The Ballad of Old No. 25

Back in the heydey of local trolleydom, the Denver & Intermountain Railroad Interurban Car 25 wound her way from downtown Denver through west Denver and Lakewood to her final destination in Golden, passing through scenery both urban and bucolic. She was capable of going a good sixty miles an hour on the straightaway. Passengers would stand in the car as it went over the Colfax Viaduct out of downtown Denver--"but after it pulled off on its own private right-of-way, you sat down, because that car would barrel," says Darrell Arndt of the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club.

Car 25 was taken out of operation in 1950, when the Denver Tramway Company switched to buses, but it ran a few more years under the ownership of the RMRC, which used it for private rides. "One thing they loved to do--there was a street where a busline crossed the trolley tracks," Arndt says. "The operator would come up short of the street crossing and wait for a bus to come. Then he'd start up, and the passengers would all look out the window and thumb their noses at the bus."

They had their reasons. At that time, most of Denver's old trolleys met macabre fates--some were converted to diesel buses or ended up as chicken coops and summer cabins, while others were unceremoniously scrapped. And that, says Arndt, is what makes Car 25 so special: "The car is actually quite rare. It's the only completely intact trolley left that the Woeber Car Company, which was in Denver, built. They started out before the turn of the century, building wagons for deliveries and carriages for the well-to-do, then they switched to horse cars, which were the first rail street transit, and after that they built cable cars. Eventually they went to the overhead trolley wire. Woeber built hundreds of cars, but this is the only car left."

And after ten years of detailed restoration, done mostly by volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Railroad Club, Car 25 is nearly ready to roll once more. Arndt, who directed the restoration project, says the club hopes to have the car--replete with a gleaming oak-and-brass interior, birch ceiling, rewoven rattan seats and a handsome, dark-green-and-cream exterior paint job--running by next year. On Friday, as one of many area celebrations of Colorado Archaeology and Historic Preservation Week, Arndt will give a talk on the car's history and the restoration process; the talk will take place at the Federal Center, where Car 25 has inhabited the facility's old engine house since 1988.

Arndt says the club isn't yet certain where the car will run but notes that there's talk of using the modern light-rail tracks, much like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have done.

"The trolley's a real people-oriented conveyance," Arndt notes. "We expect it to be a community trolley, where people of all ages can come on board and learn how our ancestors used to ride to work or get to the store. With the light rail in town, people here in Denver can compare what the technology used to be like and how it's improved. We also hope that when people come to ride, it'll be more than just a trolley ride. Maybe someone could have a little party--or we could have music groups on board, or ice-cream night for the kids.

"Right now we're like the best-kept secret in historic restoration," Arndt says, but he hopes that will change. "We want to interact with the community, not just go down and have our own little private experience."

--Froyd

Denver & Intermountain Railroad Interurban No. 25, 3 p.m. May 14, National Archives, Denver Federal Center, 5th and North Street from Gate One on Kipling, photo ID required at gate, 303-236-0817.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd

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