The End of an Era… or is it?

Forty years ago Reid Henderson of the RDCK wrote to the City of Nelson that the body of streetcar #23 was available for sale, and wondered if there was interest in a restoration project. With a lot of help from the City of Nelson, the Chamber of Commerce, CP Rail, the Province of BC, West Kootenay Power (now Fortis BC) and many local businesses and individuals, over the next ten years the restoration of streetcar #23 was completed, the car barn built and tracks and electrical system installed.
Local dentist, Dr. Mike Culham, was involved almost from the beginning. He had a passion for trains and he was a natural choice for Chairman of the Restoration Committee. When this committee became Nelson Electric Tramway Society (NETS) in 1988, Mike became the Society’s inaugural President, a position he held for many years. Mike led the acquisition of the mechanical and electrical parts from around the world needed to make Streetcar 23 operational, the building of the tracks from Rotary Lakeside Park to the airport, building the car barn and recruiting and training volunteers, in short ensuring the success of NETS and creating such a delightful and interesting piece of working history right on our waterfront.
When operators pass their written and on-board tests, they are issued a number. Culham became Operator #1, meaning he was the first licensed operator to be qualified to operate the revived Streetcar 23 out of almost 200 volunteer drivers to date. He moved to Vancouver several years ago but still returned to Nelson every summer to operate the streetcar.
Sunday, August 16th, 2020 was Mike Culham’s last run. A group of dedicated NETS volunteers (including Reid Henderson, talk about full circle!) surprised Mike at the car barn at the end of his last shift, where he was presented with a piece of photographic art by Greg Osadchuk and donated by Jean Elliot, another long time volunteer and operator. Mike did say that he still might come back, so maybe this isn’t the end of an era after all?

Photo 1: Nelson Daily News, December 8, 1988
Photo 2: Superintendent Terry Thompson (l) and operator Jean Elliot (r) presenting Mike Culham with a thank you gift for his 35 years of service to the streetcar.

Lonnie Facchina Photo
Photo 3: some of the NETS volunteers on hand to celebrate Mike’s contribution to NETS at a surprise party at the end of his last shift.

Lonnie Facchina Photo