This is a short history of the tramway of my youth. It is not meant to be a full technical history of the line, but merely a collection of my reminiscences and meditations. The dates, car numbers and names are as accurate as my research can get them.
WHAT WAS IT?
Just an ordinary tram service? To some people perhaps, but to me and many others it was as much of our lives as eating and sleeping. In cold statistics – it was a short suburban tram service. Isolated from all others but unlike its sister service (St Kilda to Brighton) the gauge was set at 4'8½” and not the railways 5'3”. This was done with an eye to future connection to the main city systems. The line was controlled and operated by the Victorian Railways Commissioners.
There were three car types used-
Two only single truck cross-bench cars, commonly called the toastracks. (Nos, 23, 26)
Two only Bogie drop-centre cars. (Nos. 48, 49)
Two only Bogie type, front and centre loading (pneumatic folding doors and steps): convereted from the drop-centre type for one-man operations. (nos. 50, 51).
But the statistics are not everything, will try here in these pages to pass on some of the love (for want of a better term) I had for the system.
Photo: The first car leacing Sandringham Station at the Official Opening, 10th March, 1919.
The “new-fangled” electric railway had just arrived in Sandringham. The year – 1919. Owing to the war, the much-sought-after Sandringham-Black Rock Electric Tramway was slow in being completed. But, however, these things are finished sometime; so an the afternoon of Monday, 10th March, 1919, at 4 o'clock, the first through car left for Black Rock. Prior to the departure, many speeches were made, some of which were of note. Mr. Champion, the Mayor, said that the area was going on in leaps and bounds, and when the line was extended to Beaumaris (applause) the area down there would also go ahead. Mr. Snowball, M.L.A. Said that Parliament was in favor of the Beaumaris extension, and that it only needed the Committee to agree on the route, provided that the materials were at pre-war prices, and that it would justify the cost. An enthusiastic crowd of 1500 were present to cheer the gaily decorated car (No22) off, as with the Mayoress in the driving cab and many V.I.P's inside, it left for Black Rock. It was inteded to run 54 trips each way on weekdays, all but six connecting with trains. There were two fare sections at 1d. per section. (Even to this day the Bluff Road-Royal Ave. intersections is still called “the penny section”)
On the opening day the local schools had a Half-holiday and three cars ran back and forth all day for free. The length of the two-track line was approximately 2½ miles.
THE BEAUMARIS EXTENSION
As previously stated, this had been under proposal for some time but owing to the sparse population in the area, the V.R. Commissioners were loath to extend the line. Having gained an indemnity from the Sandringham Council to cover the losses to the tune of £2000 per year for five years, they then gave the goahead. The line was opened on Wednesday, 2nd September, 1926, when two of the oldest residents (Miss Cullinane and Miss Middleton) cut a ribbon across the track, and the line was declared open but the Assistant Minister of Railways (Mr. Mackrell). One of the speeches was worthy of note. Mr. Snowball (still M.L.A.) said that there had been a lot of agitation for a bus link, but he was glad that a permanent link had been built to link the two suburbs. The next step would be to link up the line with Cheltenham and Mentone. (Cheering and applause) The official party travelled to Black Rock by decorated Tram no.51 where the opening ceremony was performed. They then boarded again to travel to Beaumaris where the ceremony was repeated, after which they retired to the Beaumaris Hotel for a sumptuous dinner. It was once again a half-holiday and the cheering kids packed every inch for the day's free trips. The single line extension was approximately 2¾ miles long and was divided into two 1d. fare sections. The cost of construction was £52,000. The time-table was set at 37 through trips a day, with a running time of 26 minutes each way.
Photo: The abandoned trackwork at Beaumaris showing the typical scrubby nature of the surroundings.
THE CLOSURE – BEAUMARIS EXTENSION
Unhappily, the extension was a failure right from the outset. The population was not dense enough to warrant the service and due to the starting of the depression, had no chance to increase. In the fours years after the opening the line had shown a loss of £18,500. The undertaking give by the Sandringham Council had not been honoured, and not one payment had been made. (The Beaumaris rate-payers, incidentally, were still paying money owing on the interest on this until late in the 1950's). The Commissioners were adamant that the service had been operated economically, but the average numbder of passengers to each car mile in the first year was 3.8 and I the year ending 31/8/30 only 2.9 – they had no choice but to close due to lack of patronage. Car No.25 ran the graveyard run on the night of 1st September, 1931, and so closed the venture that was perhaps ten years too soon!
