It is with great pleasure that we can now report on the successful acquisition
and repatriation of Burton and Ashby Light Railway car No.14.
Today a small group of specially invited guests were invited to view the car….
For Sale by Auction:
Back in October we published an urgent appeal to raise awareness about the plight of Burton and Ashby Car No.14 which was being offered for sale at auction by the City of Detroit in the USA.
Back in 1980, a restoration group not unlike our own found that they could not afford to complete the restoration of the now sole surviving B&A tram car, No.14, and so agreed to sell her to a project in Detroit, USA, which would allow for her restoration and provide opportunity for her to run on a new tramway system as a tourist attraction. She was subsequently restored and ran until 2003 in the US. It’s hard to imagine a city within the USA on its knees but today’s Detroit is a city that has fallen on hard times. To raise the maximum possible funds for the municipal authorities the now closed tourist street railway tramcars were all offered for sale by auction on Novemebr 5th last year (the other cars were of Portuguese origin).
Call to Arms:
We had been monitoring the status of the car since 2000 and had previously been offered her back in 2004 for the princely sum of $90,000!! We were, of course, unable to offer such a price but we did ask to be informed of any changes in circumstance, should the car change hands or become available again later down the line. So towards the the end of October last year I received two emails on the same day from different parties asking if I was aware of the impending auction and could we help?
It was quickly established that a leading light in vehicle preservation in the Burton Upon Trent area was Tim Stubbs (a gentlemen known to us for his work in the Dennis Vehicle Society) and that he was trying to gather support in order to launch a rescue bid. We made contact and several calls later having promised to do our bit, I launched into overdrive trying to secure large sponsorship from far and wide. Tim had already tackled the obvious organisations such as the Crich Tramway Village and so I tried to think outside of the efforts that were already underway. To say the going was tough was an understatement, the predominant issue being that large sponsorship cannot normally be raised from organisations quickly and we had less than 7 days! The ascent was more akin to vertical than very steep! Parallel to the ringing around I also used my work contacts (by day I am professional museums man) to raise the subject with the Science Museum Group who operate the National Railway Museum. Having lodged the subject with them, but assuming their hands would be tied with limited acquisitions funds, I continued to try to seek sponsorship from the rail industry, both here and in the USA, and also from potential insurance organisations. I have to say with such a short lead time the fruits of my efforts to gain sponsorship amounted to many well wishers and only a small number of individual donations. I wondered how Tim might have been getting on…
Tim had been doing rather well actually, he had arranged for a public meeting in Burton, to take place on the 1st of November, and having had some local media attention was hoping for a large turn out. Surely Tim and I weren’t the only people keen to see No.14 back home? I wasn’t able to attend the public meeting as I had already committed to a family event but the outcome of that meeting changed the outlook of the entire rescue mission and rather restored my faith in team spirit and community action. The combined sum of monies raised, had it have been called in, would have equated to about £10,000, and it was felt that we would perhaps need rather more than this. Perhaps £7,000 to buy her and £10,000 to bring her home??
A gentleman made himself known at the meeting and suggested, based on previous experience, that our raised funds may possibly not be enough to reach our goal. The gentleman then indicated that he had been contacted by the National Railway Museum and by the Beamish Industrial Museum and had been alerted to the plight of No.14. Our mysterious gentleman then put it to those present that he would like, with the blessing of the group, to purchase the car and display it in his museum. Our mysterious saviour then explained that not only was his museum in Staffordshire, within a stones throw of the original Burton and Ashby Light Railway, but also that he would like to ensure she remains a running vehicle by building a line to run her on in the grounds of his museum. Having immediately warmed to the prospect, a resounding vote in favour of this proposal was accepted and Tim’s contacts in the states were duly put in touch.
