First published with The Courier – https://www.thecourier.com.au/story/5341924/returning-to-horse-drawn-times-uncovering-the-journey-of-a-humble-tram/?cs=62
This tram was part of Betty Leviston’s backyard for more than 50 years.
She was one of 10 children living in her family’s three bedroom Ballarat house. That was until 1930 when her eldest brother moved into the tram.
“Mum said we would have to move. Then they thought of a sleepout,” Betty said.
“My eldest brother bought the tram and that was the sleepout.”
Taking a ride on the restored horse tram last Sunday was a special trip down memory lane for Betty.
As we sat on the bottom level of the tram and admired the original woodwork above, she shared stories of her childhood and the 50 years Ballarat’s horse tram was a part of her family home.
Tourists and Ballarat locals sitting around us trundle in, and share their amusement at riding in a tram that was once a young man’s home. But for Betty, the thought is commonplace.
“It is just something that was there all the time for me,” she said.
“It was part of the back fence.”
Betty pointed to the back of the carriage as she described its former bedroom glory.
“The wardrobe was here, the single bed was down there and this was walking room.
“It was a beautiful sleep out too. The roof was covered with iron. Nothing was disturbed. The seats were still on the roof under the iron. Everything was as was, you know.”
Eldest brother John slept in the tram carriage until he married. It then became home, at various points in time, to his six younger brothers, before being donated to the Ballarat Tramway Museum in 1987.
If they hadn’t have put it in their backyard with an iron roof over it, it would have disintegrated.
Ballarat Tramway Museum founding member Richard Gilbert described first approaching the Levistons to enquire about the tram as nerve-wracking.
“We knew it was there. One of our early members of the museum had pointed it out. We used to drive past it to have a look. One day we made the decision to front up to them and say we were interested in the horse tram. We didn’t know if we were going to have to leave in a hurry or be told to get off their property,” he laughs.
“They were actually very generous. Mr Leveston was involved in the railways and the signal engineering area, so he understood railways and tramways and the interest in the heritage.
“When we got it in 1985 we put it on a tandem trailer, drove it up Sturt Street past the Town Hall and brought it to the tram depot.”
There, a group of passionate volunteers began restoration work on the historic tram. They scrubbed away the paint to discover the number one written on the side, revealing its exciting history.
“Number one was the only one that survived out of the 18 original horse trams,” Ballarat Tramway Museum volunteer Peter Waugh said.
“It is now the oldest operating tram in Australia.”
Horse trams operated throughout Ballarat until 1913, when electric trams were introduced. One of the original 18 trams was kept and used to store and transport the tram drivers’ bicycles.
“The tram drivers would come to work, put their bikes in here and it would be towed down to Grenville Street when they finished their shifts in the early afternoon and would pedal home. The new shift would come, put their bikes in the tram and they would take it back to the depot so they could pedal home when the trams returned,” Peter said.
Ballarat’s number one tram was built in Adelaide in 1887. It was used as a pattern car to build another 17 trams in Ballarat.
“In 1887, the tram tracks from the station to the gardens transported thousands of people every day,” Peter said.
“One report said 10,000 people were transported from the station to the gardens in one day. The tram company thought they were going to make a fortune. But it ended up costing more to feed the horses and keep it going than they were making.”
Restoration of the tram after being donated by the Levistons took seven years of tireless work by the tramway museum’s dedicated volunteers.
Key components of the original structure were missing, like the wheels, hand rails and steps which were removed when it was used to transport bicycles.
The horse tram has operated on Ballarat’s original tram tracks once a year since its restoration as one of the only trams in Australia to run on original track.
Richard, who has been a volunteer at the museum for 45 years, said it was a pleasure to see both young and old, tourists and locals, enjoy the journey.
“There was a man up there on the tram today (Sunday) who used to drive a horse driven milk cart and he knew a lot of the tramway people,” he said.
“It has been a very interesting journey with the Ballarat Tramway Museum. We are very pleased that we have saved a lot of Ballarat heritage.
“I often use the comparison, Geelong had trams, as did Bendigo. There is nothing in Geelong to show that now because it was an era when that sort of thing wasn’t appreciated and you couldn’t save money and get volunteers.
“It was hard living in the 50s. Come the 70s when we began we had a new era of national understanding of heritage, and we said this was too good to let go. It has been proven. It is such a popular attraction in Ballarat, the second most popular attraction beyond Sovereign Hill.”
The Ballarat Tramway Museum hope to relay the Carlton Street end of the tram track which has become worn with weather and age, and create a small extension to improve the views of Lake Wendouree.
For now, they will continue to run their electric trams on weekends and holidays, and the horse tram once a year, while continuing a push for new members to carry on the stories of Ballarat’s tramways.