The Fort Smith Trolley Museum needs new recruits for hands-on restoration
It's something Fort Smith almost takes for granted, that this city has an operational streetcar line clicking daily down the tracks.
But hang around the boarding areas at the Fort Smith Museum of History or the Trolley Museum and get a different outlook: thousands of tourists yearly ride Car 224 in delight and wonder, recognizing how unique an experience it is to ride an authentic trolley. Some have traveled to Fort Smith specifically to ride the trolley.
Because of the dedication and leadership of the late Dr. Art Martin and his son, Bradley, and an extremely loyal and inventive corps of volunteers, one accurately restored streetcar has been on the line since 1991. It travels over tracks prepared by volunteers under power supplied by electric lines fabricated by, you guessed it, volunteers. And it is driven by volunteers.
One of those faithful trolley workers is Henry Moore, who, along with his sons, is on a second tour of trolley restoration. Moore is actively recruiting new help.
"Nearly all the people who worked on 224 are no longer with us," Moore said bluntly.
In the trolley barn, Moore said, there are four streetcars waiting in various conditions, two of which could be rolling relatively soon. Car No. 50 is tantalizingly near completion, with its interior and exterior almost fully restored with new windows and gleaming brass. The last step will be electrical work, Moore said.
Hot Springs Street Railway No. 50, its full historical name, is a handsome streetcar inside and out. Manufactured in 1904 by the St. Louis Car Co., it was acquired by the Trolley Museum in 1991 in very rough condition.
Also in the well-appointed shop is Car No. 9, an open streetcar used in Vera Cruz, Mexico, but similar to cars that once ran on the Fort Smith Light & Traction tracks. Although it looks a little rougher without its seats, Moore said it is at least halfway restored.
Two other cars of Fort Smith origin, Birney streetcars like the running No. 224 car, are restorable but in earlier stages of work.
"With help, we could have five cars on the street," Moore said.
So what does a volunteer do??According to Moore and Martin, there are many restoration tasks that require no special experience. Sanding, painting and refinishing wood or metal is a starting point for anyone who will put on a pair of work gloves and learn.
"When I started, I didn't know how to do anything," Moore recalled. Now, he is capable of assembling electrical components.
Welders, machinists and woodworkers would be dream volunteers. The museum is equipped with welding and woodworking shops.
Although Moore is very goal-oriented when talking about volunteer recruitment, he added that being a volunteer is also fun. "There's a lot of camaraderie," he said.
There are other ways to help at the Trolley Museum, which has a library in need of an archivist and landscaping to cultivate, Martin pointed out. Any adult also can train to be a trolley operator, driving Car 224 from the Trolley Museum on South 4th Street to the Museum of History and to Pendergraft Park at one end and the National Cemetery at the other.
See fstm.org for volunteer forms and more information.