Surviving a century

If you want to ride…
What:
Como-Harriet Streetcar Line
Where: The Linden Hills Station is at Queen Avenue and 42nd Street and the Lake Calhoun Platform is at East Lake Calhoun Parkway and 36th Street.
When: Streetcars are scheduled to run from May 3 through November. They generally run from 6:30 p.m. to dusk on weekdays and 12:30 p.m. to dusk on weekends.
How much: Individual fare is $2, a daily pass is $5, a 10-ride ticket is $17, a 25-ride ticket is $43 and a season pass is $49. Children under four ride free.
Website: www.trolleyride.org
General information line: 952-922-1096

Como-Harriet streetcar celebrates 100 years on the rails

Click here for a video about this story

Just as it was done a century ago, Jim Vaitkunas rang the signal bell, released the heavy, hissing brakes and ratcheted the throttle lever back a couple clicks.

Minnesota Streetcar Museum’s streetcar number 1300 effortlessly lurched its 23-ton frame forward; its steel wheels clanking a familiar rhythm down the one mile of track between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.

In years past, the Como-Harriet line stretched for 20 miles from St. Paul to Linden Hills and was sometimes bumper-to-bumper with streetcars carrying loads of Minneapolitans to and from shows at the Lake Harriet Band Shell on warm summer days. Car 1300, which today runs an abbreviated track with a handful of other old-time trolleys, served throughout most of Minneapolis’ streetcar heyday. But unlike most streetcars, it escaped dismantling or burning, allowing it to ride the rails just as it did when new.

Of 1,100 streetcars of its type built by Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) between 1898 and the WWI era, car 1300 is one of two that survived intact — its sibling is in a Maine museum. Car 1300 rolled out of a St. Paul assembly plant in 1908, making this its 100th year of survival.

“It’s been lovingly maintained since 1954 when the company donated it (to the Minnesota Railfans Association) and it’s just a rush, it’s a blast to be able to run this thing,” said Vaitkunas, chief of operations for the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. The museum was born from the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which was founded in 1962 specifically to restore car 1300.

From its bright yellow exterior to its wicker seats and mahogany furnishings, the car is as it appeared when the Twin Cities’ trolley system was shut down in 1954. It’s been completely stripped and refinished during its life, which, except for about a decade during the 1950s and 1960s, has been spent in
service.

“Minnesota Railfans Association in 1962 took it out of retirement and took it to the yards of the Minnesota Transfer Railway,” said local streetcar historian John Diers, who co-authored a book called “Twin Cities by Trolley, the Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul.” “They ran the car and it attracted so many people that they thought they should find a home for it.”

A mile of track was laid between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun where the original line used to run, a garage was built and, in 1971, car 1300 was riding the rails again. The garage, called the car barn, has been improved over time and the Linden Hills transit station was added in the 1990s.

Car 1300 has run every year since the the track returned, in recent years carrying about 30,000 passengers annually. Aside from the track, the most significant change from its glory years is the cost of riding — fares are a couple bucks now instead of a nickel or a dime.

The Minnesota Streetcar Museum’s all-volunteer staff maintains and drives the car daily from May through November. All money made from fares goes to car, track and station upkeep, as do grants and
donations.

So what’s driving the volunteers?

“It’s fun. It’s just fun,” said volunteer conductor Bill Arends, whose official title on the trolley is motorman. “And the more I get involved, the more I learn about streetcars and trains.”

Without hesitation, Linden Hills resident Scottie Watson, 65, said driving the car is something she wanted to do.

“I think as you get older you need to keep creating adventures in your life,” said the first-time museum volunteer. “I also have eight grandsons and they’ll be impressed.”

As streetcars fade further from memory, fans of car 1300 and trolley history hope others will continue to step up and keep it alive for future generations.

“The way I look at it is I’m doing my little part to carry on a tradition — a Linden Hills tradition actually — that’s been going on since the early 1880s,” Vaitkunas said.

A birthday celebration for car 1300 is in the works for July and a kick-off party is being planned for early June. Visit www.trolleyride.org for updates.

Streetcar 1300 Timeline

1908 Nineteen cars, numbers 1291-1309, built in the Snelling Shops, St.Paul, March–May.

1908 Faster cars are ordered for a planned cut in the running time on the “Interurban” line (St.Paul-Minneapolis) that ran on University Avenue.

1928 Front exit door is installed to improve passenger flow but rear gates are retained. This resulted in the elimination of the separate motorman’s cab. Number 1300 retained its open rear platform with wire gates. Electric heaters are installed, replacing the coal-fired hot water heater.

1931 Rebuilt for one-man or two-man operations. Solid double-stream folding doors replaced the wire gates at the rear. Wider front platform steps with double-stream folding doors replaced the smaller single-stream folding door.

1934 Assigned to operate out of East Side Station making runs on the COMO- HARRIET and OAK-HARRIET lines until 1954.

1954 Assigned to the Uof M’s INTERCAMPUS SPECIAL line mid-February. Thus cars number 1300-1304 were the regular Intercampus cars until the end of operation June 18.

1954 Friday June 18, was the last full day of streetcar operation in Minneapolis. On Saturday, June 19th, a Minnesota Railfans Association fan trip was operated with car 1300 and 1775 over the Como-Harriet and Inter-Campus lines.

1954 Car 1300 was donated to the Minnesota Railfans Association, removed from the Snelling Station yard September 17, and hauled by a Milwaukee Road freight train to storage on a Minneapolis-Moline plant spur track in Hopkins. Occasional maintenance performed during this time.

1962 In August 1962 it was again moved, to
the Minnesota Transfer Railway roundhouse in St.Paul. Repairs were made at this time to the exterior body and to the interior that had deteriorated while in storage in Hopkins. A complete mechanical and electrical check-up was also done.

1963 Its first public operation since 1954 occurred on the Minnesota Transfer Railway in July (approximately where the Amtrak station is today).

1971 Moved to restored track at Lake Harriet and operation of the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line began.