Restoring a Saskatoon streetcar

By February 20, 2020 Features

By Michael P. J. Kennedy, Saskatchewan Railroad Historical Association

Since its founding in 1987, the Saskatchewan Railroad Historical Association (SRHA) has had as part of its mandate the collection, preservation, restoration/reconstruction, and display and interpretation of street railway equipment and artifacts. To that end, SRHA and its Streetcar Committee have secured three streetcars which operated on the Saskatoon  Municipal Railway (SMR), precursor to today’s Saskatoon Transit System.

STREETCARS IN SASKATCHEWAN:

The Canadian province of Saskatchewan’s capital city, Regina, was the first Saskatchewan city to establish an electric-powered transportation system on 28 July 1911 which lasted until September 1950. Moose Jaw soon followed with its own overhead electric-powered trams in August of 1911, but that street railway only existed until October 1932 (See Colin Hatcher’s Saskatchewan’s Pioneer Streetcars and Bill and Ann Heselton’s Not to Exceed 10 Miles Per Hour: The Story of Moose Jaw’s Electric Railway).

In 1911, the city of Saskatoon granted a franchise to build a hydro-electric plant and  street railway to a British company which walked away from the agreement the next year. In 1912 city council decided to build its own street railway and hired a Boston company (Stone and Webster)  to design and construct it (See Easten Wayman’s Saskatoon’s Electric Transit: The Story of Saskatoon’s Streetcars and Trolley Buses).

The Saskatoon Municipal Railway operated its first electric tram for the public on New Year’s Day, 1913. Urban rail service concluded in 1951 (Saskatoon Transit Services “History” on line) when the last streetcars were replaced by electric buses.

SASKATCHEWAN RAILWAY MUSEUM STREETCARS:

The seven-acre Saskatchewan Railway Museum located just southwest of Saskatoon, has secured three former Saskatoon Municipal Railway trams;  #40, a 1911 Preston car that operated from 1919-c.1949, #51, a 1927 National Steel Car tram that operated from 1927-1951, and # 203, a Cincinnati Car which operated in Saskatoon from 1941-1951.  Number 40 and # 51 are at the Museum’s Streetscape.

SASKATOON MUNICIPAL RAILWAY STREETSCAPE DISPLAY:

Thanks to assistance from many, two former SMR trams are set on actual Saskatoon Municipal Railway rails (circa 1912-13) donated by the City of Saskatoon. The small cobblestone strip between SMR # 51 and #40 features rare, authentic cobblestones salvaged from the streets of the city. The hydrant, bench, and time clock box in the waiting area also have been donated by Saskatoon.

The metal time clock box mounted on the utility pole, housed a clock which streetcar motormen used to “punch in” their time cards to indicate the exact time when their tram passed that point. The cards were then deposited into the small, locked wooden box for the supervisor to pick up later.

The small building is a replica of the waiting shed which was located at the University Loop at the eastern end of the Mayfair-University route. Built by volunteers of the Saskatchewan Railway Museum, it houses artifacts, supplies, and tools.

SMR #51 sits on authentic rail adjacent to waiting bench, time clock box, car barn winch, and waiting shed replica part of Saskatoon Municipal Railway streetscape display. Streetcars #40 and 203 await reconstruction, but #51 is open to visitors for tours.

STREETCAR #51:

Built for the Saskatoon Municipal Railway in 1927 by National Steel Car Co. in Hamilton, Ontario, #51 was one of four double-truck, bi-directional trams delivered that year.  The 41 seat car featured longitudinal bench seats at the front and back and rows of transverse seats throughout the rest of the tram. These seats could be “flipped” over at the end of the line so passengers would always be facing forward.

Number 51 was found at the Bilani farm near Biggar, Saskatchewan and donated to the SRHA in 1994. Since then, its exterior has been re-painted  and re-roofed, using tongue and groove wood, and covered with canvas. Compatible trucks were acquired from Ontario’s Halton County Radial Railway Society and numerous artifacts salvaged from among the many SMR car bodies found throughout the province.

The interior was also reconstructed extensively. Passenger seat frames  were found at various locations and sand-blasted, primed, and repainted by SRHA volunteers. Original horsehair stuffing was cleaned professionally and cushions made using new rattan sheets sourced from abroad for the reconditioned transverse seats.

Original interior light fixtures, switches, destination signs, and gauges were re-conditioned and installed, and replicas of the original controllers fabricated and installed.  Windows and doors were reconstructed using salvaged originals as models. When this was done in the 1990s, funds were raised, in part from Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, and professional craftspeople hired to do the work.

Number 51 is now a walk-through exhibit with period advertisements, coloured destination lights, passenger buzzer buttons,  rattan seats, wooden ceiling with original light fixtures and shades, etc. There is even an operating foot gong.

Interior of reconstructed #51. Note fare box, light fixtures, rattan seats, buzzer buttons at each window, and over-window. Advertisements from early Twentieth Century.

HERITAGE DOORS PROJECT 2019:

As part of the efforts to continually maintain and improve the railway exhibits at the Saskatchewan Railway Museum, new custom-made accordion doors were required for #51 after years of weathering had taken their toll.  The Streetcar Committee investigated the manufacture of replacement doors which would maintain the character of the originals and fit into the 1927 hinges and hardware.

With funding from the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation, Shaver’s Sash and Door in Regina, and individual donors as well as in-kind materials donations from Saskatoon Transit and the SRHA, the doors were professionally manufactured, transported to site, painted by volunteers, and installed within the May-August period in 2019.

Arlene Grams and Allen Shaver with
by newly fabricated accordion doors for #51 at their shop in Regina, Saskatchewan.

SRHA volunteers Lorne Lavier and Mel Mills in Small Workshop at Saskatchewan Railway Museum near Saskatoon preparing to complete painting new custom-made accordion doors.

SRHA Volunteers Lorne Lavier, Mel Mills, and Doug Jones install new doors on Tram #51.

The finished product.

SRHA volunteers dedicated 159 hours to the project, and Shavers craftspeople many, many more to complete the project on time and within the budget proposed. Saskatchewan Railway Museum student employees have also assisted. The success of this project and the continued spotlight on the Saskatoon Municipal Railway streetscape within the Saskatchewan Railway Museum is a tribute to public agencies (Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation and Saskatoon Transit), private donors,  Museum visitors, whose entrance fees assist with projects, and individual Saskatchewan Railroad Historical Association members without whose continuous donation of time, talents, and financial assistance such projects could not succeed.

For further information, please contact: P.J. Kennedy, Chairperson, SRHA Streetcar Committee at pj.kennedy@sasktel.net or 306-668-2161.

 

 

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