Like proficient Boy Scouts, a team of devotees is ensuring the tramcars will be smart and ready for the Christchurch City Tramway re-opening presently expected during this October. As well as the Invercargill Birney No.15 making its debut on city tracks, the existing fleet is getting a makeover. Some work involves a thorough tidy-up. Other tramcars, including Boxcar No.11, are having a more comprehensive repair and repaint. I enjoy frequent visits to the Tram Barn at FerrymeadHeritagePark to keep pace with progress. Last week I met Jeff Harvey of Ashburton’s Harvey Signs & Graphics. He is a traditional sign-writer in a real sense, preferring to work with old-time methods utilising gold leaf or non-tarnishing aluminium rather than modern computer-generated graphics. I found him working on No.11 which has extensive timber repairs and a total repaint. Appreciating the fact the tramcar was preserved in 1974 by the Tramway Historical Society to represent how it was when it arrived from J.G. Brill of Philadelphia in 1903 to inaugurate the Dunedin Corporation electric tramway, Jeff is reproducing the sign-writing close to as it would have been that year. He was utilising early twentieth century sign-writing methods. I found him brandishing gold leaf work with an appropriate brush. He cannot touch the tram body. If he does, finger grease will attract the fine specks of airborne gold. It will not look good when the bodywork is sealed with a clear lacquer. The completed work I experienced looked superb.
Jeff has also been commissioned to sign-write the recently completed Birney No.15. He is looking forward to working with his gold and aluminium materials on the Birney’s darker burgundy finish.
He told me, from a young age, he never wanted to do anything but sign-writing. And he gets most pleasure from preserving a traditional sign-writing craft. Somewhat appropriate to heritage tramcars. It all had me thinking of the enhanced attraction of our Christchurch tramcar fleet. Not only are they genuine vehicles having steel wheels running on steel rails, the uncompromised heritage nature of the tramcars is quite a rarity worldwide. How good is that?