Tram find delights Christchurch enthusiasts

BY MARK HOTTON
Last updated 05:00 03/09/2010

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An appeal for parts of Invercargill's tram history to be dug out of garages, cupboards and attics has proved fruitful with a sought-after original driver's seat found.

Christchurch-based tram enthusiasts are restoring a a 1921 model American-made Birney "Safety" tram, the No15, which used to trundle around Invercargill.

Heritage Tramway Trust chairman Dave Carr appealed in March for parts to faithfully restore the tram, which was stripped by souvenir hunters during its final Invercargill run on May 31 1952.

In a house decorated with tram memorabilia, a delighted Mr Carr yesterday took possession of the No 15's original driver's seat from Invercargill woman June Douglas.

Her first husband's father, Albert Smith, was a tram driver and is believed to driven the No15 for a section of its last run. It is thought the seat became his souvenir after it returned to the depot.

Mr Smith's wife gave it to Mrs Douglas' second husband, Keith Douglas, because he was also interested in trams and would appreciate it, Mrs Douglas said. It was kept it in their attic for many years and found by her son, Barry Smith, during a clean up.

"As soon as I saw it I realised it had come out of a tram," she said.

In a quirky twist, Barry works for the Christchurch tram operation as its restaurant manager and he contacted those restoring the tram.

Mr Carr said he was speechless when he saw the seat and found `15' stencilled on the bottom. "It's quite an amazing find after all these years."

Replicas would be made of the seat and it would be added to the tram museum collection to be used only on special occasions, he said.

Mrs Douglas was delighted a piece of Invercargill's history could be preserved. "It's going to a good home and somewhere where it's wanted and will be appreciated."

Mr Carr said the search continued for other missing items such as interior fittings, signs, advertisements, destination rolls, passenger seats and bells.

Restoration was on schedule, with the goal to have the tram ready for the Rugby World Cup next year.

If you have a piece of the tram or photographs, email Mr Carr at secretary@ferrymeadtramway.org.nz.

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