Check out this great Youtube video by “DownieLive”, a brother and sister duo traveling through BC in search of rail history in this year of limited travel due to Covid. They really do our streetcar and volunteers proud!
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?
We’re ready to roll!
Okay folks… here’s the news you’ve been waiting for!
Our Start Date is Monday July 6
Hours of Operation: Monday to Friday 11 am to 2:30 pm Sat., Sun., Holidays 11 am to 4:30 pm
Fare by Donation or Annual Pass. No change given.
Annual Passes for Sale from Conductor Adult $25. Senior / 6-12 years $15. Family (max. 2 over 18) $50.
COVID-19 Precautions: • Maintain Social Distancing while waiting for streetcar • Bicycles, strollers, wagons, wheelchairs, etc. NOT accepted • Pets NOT accepted • Use provided Hand Sanitizer upon entry • Seats will be assigned. We are operating at 50% capacity (20 seats) • Children to remain seated. Sorry, no gong ringing.
May 7, 2020
The Nelson Electric Tramway Society has requested funds from Columbia Basin Trust Community Initiatives to help complete our substation upgrade and would appreciate your support in this matter. Click http://forms.ourtrust.org/cip-rdck-online-engagement-form/ and select “Area Nelson CIP”, choose “Nelson Electric Tramway Society” and leave a positive comment. You can do this every day for maximum exposure, thank you for your support!
Upon advice from Health Authorities, the Nelson Electric Tramway Society will delay the 2020 season opening. As much as we looked forward to offering our streetcar rides and visits to our museum, we recognize the important role everyone plays towards the overall safety in their community and region by practicing social distancing.
With the ever-changing conditions, we will monitor the situation on a day by day basis and look forward to announcing our official opening for the season when the time is right. In the meantime, our President, Jim Robertson, will respond to all inquiries as efficiently as possible. Please feel free to contact him at 250-352-7949 or check updates on our website or our Facebook page.
We thank you for your understanding and cooperation towards the health and safety of our community.
We at NETS are so grateful to our local Rotary Club for their generous donation to assist in enhancing the access to our museum. The Walt Laurie Memorial Museum is located at the Nelson Electric Tramway Society’s car barn in Lakeside Rotary Park and plans are in place to build a ramp for easier access for those who use a wheelchair or scooter.
Photo L – R: Streetcar volunteers Ed Stockerl, Dave McMichael, Al Walker, Terry Thompson, Rotary President Tom Roy, Tina Coletti (Walt Laurie’s daughter), Gary Shroeder, Bill Drake (in streetcar), Norm Facchina and NETS President Jim Robertson
Photo Credit to Michael Dill
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!