Next stop, Issaquah | AspenTimes.com

Next stop, Issaquah

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The first of Aspen’s trolley cars to hit the road was hauled away Thursday morning, bound for Issaquah, Wash.

The car, which had been been on display at Rubey Park, was hoisted onto a flatbed truck with a crane brought over from Gypsum. It should arrive in Issaquah, just outside of Seattle, sometime Saturday afternoon. Issaquah arranged the transport.

A handful of passers-by stopped to watch a crew harness the car and lift it into place on the truck over the course of some two-and-a-half hours.

The truck, loaded with its cargo, was about to make a left turn onto Durant Avenue and begin its journey when longtime Aspenite Ed Weiss stepped forward and gave the trolley a few farewell pats.

“I’m the last one to touch the trolley before it left town,” he declared. “It’s a sad moment in the annals of history.”

The vintage car is one of six that Aspen intends to give to other communities that have working trolley lines, following a failed ballot measure earlier this month that proposed keeping the cars here for use on a future downtown trolley line.

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The text of the ballot question, still posted in the windows of the trolley, will tell folks in Issaquah all they need to know about the plan that fizzled here.

Meanwhile, one local supporter of the Aspen Street Railway Co.’s plan to build a local trolley line was surprised yesterday to hear the car was already gone.

“Well, they promised to do it by the end of the month. I guess they did it,” said Kip Wheeler. “I didn’t realize it was going that quickly.”

Wheeler has retained an attorney to help the trolley group determine whether it wants to challenge the city’s right to give away public assets.

“We’ve been talking to see where we’re going to go,” Wheeler said. “We’ve looked into the issues and think we have a very strong case.

“I don’t want to waste the city’s money or my money on this,” he added.

With the departure of the trolley from Rubey Park, the group is under less pressure to act quickly, Wheeler reasoned.

Four of the remaining cars are stored outdoors at the city’s Cozy Point Ranch. The fifth is at the county dump.

“The rest of them aren’t going to go that fast,” Wheeler said.

It’s probably still possible to remove the cars at Cozy Point, but they will likely soon be snowed in for the winter, according to Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.

The Issaquah Historical Society will get one of the other cars, as well, and Wanganui, New Zealand, has signed an agreement for two others. The city is still finalizing a deal to send two cars to Tucson, Ariz., Sadler said.

The agreements call for the removal of the remaining cars by May 15 of next year. Sadler said he has encouraged the three takers to coordinate their transport plans so they can arrange for one crane to get all the remaining cars lifted onto trucks in one visit.

‘I think it’s sad’

One observer of yesterday’s proceedings at Rubey Park blamed the loss of the trolley on “two decades of indecision.”

“It’s just another thing of a bygone era gone,” he said, shaking his head. “I think it’s sad.”

“I can visualize this thing going around town,” said local resident Lance Bolton. “Now we’re standing here watching it go to Washington.”

Aspen voters rejected the railway company’s proposal to privately fund a trolley line to replace the Galena Street Shuttle by a 1,314 to 1,148 margin.

After the election, trolley backers pleaded with the City Council to at least keep one car here ? ideally the refurbished one at Rubey Park ? for use as a concession stand, information booth or some such purpose. Wheeler offered to purchase all six of them for $2,500 apiece, but council members were adamant that they’d rather send them to places that will use them for their intended purpose.

“It is going to haunt this City Council ?til the day they die,” predicted Jon Busch, a railway company member and one of a handful of local men who brought the cars to Aspen in the first place.

Although council members indicated they were willing to give the cars away, Issaquah agreed to pay $2,000 for the car it picked up at Rubey Park to reimburse the railway company. The group received a $20,000 grant to refurbish the car, but spent an additional $2,000 of its own money.

The grant, which was given to the city and then turned over to the railway company, was offered on the condition that the trolley be used in Aspen, according to Busch.

“I assume the city is trying to preclude any legal action against them,” he said of yesterday’s removal of the car.

The donor of the grant understood the money was to be used to cosmetically restore a car solely for the purpose of putting it on display in advance of the election, countered City Attorney John Worcester.

The car will need a great deal more work, including the rebuilding of its mechanical system, before it is put into service in Issaquah.

Issaquah’s trolley line began with a car on lease from Yakima, Wash., which it had to return. It is acquiring two cars from Aspen and one from San Francisco to create its own fleet.

All of the communities that are getting the Aspen cars rely on a lot of volunteer labor to put old trolleys back into working order, according to Sadler. Wanganui enlists the help of students at a local vocational school, he said.

Busch has questioned whether Wanganui will actually use both of the cars it has requested. Previous conversations with a representative there led him to believe at least one of the cars would be scavenged for parts.

Not so, according to Dave Harre of the 1912 Boon Tram for Wanganui Society. One of the cars will be used to make patterns for the manufacture of new parts, he reported in an e-mail to Sadler.

The society wants to restore one car quickly. The second one will not be destroyed, but its restoration will be a long-term project, Harre said.

All six of the cars were built by the J.G. Brill Co., headquartered in Philadelphia. One was built in 1899, and the others date back to 1925. They had all been in active service in Lisbon, Portugal, before they were imported to Aspen in 1978.

Dave Harre of the 1912 Boon Tram for Wanganui Society said one of the cars will be used to make patterns for the manufacture of new parts.