Down in Christchurch this week I photographed our dinky tramcar No. 11 (the Box Car) leaving the earthquake-ravaged Red Zone en route to Ferrymead Heritage Park in preparation for the Christchurch heritage tramway restart. Secured to the trailer deck of a huge Kenworth road truck, it definitely looked outside its comfort zone as it progressed along Lichfield Street, earthquake rubble piled on all sides. Decidedly incongruous were the still colourful artificial flower decorations placed on the tram to promote the 2011 Christchurch Flower Festival. I had previously photographed No. 11 against idyllic backdrops of New Regent Street and neo-Gothic Christchurch.
Half an hour later when negotiating a tight bend in Truscotts Station Road No. 11, catching the sunlight, looked as charming as ever. Along with Restaurant Tram No. 411, it had been trapped in the city tram barn after the damaging earthquake hit on February 22, 2011. It suffered broken windows and scrapes from randomly dislodged items.
Its arrival at Ferrymead heritage village attracted an impromptu crowd of curious spectators as it was carefully unloaded on temporary light rails to sit comfortably on the Ferrymead tramway.
The transport guys, along with Christchurch tramway mechanics, Steve Lee and Andy Rowe, made the unloading look relatively easy. They had done this on several occasions.
Joe Pickering drove No. 11 to the Tramway Historical Society’s tram barn where repairs and a repaint are on the cards. No. 11 is the oldest electric tramcar in the Christchurch city fleet, built in 1903 by J. G. Brill of Philadelphia for the opening of the Dunedin Corporation tramway. In Christchurch it was a favourite with the tourists. Three other Christchurch trams are stored under cover at Ferrymead.
We are progressing, albeit still in notch one, towards a grand re-opening of the Christchurch city tramway.
Canterbury may have rocked and rolled for the best part of two years but seismic events have not deterred the hardy guys working in Ferrymead’s rambling tram barn down in Christchurch. Recently I caught up with their latest immaculate restoration, the body of Roslyn electric tramcar No. 1. It was in the final throes of restoration prior to being on its way to the client, Dunedin’s Otago Settlers Museum.
Past Heritage Tramways Trust president Dave Carr says the project enabled the trust to get sufficient revenue to keep a small team of skilled workers (assisted by volunteers) occupied for 10 months. Previously the trust has relied on revenue from the Christchurch Tramway, closed since the February 2011 earthquake.
It’s a cute tramcar built by J. G. Brill of Philadelphia for New Zealand’s first electric tramway on Dunedin’s Maori Hill line. It opened on October 23, 1900. As with all Ferrymead tramcar restorations, Roslyn No. 1 represents world-class heritage craftsmanship. The project was led by Graeme Richardson.
Restoration materials have included American cherry for panelling and ash for framing, the idea being to emulate original materials as much as possible.
Dave Carr looks forward to seeing the Christchurch city trams going again in the foreseeable future. Apart from providing the struggling Heritage Tramways Trust with much needed income, the tramway will be one of a small number of heritage items returning from the earthquake rubble.
In the meantime, I find it difficult to believe the Ferrymead guys could so calmly watch their painstakingly handiwork disappear from the tram barn on board a truck. Compensation might be in the knowledge Ferrymead has the remains of Roslyn No. 3. This one will be restored to working order. Heritage Tramways Trust is completing a former Invercargill Birney Safety car. It is a joint venture with Christchurch Tramways Ltd, operator of the City Loop tourist tramway.
Meet Peter Jessup.
A former Auckland newspaper journalist, Peter Jessup joined Dockline trammies to get involved in meeting overseas people arriving for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
He brings a keen interest in all things maritime and he is a fishing guru. He is also the author of a couple of books on, would you believe, fishing and boating. Another is a short history of New Zealand. He still writes for fishing magazines. “I never come home (from fishing) empty handed,” he boasts to those who believe him.
Of tramcars, the fascination is propelling something the best part of 100 years of age. “Everyone is full of questions about the tramcar and what is going on in the Wynyard Quarter. The entire Quarter gives the feeling Auckland is growing up. The more access we have to the waterfront the better. The waterfront is the jewel in the crown of Auckland.” I met Peter at a tram stop. He impresses me with a wealth of interests and enthusiasm ready to pass on to tram passengers.
From tramcar 257 I see exciting playgrounds frequented by mums and their children. Peter chats about interesting craft he has spotted visiting Viaduct Harbour. One was Ile de Re, laying optical fibre cable. It had also retrieved black boxes from aircraft that crashed into the ocean. Another could submerge its decks to enable large yachts to sail on for transportation to far-off home ports. “Events are held in Wynyard Quarter most weekends. But I am amazed so many Aucklanders venture down here to discover the trams for the first time,” he says.
I warm to Peter’s enthusiasm for Auckland being a great place. His description has an admirable honesty. I guess he is not overdoing it knowing I am a diehard South Islander – and also a former newspaper guy, become trammie.
Monday’s Press gave most of the front page to “Trams back on track by Christmas?’’ along with two photographs. Great news indeed. The time frame is dependent on the deconstruction of buildings close to the City Loop tram track. The story also refers to a video made by the newspaper shortly before the February 22, 2011 earthquake. Check story and video out on http://www.press.co.nz
The story describes the tram as, “the tourist favourite’’ for the city. It will be a boost to the city to have the trams running again and Welcome Aboard has already established an ambitious tram re-start programme. Comments on the Press website have been mostly supportive but one or two were critical of the tram having a priority over other pressing earthquake repairs such as the still critical eastern suburbs. Some people also, incorrectly, believe the tramway is owned by the Christchurch City Council. The Council does own the infrastructure (track, overhead power supply etc.) but the tramway is a private company, Christchurch Tramway Ltd, a sort of franchise, and will once again employ several people and pay the Council for the use of its infrastructure. Furthermore, the company pays Ferrymead-based Tramways Heritage Trust for the use of trust-owned heritage tramcars. The income enables Ferrymead’s Tramway Historical Society to continue with its heritage restoration work. So the tramway is an asset to the city rather than a Council liability. Before Canterbury’s seismic woes, Christchurch was New Zealand’s principal tourist city. It will be a struggle returning to that status but Lonely Planet guides have already described Christchurch as one of New Zealand’s most exciting cities. And the Welcome Aboard team has bravely kept its head above water in the interim, re-introducing punting on the Avon, re-starting an, albeit abbreviated, half-day Grand Tour and taking over the Caterpillar Garden tour of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The return of the trams cannot be too soon for our struggling city. Welcome Aboard managing director Michael Esposito says,“it’s been a long haul but it’s so close we can almost touch it.’’ Very exciting indeed.