Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Riding the Trolley Rails

    My dad often talks of riding the trolleys as a ten-year-old boy in Milwaukee. He'd hop on and ride the full route just for fun. Sitting in the back in the conductor's seat, he'd lightly ring the bell, not loud enough for the conductor to hear from his post up front. I have a hard time imagining a young boy being allowed to roam a big city like Milwaukee and its environs. The 1940s were a different time though, but that's another story.

    The street railways began replacing horse car lines after electric motor technology was perfected in the late 1800s. Ridership boomed almost overnight and led to the commuter lifestyle. Rails extended beyond the city limits, allowing the development of suburbs.
    The trolleys expanded their warm weather business by building amusement parks on their lines. Before cars were available to the general public, people took trolley excursions to the parks like New York's Coney Island.

Plush seats, overhead lamps, and arched doorways offer an elegant touch. When the trolley came to the end of the line, the conductor walked through the car, flipping the seats back so they faced forward for the return trip.

    Over 100,000 people were employed by the street rail industry by the time of World War I, making it the fifth largest industry in the States. As cars and buses became plentiful, however, the trolleys saw their business decline. World War II brought a reprieve for those lines still in business. Americans again turned to public transportation with the rationing of tires and gas, and the unavailability of new cars as factories switched to war production.
    The war ended and with it, the trolley's new life. New cars were once again available, and folks wanted the freedom to travel when and where they desired, unrestricted by the trolley schedules.

Advertisements that are now vintage remain on the walls above the windows.

     In southeast Wisconsin, six miles of track remain of a 500-mile system. The East Troy Railroad, operated by volunteers, offers rides clickity-clacking along at twenty-five miles an hour. Now the conductor invites young riders to give two rings to the bell before leaving the station. This fall I took a ride on a trolley car built in 1924. It was just like what my dad used to ride.

Welcome aboard!


  1. Now I'll have the trolley song from "Meet Me in Saint Louis" in my head for the rest of the night. Love it!

  2. These are the type of museums I love - interactive, moving museums. What a great time.

  3. This sounds like a great time! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love this article and it reminds me of stories my mom would tell me of riding the trolley in Chicago. And I'd like visiting this museum too!