Blackpool is famous for its autumn illuminations that extend the summer season to the beginning of November each year, long after many UK seaside resorts have closed down for the winter. Specially decorated, illuminated trams have been a feature of the tramway since 1912.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that Blackpool started operating special tours of the illuminations by tram and a touch of creativity led to the construction of a small fleet of passenger carrying mobile tableaux starting in 1959.
The Rocket reflected contemporary interest in the space age programme and ‘Tramnik One’ was created on the basis of a withdrawn 1928 Pantograph car. The result was perhaps one of the most imaginative tram designs ever created, with passengers seating at an angle of about 30 degrees. The tram featured a cockpit with two redundant waxworks from Tussauds - King Peter of Yugoslavia and General Neguib of Egypt dressed as astronauts.
Launched in September 1961, the Rocket became a regular feature of the autumn illuminations. Unusually for Blackpool the Rocket was a single ended car with controls at one end only. This required
a daily reverse at the depot and unusual manoeuvres when the car was stored at Marton depot during winter 1961/2 - a member of staff had to walk slowly in front of it as the car was driven along
Whitegate Drive to the Town Centre in reverse as the alternative route via Lytham Road had closed.
In 1967 a remote controller and air brake was fitted on the rear platform. These had been pioneered on the later Hovertram and HMS Blackpool designs and were retrofitted to the Rocket and Western Train. With the front controller set to reverse, the driver controlled it remotely from the rear. The car could now run back from Talbot Square after tours driven from the rear. On 17 September 1988 on such a manoeuvre the car collided with 641 at Manchester Square. Repairs took a month but deprived 732 of its Illuminations on its rear platform.
In 1992 the rear controllers were restricted to depot shunt use only due to the lack of secondary braking (sister cars also had rear handbrakes) so the car had to run to Little Bispham after each duty. At the end of the 1999 season the car was retired as it needed a full rewire - having last been treated in 1981.
In February 2002, Blackpool Transport donated the Rocket to the LTT and sanctioned a farewell trip on Sunday 28 April. This was intended to take the car to Fleetwood as it had only previously been there on a handful of enthusiast tours and a Santa Specials event. Sadly the Rocket suffered a damaged lifeguard at Thornton Gate and while the participants went to Fleetwood by other means the Rocket was driven from the rear controller to Depot - probably the longest journey it has made from that end!.
For ten further years, the Rocket gathered dust in the tram depot until discussions between Blackpool Illuminations and the LTT resulted in the tram being selected for restoration as part of the Illumination's centenary displays in 2012. The tram was moved to the Illuminations depot at Squires Gate and within 8-weeks it was cleaned up, repainted & rewired before being transferred for static display on the roundabout at Gynn Square where, ablaze with light bulbs, it dazzled throughout the autumn display.
After two season's on display, the Rocket was moved back to Rigby Road tram depot for storage.