I’ve been running trains and trolleys since 1987, starting with volunteering at the Orange Empire Railway Museum (OERM) in Perris, California. My original intent was to volunteer on the steam crew but the guy in charge at the time wasn’t particularly friendly. I found that the trolley folks over there were very welcoming and I got hooked on the “juice”! At the time, I was the youngest qualified Motorman on the roster and ran various streetcars, interurbans, and locomotives.
Orange Empire has quite a collection of railroad rolling stock and traction. Most of the electric cars came from the Pacific Electric and the Los Angeles Railway and can be seen in many of the classic movies made back in the day.
In 1990, I went to work for Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, as a Fireman/Engineer on their “Ghost Town & Calico” Railroad and ran and fired their two narrow gauge steam locomotives that came off the Denver & Rio Grande Western and Rio Grande Southern railroads. I also ran Galloping Goose #3.
In 1993, I went to work for the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona as a Hostler/Mechanic where I worked on their steam and diesels locomotives. I did the fire-ups in the morning, shut-downs & servicing at the end of the days and ran the engines for switching out the cars. Added to this was the day-to-day inspections and repairs of the locomotives for their daily runs.
Finally, in 1996, I hired out with the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) in Pasco, Washington, as a Trainman and then took my Engineer promotion in 1997 and worked for them until 2014, with most of my service with them working out of Spokane, Washington.
During my career on the BNSF, I was really missing running the steam locomotives and trollies and was considering volunteering again. I rejoined Orange Empire and got requalified on a number of the electric cars, of which I would fly down to California on vacation time to visit family and friends and spend some time twisting controllers.
In early July, 2014, My wife and I took our 3 daughters and a French foreign exchange student we were sponsoring on a road trip to Lake Louis and Banff. When we got to Cranbrook, BC, we were told that Canada was burning down and that the road to Banff was closed. I had heard about the streetcar in Nelson before and had also did a couple training runs as an engineer with BNSF on the “Nelson Turn” (which terminated in Salmo, BC) in 1997 so I was curious about Nelson. When we drove across “BOB”, I noticed the wires at Lakeside and had to ride the car. I went into the carbarn after riding and met Terry Thompson and Jim Robertson and joined on the spot. After telling Terry about my previous experience, he let me run the car to the Mall parking lot going out and from the Mall parking lot to the barn coming back. I was definitely hooked and made arrangements to take the class a couple weeks later. Unfortunately, I missed the class because I was in the ER at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane because of a windstorm that blew a 110′ tall pine tree onto my car which sent a branch through the windshield that severed off my left forearm and completely impaled me through the right hip. So, for the next two years, I was laid up. I took the Early Job Disability Railroad Retirement with the railroad as I realized that I was in no condition to go back to the BNSF. Railroading in one form or another is my passion so I figured that I still can volunteer on a limited basis and NETS (Nelson Electric Tramway Society) and OERM is a good place to try. In the Winter of 2015, I went down to OERM and got back into running the streetcars. I was able to figure out how to run the cars with my prosthetic arm and bum leg and this gave me further confidence in my recovery.
In June, 2016, I managed to get back into the game with NETS and got qualified to run Car #23 and have been doing this since. I do NETS in the Summer and OERM in the Winter. I find Nelson to be a very pleasant town and my Canadian neighbors to be very friendly. Many kids ask me about my hook and I love to tell them that I’m a pirate who lost his pirate ship but now has a pirate trolley! Adults will often ask how I lost my arm and I tell them the true story of what happened and how I bounced back from the threshold of death to enjoying life again. One just can’t let bad things get him down… if you get a load of lemons, make lemonade! I’m making new friends at NETS and enjoy working with each one that I encounter along with hearing their Life stories. The drive from my home in Chattaroy, WA, to Nelson, BC, takes almost 3 hours but it’s a beautiful drive and really no big deal. It’s actually a good “getaway” destination for a couple days twice a month during the season.
Do you have neat stuff kicking around in your basement? The kids don’t want it and it’s too good to throw away? The Nelson Electric Tramway Society will consider donations of local memorabilia, preferably transportation-related. We also always are on the lookout for tools that we can use to keep our 113-year-old #23 operational! We’d really love a metal lathe with a minimum 6′ bed!!!
Pictured below are Denis Helbecque with his Dad’s old “Flexible Flyer” and Norm Facchina with his childhood tricyle. Both are on display in our streetcar museum at Lakeside Rotary Park. Big thanks to Norm and Denis for all the neat stuff they donated to the streetcar.
