by Sarah Squires
The city's Comprehensive Plan looks ahead to the future with a vision of a downtown equipped with brick walkways, trolleys wheeling people to their destinations, a revamped Levee Park attracting young and old to the river.
And part of that vision is about to come true, not on the city's dime, but through a private venture aimed at attracting visitors and residents to the Wilkie and other attractions, a venture aimed at making downtown Winona a little more fun.
Don Trester just bought a trolley.
Trester, who is the construction advisor for the Julius C. Wilkie Paddleboat, Inc., hopes the trolley will add life and interest to the Wilkie boat.
The motorized red trolley bus is currently resting in a large garage in Goodview provided by Knitcraft, and will have an entirely new engine and transmission installed over the next month. Within that month, Trester expects it to be up and running, and he and his crew of local volunteers will begin totally refinishing the inside and outside.
The 27-seat trolley is a 1996 Barth Trolley, featuring a Ford body and engine. It has air conditioning and heat, and its side panels can be removed to make an open-air ride in the summer months.
It might be a Barth vehicle, but Trester's got another name for the red retro bus. "I'm going to call it the Wilkie Trolley," he said.
Featuring a loud bell on its roof to let folks know it's coming ‘round the bend, Trester said that he expects to run the bus for free, circling the downtown every couple of hours. "And we can take them anywhere they want to go," he said.
Along with its regular route, Trester said the trolley could be used for wedding and birthday parties at the Wilkie. He said that he expects it to help revitalize downtown, and be an aid to merchants, too.
"I just thought that, the [merchants and downtown committees have] been thinking of ways to get people downtown," he said. "We should have a good thing going; I think we can help the people downtown and the everyday shopper."
The trolley came used from a private party in Albertville, Minn., but Trester said that once the repairs are done, it will be like new. He will have not only the engine replaced, but will refinish the inside and out.
Trester expects all the repair work to be done by early June, just in time for the Dakota Homecoming celebration.
Since the word hit the streets on Trester's newest endeavor, he said he's gotten a lot of inquiries about what licensing is needed to drive it. He said he shouldn't have too much trouble finding drivers to help him out.
Julius C. Wilkie Paddleboat, Inc.: Saving the Wilkie
The Paddleboat group met with the City Council in late November, intent on saving the boat from the possibility of the structure being removed from Levee Park. It is currently shut down due to structural concerns, and the group is formulating plans to repair and operate the steamboat attraction.
While the city waits to gain legal ownership of the Wilkie, the Paddleboat group has been meeting with City Council members Deb Salyards, Gerry Krage and Tim Breza, hoping to show the city committee that they have what it takes to make the Wilkie an attraction that can support itself, draw visitors to Winona, and survive. The committee will then make a recommendation to the full council in early March, when the Paddleboat group unveils its full operations, repairs and maintenance plans.
Trester is in charge of the repairs to the boat, and says that the group's intent is to first get the boat safe for visitors, and then move forward with aesthetic repairs. He also has a lot of volunteer labor rounded up to help defray the costs of fixing the boat, and is waiting for the go-ahead from the city to get moving. If the city grants the group's request to start repairs, they expect to have the boat open by September. And, to trolley people to and fro.
"When I get done with the Wilkie, it'll be like new," said Trester.
To find out more about the Julius C. Wilkie Paddleboat, Inc. and ways you can help, visit winonapost.com and search "Wilkie steams ahead."