by LAURA HAYES
The year is 1892.
After almost 10 years of horse-drawn streetcars rolling throughout Winona, it was announced that electric streetcars were on the horizon. On January 21, local and state officials boarded the first electric streetcar to take the inaugural ride west to Wagon Works on West Fifth Street from Slade Drug Store on Main and Third streets. While the ride to Wagon Works, which took all of 10 minutes and was deemed a success, the streetcar ran into problems when it tried to make the return trip. When it made its way to Center Street, one of the switches failed to operate and the local leaders couldn’t finish the trip.
The switch was repaired, and despite a less than stellar first ride, more than 9,000 Winonans rode the streetcars in the first 10 days. Streetcars flourished in Winona — by 1917, residents wouldn’t live more than a couple of blocks away from one of the streetcar stops and 15 streetcars ran the seven-and-a-half miles of tracks.
Here’s how they would work: a 13-foot trolley poll would conduct power from an overhead wire to the car’s motors. Two people were assigned to a car — a motorman who would drive the streetcar and a conductor that would collect the fares from the passengers and change the trolley when it would reach the end of the line. Compared to other transportation methods, a streetcar could travel eight to 15 miles per hours.
Winona had two lines: Main and Lake. The Main Line started near Jefferson Elementary School at Lee Street and ran east on Fifth Street to Johnson to Third to High Forest to Eighth and then to Center. Lake Line started near 10th and Dacota streets to Center to Third, and at one point this line crossed Lake Winona near Dacota to take passengers near Woodlawn Cemetery.
The streetcars were replaced in 1938 with nine buses with streetcar number 10 being the last. Some of the streetcars were sold to locals who placed the trolleys in their yards as a storage shed or summer cottage.
Number 10 was used as a summer home near Homer until 1999 when it was purchased by the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. Howie Melco has been leading the restoration process of the streetcar since its purchase. When Melco and the other restorers began to look at the streetcar, they began to find problems — the frame was pretty much gone, parts of the trolley had rusted, and they were missing pieces of hardware.
Melco said that when the streetcar was used as a summer house, the owners cut portions from the door. “The doors didn’t operate as streetcar doors,” Melco said. “We realized that the doors weren’t the right size.” They had to rebuild the doors, using drawings of how the doors were operated and the door rod from which they were cut.
After years of working on restoring Number 10, in late November, the streetcar ran for the first time in 78 years on its own power on the Excelsior Streetcar Line in Minneapolis. However, the work is not quite done. Melco said that they still have to put the floor into the streetcar and add the interior seats. The major hurtles are complete, he added.
“We didn’t have anything when we started,” Melco said. “We didn’t have seats. We had to find seats that were similar that could be copied.”
He assured that the seats will look similar to the seats that would’ve been in Number 10 when it ran the streets of Winona. Melco hopes that the project will be completed by either spring or summer. “It’s been a fun project,” Melco said.
Working in metro transit, Melco said that his background has helped in the process of restoring Number 10 to its former glory. “My favorite mode of transportation is public transportation,” he said. “They’re the best form of transportation. You don’t have to worry about accidents.”
He believes that this is important work and helps the public understand how transportation systems have progressed. “This will be the only streetcar of its type and size when it's restored,” Melco said.
The Minnesota Streetcar Museum is located at 2330 West 42nd Street, Minneapolis, Minn. Details on the trolley schedule can be found on the museum’s website at www.trolleyride.org.