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).
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!