Cable tram, grip or dummy car, full size, used on cable tram system, Melbourne, Victoria, 1885-1940, restored as a King Street, Sydney, cable tram
This cable tram grip car operated on the extensive Melbourne cable tram network. A cable tram consisted of two vehicles working together, a leading open tramcar with perimeter seats under a canopy style roof, known as the 'dummy' or 'grip' car, and an enclosed saloon tram or trailer. The system was powered by a large steam winding engine. The engine's flywheel hauled an endless steel cable lying beneath the road between the rails in a shallow channel along the tram route.
While Sydney was building its network of state-owned steam trams in the 19th century, Melbourne was developing a private network of cable tramways. The Melbourne system blanketed the inner city and radiated out in every direction, growing to become the fourth largest network in the world. Sydney only had two cable tram routes which operated between 1893 and 1905.
As no cable tram grip cars survive from the Sydney operation, in 1963 this cable tram grip car was donated to the Museum by Monash University in Melbourne and restored to look like a King Street, Sydney, cable tram.
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Museum Publishing, Sydney, 2004
Curator, Science & Industry
This tram car was manufactured in the 19th century.
The Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Co, under the management of Francis B. Clapp, developed a system of about 75 km of double track serving 17 radiating routes with 1200 grip cars and trailers which operated for 55 years from 1885. By 1920 it was carrying 150 million passengers a year and was said to be one of the world's largest cable tram systems. Cable trams were gradually replaced by faster electric trams from 1925.
As one writer with a fondness for trams recalls:
"The swaying, bucking progress - rather like riding a low slung racing camel - always had something of the funfair about it. Despite the traditional warning cry ? Mind the bend!! - little old ladies and frail or befuddled gentlemen were apt to fly off as it lurched around. If the driver (bandit king of the road) missed his grip on the ever-moving cable, or misjudged his speed, the tram baulked and customers piled off to push it round the corner to clamp on the cable again. It was in the dark year of 1940 that I watched the last living cable tram lollop up Bourke Street. I knew with certainty that the world would never be the same again. Melbourne blew it when it stupidly and wantonly did away with its cable trams".
Sydney had only two short cable trams systems too steep for steam trams. One was at North Sydney and it was powered from a winding engine house and tram depot building in Miller Street, now the site of the Independent Theatre. The line went down to the ferry wharf at Milsons Point. The other Sydney cable tram service went from the bottom end of King Street Wharf at Darling Harbour to Ocean Street, Edgecliff. The winding engine house to drive the cable was at Rushcutters Bay. It was later used as a trolley bus depot and then a ten-pin bowling alley. The cable trams finished in Sydney in 1905 with the demise of the steam tram and extensive use of electric trams. Apparently the old trailing cars were sold for a couple of pounds and made for quite snug little houses.
This dummy car was restored in the 1980s to look like a King Street cable tram and was a popular exhibit in State I of the Powerhouse Museum.