APTA Streetcar and
Seashore Trolley Museum Logo
Heritage Trolley Site
Hosted by the Seashore Trolley Museum
Past is Present

[Back to Articles]

The New Electric Railway Journal – Autumn 1993

Past is Present

Andrew D. Young

Vintage Trolley operation is last becoming a cottage industry within the urban transit community. In the first of a regular series, noted trolley historian and photographer A. D. Young brings us up to speed on the many variations of the heritage trolley in the U.S. and Canada.

Fort Smith Birney 224 on opening day, May 19, 1991.

Photos of Hieritage operations in Portland, Yakima (discontinued), and Philadelphia (discontinued).

Photos of heritage operations in Fort Collins, Dallas, Memphis, and Detroit.


The use of vintage trolley equipment in transit service is increasing in North America, from captive lines through historical theme parks (Fort Edmonton) to street operation integrated into a company’s regular schedules (Seattle). The field is growing and there is much activity on both planned and operating systems. The following survey shows the characteristics of typical heritage operations.

Fort Collins Municipal Railway

Ridership in 1992 was down by just 600 passengers from 1991, despite the recession and a shorter operating day. The 1993 season, which began in May, looks more promising and will continue weekends and holidays until the end of September.

Fort Collins Birney 21 (American Car, 1919) has held down all services since the railway’s inception in 1984 and passed a 1991 Federal Railroad Administration inspection without reservation, thanks largely to the expert maintenance given the venerable car by the Society’s Roger Mitchell. Clearly, however, the lone Birney cannot continue to shoulder 100% of operations on its own and the Society has been negotiating the lease of a similar unit (also from Fort Collins) from the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club. However, the talks have broken down for the present and the Society is looking elsewhere. (Yet another Fort Collins Birney, cosmetically restored, is on display at the Henry Ford Museum adjacent to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.)

Fort Collins Municipal Railway, 731 West Mountain Avenue, Fort Collins, CO 80521

Edmonton Radial Railway Society

All mainline trackage has been realigned and generally upgraded; both the 1991 and 1992 operating seasons saw patronage in excess of 100,000. The railway carries passengers among a series of portions of Edmonton replicated at various periods in its history. The growing fleet of this hybrid transit/museum operation is, quite naturally, made up of rolling stock of Canadian origin, particularly from Edmonton itself.

The Society has as its goal the location and rescue of at least one of every class of car operated in Edmonton between 1908 and 1951. Almost all Edmonton cars owned were located in “chicken coop” condition and are slowly being restored by the expert ERRS staff. Car 38, which is otherwise identical to operational single-end 42, is being restored as a double-end car and may be placed into replica St Louis 47 trucks which the Society is now able to manufacture.

Car 31 is a body in poor condition and will not be restored but will be used as a pattern from which to build a replica. Edmonton 13’s restoration is a long-term project, as is the replication of a single car from the 53/65/73 trio. Saskatoon 200, which was donated to the Western Development Museum in 1951, was sold to a private individual in 1986 and donated to Fort Edmonton. Its rebuilding is about to begin, giving the railway a sweeper with which to ensure winter operation.

Toronto Suburban 24 was retired in 1923 and sold to the CNR grain terminal at Fort William, where it carried switchmen at the side of the hump yard. Later, it was donated to the Canadian Railway Museum at Delson, Quebec, from which it is now leased in return for ERRS fully restoring the car to Toronto condition. This double-end, single-truck car is a virtual twin to ERR 7, the only single-trucker ever to run in Edmonton. Its motors are thought to be 1897 originals and the car is handbraked only.

Hankai Tramway 247 of the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka was rebuilt in 1947 to its present condition and ran until 1990. It was to have been used as a source of parts, but when the opportunity came to acquire the car complete and in operating condition instead, the chance was seized. It is stored off-property at the MacDonald Shops of Edmonton’s LRT and has been operated under power there. Sister car 255 is running for the Old Pueblo Trolley in Tucson, Arizona.

Hannover 601 was a prototype built for city street running, but otherwise is virtually identical in trucks, motors and controls to Edmonton’s U2 light rail vehicles. When Hannover declined to purchase any production versions, the car was taken out of service in 1975 and sold to Vancouver, where the BC government intended to use it as a demonstration LRV for the proposed New Westminster project. Shortly after the car arrived, however, the Canadian Intermediate Capacity Transit System was chosen, an automated, driverless system featuring linear induction motors and steerable-axle trucks; Vancouver’s SkyTrain is now wholly committed to that technology.

The car stood unused for twelve years, still on its shipping cradle. It was acquired in 1987, came to Fort Edmonton in 1988, was completely overhauled by Edmonton Transit and operated briefly during 1989. It is not in keeping with any of the eras presently depicted at the park, but future developments include a possible extension of the streetcar line outside the park along the river valley, on which it (and perhaps a U2 car, when they come to the end of their days) would come into its own.

