Looking to the Past to Meet Tomorrow's Transportation Needs
By Dean Glass
"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley" goes a popular Judy Garland song from the 1940s, and now a 1940s vintage trolley has been lovingly restored and put into service along San Diego's new Silver Line.
Streetcars, in the form of open-air coaches pulled by horses or mules that cost five cents to ride, were first used to transport San Diegans in 1886, with the first electric-powered cars coming the following year. However, it was not until sugar magnate John D. Spreckels' San Diego Electric Railway Company (SDERy) was founded in 1892 that trolleys played a larger role in the growth of San Diego by providing access to largely undeveloped areas, such as Mission Hills, North Park, Kensington, and East San Diego.
The SDERy became the first streetcar system in the United States to use the new streamlined Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) cars in 1936. The PCC was a design committee formed in 1929 representing the presidents of various electric street railways, which was tasked with producing a new type of streetcar that would help fend off competition from automobiles and busses. Ultimately, more than 5000 PCC cars were produced worldwide; in San Diego they were discontinued in 1949.
San Diego Vintage Trolley, Inc., a nonprofit subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transit System dedicated to restoring and operating historic streetcars in San Diego has acquired six 1940s PCC cars in varying states of disrepair from collectors and nearly six years later, thousands of volunteer hours, and $850,000 spent, they have restored Streetcar #529, a c.1946 PCC car originally built as #1716 and used in St. Louis, Missouri. The highly specialized restoration was performed by dozens of volunteers led by the San Diego Electric Railway Association, producing a fully functional trolley, upgraded with wheelchair lifts, modern propulsion and communications systems while retaining the charm and character of the original car.
Streetcar #529 began service on weekends and some holidays in September of 2011, introducing the new Silver Line, a downtown loop beginning at 12th and Imperial, which is strictly an excursion at this time but will be expanded when more PCCs are restored. If public support exists, all six restored trolleys will eventually run on the Silver Line, bringing both a sense of history and style from a bygone era to riders. The Vintage Trolley now operates from 10am-2pm Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11am-3:30pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information visit sdmts.com/vintagetrolley.asp.
Eight years ago, the above PCC was found as a rusted relic sitting neglected under pine trees in South Lake Tahoe. After six years of loving restoration by a team of volunteers, it is now in service on the Silver Line along the downtown loop.
SOHO encourages all to take a ride on the Silver Line!
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