It’s amazing how Muni’s historic streetcar operation has garnered fans and created fantasies all over the world. The wonderful “fictional image” by artist Garry Luck above is an example. It came to our attention today as part of a post and comments in a Facebook group called Blackpool’s Transport Past. It’s a modification of an artist’s conception of a decapitated version of Blackpool, England “Coronation” Tram 663. (The name refers to their construction date, 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II). Below is another artist’s conception by Mr. Luck, which we have learned after first posting this, depicts the red livery of Prague.
The original Facebook poster of the photo, Philip Higgs, headed the preservation group Lancastrian Transport Trust, which acquired several cars from Blackpool Transport when that venerable operator greatly reduced its heritage fleet after acquiring modern trams (to their great credit, Blackpool Transport has reversed course and now offers vibrant heritage tram services much of the year).
Higgs writes in his post that in 2012, his group “was forced to reduce the size of its preserved vehicle collection and prior to Coronation 663 passing to a private owner for continued preservation, discussions took place with a USA based tramway operator to produce a semi open top car”. Group member Alun Wylde then posted the green and cream photo as a comment, noting “Whilst the open top ruins the car, the Muni livery of green and cream wings quite suits it”.
We at Market Street Railway do not know who the “USA based tramway operator” was who had discussions about this Coronation tram. We don’t believe it was Muni. Mr. Higgs did not mention this concept to us two years later during our negotiations with him to purchase an actual original open-top boat tram (Car 233) from his group for preservation by Muni. Happily, Tram 663 was eventually transferred to the Blackpool Transport Trust, the nonprofit support group for Blackpool Transport, and is said to now be under restoration to its original appearance in England for eventual return to Blackpool’s rails. Here’s the story on that.
Here’s how the Coronations appear, as built. The glass skylight windows are cool, but if memory serves they can make the interior hot, even in seaside Blackpool. And the automatic controllers of these cars, known by the acronym VAMBAC, were notoriously unreliable in service.
As our regular reader/members know, acquiring a vintage streetcar and getting it roadworthy and maintainable in a modern US street operating environment is a protracted process.
In fact, we do not even start making a serious acquisition attempt until we have ascertained that Muni leadership will accept the streetcar and commit to its restoration and upkeep as resources allow (knowing that this sometimes takes many years). Once we have that assurance, we seek funding to cover acquisition and transport costs.
We specifically sought a second open-top boat tram because the first one we acquired for Muni in 1984, Car 228, has proven to be the most popular vehicle in Muni’s streetcar fleet whenever it appears on the street. Having a second genuine boat tram will ultimately allow reliable chartering and special operation of this car type regularly.
We were and are gratified that the Thoresen Foundation, responded positively to our outreach for funding for 233 with a generous grant and that FedEx helped underwrite shipping. (We detail this process because one commenter on the Blackpool group mused that we go off chasing streetcars whenever a “wealthy foundation” has an interest in a particular one. Uh, no.)
Boat Tram 233 has had all its electrical modifications completed, but now awaits truck work for regular operation. (It’s worth remembering that when transit agencies choose individual cars to retire from service, they naturally pick the ones that need work to stay in their own fleet.) Muni has to fit in the work on 233 around regular maintenance and other historic car processes, so for now, the boat tram we acquired for Muni in 1984, No. 228, handles most appearances (although both were out for Heritage Weekend in September for the first time since 233’s initial display appearance in 2014, pictured below, 233 on the left).
We plan to work with Muni in the coming months to advocate for a schedule with more appearances during the good-weather months for the boats, which are the “people’s choice” as most popular cars in the historic fleet whenever they appear.
Meantime, that Wings fantasy livery…well, well… 🙂