Restoration of D 117

The museum’s Sydney D class tram No. 117 is back in the workshop, thanks to a Transport Heritage Grant (courtesy of Transport Heritage NSW and the Royal Australian Historical Society) that will see it’s restoration back to original passenger condition completed. While the grant only covers restoration to display condition, works to return the tram to operational status in the longer term, will also be carried out simultaneously.


The 25 member-strong D Class were introduced in 1898-99. They were four-wheeled, single truck trams featuring a ‘California Combination’ body; that is, a centre enclosed saloon and two open ends. Six were initially introduced as trailers for steam trams, but all eventually received electric motors and control equipment. In addition to operating as single units, they could also operate as coupled sets, often with C Class saloon trams. While a number of cars ran on the North Sydney system, they also operated the pioneering George St lines from 1899 and were well known on the busy Circular Quay – Pitt St – Railway service up until at least the Great War period. Eclipsed early on by larger capacity bogie trams, many D Class cars were progressively withdrawn and by the 1920’s, most had been converted to scrubber cars to clean the rails of the extensive Sydney network. It was in this form that many saw service until the closure of the system in 1961.

D 117 was built in 1899 by Clyde Engineering Co. It ran for a period on the newly electrified North Sydney lines fitted with a side-mounted pole, before the system was converted to centre-pole operation. By 1906, D 117 was being used on the Waverley Extension line, fitted with regenerative braking. The car was converted to a scrubber car in May 1913. It was numbered in the service stock fleet as 112s and attached to Randwick Workshops until 1961, when it was sold for private preservation and removed to the Sydney suburb of Castlecrag. It later saw service on the 2ft gauge Goulburn Steam Museum Railway around 1976, where it was returned to passenger form and fitted with 2ft gauge bogies. At the same time a member of the Sydney Tramway Museum, acquired the car’s Brill 21E truck from its previous owner, hoping to unite it with the body once the tram’s tenure at Goulburn had ended. This came to pass two years later and tram was returned to its original truck and put in storage at the member’s property in the Southern Highlands. In 1994, D 117 was donated to the museum in a partially deconstructed state, where it would be stored until 2007, when reconstruction of the body – along with an overhaul of its truck and electrical equipment – commenced. This work would continue until ten years ago, when other restoration priorities saw all works on this car suspended. As a result of this long period of gestation, this log will only cover the current restoration work from December 2020 onwards.

December 2020

5th December

9th December

19th December

The tram’s electrical equipment – overhauled by Frank Cuddy some 12 years ago – has been brought back into the workshop in preparation for eventual reinstallation. Seen here are the controllers, line breakers, lightning arrestors and compressor; the latter item being originally sourced from a trolleybus.

January 2021

16th January

20th January

Two pieces of sheet metal for the end aprons have been cut to the correct size and fixed in place at both ends to properly measure and align the metal support stands.

23rd January

30th January

Work continues on overhauling equipment for the car, including new apron headlights (of which their position has been marked out on the aprons themselves), a trolley pole base, handbrakes and apron support rods.

February 2021

6th February

Holes have been cut in the aprons where the headlights will be fitted, with one briefly placed into position as a trial. Metal beading around the apron edges was also trial fitted and progress continues on the trolley bridge, which has received a coat of paint.

13th February

Works continue on the end aprons, with support stands, headlights and beading all being trial fitted before permanent fixture commences.

20th February

Trial fitting of the end apron support assembly continues at a steady pace.

Meanwhile, the trolley base has been bolted onto the reassembled trolley base bridge. This has now been moved out of the way until such time can be found to place it back onto the roof.

24th February

March 2021

8th-10th March

Mick spent a period of three days applying the canvas to the roof. Only a small section at one end is left to be finished. Once this is completed, the entire roof can be painted and the trolley pole bridge reattached to the upper clerestory.

13th March

April 2021

3rd April

16th April

Mick spent the day preparing the first of the fixed end seats for staining, and applied the car’s waist rails on the open compartments. Timber mouldings for the end apron rails have also been made up and now await future installation.

17th April

The first coat of stone has been painted on the clerestory roof, with undercoat applied to the lower roof by Peter Warr and Peter Butler.

23rd April

Mick has sanded back the interior roof timbers and stained them accordingly.

24th April

Frames for the car’s footboards have been trial fitted to determine their final positioning.

Meanwhile roof painting works continue to make progress, with attention turning to the lower roof now that the clerestory is complete.

28th April

The trolley bridge has been placed back onto the car roof, with painting close to completion. At this stage the bridge is yet to be permanently bolted into its final position however this work is expected to be carried out soon.

