As advocates of Petaluma’s rich railway heritage last week bid farewell to a historic trolley car long stored at the city’s museum, trolley enthusiasts are now planning the future of a disintegrating downtown trestle that once played an integral role in commerce in the region.
On Saturday, the 55-foot-long trolley car that once traversed the tracks in Seattle was lifted out of the Petaluma Trolley Living History Railway Museum compound by crane and placed onto the back of a reinforced flatbed truck. The car, the last of its kind, is now en route to its final home at the North Western Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Wash., where it will be restored to its full splendor and put into operation on a six-mile rail line in the area, said Paul Class, who initially brought the 107-year-old car to the Petaluma museum.
“The crane reached over in one direction toward the car and elevated it to make it fly,” said Class, a Willits-based trolley restorer who helped facilitate the move. “It flew in a giant arch toward the street and we had this rather fantastic view of the car from the underside as it was 20 feet in the air and it settled down onto the truck.”
The nearly two-decade old museum has been storing the car at its 110 Bayliss St. location for about 12 years to help play a role in its preservation, according to Managing Director Christopher Stevick. Part of the so-called “tulip train,” the car was used for luxury transportation through tulip fields in Seattle and features an ornate interior inlay of vines and flowers.
“It truly is a rare gem,” Stevick said.
It’s the sister car to the “Windsplitter,” a similar vessel manufactured by the St. Louis Car Company that once ran on the tracks spanning from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, Stevick said.
Now that the move is complete, the Petaluma museum will continue to focus efforts on rehabilitating the trestle along the west bank of the river, a key piece of Petaluma history constructed in 1922 that has fallen into disrepair. The last locomotive ran over the trestle in 1992, and it was closed off to the public two years later, according to Project Manager Diane Ramirez.
Steam locomotives had been in operation in Sonoma County since the 1800s, but the creation of the electric Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway in 1903 helped further the city’s economic growth, making it a hub for trade and commerce, Stevick said. It was a hard fought battle to establish the electric railway. Steam locomotive operators, fearing the loss of their jobs, used hoses to douse workers who attempted to lay tracks across the final connection into Santa Rosa, Stevick said.
Once completed, the electric line carried up to 10,000 carloads of goods and a quarter million passengers each year along the route, which later included the trestle crossing.
The advent of the Golden Gate Bridge spelled the beginning of the end for the rail line, which carried its last passengers in the 1930s, Stiveck said.
Members of the advocacy group have long sought a solution to restore the trestle that’s currently owned by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, though city officials say that the project is a costly one, with few available funding sources and little forward momentum.