Heartbreak greeted the announcement that one of Whitby’s most famous attractions is set to depart this year, and the Gazette can exclusively reveal the final date she will carry passengers through the town.
Viv and Vern Smith, owners of Elizabeth the Steam Bus threatened to sell the 83-year-old after what they described as the latest in a series of disputes with “obstructive” borough council.
Now the Whitby Gazette can reveal that the couple will call it quits and the Elizabeth’s last day in town will be November 2. “We have been proud to mean so much to so many people and the support of the public will live in our hearts forever,” said owner Vern. “Whitby did fine before the Steam Bus and it will do just fine after she has gone, though trust us it hurts.”
The future of Charlotte the Charabanc and the other employees of the Northern Star company remains uncertain.
When Vern and Viv Smith purchased Elizabeth 12 years ago, they had a vision of bringing the 83-year-old vehicle to the streets of Whitby.
It took years of restoration work and the Secretary of State for Transport even stepped in to grant a licence allowing them to carry passengers.
But this week, the couple announced that Elizabeth’s great adventure in Whitby is set to end.
“Whitby has lost the Endeavour, she lost the Grand Turk, and now she is set to lose Elizabeth,” said Vern. “It will be heartbreaking for us to sell her. She is our life’s work.”
This latest dispute began just last week and relates to the refilling of Elizabeth’s 300 gallon water tank.
The steam bus must be refilled once each day, a process that takes just five minutes.
The refilling usually takes place at Whitby Town FC’s Turnbull Ground, but the bus can not be accommodated on the 12 days a year when a match is being held and so Vern contacted the bourough council to ask whether this could take place at a car park near the harbour.
The council’s reply said for this to take place, the 11-tonne vehicle must fit inside a designated parking space, with a valid parking ticket on display, otherwise they would receive a fine.
“It’s not about the money,” said Vern, who also owns Charlotte the Charabanc. “The community supports us, local business supports us, but the only people that don’t are the council.
“Over the years they have enjoyed virtually priceless amounts of positive media coverage for the area.
“But we’re tired of fighting against them and this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The bus carries up to 50,000 passengers a year and had this situation not occurred, the Vernon says he would have expected to continue running the attraction for at least another decade.
However, despite five local businesses offering to help the steam bus, they now plan to sell Elizabeth and embark upon other endeavours away from Whitby.
The Whitby Gazette shared this information last week after it was announced on Facebook, and in the days following, the couple received messages of support from all over the globe.
An online petition was launched in support of Vern and Viv at www.change.org and has already gathered over 1,200 signatures.
The Elizabeth was specially invited to take part in the Lord Mayor’s Parade and received a tumultous reception from crowds on the streets of the capital.
A spokesperson for the borough council said she was “surprised” by the claims as they had only started discussions with Viv and Vern last Friday.