May 2021

1st May

June 2021

9th-11th June

The saloon windows have been reinstalled whilst interior seat legs have been turned by Mick and fitted accordingly.

December 2021

8th December

Work has restarted on this car after an unexpected COVID-induced hiatus. The workshop crew have been routing the bullnose on the footboard kick plates whilst the tip-over seat backs have been completed and fitted by our heritage carpenter Mick. The clerestory roof windows have also been laid out ready for fitting.

10th December

Mick and his son Thomas spent the day undercoating the outside of the tram in preparation for future painting.

17th December

Mick and his son have commenced painting on the clerestory roof windows and frames, as well as the car’s side fascias. Trial installation of the footboards is also underway.

18th December

Footboards continue to be prepared and trial fitted by our workshop crew. Painting has also commenced on the car’s hand rails.

January 2022

7th January

Thomas has applied the final coat of primer to the car with the first coat already cut back in preparation for repainting.

8th January

Undercoating is complete on the car body, as well as the footboards and kickboards which await final installation.

10th January

Painting works have progressed to the main body, with Mick and Thomas applying the first coat of purple brown to the end bulkheads.

15th January

22nd January

The footboards have been primed and now in the process of receiving their first coat of paint by our workshop crew.

The car floor has also been applied with primer in preparation for final painting and installation of floor slats.

29th January

The floor has been painted with a coat of “buff”; similar to the floor colours of the museum’s C cars.

February 2022

9th February

A major undertaking took place as D 117 was moved into the workshop pit road and lifted by electric screw jacks, allowing for the car’s unbolted Brill truck to be moved into the workshop mezzanine for further works. These works include cleaning off a decade worth of dust that has built up around the truck, before a final coat of paint is applied to the frame and wheels. Timber filling pieces will also be installed between the truck frame and side underframe bearers, prior to the truck being placed back under the body and bolted into final position. The body has been put onto a spare set of Melbourne 1A bogies in the meantime to allow it to be moved around when needed.

25th February

Mick begins to add exterior beading to the centre saloon.

26th February

A decades worth of dust has been cleaned off the car’s Brill truck and another coat of paint applied to the side frames.

Beading continues to applied applied to the exterior of the car where necessary. Screw holes will eventually be filled in and painted over.

March 2022

12th March

Tension rods for the Brill 21E truck have been cleaned up and primed for eventual installation.

Meanwhile Vic Solomons attends to applying the first coat of buff to the tram’s floor slats.

April 2022

9th April

Work continues on installing the floor slats to the car’s open end section floors.

Meanwhile the footboards have been completed and now await final installation.

16th April

Painting continues on smaller items such as kick-boards and tip over seat brackets.

Work on the installation of the car’s handrails also continues.

23rd April

Beading around the car body has been repainted in “straw”, with further lining to be completed in the near future.

Works also progress on painting more of the floor slats.

30th April

The car’s Brill truck tension rods have received another coat of paint.

In addition, the kick-board/footboard support brackets have been primed and painted before final installation.

May 2022

7th May

With installation of the truck filling pieces complete, D 117 was moved over the workshop pit to be placed back onto its repainted Brill truck. This was then bolted onto the car body after 15 years of separation. With one truck motor connected to the workshop’s MG set supply, the car was driven out by traction power onto the traverser and returned to its usual place in the workshop.

21st May

Work has started on attaching the tension rods between the truck and the body, as final fitting of the car’s footboards continues.

June 2022

11th June

Works have begun on applying the tram’s class and number decals to the lower saloon sides and driver’s aprons. A NSWGT crest will be applied on the upper side panels, as is the case with C 29.

17th June

Decals of the Victorian era NSWGT crest have been added as has the car’s trolley pole to the base. Meanwhile the final fitting of kick-boards continues.

25th June

The workshop crew has applied gold and straw pin-stripe decals to the upper body panels, plus installed North Sydney system destination rolls in the desto boxes. New numeral decals have replaced the ones previously applied, as these were found to be historically inaccurate. Only a few finishing touches are still to be done before works on this car are finally finished.

29th June

D 117 was moved out onto the traverser to commemorate the completion of restoration works. Despite the many unfortunate delays, the end result looks a treat. The car will soon be moved into the display hall as our latest exhibit, and in the longer term returned to operating status. A very big thank you to the RAHS and THNSW who’s assistance made this project possible.

Postscript – 30th July 2022

In a sight not seen in Sydney for almost 100 years, Sydney D Class 117 was coupled with Sydney C Class 29 and towed by it to Lakewood Park for photo opportunities. Coupled C and D Class trams were commonly used on the main Sydney and North Sydney systems, where they lasted until c1924.