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El Reno, Oklahoma:
Heritage Express Trolley

Description

The city of El Reno (population about 15,000, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City) inaugurated its Heritage Express Trolley in August 2001, as a tool for promoting tourism. A single-track route of about 0.9 mile (1.5 km) connects the Canadian County Historical Museum, at the former Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad station, with the downtown shopping area along Bickford Avenue. This is not an electric operation, but instead uses propane gas for power.

Service is provided by a single double-ended car which was originally built by J. G. Brill in 1924. It started as car #60 of the Philadelphia & Western Railway, an electric interurban line which survives today as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's route 100 (the Norristown High Speed Line). It was the first of a group of eleven cars known among railfans as Strafford cars because they saw extensive use on the P&W's branch to Strafford. In 1931 it was rebuilt (along with its siblings) and renumbered to #165, and continued to operate on into the SEPTA era, finally being retired in 1986 at the age of 62. It was sold in 1991 to the Keokuk Junction Railway, which transported workers at the Keokuk Dam across the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois. After this line discontinued electric operation in the late 1990s, #165 was sold to El Reno, which had it converted from electric to propane power, and renumbered it to #145.

From 1911 to 1946, El Reno was the terminus of one of the Oklahoma Railway's electric interurban lines which radiated from Oklahoma City. (Local service within El Reno had begun in 1909.) Most of the tracks were removed after the line was abandoned, but a short remnant peeks through the asphalt on London Street near the former interurban station. That building, which also housed a hotel, still stands across the street from the museum.

One end of the line is a simple stub end at the carbarn, and the other end is a single-track loop around two downtown blocks. After going around this loop and starting back towards the carbarn, the operator stops in the middle of Bickford Avenue and moves to the other end of the car. He then goes around the loop again, in the same direction as before, before finally returning to the carbarn. This ensures that the car is always oriented in the same direction at the carbarn, makes the ride a little longer, and provides more opportunities for someone like me to take pictures from the sidewalk as the car passes. The track layout does not allow the car to go continously around the loop more than once, by the way.

During summer 2006, the Heritage Express Trolley ran on the following schedule. Times are departures from the Canadian County Historical Museum, with a total trip time of about a half hour. Tickets cost $3.00, and allowed four rides.

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Sat Sun
Closed 10:00 am 10:00 am  
  11:00 am  
12:30 pm 1:00 pm 1:00 pm
2:00 pm 2:00 pm 2:00 pm
  3:00 pm 3:00 pm
4:00 pm 4:00 pm 4:00 pm

For current information, you should e-mail the El Reno Convention and Visitors Bureau, as I did before my visit.

Pictures

These pictures were taken on a brief visit on 1 July 2006.

[picture] The carbarn is just large enough to accommodate the car.

[picture] The car has pulled out of the barn prior to its first run of the day at 10:00 am.

[picture] Shortly after leaving the station, the car rolls eastward along Watts Street, in a residential neighborhood.

[picture] A telephoto shot of the car coming north on Bickford Avenue towards downtown, with grain elevators looming in the distance.

[picture] A rear view of the car heading north on Bickford Avenue at Woodson Street in the heart of downtown.

[picture] Interior of the car.

[picture] The operator at the front control seat, at the right side of the front cab.

[picture] The engine sits on the front axle and can be accessed through a hatch in the floor of the front cab.

[picture] The Canadian County Historical Museum is housed in the former Rock Island railroad station. The carbarn is just past the station and beyond the right edge of the picture.

[picture] The building across the plaza and street in front of the museum once housed the Oklahoma Railway interurban terminal on the left, and a hotel on the right.

[picture] The museum displays an invitation to the dedication of the trolley on August 24, 2001. The picture shows the car going around the corner to the carbarn, with the old interurban terminal in the background.

[picture] A mural showing El Reno's trolleys through the years decorates a building downtown. The building shown in the mural is the interurban terminal and hotel seen in the previous two pictures.

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This page was last updated on 17 May 2007.


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