Colorado’s history with the urban railway goes all the way back to the turn of the last century, when trolley cars connected passengers across a growing metro area. This Saturday, August 8, the Lakewood Heritage Center invites visitors to learn more about the state's transit history and take a ride on Car No. 25, one of the state's surviving trolley cars. In advance of the big ride, Westword spoke with Jeffrey Murray of the Lakewood Heritage Center, who shared some facts about Car No. 25 and the electric trolley system that once dominated transit across Colorado.
Before buses, electric trolley systems were the mode of public transit
Built in 1911 and in service until 1953, Car No. 25 was one of dozens interurban rail cars that ran on electricity throughout the metro area. Grabbing electricity from overhead wires to power themselves, these interurban cars ran quickly and quietly. They did have electric motors that actually powered the cars, but the electricity itself came from the wires above. After World War II, more roads were being built, the automobile industry boomed and public transportation began to switch to buses. Buses could utilize city roads and coexist with cars on the same roadways, making traveling by trolley and train less popular.
Car No. 25 in all its restored glory.
Lakewood Heritage Center
The massive electric transit system connected cities and towns across the metro area
Comprised of more than 250 miles of track, Car No. 25 and other trolley cars like it were the lifeline of the metro area. The interurban service didn't just run throughout the streets of downtown Denver; it took passengers along paths now utilized by highway and modern rail services throughout the metro area. Getting up to around 60 miles per hour upon leaving city proper, these trolley cars zipped passengers from Denver to Boulder, Golden and more. RTD's current day W Light Rail line runs along a very similar path taken by one of many interurban rail lines from the past.
Car No. 25 was built here in Colorado
Starting out as a manufacturer of carriages in the 1800s, the Woeber Car and Carriage Company eventually switched to making rail and trolley cars. Moving to Denver in 1867, Woeber also made wagons for commercial and retail places before switching to rail cars at the turn of the last century. Between 1900 and 1914, Woeber operated as the Denver City Tramway Company, building 317 interurban cars. Car No. 25 was built in 1911, at a cost of $10,625.
The beautiful, original-style rattan seats inside Car No. 25.
Lakewood Heritage Center
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Car No. 25 has been restored to its original beauty and still runs today
Though the miles of tracks that Car No. 25 used to run on no longer exist, the century-plus old trolley car is fully functional, running a short distance along a track at its current home at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood. Now using energy from a generator attached in an adjoining rail car, visitors can take a ride that sounds and feels much like an electric trolley ride would have felt back at the turn of last century.
More than two decades ago, the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club Historical Foundation took on the task of restoring Car No. 25, the only remaining intact railway car from the Denver system. The result includes working lights and original-style rattan seats from a restoration effort that took $100,000 dollars and 24,000 volunteer hours to complete. A few years ago, the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club sold the trolley car to the City of Lakewood, which bring it out for rides once a year.
Catch a ride on Car No. 25 and learn more about Colorado’s transit past this Saturday, August 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Denver Federal Center, Building 78 in Lakewood; enter via Gate 1, on Kipling Street north of Alameda Parkway. Adults must provide a government-issued photo I.D. for entry. For more information on the open house and trolley ride, visit the City of Lakewood's website.