Reading’s Trolleybuses Recalled - May 2006
The British Trolleybus Society (BTS) in partnership with The Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft staged one of the most remarkable events ever seen at the museum in its 38 year history over the 2006 Spring Bank Holiday. All five Reading trolleybuses preserved in Reading colours, together with six preserved contemporary Reading motorbuses and a preserved Reading tower wagon all operated together on site to mark the 70th anniversary of the inauguration of the trolleybus system in Reading and also to mark the 45th anniversary of the BTS.
(Above) The Reading Trolleybuses start to assemble at Sandtoft
The event was first conceived two years ago by the late Chairman and founder of the BTS, Mike Dare. Little did those involved with organising this event envisage that it would end up being a fitting tribute to a man who started the trolleybus preservation movement back in 1961, for which a memorial service was to be held on the Bank Holiday Monday on the final day of the event.
To put things into perspective, the event required a huge amount of co-operation between a number of motorbus and trolleybus enthusiasts, the Trolleybus Museum Sandtoft Board and key workers at the museum to carry out bodywork restoration, mechanical and electrical wizardry. Only two of the trolleybuses lived at Sandtoft and all the Reading motorbuses, two trolleybuses and the tower wagon were based on the outskirts of Reading.
The 6 motorbuses attending were all beautifully restored some time ago. They were:
No.47 an AEC Regent with Park Royal L26/26R bodywork dating from 1935
No.98 an AEC Regent III with Park Royal L31/26RD bodywork dating from 1956
No. 3 an AEC Regent III with Park Royal L31/26RD bodywork dating from 1957
No. 52 and AEC Reliance with East Lancs B34D bodywork dating from 1965
No. 76 a Dennis Loline III with East Lancs H38/30F bodywork dating from 1966
No. 258 a Bristol RELL6G with Strachan B34D bodywork dating from 1967
No. 113 an AEC 661T with Park Royal H30/26R bodywork dating from 1938
No. 144 a BUT 9611T with Park Royal H30/29RD bodywork dating from 1949
Nos. 174 & 181 Sunbeam S7s with Park Royal H38/30Rd bodywork dating from 1950
No. 193 a Sunbeam F4A with Burlingham H38/30FD bodywork dating from 1961
Also in attendance was an AEC Mercury II Tower wagon, No. 32, dating from 1958 and purchased by Reading Corporation Transport from London Transport in 1964.
As at January 2006, 113 was the only operational Reading trolleybus at Sandtoft. 181 was also housed there but was undergoing the final stages of internal restoration whilst 144, which resided in a former chapel two miles down the road from Sandtoft had not seen operational service for nearly 28 years! It took four hours to remove it from the former chapel before arrival at Sandtoft on 26 March 2006. Fortunately it needed little work to be carried out to make it serviceable again other than a good clean and a mechanical check over.
The two remaining trolleybuses, 174 and 193 were housed near Reading and in need of a lot of attention. 174 was towed to Sandtoft on 5 March 2006 and had to be electrically rewired and externally repainted before it could become operational again. All this had to be done in less than 3 months! 193 was towed to Sandtoft on 25 March 2006 and also needed a complete repaint internally and also to have its troublesome motor re-fitted following repairs. Again, only 9 weeks to achieve this!
Publicity was fortunately freely forthcoming from the various bus enthusiast magazines and also the local Reading press. However, although the buses and trolleybuses were the main attraction, an exhibition of Reading Corporation tram, trolleybus and motorbus artefacts was also planned as was a slide show featuring Reading’s trolleybuses. This also took much hard work gathering various items from different collectors from around the country. A series of events featuring both motorbuses and trolleybuses was also planned to keep attendees at the event interested.
From the Wednesday onwards leading up to the weekend event, the motorbuses were driven from near Reading to Sandtoft. All had arrived by the Friday evening. On Saturday 27 May 2006 the event got underway with trolleybuses 113, 144 and 181 providing the trolleybus service. No. 76 was used on the Isle of Axholme tour whilst the other motorbuses fulfilled various duties around the site.
