Celebrating the Phoenix Trolley System and our efforts to bring the former Museun to life.
Stories of the Phoenix Trolley Museum
The Phoenix Trolley Museum is fortunate to have a number of key volunteers that have kept the fires burning as we work to create a new museum facility. Without these people, PTM might well fade away.
Our volunteers can only go so far in revitalizing the museum without financial support from people like you. It’s your donations, large and small, that enable us to get through each year and close in on our goals.
One of the long time stalwarts of the Phoenix Trolley Museum, going back to the early days as it established itself south of the Ellis-Shackelford house, is Jim Yeager.
Jim recalls his Boy Scout Eagle Project was in service to the Museum, as he did some much needed landscaping to beautify the area. The Ellis-Shackelford house was then occupied by the Arizona Historical Society and the trolley (Car #116) was stored in a fenced lot beside the old Shackelford Dentist Office that sits to the south of the main house on Central Avenue. This was in the early 1980s and also at this time the Museum took possession of original Phoenix trolley track that was being removed from between 3rd and 4th streets. A few years later this track was used to build a 50-foot stretch of rail for the trolley car to rest upon. Eventually more rail was added and car #116 was able to move under its own power for 250 feet.
From his recollections we know that Phelps Dodge donated electric rail material that became the overhead wire, catenary equipment and the electric mining locomotive that is a part of the current collection. He points to a grand celebrations in 1999 as a new beginning of the museum when at the time Car #116 was running on its own electricity, exhibits had been completed and scores of visitors would drop by on weekends for Larry Fleming, the museum founder, to regale them with stories and video of what it was like to move around the city in a time when horse transportation was waning and the automobile had not quite made it into the mainstream of everyday life of shopping and getting to work on time.
With this background, Jim has been indispensable as a continuing advisor to the museum. He has continued to participate in committees to plan the new site and exhibits. Suffice it to say Jim Yeager has become the institutional memory of the museum, extolling the virtues of Larry, our founder; our Trolleys; and the lore that makes this part of Phoenix history so interesting. He is and will be a continuous source of information as we move forward on the adventure that is the revitalization the Phoenix Trolley Museum.
We hope you’ll remember the Phoenix Trolley Museum among the organizations you support at the end of 2018. and, we would be honored iy if you became one of those volunteers who rolls up their sleves to give us your time and talent to further our efforts.?
How did we come to have a Phoenix Trolley Museum?
Many have asked just how the
Phoenix Trolley Museum got its start.
The Phoenix Trolley project was started in 1975 when Lawrence Fleming, Carl Wickes, Dwight Vencill and others purchased one of the last remaining original Phoenix streetcars. Car 116, among others, had been converted to use as a rental unit at the “Trolley Trailer Court” near 33rd Avenue and Lincoln Street. They naturally took the car that was in the best condition with the most original parts.
The streetcar museum began in partnership with the Arizona Historical Society, which had its Phoenix headquarters in the historic Ellis-Shackelford House on Central Avenue at Culver Street. The Arizona Street Railway Museum, to be known as the Phoenix Trolley Museum, was incorporated in 1977. In the years to follow, the museum collected sections of the original Phoenix streetcar rails, as street reconstruction projects discovered them buried in the pavement. By 1986, a re-purposed hay shed was moved to the back of the Historical Society’s property to house the restoration of streetcar #116 and serve as the Car Barn. At various times, 116 was placed on rubber tire trucks and participated in parades and on display at Metrocenter and the State Fairgrounds.
In 1988, Phelps-Dodge Corporation donated a large quantity of vintage overhead hardware (needed to construct the wire “catenary” system) and an electric “calcine locomotive” from the decommissioning of the Douglas copper smelter. Restoration of Car 116 continued, using volunteer labor and largely financed with the generous assistance of the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation. In April of 1999, just over twenty years after founding of the museum, the exhibit was completed. A major celebration took place as car #116 moved under its own power on a section of reconstructed track.
The Museum’s founder, Larry Fleming, retired from the organization in 2005. Those who carried on with the museum decided to upgrade the restoration of Car 116 using parts that would place it at a historically accurate working height. The car could not be operated for several years while this work was underway.
In the middle of the modification project the land on which the museum resides was transferred from State ownership to that of the City of Phoenix. Downtown Phoenix was again in ascendance and there was a movement to redevelop Hance Park, which had been constructed next to the museum with the completion of I-10 in 1990. As City land, the Ellis-Shackelford property was a prime target for including in the new Hance Park master plan. The Museum’s days at its founding home were numbered, and its lease was terminated at the end of 2017
As PTM works to re-establish itself in the new location on Grand Avenue, we can look back at the foresight of the founding group and all of those who volunteered their time and donated the funds to make it possible – because if they had not saved Car 116, there would probably be no museum.
A new generation has taken up the torch to “tell the streetcar story” and to finally realize the vision of its founders – to once again have working historic streetcars in Phoenix. Won’t you join us in honoring this part of Phoenix history? Your donation will help make it possible.
The Trolley Trailer Court at 33rd Avenue and Lincoln in South Phoenix