Trolleybus or trackless – whatever you called them, most people in Rotherham who were fortunate to experience the days of these quietly gliding vehicles in the mid-20th century will look back and smile.
Can you remember the smart interiors, the buzz of the overhead wires as the trackies picked up speed, or how the driver used a long pole to reattach the contact shoe back to the wire?
Trolleybuses were a German invention in the late 1880s and first came to Britain in 1911 in Leeds and Bradford. In 1912, Rotherham became the fourth area to install a trolleybus system, the ten routes of which phased out the old tramway until the last trolleybus made its final journey in 1965.
Today, they’re still used for public transport across Europe, but sadly the British days of trolleybus transportation are long gone. But did you know you can relive all those memories at a transport museum purely devoted to preserving trolleybuses?
Hidden away on the Isle of Axholme near Gainsborough is the Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum which has the world’s largest collection of trackless vehicles. The eight-acre site on the former RAF Sandtoft airbase, which was acquired by a group of enthusiasts in 1969, is now home to 60 British and international trolleybuses.
The site opened to the public in September 1971, a decade after founder member of Reading Transport Society, Mike Dare, then a 23-year-old teacher, decided he wanted to see one of his hometown’s pre-war trolleybuses preserved. Mike’s mother, Dorothy, bought the derelict Lincolnshire airfield to lease to a newly formed trust which was to be an amalgamation of four enthusiast groups from across the country: The Reading Transport Society (later the British Trolleybus Society), The Doncaster Omnibus and Light Railway Society, the West Riding Transport Society, and the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Transport Society.
Today, Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum is a welcoming and memorable place for families to visit and see the remarkable vehicles which have been lovingly restored and maintained by volunteers.
Marvel at the 1929 Hastings bus by the entrance that patiently sits awaiting its turn for refurbishment having once been someone’s home.
Wait at the bus shelter and pay one old penny to ride on the original carbon neutral transport. There are a variety of electrically operated emission-free trolleybuses dating from 1928 to 1985. In motion as they run on rubber tyres, trolleybuses are extremely quiet so remember to take extra care. The collection also has a dozen or so diesel buses used to give tours around the locality on open days.
As you ride around the site, look out for other delights like the 1911 ‘trackless trolley’ replica, the toy museum inside the Pelham building, or the 1950s Prefab home and shop. For children, there is also a play area, garden and nature trail, as well as a picnic area and café.
The museum is always evolving its attractions and one exciting pending attraction will include the 7.25 inch Ise Valley Railway, complete with running stock, kindly donated by its owner Francis Terry from Kettering.
Sandtoft is only open to the public on specified days between April and November, but the volunteers work year-round to provide essential site maintenance, vehicle restoration work and improve visitor facilities. They are always on the lookout for new volunteers, particularly younger engineers to take over some of the tougher, more manual jobs so their valued vehicles, like some in the past, aren’t lost to the scrap yard.
Upcoming Open Days at Sandtoft
Trolley Days – Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th July
Blues and Twos Weekend – Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th August
*display of retired Emergency Service vehicles with demonstrations of fire and rescue, road traffic accidents etc.
British Trolleybus Society 60th Anniversary Weekend – Saturday 28th– Monday 30th August
*additional attractions to include travel on BTS owned vehicles, seeing visiting motorbuses, special exhibitions, film shows and talks. Special arrival of Transport Q1 class trolleybus 1812
Models Weekend – Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September
* visiting model displays including some buses in progress online during Lockdown 2020.
For more information or to book tickets, visit their website www.sandtoft.org.uk
With thanks to Jan and Gordon McGeachie for the photographs