Charlotte Trolley is home to Car #85, Charlotte’s only original electric trolley car still in operation. Here is its story! After buses replaced streetcars, most cars were simply scrapped. But in 1987, two Mecklenburg County planning staff employees discovered what turned out to be Car #85 in Huntersville.
Car #85, one of eight similar double-truck, arch-roof cars, was built in the Dilworth Trolley Barn in 1927, and continued in service until March, 1938. In 1938, the streetcar was stripped of its seats and its mechanical equipment and sold to the Air National Guard, which used it at the airport as an office. A year later, the car was moved to a location near Huntersville, where it served as a diner and concession stand during the 1940’s, in an area often inhabited by gypsies.
Then, sometime around 1951, Daisy Mae Trapp Moore of Huntersville bought the streetcar, paying approximately $125 - $150 for it. Mrs. Moore originally used the streetcar as housing for some relatives who were down on their luck, and Mrs. Moore's brothers, who were carpenters, renovated the inside of the streetcar to make it into a three-room residence. When the streetcar was found in 1987, it was still being used by Mrs. Moore as a rental property, and its current resident had lived there for over 15 years. Shortly before the streetcar was found, the county had condemned it because it had no indoor plumbing.
In April, 1988 Mrs. Moore sold the streetcar to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Properties Commission for $1000. A local trucking company donated its services and transported the streetcar on a flatbed truck to Charlotte in May of that year.
Interestingly, Streetcar #85 was the centerpiece of a "Good-bye To Trolleys" celebration at the square on March 14, 1938, and was, therefore, the last streetcar to operate in Charlotte.
Asheville Trolley Car #117 was manufactured in 1927 by the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia and is commonly known as a "Birney Safety Car." In the fall of that year, the Carolina Power & Light Company purchased ten of these cars to operate on the streets of Asheville, North Carolina.
With its mahogany wood interior and windows, solid brass window casings and hardwood floors, Car 117 was considered a top-of-the-line trolley in its day. In addition, it had the distinction of being the longest single truck trolley car to operate in the United States. Its short wheel base and long car body allowed it to navigate the tight turns in Asheville's Pack Square while carrying large numbers of passengers throughout the rest of the city. Unfortunately, the design resulted in a fairly rough ride that was not very popular with the adults but enjoyed tremendously by children due to its merry-go-round-like bouncing motion.
The "Birneys" were also the first electric streetcars to operate using the more economical signal motorman rather than the traditional team of motorman and conductor found on most early cars. Streetcars similar to this design operated in the Plaza Road area of Charlotte in the 1920s and 1930s, with one being affectionately known as "The Little Red Rocking Horse" due to her bouncy ride and bright red color. Car #117 was painted in the bright yellow paint scheme of CP&L, and the original paint can still be seen upon close inspection of the trolley.
Car #117 continued to serve Asheville passengers until bus service replaced trolley service on September 16, 1934. Shortly after service ended, Car #117 was stripped of all seats, motor controls and running gear and sold as scrap. A Mr. Fortune of Asheville purchased 15 to 20 streetcars from CP&L, including Car #117, and used them as a motor court near Hendersonville Road. Blue Ridge Parkway vacationers in the 1940s may recall spending a summer night in one of these converted trolley cabins. Car #117’s history from the 1950s to present is somewhat cloudy, but eventually it was moved to Brevard, N.C., where a home was built around it. Mr. Claude Galloway lived there for many years until the property was sold in 1996. The streetcar was then rediscovered by Mr. Fred Sader, who in turn notified Charlotte Trolley of her existence. CTI immediately contacted the new owner, Mr. Darrell Hooper, who generously donated the trolley to our museum. In the summer of 1997 a Charlotte Trolley volunteer group headed by Charlie Garrison and Joe Furr dismantled the home to remove Car #117. The car was then loaded onto a truck and driven to its new home at the Charlotte Trolley Car Barn.
Car #117 is in storage, awaiting restoration.
The so-called "little red car" has a fascinating history.
The town of Piraeus, Greece, the port city of Athens, ordered a number of streetcars that were built by the United Electric Car Company of Preston, England, for Siemens Electrical Equipment, a German contractor, in the years just before the outbreak of World War One. The car now in Charlotte was Streetcar Number 60. It arrived in Piraeus in 1914. Number 60 was a semi-convertible car designed for hot weather. It rolled along the streets of Piraeus, hauling passengers to work, home, and play, until 1960, when Piraeus town transit ceased operations. Number 60 was then converted into a track maintenance car for the interurban line that ran from Piraeus to Athens. The end platforms were shortened and enclosed, and the bench seats were removed. In 1977, the Athens Metro Subway System bought Number 60 and used it for maintenance work until the early 1980s.
Charlotte Trolley first learned about Number 60 in 1985. Dr. Dan Morrill of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, who was trying to return streetcars to the streets of Charlotte, arranged with Carley Capital Group of Charlotte to buy a streetcar, restore it, and bring it to Charlotte if Morrill could locate one. Dr. Morrill learned that Car #60 was sitting on a rail siding in Athens, Greece. After two trips to Greece and a lot of negotiating, Carley Capital Group purchased Number 60 and brought it by ship to New York City. It was then transported by truck to Rail Technical Services in Guilford, Connecticut, where it was cosmetically restored. Moss Trucking Co. hauled Number 60 to Charlotte in 1989, where it was purchased by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
The streetcar was painted red and christened Number 1, because it was the first restored trolley in the Charlotte fleet. Between 1989 and 1993, the "little red car" was the symbol of the effort to establish vintage streetcar service in Charlotte. Moss Trucking Co. hauled it to events all over town. It went to the Southern Christmas Show. It went to Fourth Ward during the Christmas tour of homes. It even went to Freedom Park for Earth Day.