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Registered Charity No.1116734

History of Bradford Trolleybus 758

Bradford 758 is now unique in many respects. It became the last rear-entrance, open-platform trolleybus to operate in Bradford and thus the British Isles. Bradford’s trolleybus system was the last in Great Britain, closing in March 1972.

Bradford was actually the first, together with Leeds, to operate trolleybuses, or the Trackless Tram as they were known in those pioneering days, in regular service in 1911. Whilst Leeds decided to concentrate on its huge tram fleet, Bradford saw a future for this hybrid vehicle. Eventually the fleet of electric vehicles totalled over 200.

758 is a BUT (British United Traction Ltd.) 9611T 2-axle double deck trolleybus built in 1950 and entering public service in on the first day of 1951. It carries a Weymann body with a distinctive but quite handsome style. The electrical equipment (for that is what trolleybuses are about) was from the English Electric Company, and the motor was rated at 120hp – the most powerful in the Bradford fleet.

Its principle dimensions are 26’0” long and 8’0” wide with an overall height 15’6” to the top of the trolleybases. It originally seated 56 but this was later increased to 59. There were seven sister vehicles and they were numbered from 752 to 759. This brought the total (then) of Twenty BUT’s in the fleet as the eight new vehicles joined an earlier batch of twelve.

BUT Ltd, was formed, in the early post-war years, from a merger of the trolleybus interests of AEC and Leyland. Subsequently, as history reveals, all the great names of the (British) transport world became part of the Leyland empire. Alas, only preserved vehicles now serve as a tangible reminder of those halcyon days.

758 was purchased for preservation in June 1972 by Bradford enthusiast, Mr David Mitchell before eventually passing to the Bradford Trolleybus Association who have now commissioned the full restoration of the vehicle back to operating condition.

Returning to the unique attributes of 758, we find that it is the last surviving trolleybus of the batch of eight, which were also the last to carry Bradford issued registration issued to trolleys and also the last batch to carry fleet numbers which matched the registrations – FKU 752 to 759. It is also the only survivor of the last totally brand-new trolleybuses purchased by the city. The decade following 758’s entry into service saw dozens of “new” trolleybuses entering service in Bradford but all these were rebuilt or rebodied vehicles – many from other operators too.

So having pointed out the “last offs”, let us take a look at what it was the first of!

Within months of entering service, 758 became the first trolleybus in the city to be hired by enthusiasts for a tour of the trolleybus system. It visited virtually every nook and cranny of the network bringing, in some instances, the first appearance of an eight foot wide vehicle on a particular route. 7’6” wide trolleys and buses were the norm until the mid-fifties.

However, the important first (in transport history) is that 758 was fitted with flashing traffic indicators in May 1952. Whilst “flashers” were being fitted to cars (and tried out on buses and trams) they were not legal on public service vehicles. 758 was the first to legally carry such equipment in the whole of the British Isles!

It started as an experiment, with flashing “arrows” on the front and back panels (see photograph) and a repeater lamp on the either side of the driver’s cab. Interestingly, the lamps were of Lucas manufacture and were the same as fitted to Jowett Javelins – although in 758’s case the lenses were tinted orange instead of red!

Various types of flasher units were tried out including a clockwork type (the latter proving unsuitable before the trial even began) before settling for the thermal switch type (which became the type fitted to all vehicles for nearly half a century).

After about six weeks on test, the Ministry of Transport requested a temporary halt whilst they drew up new legislation to cover the eventual use of Flashing Direction Indicators on public service vehicles.

The test was successful and the eventual design of indicator lights for trolleys and buses was based on the best parts of the two systems being experimented with. The C.A.V. Thermal Switch (later Ericsson was chosen) coupled with the Trico (manufacturers of the clockwork switch) indicator lights which became familiar for nearly fifty years. The semaphore arms, or trafficators, disappeared as the new winkers were gradually fitted to the fleet. New buses, or rebodied trolleybuses, had the flashers fitted as a matter of course.

A number of routes closed during the early sixties – Bradford Moor to City, City to Crossflatts, Bolton to Bankfoot, Eccleshill to City – and the trolleybus fleet contracted. The last “new” trolleybus to enter service, 847 (an ex-Mexborough & Swinton single-decker now rebodied as a double-decker with forward entrance) did so on March 1st 1963 and older vehicles were withdrawn – some for scrap and some put into store – the latter fate for the Bradford BUT’s.

758, together with sister vehicles 753 & 757, reappeared in service in 1965 and continued until 758 became the last open-platform trolleybus in service on the 31st July 1971. Before that date, the trolley had taken part in a grand tour of the remaining routes as part of the Diamond Jubilee of the trolleybus undertaking on the 20th June 1971.