The Phoenix Trolley project was started in 1975 when Carl Wickes, Dwight Vencill, and Larry Fleming, with others, purchased one of the last remaining original Phoenix streetcars. Car 116, along with several other cars, had been converted to use as a rental unit at the “Trolley Trailer Court” near 33rd Avenue and Lincoln Street. Fleming's group 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.
We tell the Phoenix streetcar story
• Engage the Community
• Offer interactive educational experiences
• Collect, preserve and showcase
Motorman Joseph N. Smith lived just a few doors down on Jefferson Street and gave me, at the age of six or seven, his old motorman's hat and badge. This act of kindness was in no small part responsible for my continuing interest in trolley cars and the Phoenix Street Railway
Lawrence James Fleming (1932-2013) was the “founding father” of the Arizona Street Railway Museum dba Phoenix Trolley Museum. Larry located and purchased car #116 which had been modified to serve as an apartment. He and two other Trolley buffs restored the car, which is available for you to enjoy at the Phoenix Trolley Museum today.
Larry opened the Phoenix Trolley Museum in the early 1980’s. The Museum has grown over the years with the addition of another original Phoenix street car #504, the mining locomotive, display boards and videos. Larry always put emphasis on school tours and tours for visiting guests.
Larry’s book, Ride A Mile And Smile The While: A History of the Phoenix Street Railway 1887 - 1948, was published in 1977. Read his personal experience with the Trolley on page 166-167! Enjoy the ride!