It started with a 5pm text from Drakey, who runs Middlesex Mill just down the road.
“Hi. Just noticed this old tram bus on Grays. Thought you might be interested. Problem is the auction ends in 2 hours!”
I couldn’t help myself, of course. It was a beautiful old thing, looked rusty and a bit worse for wear, but it had potential. Doesn’t almost everything?
It was a 1950s WAG Tramways Trolley Bus that used to run on the Claremont Line, an historic, electric mode of transport somewhere between a tram and a bus. We probably had enough projects on the go.
There was no way we’d be able to inspect; the bus was 300kms away, the auction clock ticking, the yard closed. The fine print said if we bought it, it had to be out of the holding yard by Tuesday of the following week, otherwise Grays would seize ownership. Monday was a public holiday.
So I made a few calls. The promise of adding to our quirky Museum of Transport collection was an opportunity we decided not to pass up. Electric Ute in 2014, Vintage Train Carriages last year, and now… a Trolley Bus!
48 hours later the sun was setting, the truck was approaching, and we were madly shovelling mulch for the bus to go onto. No time for forming a pad in advance for this project! We were barely ready when the glaring white truck lights turned into our curving, tree-lined driveway.
The truck driver came over, looking thoughtful.
“It’s going to be pretty tight getting in here,” he said. “Where are you going to put the bus?”
“Backed in here alongside the shed”? I said hopefully, to which he shook his head.
“No way I’m getting in there. If I drive the truck onto that grass I’ll never get out.”
“Ok then… how about just here, straight back?”
“We’ll give it a go.”
The guys from Swan Towing in Bunbury had a fair bit of hero about them from the start. I pointed out all the plants in the driveway the driver was fine to squash as he came through. He was to avoid squashing our Golden Ash tree.
It was something else seeing this enormous truck coming up the driveway in the moonlight, with a huge bus on the back. What was perhaps the tightest three-point turn in trucking history was extremely impressive. Once the drop off point was lined up, he came over again.
“You gonna steer her into place, then?”
“You mean, the steering actually works?”
“Oh yeah, and the handbrake!”
I climbed up and took the wheel of the big ol’ Trolley Bus and steered, well, tried to. I used all my might to shift the old handbrake, but didn’t. I’m not sure I actually did anything. But the bus came off the truck, didn’t smash any orchard fences, or harm any apple trees.
After a 48 hour mad scramble to pull it all off, I felt like… I’d been hit by a Trolley Bus. So what on earth are we going to do with all these trains, and the Trolley Bus?
Just yesterday it was suggested we restore the Trolley Bus and convert the interior to a recording studio. The “Story Bus” could record stories from the land, by everyday heroes across our South West. We’ll let that one percolate over winter. In the meantime, if you like the Trolley Bus, stand up and be counted, share your ideas for the refit.
And Drakey, as for you… nice one.