Photo: One of the bodie drop-centre cars awaits departure at Sandringham Station (Photo by: L.W. Rogers)
HAPPENINGS AND MEMORIES
The tramway crews were very well known and liked bu the travelling public. Nearly everyone of them called by their first names regardless of sex. The respect of the public was so great that when one of the oldest drivers (Paddy Lalor) retired he was showered with gifts by his passengers on his last trip, and also had speeches and presentations made to him at factories on the route for several weeks afterwards. Many of the people that had known and loved him from their youth to adulthood, And he never failed to give a smile and a greeting. He was typical of the staff, efficient, but courteous to all.
One particular motorman was always with the hottest of tips for the races, which he would dispense to all and sundry with gay abandon. I personally do not know with how much success, however.
...Always special tram coming out of the depot for the crowd from the pictures on Friday and Saturday nights.
...Sitting in the rear of car 50 or 51 at night on the swivel seat, pretending to drive and watching the flashes from the trolley-wheel on the overhead.
...Coming out of the pictures Saturday matinee, having spent the fare and getting on the tram looking shamefaced and saying that the fare was lost. After a stern warning, a wink and a smile, and told not to let it happen again, we were allowed to travel gratis at the pleasure of the railway commissioners' servants. This trick was played regularly by some small urchins.
...Once again sitting in the rear seat of car 50 or 51 watching the car twist ad roll as it traversed the uneven track. On the worst section in Bluff Road. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the front of the car would twist at least 9” - 10” out of alignment with the rear.
...The time the power went off on a Saturday afternoon leaving our tram stranded in Fernhill Road for at least 1 ½ hours and we waited for it to start, thinking that if we walked home it would start off as soon as we left. For the power to go off was almost unknown, and Dad didn't believe our story, so we dad or tails tanned for coming home late.
...The low accident rate. Apart from the occasional dog, there were very very few accidents on the line. The worst happened on the Fernhill Road hill when two trams collided, injuring the driver of the rear tram and necessitating a completely new front of the car. It was just as well there weren't many collisions as the driving cabs were very cramped and had no rear access door for emergency withdrawls.
...The immaculate conditions of the cars. They were a credit to the railways – the finish on the varnish work was beautiful to behold. The cars were nearly always clean and only rarely did you get one that needed a lick and a polish.
...The lack of any padding on the seats meant that only people well endowed with plump posteriors ever felt really comfortable. The rest of us put up with it.
...Comig into the terminal and helping the conductor push up the barrier bar (across the wrong-side entrance). It was connected across the roof by cables to the bar on the other side, and as you pushed up your side the other side cam down. The major point was to make certain that no heads were I the way of the descending bar.
...The punctuality of the trams was legion; if a car was to leave at 8.06am it left at 8.06am; but perhaps a few seconds late as the driver waits for a regular panting his way to the stop.
Photo: The arrical of the closed cross-bench cars at Sandringham Depot, 1919
I remember vividly the terrible condition of the track. So bad in some sections that these had to be negotiated at greatly reduced speed. Yet I have been in an almost empty car that has gone across at full parallel and still stayed on the track.
I was standing next to the motorman one night with a terrific crush load on board when the safety gate guard hit a bump in the road and tripped down. “That's strange”, said he and reset it. We only went about another 100yds. and it tripped again so he got out to check it. Shaking his head with disbelief he got back in and said that the tram had so many people on board that the catcher had only 2” clearance left over the track. It tripped a further six times, until I got the idea of standing on the reset rod so that it was not able to trip until some of the people got off and we got some more clearance.
The destination boxes usually showed Black Rock on one end and Sandringham on the other, but there were other destinations. To the best of my knowledge, these were printed on a large hexagonal piece of wood, rotated from inside the cab by a handle just like a water tap, set in the roof. As a boyish prank I sometimes altered it to read Royal Ave. or Beaumaris which must have been confusing to strangers. But the locals never looked at the destination, knowing that the tram could not be going anywhere else. The Royal Ave. destination sign always confused me, because I have never been able to find any evidence of a cross-over or even single-line running to and from this section. At every re-paint these unused signs were done up and usable right up to the very end of service. The full destination call was; Sandringham, Melbourne, Royal Ave., Black Rock, Beaumoris, Depot.
It was obvious after the war that something had to be done to the track as it was in a terrible state. The line was not running at a profit and it was decided to abandon it at the earliest opportunity. The local reaction was in short – furious. “What, scrap our trams? Never!!”