Look into La Grande’s future, and you’ll see an attractive little bit of the past.
retro styling: Community Connection’s new wheeled trolley runs on gas but has a look that harks back to the days of electric streetcars. Observer photo/BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH
By next month, Community Connection, which oversees public transit in Union, Wallowa and Baker counties, will put a vehicle into service that runs on gas but harks back to the era of electric streetcars.
It’s a wheeled trolley, sporting a retro look inside and out. Frank Thomas, manager of Community Connection of Union County, plainly loves it and thinks others will too.“I think it’s beautiful,” Thomas said. “It’s unique, a great thing for La Grande. A lot of people will want to ride it.”
Thomas, considered the man responsible for making public transit a success in Union County, has been trying to land a trolley for Community Connection’s system for several years.
He accomplished the mission, finally, with a $90,000 Special Transportation Fund grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, plus sale of $37,000 in tax credits.
Community Connection bought the trolley from Schetky Northwest Sales Inc. of Portland. The vehicle arrived last week, but Thomas said there’s a lot of work to be done before it is ready for the road.
The trolley needs to be inspected and marked with signs and logos. Community Connection drivers will undergo special training to learn how to operate it.
“I hope to debut it in the Union County Fair parade. The first couple of days, rides will be free,” Thomas said. The fair this year is scheduled for July 29 to Aug. 1.
By most anybody’s standards, the trolley is a beauty. It features wooden flip seats and brass rails with leather straps for passengers to hang on to. On warm days, vinyl windows can be rolled up for an open-air ride.
While its look and feel is from the past, the vehicle is fully equipped with a two-way radio system, exterior and interior public address system, a passenger buzzer system with lighted “stop request” and many other modern features.
There’s a wheelchair platform to the back of the bus, and room to carry two wheelchair passengers at a time.
Thomas said the trolley gets about the same gas mileage as the 14-passenger buses now in use in La Grande.
The trolley, however, seats up to 30 passengers. That’s a big help, since the usual fixed route buses get crowded sometimes.
“We’ve had standing room only. It doesn’t happen every day, but it’s not unheard of,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the trolley will take the place of the shuttles on La Grande’s fixed route during the summer and fall months. It will not run in winter.
“I want it to be an icon,” he said. “When the trolley’s running, people will know it’s spring. When it’s not, they’ll know it’s winter.”