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Charlotte's Heritage Trolley

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The New Electric Railway Journal – Winter 1996-97

Charlotte’s Heritage Trolley

By Al Mankoff

A massive tailgate party the evening of August 29 brought 340 Carolina Panther and Charlotte Trolley supporters to the Atherton Mill carbarn and museum. The celebration saluted the Panthers’ new stadium and the extension of the Trolley to Stonewall Street.

Charlotte's car 85.

A map of Charlotte's heritage trolley line.

Athens (Greece) single truck car No. 1


The non-profit Charlotte Trolley Corporation began operating car 85 in the summer of 1994 out of a metal and brick carbarn at the Atherton Mill terminal, south of the city along 875 feet of converted Norfolk Southern right-of-way gussied-up to look like an old-time trolley line. The effort was successful, so much so that with the first Panther game of the season, the line was extended for the planned 1.3 miles to the Convention Center. If the city fulfills its pledge to rebuild an old rail bridge over Stonewall Street, the line will continue farther through the Convention Center complex to the business and cultural districts uptown

Car 85,one of eight similar double-truck, arch-roof cars built in the shops of the Southern Public Utilities Company (later Duke Power) between 1924 and 1927, was the last car to operate on the city lines at abandonment on March 14, 1938. The motorman of that last car had a son who now works as a volunteer on the beautifully restored relic.

After the 1938 closure, 85 was used as an office building for the Air National Guard, then as a hamburger and hot dog stand near Lake Norman, and finally as a rental dwelling near Huntersville. After 40 years as a three-room apartment—no bath—it was discovered, doors and windows covered with plywood, just in time for the heritage line project. Brought back to Charlotte to Discovery Place, a science museum, restoration work began on the car on an open patio using volunteers exclusively. The project was finished at a now-razed local bus garage. The interior of cherry-stained mahogany wood sports reversible rattan seats.

A second car, No.1, a single-truck, deck-roof refugee from Piraeus, Greece, is presently used as a backup for No. 85, and is stored inside the carbarn, aft of the museum section. A Spartan interior features longitudinal wooden seats with finely varnished posts and fittings. A search is under way for additional cars for use as the line grows and expands.

While overhead wire is in place for the 875-foot initial segment, a Cummins diesel generator fitted to a scratch built trailer car provides power for the run to and from the Convention/stadium area. The system is operating under a six-month trial mandate from the city, expiring in February, 1997. If there’s a green light then, overhead wire will be installed over the entire route and permanent right-of-way acquisition will get underway.

This has been very much a “grass roots” operation from the beginning. With Mayor Pat McCrory and Charlotte Trolley President Gaines Brown spearheading the effort, the project has every chance of succeeding. Busloads of silver-haired seniors, legions of excited school children, eager boomers and “Generation-X”ers flock to the Atherton Barn, eager to share what’s fast becoming a source of heightened community pride. It looks very much like the Charlotte Trolley is here to stay!

 Al Mankoff is a Weaverville (N C) based free-lance writer on a variety of transportation subjects.


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