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Heritage Trolley Site
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Aspen - July 2004

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Aspen — Trolley Tales

Rail Transit Online, July 2004

In 1978, the city of Aspen acquired six ancient trolley cars from Portugal that were to be refurbished and operated as a tourist attraction on the streets of the ski resort.  One of the narrow gauge cars was manufactured in 1899 and the other five were Stored trolleys  in Aspen assembled from kits in 1925 and shipped to Lisbon, Portugal, where they ended their days of revenue service.  While awaiting restoration in Aspen, the cars were stored in an open field at a nearby ranch.  For political and other reasons, the heritage line was never built and the cars began crumbling.  Five were covered with tarpaulins for a few years but that didn’t help much.  By the time the rusted old Brills were put up for sale in early 2001, they presented a pathetic scene with torn and rotting seats and broken windows. 

In November 2002, Aspen voters and the city council rejected  the heritage streetcar proposal for the last time.  By the end of the year, five of the Brills had been given away despite the protests of local trolley enthusiasts (see RTOL, Jan. 2003).  Two cars, including one that had been cosmetically restored in Aspen after an anonymous donor contributed $20,000, were hauled off to the Issaquah Valley Trolley in the state of Washington, where the local historical society has a mile (1.6 km) of track but no rolling stock.  Another went to the Old Pueblo Trolley in Tucson and two were purchased by Wanganui, New Zealand.  The car rescued by the nonprofit Tucson group has been nearly restored to operating condition following an expenditure of $70,000.  The trucks have been rebuilt to operate on standard gauge tracks and the motor has been overhauled.  “Everything was taken apart, cleaned, restored and put back together,” Old Pueblo superintendent of maintenance and restoration Eric Sitiko told The Aspen Times.  “The upholstery was actually pretty disgusting. That's all brand-new.” The only remaining problem involves the wheels.  “When we did an analysis of the wheels, we found they weren't structurally sound anymore,” said Sitiko.  New wheels are being cast and machined, and they should be in Tucson this summer, allowing the car to be in revenue service before year’s end. 

The other four Brills remain in their respective cities, still dilapidated and waiting for enough money to allow the start of restoration.  The Issaquah Historical Society's trolley committee is about to start a $250,000 fund-raising drive to fix up one car and improve the right-of-way.  A spokeswoman for the society told The Aspen Times that the car has already been cleaned and had some cosmetic work completed.  In New Zealand, volunteers are also trying to raise cash after spending far more than expected to ship the cars down under.  “Transporting the trolleys here was rather stressful,” trolley volunteer Dave Harre told The Aspen Times.  “We hadn't imagined the bill would be over $50,000.”  The cars also needed a thorough interior cleaning before they could enter New Zealand, which Harre said was completed “…at quite a cost.”  The sixth car remains in Aspen, having been moved to the county dump after the Old Pueblo group cannibalized it for parts.  A local man still hopes to restore it for use on an existing line between Glenwood and Carbondale. 


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