All aboard! Rick Wheeler has been wearing his conductor's hat on the Old Pueblo Trolley for six years. Like everyone involved with Old Pueblo Trolley, he is a volunteer. The organization began in 1983 to preserve the history of railcars and demonstrate their usefulness. Now, the organization is part of the city's plans. Wheeler can be found riding the rails every Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. The trolley runs Friday from 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturday from noon to midnight; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. The price: $1 for adults each way; 50 cents for children; and everybody rides for 25 cents each way on Sunday.
What kind of work do you do?
Basically, my job is to collect the money and maybe entertain the passengers and in certain areas help the motor person check out the equipment. (And to) make sure cars aren't about to hit us in certain places.
How do you entertain the passengers?
I just tell stories—stories about the trolley themselves; one came from Japan, and one came from Belgium. I tell stories about the university or Tucson or anything that comes to mind that might get a laugh.
What's your favorite story to tell?
I suppose my favorite story is about the people of Tucson, when Arizona was still a territory. They sent a delegation of people to Prescott to talk to the territorial Legislature about which plums the state was going to hand out to the various cities. The plum at that time was the insane asylum. Everybody wanted the insane asylum. Our delegation went by train. This was about 1883-1884. There was a washout on the line between Phoenix and Prescott. They had to take a train all the way to Los Angeles and then come back down to Prescott. Being several days late for the meeting, the delegation only got what was left—which was the University of Arizona.
That isn't too bad.
Well, it isn't now, but when the delegation got back to Tucson, they were pelted with tomatoes. Who would ever want a university?
Explain your interest in trolley cars.
I've been into model trains most my life, and I actually worked for a company that repaired train cars for three years. So I have a mechanical, historic interest in just about anything that goes on a track. ... I was the head of the Arizona division of the National Model Railroad Association. It's a national organization.
How many volunteers does the Old Pueblo Trolley have?
Probably about 50 or 60. We're always looking for volunteers to do all types of things—to be conductors, motor persons, and when the trolley is running, we have to have a dispatcher, so it takes three people. There are all the people who do the mechanical, painting, woodwork—whatever is required by the various trolleys to keep them running or to restore them. We are restoring another one, and we have several that we hope to restore.
What makes these cars unique?
One trolley came from Japan that was built in 1953. Then we have the Belgium car that was built in 1902. Those are the two that we use the most. Then we have one that ... it was a long story. It was built in Pennsylvania, went to Portugal and then came back to the country. A town in Colorado was going to put it into service and never got around to it, and it just deteriorated to a terrible state. Then we got it. We've got the underbody of it all ready to go. The motor on it is ready, and we're just doing the interior and the passenger portion of the cars.
How long before it's on the road?
I used to say "next year," but I've been saying "next year" for six years.
How's it been driving the Fourth Avenue underpass?
... They have a lot of engineering to do (before the trolley's full route is open). This isn't us; this is the city and the Regional Transportation Authority. They are doing a lot of the engineering work and checking underneath the street so they can start expanding it. It will reach to the west side of the University Medical Center and continue on through downtown to the Convention Center.
How far do you go right now?
We go to the entrance of the university on University Boulevard, and on the other side, we go to Fifth Avenue and Congress Street. That was the area that was just finished.