Photo: Janet Miles
The first time I visited the Birkenhead Tramway, which preserves a representative collection of trams from both sides of the River Mersey along with numerous buses and cars, I fell into a conversation that highlighted why individuals give up so much time literally to make such museums work.
I asked one of the museum workers about the Birkenhead tram we were standing next to. This splendid vehicle had spent the years 1937-1983 as a potting shed, and the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society rescued it by providing the owner with a brand-new potting shed. I asked how much of the original tram still survived.
The short answer is – the middle bit downstairs. The ends, the top deck and the running gear are all second-hand or fabricated – necessarily, because who needs a double-deck potting-shed with wheels and a trolley pole? My guide showed me the high-quality original woodwork, including the finely carved borough coats-of-arms, that had remained untouched and had polished up marvellously.
I asked a question that had fascinated me: he was nowhere near thirty years of age, so why did he spend time preserving a mode of transport that virtually died out long before he was born? I’m the last generation that can recall traditional street tramways in such cities as Liverpool; for him, they’re out of the history books.
He told me he was a graduate engineer. In his daily work he sits at a computer screen. Occasionally he clicks his mouse and a lathe or cutting-machine miles away springs into action which he never sees.
As he put it, by coming down to Taylor Street once or twice a week, he sees a potting shed gradually resurrected. Metal, wood, glass and paint come together and eventually, after two or three years, the pole is lifted to the overhead wire, the thing lights up and trundles away. That’s real engineering.
And that’s why we should all be grateful to “anoraks” – and “overalls”.
Details of the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society’s activities are at http://www.mtps.co.uk.