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“It’s a piece of history,” said Sonia Casey. “There’s the LRT [light-rail transit] now. They can see what we had before, and what we have now.”
While the Caseys and Fullers are regulars, the museum has to dream up ways to attract others to the rails. Enter the growing list of special events — all with a link to history.
The mystery theater this weekend, for example, is set in 1954, the year that the trolley system ended, said Eaton.
The pajama parties hearken to the days when mothers would board the streetcars on hot nights with fussy children. The trolley’s rumble and the cool breeze would lull them to sleep.
Special events now account for 30 percent of the museum’s revenue, said Vaitkunas. Meanwhile, trolley rentals, which go for $75 for a half-hour, have taken off this year, said Eaton.
“Last week we had two birthday parties and a wedding,” said Marv Krafve, a retired engineer from Plymouth. “We’ve got 53 senior citizens coming today.”
10,000 hours later
Twice a week, about 10 retirees like Krafve head to the “car barn,” where volunteers spend more than 10,000 hours reviving streetcars. Most had been converted into funky cabins before being given to the museum.
They strip the cars down and rebuild from the skeleton. On this day, some were working on a sliding passenger door.
“This door and its mechanisms required more than 1,000 parts,” said Ken Albrecht, a retired engineer from Mankato who oversees the work.
Finding the parts to old trolleys can be like a national scavenger hunt. A newspaper article might trigger a call. Railway museums share their loot. Folks at trade conferences offer tips. If worse comes to worst, they make the part themselves.
Albrecht estimates he puts in 20 hours a week and 15,000 miles a year on the trolley. He also grows about 400 pumpkins to give away at Halloween special events.
These older mega volunteers are both the strength and the weakness of the organization. While the museum has recruited younger volunteers to operate the trolleys, run the Facebook and Twitter pages, and operate some special events, getting a long-term commitment is much harder, said Eaton. And that is the museum’s real challenge for the future.
“You can do a lot without money,” said Eaton. “But you can’t do a lot without good people.”
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511