What do you get when you mix furniture making and boat building with mass transit?

red-carThis car was built by Gales Creek enterprises in the late 1980s.   I was working as the main guy in the shop, I believe my title was production manager.  There are so many stories I could tell about the cars, the company, the work, and the politics and history of mass transit, but I’ll try to keep it under 500 words.  At the time, we were importing trolley cars from cities around the world and either renovating them, junking them for parts, or building new replicas with the old parts serving as patterns.  Among our clients were the cities of New Orleans, San Francisco, and Old Spaghetti Factory restaurants.

We built 2 of these, the red car and the green car, and they were as authentically crafted as we could make them.  The roof bonnet and clerestory were constructed (like the originals) similar to a traditional canoe, but upside down, with mahogany strips covered with painted canvas to keep the rain out.  The oak and mahogany benches pivoted on a brass hinge to face the other way when the car got to end of the line.  That big brass handle is the brake.

As beautifully constructed as they were, they had an almost fatal flaw.  The client was the Indianapolis zoo, and they intended to pull the cars around the zoo with horses.  Well as it turned out, the required horse power was way more than intended.  The cars were too big, too heavy, and had seating for too many.  We did a quick about face, and were able to come up with a plan B.  We replaced chassis with an electric powered truck that handled the weight just fine, and resold them to a theme park in Pennsylvania where they are still in use today as the famous trolley of Mr. Rogers neighborhood.  Then we built some smaller lighter cars for the zoo.  Such is the nature of product development… it’s hard to get it right the first try.

 

 

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