Toronto PCC 4367 came directly to the ERRS in 1989 after being taken out of operating service. Regauging is taking place and it is hoped to operate the car soon. For the Society, it is an important exhibit because it represents technology bridging the gap between ERR 80 (built in 1930), the most modern car type on the system, and Edmonton's present LRT era. (The reader is referred to our sidebar on the Fort Edmonton system, presented in the Autumn 1989 TNERJ.)

Edmonton Radial Railway Society P0 Box 8337, Station F, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6H 4W6

Minnesota Transportation Museum

Twin Cities PCC 322 is now being restored in a St. Paul facility of the local transit authority. Though the car is complete, work will include renewal or repair of corroded body panels, provision of a new floor, stepwells and passenger doors, and replacement of fogged Lexan windows with glass from scrapped Chicago 6000-series ‘L’ cars.

It has been stripped to the frame for inspection of the structure, and will then be reassembled and repainted in 1946 TCRT livery. Electrical and mechanical rehabilitation will also be required, but the scale and extent of the job is as yet not clear and will not be until the car is disassembled. George Isaacs will lead the restoration team, and the whole project is expected to take two years.

In the old days, TCRT steamboats were met at the Excelsior docks by TCRT street-cars, and the Museum’s “Minnehaha” steamboat restoration project has developed tentative plans to restore streetcar service on intact former right-of-way starting at the boat building. Three former TCRT streetcar bodies have been acquired by the Steamboat Division, including car 1809 and an unknown. The third car is TCRT 1496, originally received by MTM in 1976, but later donated to the Lake Superior Museum of Transportation in Duluth. A pair of unmotored Chicago trucks, otherwise identical to those used under MTM’s restored Duluth 265, are also included.

Cosmetic restoration of these cars is underway and one of them may be displayed next to the Excelsior Historical Society on Water Street. The body of TCRT 1723 was auctioned in November 1992, MTM being the successful bidder. The car had a complete interior in good condition, and so was stripped as a source of parts for other cars. The remaining shell was then scrapped.

Minnesota Transportation Museum, P0 Box 1796, Pioneer Station, St. Pau4 MN 55101-0796.

Fort Smith Trolley Museum

Ridership in the first seven months of operation (May–December 1991) exceeded 10,000 an encouraging start. At the end of 1992, total ridership since Day 1 was 26,406; by April of 1993 the 28,000 barrier was broken, and the upward trend continues

The body of Hot Springs Street Railway Company double-truck car 50 (St. Louis 1904) has been acquired. It is similar to the Forth Smith cars used on the Van Buren and South Fort Smith lines. None of the Fort Smith examples are known to have survived, and so this body helps to fill a gap in the collection. The car arrived at the Museum last November, and restoration began soon thereafter.

Another car destined to join the collection is Fort Smith Light & Power 10 (American Car, 1902), currently at Turner Bend, north of Ozark, Arkansas. In the many decades since this veteran was retired from service it has had a checkered career in many places. Uses for the car have included dog house and tourist cabin, and before the museum can take delivery it will have to provide materials to provide a replacement building because the car is presently used as a canoe paddle and lifejacket storage shed. The necessary mechanical and electrical parts to restore the car to operating condition are on hand.

In the autumn of 1992, work began on constructing a connection between the former Missouri Pacific tracks (donated by the Union Pacific, along with rail and other track materials) and the former Frisco rails upon which the Fort Smith Birney currently operates. The newly donated track runs beside the National Cemetery and the connection has enabled the Museum to double its operating trackage.

Fort Smith Trolley Museum, 2121 Wolfe Lane, Fort Smith, AR 72901.

Buckingham Valley Trolley Association

The BVTA operates the Penn’s Landing Trolley in Philadelphia. Trolley operations are running at a small deficit, as they have for several years. The BVTA and the city have still not yet been able to finalize an agreement concerning operations on Delaware Avenue, and the 1993 season is continuing (as it has since 1984) with negotiations continuing but no agreement in place.

Some of the points to be covered by a final agreement will include replacement of the noisy diesel generator by commercially purchased power and an extension a few hundred feet to the north. The last item was recommended in a consultant’s study of the Delaware Avenue line some years ago and the BVTA is negotiating the details with the authorities involved. In addition, the current Delaware Avenue improvement project is to see the street beautified, which will mean the present wooden line poles will replaced by new steel poles, excess trackage removed and car stops paved with brick.

The BVTA and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation signed a ten-year lease in December1991 on property at Front and Laurel Streets in Philadelphia for storage of the mothball fleet which had since 1985 been on the apron of Pier 38. The fenced-off site is under I-95, the cars being stored under the bridge abutments.

