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Last tram rides again
Buy this photo » Herbert Rhodes back at the wheel of the tram he drove
On May 6, 1950, Herbert Rhodes, of Wyke, had the honour of driving the city’s last tram service from Bradford to Odsal Top, before the tram returned empty to Bankfoot.
Mr Rhodes relished another opportunity to clamber onboard tram number 104, Bradford Corporation’s only surviving tramcar, during the special reunion at Bradford Industrial Museum yesterday.
But, as the 83-year-old explained, he had waited a long time for his day in the spotlight.
“I was never mentioned for my part in that final journey because, when we got back to Bankfoot, one of the old drivers took over and took it back to Bradford, so he got all the credit.
“I wasn’t bothered because I had done my stint. I had taken the last tram from Bradford to Odsal Top at about 11pm on the Saturday, then I took it back to Bankfoot empty.
“As it worked out, I closed Manchester Road to tram services on the Saturday night and opened it again with buses on the Sunday morning with the 9.22am service from Bankfoot down to Bradford.
“Trams at that time were a lot easier to drive than buses, which I thought were strange when you stopped and set off.”
Mr Rhodes recalled how cold it used to be driving the trams, which had no doors. “The wind used to come straight in and you used to have to wear a big coat to keep warm,” he said.
“There used to be the odd time when we had bad weather when the lines were wet and the tram used to slide a bit, but we had a sander so we could put sand on the lines to get going again.”
When asked for his fondest memories as a driver, Mr Rhodes was in no doubt.
“The best memory was the big rugby match at Odsal Top when they had 102,000 there. You had to try to get through all the crowds. All the trams queued up as far back as Horsfall Playing Fields and had to try to barge their way through, moving through very slowly. That was the best I have ever seen.
“I drove the trams about three years, then went on to the buses. I tried the trolley buses didn’t like them so I drove ordinary buses.”
The reunion event had been organised by staff at the industrial museum to mark the 50 years that have passed since tramcar 104 was restored to full working order by a group of volunteers.
The 14-ton vehicle was built at Thornbury Works in 1925 and served on the Manchester Road routes through Bowling Old Lane, Odsal, Shelf, Wyke, and Bailiff Bridge.
After operating its last service in 1950, the 29ft long frame of the tram was used as the scoreboard at Odsal stadium, before being bought and returned to Thornbury works, where it was fully restored by 1958.
Peter Robinson, whose dad Hubert Robinson was instrumental in the restoration, was also invited to the 50th anniversary celebrations.
The 80-year-old, of Bierley, said: “My dad worked over quite a lot of hours after he had finished work so he could go into the works where the tram was parked and spend a couple of hours a day doing it up.
“The restoration lasted quite a while but the outcome of it was what you see today. When they had finished, they had done such a good job that it was in full working order and they could have put it back into service if there were some tram lines now.
“The only ones that were left were beside Thornbury shed so they used to run it up and down there.
“It had been used as the scoreboard at Odsal and I used to see it quite a lot because we used to follow Bradford Northern as it was then. Eventually, the powers that be got it back over to Thornbury and my dad and three or four other men worked on it.”
Mr Robinson said his dad worked as a fitter at various depots for 40 years, but spent the majority of that time based at Thornbury.
He remembered how his dad used to get to work by catching the trolley bus that ran from Bankfoot to Bolton, getting off at Laisterdyke before walking up to Thornbury to start his shift at 7am.
“He knew everything about his trams. He said there was nothing like them,” added Mr Robinson.
Transport enthusiast Stanley King, a former Bradford Councillor and Lord Mayor of the city, said: “The tram was the official last tram in Bradford. In May 1950 it performed the last official journey from the town hall, as it was then, to Odsal and back to the depot.
“A few weeks later, most of the trams were broken up, scrapped or burnt.
“This one was bought by Bradford Speedway to be used as a scoreboard up at Odsal. All they had was the body itself because all the mechanical and electrical parts had been scrapped.
“Two years afterwards, me and a colleague of mine suggested to the Transport Department that it was a pity that we had no relic of the old tramways and the manager agreed that, if we bought the body and had it transported back to Thornbury Works, it would be reassembled by the Transport Department.
“We spent five years getting all the spare parts needed to make it operational, then Hubert Robinson and his team painstakingly reassembled it. So it was that 50 years ago this week, it was completely operational again.”
Mr King said the vehicle was a true product of Bradford and a glorious piece of the city’s transport history, with its bodywork built by the Transport Department at Thornbury, the mechanical and electrical parts built at English Electric’s Thornbury works and its seating materials created at Lister’s Mill, in Manningham.