Trolley returns, and supporters prepare for rides to start in October
August 28, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The next stop for the Issaquah Valley Trolley is downtown Issaquah.
On Aug. 23, a vintage streetcar completed a 1,659-mile trip from Ida Grove, Iowa, to Issaquah aboard a specialized flatbed trailer. The arrival marked a milestone in the $744,700 effort to refurbish the vehicle, restore downtown railroad track and prepare the streetscape for streetcar traffic.
Organizers plan to start offering rides to the public starting Oct. 14, a day after a celebration for the Issaquah History Museums’ 40th anniversary. The planned route stretches about a half-mile from the Issaquah Train Depot to the East Fork of Issaquah Creek at Darigold.
“It looked every bit as good as we expected it to — and probably better,” Issaquah Valley Trolley Project Chairwoman Jean Cerar said. “If you gave it just a cursory glance, actually, it kind of looked like the car that left, only brighter.”
Crews repainted the streetcar in the same cream-and-red color scheme, but beneath the surface, workers installed modern systems and revamped the battered interior. The result “has that new trolley smell to it,” Cerar said.
The streetcar is now Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and can accommodate riders in wheelchairs. Workers also converted the streetcar from narrow gauge to standard gauge in order to run on the Issaquah track.
In Issaquah, crews installed signals at a planned streetcar crossing at Front Street North and Northeast Dogwood Street and rehabilitated downtown railroad track.
Supporters used donations, grants and city lodging tax revenue to fund the project. The federal government contributed grants. So, too, did the King County cultural services agency, 4Culture.
The city acts as the certified acceptance agency, or administrator, for federal grants attached to the project and trolley project contracts require City Council approval, but the city is not funding the program.
Riders can expect to pay a small donation, perhaps $2 apiece, to fund gasoline and insurance costs.
The effort to run a streetcar through downtown Issaquah germinated a dozen years ago, as the then-Issaquah Historical Society formed a committee to spearhead a trolley project.
Trolley organizers inherited a pair of cars, Nos. 519 and 521, from Aspen, Colo., in late 2002 and early 2003.
The streetcars ran on streets in Lisbon, Portugal, for decades until trolley enthusiasts in Aspen imported the vehicles in the late 1970s for a proposed downtown line. Plans for the line languished, however, and the streetcars deteriorated for years in outdoor storage.
How to help
Issaquah Valley Trolley Project leaders need additional members for the volunteer organization. Organizers need streetcar operators, conductors, mechanics, volunteer coordinators, website managers, fundraisers, event planners and more. Call 391-8186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
In November 2002, Aspen voters rejected a ballot measure to establish a trolley line, and city leaders offered the trolleys to interested communities, including Issaquah.
Then, the idle streetcars sat in a downtown barn for almost a decade, until No. 519 departed for Gomaco Trolley Co. in March.
The project marked another milestone as No. 519 returned to Issaquah.
Organizers sent No. 521 to Gomaco Trolley Co., because local volunteers could not undertake the immense effort to refurbish the 87-year-old vehicle. The streetcar departed Issaquah on the same flatbed trailer. Cerar said Gomaco Trolley Co. intends to refurbish the aging vehicle.
The trolley organization is also accepting offers on a 1930s San Francisco streetcar acquired in 2003.
“It’s beyond our scope as a volunteer group to rehabilitate that,” Cerar said.
The focus is on No. 519 as the mid-October launch date approaches. The public can expect to see the streetcar running along the downtown track on weekends, as organizers train motormen. No. 519 tows a gasoline-powered generator car to propel the ride.
Organizers plan to display the streetcar at the Issaquah Train Depot during the Salmon Days Festival.
“We’ve had a fair number of people sign up to be motormen, which doesn’t surprise me,” Cerar said. “So far, they’re all men and, obviously, they were little boys who dreamed of driving a trolley. We are really gratified by the response.”