No shortage of takers for trolley cars
Small towns with a trolley line in place may have the best shot at acquiring one or more of Aspen’s six trolley cars.
Small and large cities around the country, and the world, have expressed interest in the vintage trolleys, which Aspen is now preparing to give away to takers that can give them a good home.
Ed Sadler, assistant city manager, said he hopes to have signed contracts with the communities that will receive the cars by June 1.
“I want them out of here, hopefully, by August,” he said.
The council reaffirmed its plan to give the cars away when it refused a request this week from the Aspen Street Railway Co. to hold on to the trolleys until August, so city voters could weigh in on the fate of the cars.
The council had already delayed the disposal of the cars for the winter, at the railway company’s request, to give the group time to prepare a ballot question that could go to voters in May. That effort faltered, and the council rejected the group’s plea for more time to petition voters and place a proposal on the August ballot.
Sadler said he will look for communities that have the financial resources to transport the trolleys and that are committed to refurbishing the cars and putting them into service.
The city doesn’t want to see the antique cars resold or salvaged for parts, he said.
“I really want a commitment that they’re going to use them,” he said.
The city received several serious inquiries last year, when it first advertised the trolleys, and other trolley operators have continued to step forward.
Sadler said he plans to contact all the communities that have expressed an interest, including those that wanted the cars last year.
“I know some of those who were interested before are no longer interested. They’ve moved on,” he said.
A year ago, Sadler received formal requests from Wanganui, New Zealand; Baltimore; and Gibsons, British Columbia.
Wanganui wanted one car, Baltimore wanted two, and Gibsons wanted all six, though Gibsons does not have a system up and running.
Since then, representatives from Old Pueblo Trolley Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., and the city of Detroit have come out to inspect Aspen’s cars. The Municipal Street Railway Co. in San Antonio has also expressed an interest, as has San Francisco, which runs trolleys on its Market Street Railroad in addition to the city’s fabled cable-car system.
Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon, and Issaquah, Wash., are also interested, according to Sadler.
Whitehorse would like to expand its trolley line, and Issaquah had a borrowed trolley car, which it restored and put into use until the owner wanted it back.
“Issaquah has already got track – they just need a machine now,” Sadler said. “My heart strings are sort of with the people like that, as opposed to Detroit.
“Whitehorse is right up there, too, as far as I’m concerned.”
Sadler suspects the trolley cars will be more revered in the smaller towns, though he is also intrigued by the Market Street line in San Francisco. That system, he said, uses an eclectic assortment of trolley cars, all refurbished and painted in their original colors.
“That’s sort of cool, too,” he said.
Aspen’s trolleys were imported from Lisbon, Portugal, in the late 1970s by a group of local men who later organized the Aspen Street Railway Co. They were manufactured in Philadelphia; one was reportedly built in 1899, and the other five were assembled from kits in Lisbon in 1925.
Although they have all deteriorated during years of outdoor storage, they are valuable in that most still have all of the necessary mechanical gear, according to Sadler. Five cars are stored at the city’s Cozy Point Ranch, one is at the county dump.
Sadler said he expects to have more takers than there are cars, so the city will have to pick the best destinations for the trolleys.
“I’d like these to be special somewhere,” he said.
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