When We Were Kids: Trolleys


One of the snowballers yelled, “I’ll bet nobody can hit the trolley!” Dumb me — I took him up on it.

by Dave Riley

Some months ago I complained to Mrs. R that old folks, of which I am one, are too set in their ways.   “They can’t stand change,” I said.

But she stuck up for the geezer generation — in a way. “I think young people resist change as much as anyone,” she said. “Can’t you ever remember as a kid being upset over something new coming into your life?”

“Never!” I said — a little too forcefully I’m afraid. “Not once ever.”

I forgot all about that conversation until a few weeks ago when the subject of trolleys came up and suddenly I realized there was at least one change in my young life that I resisted bitterly. It occurred when Bangor dismantled its trolley system.

I loved trolleys. I drew pictures of them and their tracks, rode them endlessly and wanted to be a motorman when I grew up. When I drew trolley tracks at school, Mary Ella Ginn who sat near me at the Mary Snow School, thought I was totally weird.

One day Mr. Sproul, a conductor I knew well, let me take the controls for a few minutes on lower Main Street, after making me promise I would tell no one. I promised, and told the whole class the next morning.

Because of one incident, I had a notorious reputation with the people who ran the system. Early in the winter’s gloom of a weekday evening, a gang of us were out on Poplar Street throwing snowballs when along came the dinnertime run, about to disgorge several of the neighborhood fathers. One of the snowballers yelled, “I’ll bet nobody can hit the trolley!”

Dumb me — I took him up on it. Now a trolley window isn’t tough to hit. It’s a great big flat pane covering almost half the front. And a trolley going five miles an hour on a fixed track isn’t really a moving target. Snowballs went flying, and instantly the car was under siege. The missiles flattened out as they hit the metal side, part of each sticking to the car and the rest falling to the ground.

Only mine didn’t fall to the ground, mainly because shatterproof glass apparently had yet to find its way into the Bangor trolley inventory. It went right through the front window and hit poor Mr. Randall. The car stopped, and the motorman and several passengers got out looking for all the world like the Pinkerton men pursuing Butch and Sundance.

Now friends stick together in situations like this, right? Right. And mine did too. When the motorman asked, “Who did this?” they all stuck together and pointed directly at me. As the wannabe cops surrounded me, I decided honesty was the best policy. Can you believe it? Two dumb moves inside of two minutes. The motorman got my name and phone number. That night when I walked into the living room and asked, “Dad what do you suppose a trolley window costs?”, he knew instantly I wasn’t asking for help with my math homework.


The last run of Car 40.

I wasn’t banned from the Bangor trolley system in spite of my attack. I continued to ride with the fascination of a world traveler. Passing through the crowds of downtown shoppers at Christmastime was my substitute for being on a double-decker on Bond Street in London.

Eventually, when I was eleven and in the fifth grade, my beloved trolleys disappeared. The authorities (or, as I probably said at the time, the stupid idiots) who ran our little world decided that the Bangor area could be better served by buses that didn’t run on tracks and thus could easily change routes as the city’s residential and business geography evolved. According to the Bangor Daily News, the last passenger runs occurred on December 30, 1945, and buses took over early the next morning.

The day after the trolley system shut down, some of the guys were playing on Poplar Street. Suddenly, like an apparition rising out of a dream, up Poplar Street came a trolley. The trolley — it turned out to be Car 40 — came closer, slowed, and then stopped. On board were a half-dozen or so adults.

“Would you like to ride a few blocks?” a businessman in a suit asked.

The guys looked at each other a bit warily. “It’s free,” the man said. He explained that he and others were taking Car 40 for its final ride around the system. The man turned out to be Edward Graham, President of the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company, which had run the system.

The guys got on and for a few final moments savored the magic that was Car 40. After a few blocks, they all got off, realizing that if they went to the end of the line, they would have a long walk home. The car went on without them, reaching the barn late in the afternoon.

At 4:26 p.m., according to the Bangor Daily News, Mr. Graham turned off the current from the huge 650 volt d.c. generator that had powered the system for years. A few minutes later he cut the power from the A.C. motor that drove the generator.

My beloved trolleys were no more

Photo courtesy of Richard Shaw

Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.