Temporary trackage is to be installed in Pier 9 for the rehabilitation of Red Arrow 26 and restoration of Philadelphia 5205. The BVTA is now a member of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and hopes to benefit from its membership with increased tourist and convention business.

Buckingham Valley Trolley Association, Box 7285, Philadelphia, PA 19101.

(Webmaster Note: This Delaware Avenue operation was discontinued a few years after this article was published,  the line was dismantled, and most of the cars have been relocated to a new trolley museum in Scranton, PA)

Nelson Tramway Society

Nelson, BC, high in the Canadian Rockies, was one of the smallest towns in North America to have electric trolley service, and the three-car (plus one work car) system lasted until 1949. At that time, Nelson’s population was about 10,000; today this spectacular town, the setting for the movie “Roxanne,” musters a little over 8,000.

One of the three cars, 23 (Stephenson 1906, formerly Cleveland 3334/934), survived as a body, and in the early 1980s a group of interested folk, together with the local Chamber of Commerce and the Vocational Division of Selkirk College, put together funds and facilities for restoring the car at the college.

By 1988, the body was largely complete and had been moved to a new, city-funded (from a provincial Job Trac grant) building at Front and Hall Streets, a static museum devoted to Nelson tramway history. It was a model of its kind and well worth visiting.

Under the presidency of Mike Culham, a new Nelson Electric Tramway Society was formed in June of 1988 which wished to revive the town tramway as a heritage service, adding one more attraction to this heavily tourist-dependent area. The whole town was behind the project, money was raised (including provincial funds) and the plan was pronounced feasible.

Bob Clark, formerly of the Edmonton Radial Railway Society and Edmonton Transit, was hired as a consultant to put the plan into execution. A man of vast experience m this field, he spent over a year in the town. The result has been the reinstallation of over a mile of electric street railway.

Originally scheduled for operation in 1991, the line opened on July 1,1992. Testing and crew training had begun in April, and Friday, April 3, 1992 saw car 23 run under power for the first time in forty-three years as it left the barn for testing. Between the opening on July 1 and Canadian Labour Day, some 20,000 passengers were carried.

Another car on the property is BC Electric Railway Birney 400 (Preston Car, 1922; another source claims CCF, with Brill parts from Philadelphia). This car is on loan to the Society from the Royal British Columbia Museum of Victoria. Toronto PCC 4504 (St. Louis/CCF, 1951) was bought in the mid-1980s to provide trucks for 23. Plans changed when suitable bogies were found in Brussels and the PCC trucks were traded with Edmonton for parts necessary to com­plete work on car 23. The PCC body remains on the property but its future is uncertain.

Though the basic project is now complete, future plans call for a second phase of -construction, reviving much of the street operation between Government wharf and downtown Nelson. If this were done, the tramway would progress from its present status as a seasonal tourist line to a year-round vintage trolley system.

Nelson Electric Tramway Society, 123 View Street Nelson, BC  V1L 2V8

Old PuebIo Trolley

This Tucson heritage trolley project opened for service on April17, 1993. The original car, Birney 10, is in reality Pacific Electric 332 (American Car, 1919), which is on a ten-year lease from the Orange Empire Railway Museum located in Perris, CA. Now restored to operating condition, this car was built contemporaneously with the real Tucson 10, which was scrapped years ago.

The Birney first ran under its own power in 1991 and was in occasional use for special events, such as Members’ Days, for some time before the actual opening, running up and down the electrified track then available in the carbarn area. It was joined in 1992 by Hankai 255, sister to the Edmonton Radial Railway Society’s 247 and acquired by the Old Pueblo group with the help of ERRS.

Old Pueblo Trolley, Incorporated, P0 Box 1373, Tucson, AZ 85702

(For more on the Old Pueblo Trolley, see the related article Real Streetcars Outdraw Fakes)

McKinney Avenue Transit Authority

This gem of a heritage trolley operation that continues to grace Dallas’ McKinney Avenue has been weathering major financial problems. Insufficient farebox revenues meant an inability to meet payrolls, and in October 1991 all seven paid employees had to be let go. The line subsequently ran on a reduced schedule for a time as an all-volunteer operation in the hands of the North Texas Traction Associates, Inc. Business improved considerably with the return of “Rosie” (ex-Porto 122) to the line in May 1992 after two years out of service for extensive rebuilding.

A half-mile extension from the downtown terminal at St. Paul and Ross to the West End Historic District is under active consideration. Because of one-way streets, return would be made via San Jacinto, but how it would be funded in the present climate is unclear.

McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, P0 Box 224288, Dallas, TX 75222-4288


[Back to Articles]