On Sunday, July 14, 2019, history was made in Nelson when, for the first time EVER, the streetcar was manned (hahahaha) by an all-woman team!! Pictured are Colleen and Lelainya, who drove the tram that day, and Lonnie was our museum volunteer!
September 6/19: The Mainland family, Kat (seated), and her parents Syd and Sandra from Australia enjoyed a ride on the streetcar and then toured our museum on a rainy Friday afternoon.
At this moment in the photo, #400 is awaiting a replacement part, so drivers and trainers got an unscheduled break, but it was an exciting day (Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019) when our regular trolley – #23 – was in the shop for repairs and we ran this sweet little Birney car ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birney) all day instead.
Check out the Walt Laurie Memorial Museum at Lakeside Rotary Park (between the soccer fields and the tennis courts, right next to the Nelson Rowing Club building) between noon and three pm every weekday while the streetcar is operational. Not only will you be able to get a close look at #400, we also have memorabilia, streetcar-related tools and equipment, souvenirs and there’s always wonderful volunteers available to tell you all about it!
Last year the Nelson and District Credit Union (NDCU) and the Nelson Electric Tramway Society (NETS) reached a goal they didn’t think was possible, they have given free rides on Canada Day to over 10,000 guests. That’s close to the population of Nelson. No they didn’t do it in one day this was the result of 7 years of a partnership that has grown every year.
Back in 2012 NDCU sponsored Streetcar#23 to provide free rides to passengers on Canada Day. Since that time the crew at NETS have been growing their Canada Day Event with increased hours of operation, 9am to 9pm, a once a year only schedule to help take people to lakeside and back for the days festivities. NETS also created a museum of local transportation heritage and on Canada they open up the entire museum and barn with special displays and tours.
“Ever since NDCU sponsored free rides on Canada Day, we took it as a challenge to make this event better every year. The first thing we did was extend our Hours that Day from 9am to 9pm to coincide with the days activities.” Says Jim Robertson of NETS, “We also open up the entire barn and create a once in a lifetime display that changes every year.”
The NETS is a volunteer run organization that maintains and runs StreetCar#23 and the Trolley Barn Museum. They are open to people getting involved so come visit them this Canada Day at Lakeside Park.
To help make our Canada Day Community event even more spectacular the NDCU has again sponsored free rides on Streetcar#23 from 9am to 9pm and during the day the Trolley Barn Museum will be open for tours and talks.
The tracks are clean, the drivers are trained and we are ready for the 2019 Season and although we are ready, we could still use your help. Drivers, Museum Staff, Maintenance and Development all could use your help. If you would like to learn more about getting involved drop on by the Trolley Barn in Lakeside park on Tuesday or Thursday to say hi to the crew. We look forward to seeing you on the rails.
Thank you everyone for your support this 2018 season but we are now closed. We will be opening again in 2019 and are always on the look for volunteers.
Have a pleasant and safe winter season and we will see you when spring returns.
July 1st 2018 Nelson BC – The Nelson and District Credit Union continue their wonderful tradition of donating the fares for the entire day of July 1st so everyone can ride Streetcar #23 for Free on Canada Day. Along with the Trolley rides the Nelson
Electric Tramway Society (NETS) will have fun activities, historical information and Trolley Barn Museum tour.
NETS have been seasonally operating the original Nelson trolley, Streetcar #23, on a symbolic route along Kootenay Lake’s majestic waterfront for over 25 years. The society is completely run by volunteers from maintenance, to engineering to conducting and driving. This social enterprise strives to be self-sufficient, but costs of running a 110-year-old trolley can add up. That is why NETS is extremely excited about the Canada Day partnership they have with the Nelson and District Credit Union (NDCU) to pay the fares for all riders on July 1st.
The NDCU recognize the significance of having StreetCar#23 as an attraction in Nelson. It provides another reason for people to visit this beautiful region; it is a destination experience for enthusiasts and fun activity for the entire family. NETS also provide volunteer opportunities for people to stay active and contribute to the continuing growth and beauty of the community.
This could not be done without the assistance from the local community and specifically the Nelson and District Credit Union who have been a big supporter and continue their tradition by paying all the fares for July 1st so everyone rides for free on Canada Day. “We are very lucky to have the NDCU helping us, it is with contributions from local organizations that help keep the Trolley alive and we really appreciate the continued support the Credit Union provides.” Says Chris Holland Motorman #106.
If you would like find out more or become a member of the Nelson Electric Tramway Society drop by the Trolley Barn Museum next to the soccer fields on July 1st. You can also reach them at 250.352.7672 or www.Nelsonstreetcar.org .