Glory Of Electric Trams Compiled by Gladwin Soft Cover
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Glory Of Electric Trams Compiled by Gladwin Soft Cover
Glory Of Electric Trams Compiled by D.D. and J.M. Gladwin
Softcover 80 pages
Through City and Town
The Making of a Tramway
Service with a Smile
Four Trams, Four Countries, Four Girls
Decorated Cars and a Car That Died
Once upon a time every respectable town had its own tramway. Then along came the oil interests whose machinations killed off tramways. That is the hoary legend. The truth is that small tramways came, most made a little money and might have made more had not World War I destroyed all forward planning. But this war led to shortages of the most basic materials, and no amount of ingenuity in repairing and patching could hide the fact that, by 1928, most of the 'tiddlers' had run their course of life. They were still using the original tramcars, often with bodies not only un-modernised but with wooden longitudinal seating. The cars, running on broken rails and over dropped joints, were regularly derailed when the cobbles higher than the track would lift and deflect the motor's casing. Each jolt aged worn bodywork and each jar increased the wear on motors, gears and tracks alike. Once these cars had been new and a matter for civic pride, now, worn, with faded paintwork and emitting a cacophony of sound, they were too slow and too uncomfortable to cope with the motor bus competition.
Another difficulty, not easily overcome, was that virtually all tramways were built on the back of borrowed money and while they were in profit the private companies collected their dividends as avidly as the Corporations (for various sociological and political reasons) used their profits to reduce fares. Little or no attempt was, or had been made, to establish a 'Sinking Fund' or piggy-bank to cover any bad times that might follow. Which towns were these? Sheerness, Neath, Taunton, Morecambe, Keighley, Kilmarnock, Wantage, Ipswich, the Hartlepools, Wrexham and Camborne, Glossop and Worcester and Matlock all, and many others, had lost their trams by 1928. And the slaughter continued, with the track of 36 companies and Corporations being lifted between 1928 and 1930 alone. Some of these maintained the electrical connection by substituting trolleybuses, especially where the distribution cables and, indeed, the generating station, were owned by the local councils. Darlington, Ipswich, the Hartlepools, Chesterfield and Wolverhampton, all followed this course - but Ramsbottom, rather oddly, had tried trolleys and abandoned them by 1931.
Gradually though, the emphasis did change, as once these worn-out anachronisms were eliminated, the bulk of the remaining tramways were efficient, well-maintained and provided an essential service. Probably they were uneconomic in today's terms inasmuch as they did not make a direct profit. But what the Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool trams did was to allow the townsfolk who worked at the great factories, mills, docks, steelworks and mines to live away from their places of employment. The massive council estates of the 1930s were generally served by extensions of tramway routes or followed routes that had once been built as speculative ventures to quiet villages. Council rents helped the Corporation books to balance, industries rates and taxes brought in a vast income against which tramway losses were piffling.
But there was also an obverse to this coin: Birmingham, whose trams were not finally eliminated until 1953, bought no new cars (bar a couple of `experimentals') from 1929; London (removed 1952) from 1933 when out of 2,560 cars only 20 per cent could be said to be modern. Leeds closed 1959, purchased its last new vehicles in penny packets and by 1945 their 400 cars had an average age of 20 years, although in fairness they did have a scheme to introduce Euro-type vehicles, experiments with single-deckers coming to fruition in 1953, but it is said they were unable to have them manufactured at an economic price.
A surprising number of Corporations made an attempt to introduce new-pattern vehicles, but only in relatively miniscule numbers. Belfast, whose magnificent system closed as late as February 1954 had superb McCreary streamline cars in service in 1935. But these only totalled 50 vehicles out of nearly 400 in service, and trams, like trains, can only go as fast as the slowest one on the line. Liverpool kept going until 1957 with many attractive `modern' cars albeit most were built prior to the war and had stood up to the rigours of bombing, blast damage and even daylight machine-gunning. Darwen, closed 1946, had just two streamliners, while Manchester, incredibly advanced with their buses, had only 38 so-called Tilcher' 4-wheel cars of 1930 to represent modernity out of 952 cars. Even as late as 1937 when 735 cars remained, only 511 were regarded as being even remotely suitable for modernisation. The tramways of Manchester, like those of Bury, Blackburn and Rotherham, closed in 1949.
Whether or not the oil companies consciously influenced Town Hall decisions we shall probably never know, certainly there was anti-tram propaganda, but there was an equal belief that tower blocks represented the way forward for state-owned housing and that underpasses would resolve the dilemma of what to do with the pedestrian in the age of the motor car. You could not have trams and tower blocks and underpasses; they were simply incompatible and with their apparent lack of flexibility the rail-bound tram was seen as holding up progress. The same argument was also advanced against 'heavy' railways with the result that many lines and stations were eliminated. Thirty years later we are wiser and, to cite just one example, Birmingham, Snow Hill closed in 1968 has been re-opened and work is progressing to reinstate the link to the Kidderminster line. There are also plans to introduce three new Birmingham tramways, albeit based on Continental practice.
Having eliminated tramways, or so the theory went, cities could look forward to a great new future. Did something go wrong? As a tramwayman I saw Sheffield bustling with industry as we carried thousands of people to their places of employment. By any standards for those who could and would work there was prosperity based on honest industry. As a tram-wayman I also saw Liverpool as a busy vigorous port with the tramcars hard pressed to move the numbers waiting to pay their coppers to our conductors, and I saw Glasgow, wet, grey and often bleak but fired with a sense of urgency that reflected the spirit of the town. Too young to work on London trams I remember the cheerfulness of their crews as the overloaded, creaking cars carried their passengers from suburbs to city in the dawn and back again in the evening.
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