One old Aspen trolley is nearly ready to roll
One of Aspen’s former trolley cars should be ready to roll before the year is out, but the other five cars are nowhere near returning to their former glory as quaint modes of public transit.The financing needed to restore the cars and put them back into running condition has thus far hampered most of the trolleys’ new owners. Three communities hauled all but one of the trolleys away in late 2002 and early 2003 after one last debate over putting them to use here.Volunteers at Old Pueblo Trolley in Tucson, Ariz., were close to having their trolley up and running this spring, but discovered the wheels on the old car wouldn’t pass final inspection.”When we did an analysis of the wheels, we found they weren’t structurally sound anymore,” said Eric Sitiko, superintendent of maintenance and restoration for Old Pueblo, a private, nonprofit operational transit museum.New wheels are being cast and machined in Pennsylvania; delivery is expected late this summer. There will be some final machining of the wheels in Tucson and then tests to make sure the trolley can pass safety standards before it’s debuted for public use late this year, Sitiko said.The group has spent about $70,000 restoring the car, using volunteer labor. The formerly narrow-gauge car has been reworked to run on Tucson’s wider track, and its motor has been rebuilt.”Everything is restored. Everything was taken apart, cleaned, restored and put back together,” Sitiko said. “The upholstery was actually pretty disgusting. That’s all brand-new.”The car, along with four others, had been stored outdoors for years at Aspen’s Cozy Point Ranch outside of town. The sixth car – or what’s left of it – remains at the county dump. Old Pueblo took whatever it could use from that car and gave the rest to local resident Kip Wheeler, who’s now looking for a place to store it out of the elements.Wheeler said he wants to find out if the car could be operated on the existing railroad tracks between Glenwood and Carbondale (see related story) if it is restored.Issaquah Valley Trolley in Washington state also received two cars from Aspen. A $250,000 fund-raising campaign to restore the first trolley and repair a bridge is poised to begin, according to Barb Justice of the Issaquah Historical Society’s trolley committee.The car has been cleaned and assessed, and some cosmetic work has already been done, she said.Issaquah’s trolley system features a mile of track linking its historic downtown to its chamber/visitor center. The track runs across a bridge that also needs repair.A borrowed trolley that had made the run had to be returned to Yakima, leaving Issaquah with no operating trolley at present.”Right now, we don’t have the funding to get the car ready to run on the track,” Justice said.Neither does Wanganui, New Zealand, which also took two Aspen cars.Both cars are currently stored in Waitakere City while volunteers raise funds to restore the cars and widen their gauge to run on New Zealand’s standard railway tracks.”Transporting the trolleys here was rather stressful,” said trolley volunteer Dave Harre. “We hadn’t imagined the bill would be over $50,000.”Now, that debt has been paid.Four volunteers from New Zealand traveled to Los Angeles, where the trolleys were put on a ship. The group had to clean the cars before they could leave the country; they disposed of roughly 800 pounds of rat droppings, according to Harre.Agricultural authorities found more “rat dirt” when the cars arrived in New Zealand.”That meant a steam clean at quite a cost,” Harre said.All six of the Aspen 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.The city gave the cars away to communities with working trolley lines after a 2002 ballot measure proposing their use in Aspen failed at the polls.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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