36, and has a seating capacity of 73.  Evidently it has air brakes but no air compressor; the brakes could only be charged up at either end of its route!  Built to 5'3" gauge, it as regauged to standard gauge sometime after arrival at Crich in 1960.  A similar car from this line is preserved at Orange Empire in California.

As mentioned previously, later double-deck British cars had both deck enclosed.  An example is Glasgow car 1115, shown here, which was built in 1929.  It's a double-truck car, known as a "bogie" tram, which was unusual enough that these cars were nicknamed "Kilmarnock Bogies."  It's been at Crich since 1961.

The three cars above were all built in the 1930s and 1940s.  On the left is Edinburgh "standard" car 35, which was built in the company shops in 1948.  To the right is Sheffield car 264, which was built in 1937 and still shows evidence of repairs made to repair bomb damage sustained during World War II.  And in the middle, of course, is a PCC.  Car 1147 from The Hague, Netherlands represents the PCC car in the Exhibition Hall.  It was built in 1958, later than any PCC cars in the U.S. were built, and came to Crich in 1994.

There are a few display areas in the Exhibition Hall.  This is an intriguing display of various types of line hardware, though unfortunately none of it is labeled.

And here we have a very eye-catching stained-glass display marked as "Tram Shelter" though I'm not sure what the story behind it might be.

And this is a very nicely done display showing the various stages of painting the exterior of a tram.  I've seen examples of this at other museums but I believe this is the largest one I've seen.  The various coats of primer, filler and enamel are all shown.

This is kind of interesting: as can be seen here, some of the rails in the Exhibition Hall are being used on both sides.  This must make switching interesting!  This didn't seem to be the case in most of the building but is obviously an option; the narrow bodies on most British trams are undoubtedly helpful in spacing tracks so closely together.  As can be seen, the body isn't too much wider than the track gauge on many of these cars.

After touring the Exhibition Hall we headed out to the street scene to go for a ride.  It was "Blackpool day" of some sort, so three different cars from Blackpool were operating along with the Oporto car mentioned in part one.  I think that part of the reason was that most of the Blackpool cars have pantographs rather than poles.  Crich has a very neat pole reverser that I was really hoping to see in action, but there was a carousel located smack in the middle of it for the weekend.  Oops!  Anyway, the car above was the only single-level Blackpool car operating.  This is a "Brush tram" built in 1937.  It was in regular service until 2011, when the entire fleet of older trams was retired for replacement by light rail cars, and this one is unusual in that it was rebuilt in the 1990s with bus seats and electronic destination signs.

They were running one British car with a trolley pole, this double-deck Blackpool car, but unfortunately they were just putting it back in the barn when we arrived.  Rats!  This car also lacks air brakes and is fitted with only dynamic and hand brakes while the more modern Blackpool cars they were running all had air brakes.

Here we see the "Brush tram" and one of the famous "balloon trams" which for many years were among the most recognizable of the trams used in Blackpool.  These cars were built in 1934 by English Electric and ran until 2011.  However about a dozen of this type were rebuilt in 2012 for use on the rebuilt system alongside the new light rail cars; it's hard to see in this photo but this car has a "bulge" at the center door to match the wider light rail cars, so that there won't be a gap between this car and the rebuilt platforms in Blackpool.  Unfortunately the cars so rebuilt have not seen much use, though, and this car has been loaned to Crich.

Of course we had to go for a ride.  The Blackpool cars have their original controllers and brake stands but have had extra electronic gadgets (including turn signals) added.  I thought this was mildly interesting: a brake handle that looks like it was designed for a wooden handle, but with cars like this in service into the 2010s it must have been deemed expedient to make plastic handles instead.  Not fascinating by itself, but interesting as an indication of how long these cars remained in service.

The tram line at Crich is a great ride; it goes along the edge of  ridge and you get some great views of the valley below.  There are several stops where you can get off and walk around; exhibits include parts of the original mine tramway and some old amusement park rides.  It was getting late in the afternoon so we didn't get to spend time at any of the intermediate stops, but at least the sun came out for a few minutes while we were riding.  The crew on our trip was very friendly; both motorman and conductor work as operators in Blackpool.

And we'll finish our Crich visit with a view of the Red Lion Pub, the most impressive of the buildings that was moved in from off-site to fill in their street scene.  The amount of work - and money - that must have gone into this project is typical of the uniformly professional and well-polished presentation at this terrific museum.


Anonymous said...

Crich is a definite stop on my next trip to the UK next year.

Back in the US there are one or two steam dummies for street use that I know about. A San Francisco steam locomotive that is now displayed in Travel Town Park in Los Angles.

The idea was to cover the machinery and not scare the horses. I doubt it did much good and soon the electric motor came along.

Ted Miles
IRM Member

Anonymous said...

Actually there are probably about a dozen steam dummies in survival in the U.S. All except one that I know of were converted to small open steam locomotives for industrial or tiny shortline use. The one unconverted one is the Baldwin "Hercules" at Mammoth Caves National Park,complete with vacuum brake system and sitting idle since the Great Depression.

Another street railway subject worthy of a database... hint hint.

Randall Hicks said...

True, but Mammoth Cave #4 "Hercules" has already been covered on our Steam Page. Next time we're there, perhaps we can get a more detailed presentation of it after its restoration.