Monday's line-up was done in a different order
Trolleybus 174 was receiving the final touches to its external repaint as well as receiving a much needed internal clean. Meanwhile 193 was still waiting to have its electrical motor refitted following repairs but this could not be completed until late afternoon when a missing part was due for delivery. It had been internally repainted but required having the lower deck seats refitted before entering service. It was planned to do this after the motor refitting was completed.
193 was always a troublesome trolleybus when in service at Reading. It failed on its first day in service and was the first Sunbeam F4A to be withdrawn in 1968 when problems with its motor seemed incurable. Having had problems with its motor again in recent times it was now thought its problems were over once the motor was refitted following repairs. A test run late Saturday afternoon seemed to indicate all was well. However, we failed to recognise how lazy 193 was and to spite us all the positive trolley base plate decided to shear from the roof rendering it temporarily unusable! It was surprising that this should happen to one of the most modern trolleybuses on site. Saturday was just a normal running day at Sandtoft, the only difference being that the service was run by all Reading trolleybuses.
The main day for the event was Sunday 28 May 2006 and a large crowd was in attendance, including 2 coach loads of people from Reading. The weather was kind with the sun shining for most of the day. All trolleybuses except 193 operated although after a lot of hard work and much swearing, 193’s trolley base was repaired sufficiently for the vehicle to run for demonstration purposes.
Some of the events that took place included the running of all five trolleybuses at the same time, never before achieved at Sandtoft. There was a line up of all Reading vehicles in attendance, which really gave visitors the WOW factor. Former RCT staff that worked with the trolleybuses were gathered together and interviewed. There was an ongoing slide show featuring Reading trolleybuses in the Lecture Theatre and the Sandtoft Café did a roaring trade. A tour of the depot and the trolleybuses housed therein was available for visitors and preserved motorbuses took visitors on a tour of the Isle of Axholme. To close the event for the day, 174, 181 and 144 restaged the last trolleybus run to commemorate the Reading system closure on 3 November 1968.
Once the visitors had left site another remarkable event took place in the early evening. Reading motorbuses 47, 3 and 98 were joined by York Pullman 64, an AEC Regent III with Roe bodywork, Doncaster 22, An AEC Regal III with Roe bodywork and also Doncaster 122, an AEC Regent III with Roe bodywork in a number of circuits around the museum site. All were AEC buses with crash gearboxes. It was unusual to have so many of this type of vehicle together in one place and the sight of them all running around together was amazing.
Later that evening the museum workers boarded Reading No.3 to go out for a meal at a country pub and on return to Sandtoft later that evening, the trolleybuses were operated under nightlight. That was a most enjoyable experience.
The final day of the event, Monday 29 May 2006 started in a more sombre mood. A memorial service was held for our late Chairman, Mike Dare, whilst his ashes were interned in the Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft’s garden of remembrance. Both Reading 144 and London Transport RM529 (which took pride of place in Mikes collection of buses) were pulled up alongside whilst the service took place. Once the memorial service was completed the buses and trolleybuses commenced operations much as on the previous day.
The Monday morning service held in the
memorial garden for Mike Dare. New BTS Chairman
Graham Bilbé stands beside Reverend Leese
MJC Dare 1937 - 2005
Reading trolleybus enthusiasts like me had waited 38 years for an event like this to take place but it was worth the wait. To operate the trolleybuses in the company of the contemporary motorbuses added much to the occasion and I guess it will be a long time, if ever, that such an event will be repeated. It is doubtful if any other provincial town in England could have provided such a collection of restored and operational preserved fleet of motorbuses and trolleybuses like that of Reading’s and we should be thankful that enough people had the foresight to build such a fantastic collection. A lot of people worked very hard to make sure this event took place but I have not mentioned individuals for fear of missing someone out.
This event was meant to mark the 70th anniversary of trolleybus operations commencing in Reading and also the 45th anniversary since the formation of the BTS. However, the event will also be remembered as a fantastic tribute to the man who did so much for the British Trolleybus Society, the Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft and the trolleybus preservation movement in general, Mike Dare.