Toonerville Trolley Recovered!

By: Roger Rabbit

Posted April 1st ;-)

We are pleased to announce that the Edmonton Radial Railway Society has finalized the donation of the real Toonerville Trolley – a working streetcar prop from the early days of cinema. We have received one of two prop trolleys made by the Betzwood Film Company  for its production of the Toonerville Trolley silent films from 1920 to 1922. Ours is the working model that ran under its own power (albeit from a gasoline engine).Image

Some of you may remember the Toonerville Folks/Toonerville Trolley comic strip that graced North American newspapers from 1908 to 1955. The comic was penned by Fontaine Fox and followed the antics of the residents of Toonerville (a rural area on the fringes of the city) and especially the antics of the Trolley and its Skipper. Fox got the idea for the comic during a trip to Westchester County in New York where he saw a practically derelict streetcar pull up to the station. It was driven by a motorman with (what would become) the Skipper’s signature beard. Though largely forgotten today, this comic strip was wildly popular during its run and for a number of years afterwards. It spun off into children’s toys, books, cartoon shorts and live action films.

The Betzwood Film Company  operated out of Pennsylvania and shut down not long after its popular Toonerville Trolley film series came to an end. Our Society president, Chris Ashdown, noted that “everybody thought the streetcar had been scrapped but actually it had been shipped north to Saskatchewan after decaying in a farmer’s field near the old Betzwood studio. It had been bought by the E.D. Valiant Film Company that operated its studio in a compound surrounded by farmland near Lisieux. It really wasn’t that different from the Betzwood outfit. They planned to film using nearby railway trackage just like Betzwood did.”

The E.D. Valiant Film Company had planned to use the trolley in its own unlicensed “Sunnyville Streetcar” films. Unfortunately for Valiant, the company went bankrupt in 1928 after making only one movie, an unlicensed silent version of “The Jazz Singer.”  After that, the Toonerville Trolley was used as a tool shed in Lisieux for a few years and then sat under tarps behind a house there.

The Edmonton Radial Railway Society learned of the streetcar last summer when one of its members got lost during a road-trip to Saskatchewan and saw what appeared to be a single-truck streetcar under a tarp. We planned to move the Trolley to Edmonton this summer but with the demolition of the town of Lisieux (due to virtual abandonment and unsafe conditions) the move was done early.

The Toonerville Trolley was never intended for passenger service. It would be unsafe anyway, due to the fact that it is built to pivot back and forth on its undersized truck as it moves along the tracks. So, we have decided to use it in specialized charter service. Each passenger will need to provide a Doctor’s note proving their health and to sign a waiver before riding the Trolley across the High Level Bridge.

Considering how small the Trolley is and its relatively good condition, we have set a goal to restore it to operating condition in exactly one year. Our deadline is April 1st, 2015.

Wish us luck!

xRegina 8: A Primer for Moving Streetcar Bodies, part 1

xRegina 8: A Primer for Moving Streetcar Bodies, part 1

“When Streetcars Take Flight”

By Dave Keeso

Join the ERRS today to read an exclusive version of this article, complete with over 20 photographs, in the October 2013 online issue of “The Trip Sheet”. 

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On the afternoon of May 31, 2013 Chris Ashdown, Don Scafe, Bill Keith and I set out for Regina SK to retrieve a  100 year old xRegina Municipal Railway carbody to add to the ERRS collection. Before continuing with this tale we need to back up a month. The moving of xRegina 8 was a much-discussed topic since the start of the year. From the time when it was proposed, I was very interested in being a part of the move, and in a short time, had taken over the project co-ordination. After much discussion and much e-mail we decided on a date and the real work began.

Moving a streetcar is one thing but getting it from Regina SK to Edmonton AB was a journey to say the least. To start, we knew that our carbody was sitting in the backyard of a house in a residential area and that meant it had to be picked up and removed. After some persistent phone calls to various crane companies I settled on a big outfit that was well known. Mammoet is a worldwide specialist in heavy lifting and right away I knew it was the company for the job. Next, was finding a way to get the carbody from Regina back to Edmonton. I found out some information about past moves and was told to try Dynamic Transport Ltd. in Edmonton. After several phone calls, pictures and some other discussion, Dynamic agreed to the job, and very generously I may add, made special arrangements to “dead-head” to Regina just for us. With all arrangements made, checked, double-checked and checked again, we set off for our mission.

The big day in Regina started off with a front-page article about the carbody leaving Regina and the Edmonton Radial Railway Society taking it back to Edmonton. We pulled up in the alley behind the house where the carbody was at 09:00. There we met the previous owners, talked about our plan and began to get the carbody ready for transport. For this we turned to Bill Keith, our resident streetcar moving expert and master of ropes and knots. We had planned on hoarding the car with cardboard before covering it with tarpaulins for transport. The four of us had a safety meeting to go over our plan. Before we had finished our safety meeting I received a call from the crane crew. They were around the corner and wanted to get started on their set up. Within 15 minutes of that call, our driver from Dynamic Transport called and said he was almost there too. Our crew, our driver and the crane crew of had a safety meeting, went over the plan for the morning, and within what seemed like minutes, the boom of the crane was extending up and over the yard.

Our team continued preparing the car by covering the front windows with Masonite, spreading cardboard over the roof as cushioning under the tarpaulins then wrapping the carbody in tarpaulins. By 10:30 the rigging was suspended over the roof of the car from the crane and the crane crew got busy getting their spreader bars hooked up and ready. By this time we had quite an audience gathered in the laneway and street wondering why there was a 90 tonne crane reaching up over the trees and into a yard. All their questions soon would be answered.

At 11:00 we were told that the Mammoet crew was ready to start taking the slack out of the hoist cable and free the carbody from its base. The area was roped off, one last safety meeting was held, Don Scafe made sure his cameras had film, and we all got out of the yard and got ready. At 11:12 there was a long blast from the crane’s horn as the car started to rise from its prior home. Inch by inch, up it went, the crane crew checking everything as it was lifted and within a few minutes, the carbody was flying over the yard and over an eight foot high fence, between two trees and over into the laneway where the truck and trailer were sitting waiting to be loaded. With pinpoint precision, our crane operator set the carbody down on the trailer.

After the carbody was set down on the trailer our driver from Dynamic Transport started the big job of getting his load secured for the journey back to Edmonton. The carbody was strapped and chained down and when our driver was satisfied with the load he set off leaving the end of the alley at 13:00.

Our 100-year-old carbody was once again on the move on Regina streets, not on rails but moving nonetheless.

The ERRS group could breathe a sigh of relief.

Part one was done and part two was in progress. It was time to head back to Edmonton, so after cleaning up our equipment and taking our leave of the kind couple who had donated xRegina 8, we set off for our journey home.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article or read it today in the October 2013 online issue of “The Trip Sheet”…