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Day 133: End of the line

Day 133: End of the line
Trams down the decades

It always seems such a pity that Brisbane dispensed with its trams but there are still the memories so for a nostalgic journey, take a trip to the Brisbane Tramway Museum at Ferny Grove.

Brisbane Tramway Museum
Take a tram

It’s 50 years since the museum was established and in 2019, it will be 50 years since the last tram stopped in its tracks.

As well as some of the original trams from a horse-drawn model of the 1890s to the more familiar 1950s trams, it has a variety of artefacts – ticket punches to uniforms and signal boxes.

There is also heaps of information about the tramway and visitors can take a ride on a tram.

The place is run by volunteers which is just as well, as nobody could afford to pay someone to do the mammoth amounts of restoration work.

The museum is set on five acres and has 500m of useable track with plans underway to create a 1950s streetscape.

Old signage is key and there seems to be plenty of that including polite reminders to pay the fare and a request for smokers to stand at the end.

Brisbane Tramway Museum
The signal box that sat above the street

The signal box that sat above the street outside McWhirters at the corner of Wickham and Brunswick streets in Fortitude Valley sets the scene.

It was one of a number of elevated boxes at busy junctions with complicated trackwork.  The signalman had to be above the street so he could see the destination blind of the oncoming trams in time to set the points.

He had seven levers to change points and signals hydraulically, to keep trams safe and on the right course.

The signalman couldn’t leave his post on his eight-hour shift, so he worked beside a flush toilet, which is also still there.

Another treasure is the Scammel tractor truck. It was produced by the UK war office as an ammunition supply and towing vehicle for artillery and used at Tobruk and El Alamein to carry loads of 15 tons or more of ammunition.

Brisbane Tramway Museum
Signals were operated hydraulically

On February 19, 1945, the Australian Army sold it to Brisbane City Council which had it modified to assist in derailments and other tram and bus breakdowns. After 36 years it was retired and arrived at the museum in 1982.Nicknamed Scamp, it was driven under its own power from the city to its new home at Ferny Grove.

Static displays trace the history of Brisbane trams from the first horsedrawn services in 1885 to their demise in 1969.

Equivalent of the accelerator on the first trams was a whip holder and there were only two speeds, go and stop.

In a nutshell, the first electric tram operated in 1897, and horsedrawn trams withdrawn from service a year later.

With petrol rationing and troops in town during World War II, passenger loadings reached 160 million in 1944-45. By 1952, tram lines covered 108km criss-crossing the city and there were 428 trams. The last new line was built in 1961.

Brisbane Tramway Museum
Riding the tram in all weather

Services peaked in the 1950s when few families could afford to own a car. The last trams left after midnight to “clear the drunks out of the city”.

Thirty Sunbeam trolley buses were ordered from England in 1947, but didn’t arrive until 1950 because of post-war materials shortages. The trolley bus services, known as “whispering death” because you didn’t hear them coming, ended just a few months before the trams.

Everything was made in Brisbane, including the conductor’s cap, the only exception being the motors that were brought from England.

On September 28, 1962, Brisbane residents awoke to the news that 65 trams had been destroyed in a devastating fire at the Paddington tram depot.

Brisbane Tramway Museum
Event he conductor’s caps were made in Brisbane

This sudden loss of almost one quarter of the tram fleet caused both immediate and lasting damage to Brisbane’s public transport system. The end finally came on April 13, 1969.

The tramway museum is a fine reminder of the golden era of Brisbane public transport.

For opening times visit brisbanetramwaymuseum.org


Brisbane Tramway Museum
Always plenty of work to be done


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