An Anonymous Friend:
Our anonymous benefactor was of course, Graham Lee, of the Statfold Barn Railway in Staffordshire. Graham is well versed in vehicle preservation and repatriation. He is the custodian of one of the finest collections of locomotive and road going transport in the UK. Although Statfold is effectively a private museum, what makes Graham different from many is his incredibly generous outlook on all that he has achieved and sets his mind too; “I am just a custodian” he says, “this is for everyone really, now she’s here she’ll be secure for everyone to enjoy”. Despite Graham’s modest, yet beautiful outlook, it’s not just good fortune that has allowed him to react quickly to the plight of No.14, saying that there was some hard work involved in bringing her home is an understatement!
Before the Auction:
An inspection revealed that the car was not in the best of health though she was still worth pursuing. When she was put into storage after the closure of the line the original tram shed was sold off and so the cars were de-railed and stored on concrete in a city warehouse. When she was put into store, no effort was made to check the height of the doorway into the warehouse, and subsequently the upper deck was badly damaged when she was forced through a low entrance. Having suffered damage to her upper deck hand rails all round she was also stripped of her seats and trolley standard. The car then served as a place to sleep for a group of homeless people and at times had been used as a venue for drug taking to.
Speaking to Graham after the event, the auction itself was possibly the easy bit, though anybody who has bid in a live auction knows how unpredictable these things can be. The first surprise was that there were collectors in the USA prepared to bid and pay money for No.14. The hammer eventually fell in Graham’s favour, after some stiff bidding, somewhere in the order of £21,000!
Then came the difficult part of getting her home…
Post – Auction:
Through Tim, Graham had gained some very useful contacts in the US, who had actually carried out the bidding on Graham’s behalf. Offers of transport and short term storage had been pledged and thanks are due to the US players in this wonderful tale. Graham openly admits that there were a few moments in this adventure when he really thought the car would be lost forever. The problem is that because the City is bankrupt, the employees are tied in with Union action, therefore Graham couldn’t rely on any help from locals as any help would equate to breaking Union rules. This impossible position meant that for any purchaser of items from the auction – they would now have to effectively steal their own purchases to release them as no official would break Union rule.
The car was eventually freed from its storage site but then Graham had to negotiate for the seats and other remaining loose parts that clearly belonged to No.14. The auction was for the tram – not for any related loose bits that might be lurking in the warehouse!
After whisking her over to a safe storage location in Canada (and incurring an import duty charge), a specially fabricated cradle was welded to her truck that would allow her to be lifted by cranes when the time came to ship her. She weighs just over 10 tons and trams are not easy things to pick up normally.
After securing a place on a ship bound for the UK she was loaded at Halifax bound for Liverpool Docks. She arrived safely in the UK just in time for Christmas and was taken to Statfold Barn for inspection and assessment.
It didn’t take long for Graham’s team to set to work restoring her upper-deck seating and hand rails and these are already back as they should be.
What will now take place is a more thorough inspection. The car has had a significant amount of copper removed from it. It is thought that the trolley standard was probably weighed in too as no trace of it could be found. There is much to learn about her condition but one thing is for sure… when Graham sets his mind to it and his team get stuck in, she will once again look as good as she did when she was new.
On our special preview this weekend (the first time she has been seen since arrival) much was discussed of the great effort that has gone in to repatriating her, there was many thanks pledged from our small group of supporters that had pulled together under Tim’s campaign, not only to Graham and his team, but also to our friends in the US that played a significant role in aiding the operation right from the very beginning. The cost? Well… I still think it’s rather vulgar to discuss money but Graham did tell me that getting her home cost more than buying her at auction! Which proves what we all know about vintage vehicles whatever their condition, buying them is often the easiest part of the process. That said, I do know that if it hadn’t been for Graham’s support – we’d never have the opportunity to see No.14 in the UK again. She’s back in her home area and that’s a gesture that Graham has made for the long term security of the car and for the benefit of all who are interested in this tram car – and to us in the Leicester Tram 31 Group – that really is priceless.
A huge thank you to you Graham!