Tuesday, January 29, 2008
The Balmain Dummy
No, this is not another story about The Bolter, aka my paternal grandmother who ran away from Melbourne with one of her students to live in pre bohemian Balmain.
It is another Sydney tram post and it is about the Balmain counterweight dummy car.
While there was an earlier and alternative route, the quickest way to Balmain by tram in about 1910 onwards was from Central Station then called Railway, via Harris Street, Ultimo, then Glebe Island Bridge, Commercial Road, Barnes Street and Weston Road, the last three roads now known roughly as Victoria Road. (I hope)
The Balmain tram then turned into Darling Street and headed straightish to Balmain along Darling Street. At some point later, a branch line was built down Rowntree Street to Birchgrove.
The tram terminus was at the Nicholson/Johnston Street corner in Balmain. This was most unsatisfactory for people who wanted to catch a ferry at the end of Darling Street, but it was an exceptionally steep hill and it was thought that the electric trams could neither climb, nor safely descend the hill. So those on foot faced a trudge uphill of about a kilometre, the distance the tram was short of the Darling Street Wharf.
Not good enough, the citizens cried and in response very expensive plans were drawn up that involved property resumptions to avoid the direct steep descent.
Work had even started when along came a chappie with an idea. I find it quite complex and as I cannot properly understand it, I cannot explain it to you. But here is a general view. There was a tunnel dug under the tram line as the line was constructed and a system of cables and hydraulics were installed Above ground was a mini tram, the counterweight. To descend the hill, the arriving tram would 'kiss' the counterweight dummy tram and then the tram's speed would be held by the counterweight while going downhill. The reverse happened when the tram ascended the hill, with the counterweight dummy helping the tram back up the hill.
The system worked extremely well, saved the government thousands of pounds and the person who invented it was offered a pittance for his trouble. Eventually he did receive proper renumeration.
Towards the end of Sydney's tram system, in 1955 the Balmain counterweight dummy was taken back to a depot and trams once again terminated at Nicholson Street, with no replacement bus service up and down the hill until a terminus and turning area was built.
A month later, the Balmain tram service was cut short back to Rowntree Street. Late 1958 saw the last tram to Balmain.
I can't remember now if the counterweight dummy is on display at the Sydney Tram Museum at Loftus or Powerhouse Museum but I am sure you could track it down if you want to.
Picture courtesy The Western Lines of the Sydney Tram System.