‘Jolly’ gone from Manitou trolleys
3-year grant ends; old Incline-seat buses languish in field
Last issue of the Westside Pioneer talked about volunteer efforts to bring back the electric trolley cars. This issue asks what
happened to the motorized trolley buses that used to be regular summer attractions.
Where did the trolley buses go?
During the past three summers, historic-style Springs Transit “trolley” buses ran daily routes between Manitou Springs and the Westside's Bancroft Park, picking up tourists and locals and swinging through part of the Garden of the Gods. But with their grant money gone this year, so were the trolleys, and no new funds are on the horizon.
As for their predecessors, the Manitou-owned, locally refurbished, open-air, “jolly trolleys” that ran most of the time from the early '80s to 2000, that future is pretty bleak as well. Put in storage when the Springs Transit buses went on line, the Manitou trolleys - customized with the oaken seats and ceiling supports from former Manitou Incline cars - have been sitting for more than two years in a weedy field behind the city Public Services buildings. Although they still run, Public Services Director Kelly McMinn said they are far from being roadworthy enough to carry passengers and are not benefitting from being out in the weather.
According to Manitou Springs City Administrator Fred Burmont, the Springs Transit trolleys were funded by a Federal Highways Administra-tion grant that expired after 2003. Manitou had been paying $48,000 a year, which covered 20 percent of the cost.
“We would have loved to continue it,” Burmont said, adding that with no charge to passengers, the service was “popular and had good ridership.”
The Manitou Springs City Council looked at ways to fund the trolleys during budget sessions last year before deciding the full cost ($140,000) was unaffordable, he said.
The trolleys (there were two) and drivers had been provided by Springs Transit, the regional bus agency. According to a Springs Transit spokesperson, the trolleys have already been sold.
The Manitou trolleys, called “jolly trolleys” by early program proponent Bill Copp, grew out of a volunteer civic effort. According to Morris Deul, a Manitou resident who was involved then and helped with the buses' most recent renovation in the mid/late '90s, the vehicles were made by matching the Incline seats with chassis from Sno-White laundry trucks on the Westside.
Supported by rider fares, donations and ads (placards around the sides of the cars), the buses for years were driven by volunteer drivers who regaled riders with historic and geographic information as they rode along. Some years the route stayed in Manitou and Garden of the Gods; other years it also took in parts of the Westside and Old Colorado City.
But insurance costs for volunteer drivers became unmanageable, Deul said. So the city took over the service, hiring school bus drivers whose insurance could be absorbed within the city's policy.
When the vehicles started getting dowdy, Deul and fellow Manitouan Charlie Sarner took on the upgrade task, chiefly as volunteers. They refinished all the woodwork, replaced the plywood floors, and installed new canvas roofs. In addition, some mechanical work was done. In their honor, the cars were given names, which still appear above their windshields - “Morris” and “Charlie.”
Paying much of this cost (about $5,000) was the Garden of the Gods Trading Post, which benefitted from the old trolleys because they were a stop on the route, explained Trading Post Manager Tim Haas.
However, by the end of 2000, major mechanical problems had cropped up. McMinn remembers Public Services workers getting called out numerous times - sometimes on overtime - when the buses would break down. Brakes were a big problem, because of the constant stopping/slowing the routes require. Summing up the city's and Trading Post's concerns, Haas said, “It was not in our best interest to keep them afloat.”
Around that same time, the city won a three-year grant for the trolleys in conjunction with Springs Transit, starting in summer 2001. They were different from the jolly trolleys. Although Burmont termed them “quaint like trolleys,” these new units were more like buses - enclosed, and with drivers who did not double as tour guides.
“They were nice, but it wasn't the same feel,” Haas said. “I don't think a lot of visitors rode it. They weren't aware of it. The ridership was quoted as 50,000, but I think it was the same 25 people every day.”
Meanwhile, no longer needed, the two old trolleys went into storage inside a Public Services building. But after several months, the city department got tight on storage space. McMinn, a Public Services employee but not yet department head, said that a decision was made within the department at that time to solve the space problem by moving the trolleys outdoors.
At first they were protected by tarps. But “over the years, the tarps rotted away,” he said. “So they're out in the weather.”
The trolleys' field is ringed by locked fencing in the rear yard of the Public Services Building at 101 Banks Place. There is no evidence of vandalism. The roofs and bodies appear to be in good shape, although the wood is showing signs of drying.
A few small parts (two blinkers and a mirror) have been removed from the trolleys to use on Public Services vehicles.
“Somebody needs to decide, 'Do we want to keep these things?'” McMinn said. “One thing we could do is build a pole barn for them. That would be better than spending a fortune on tarps.”
Deul said he was disappointed to hear that the buses he helped rebuild are sitting out in the open. With the Springs Transit trolleys gone, he's suggested to City Manager Fred Burmont that the city consider seeking private help in bringing the old ones back.
Haas isn't sure he favors that idea (especially knowing the Trading Post would most likely be asked to chip in again). “There's a contingent of people who think they're a wonderful historic treasure,” Haas said. “But from a safety standpoint, to get them back in service we would need to dump a whole lot of money into them and rebuild them from the ground up.”
Nevertheless, such a renovation would probably be less expensive than finding newer units, Deul said. A budget-saving possibility he proposed would be to purchase later-model trucks and install the Incline seats on them.
Unfortunately, Deul said, Burmont is not likely to take action on the matter because he is resigning, effective in September. And, so far, no City Council member has stepped forward as an advocate for the ancient rigs' return.
“We just have to cross our fingers and hope they get back on the road again,” Deul said.
Westside Pioneer Article