So one day I was about to leave downtown Fort Smith when the orange apparition of a lost transportation network materialized before my eyes and asked me if I had a dollar.
I did have a dollar, and the trolley driver was even courteous enough to let me run back to my car, which I had hastily parked, to retrieve my camera. The streetcar, which the driver explained was original to the city, lurched to a start and rattled off down an old industrial railroad that wound through the back streets of Fort Smith.
The driver frequently stopped the car and turned round to explain to me some brief historical fact about wherever we were. Besides two older men who worked for one of the town museums, I was the only passenger. When the men later got off, it was just me and the driver.
The industrial railroad rambled past some neglected buildings, a few of which were museums. A collection of old train cars, cabooses, and engines gathered dust here. (More on that in a future post.) The railroad itself was used for nothing besides the trolley tour.
The original trolley lines, the driver told me, were in the center of Fort Smith streets, and they suffered the same fate of nearly all urban streetcar lines in the mid-20th century: The bus lines bought them up and destroyed them. The lines we were riding on that day were built for steam engines.
The town had started up its own streetcar museum, I was told, and it was still kinda getting on its feet. The industrial line went in a rough "C" shape from Garrison Avenue, through the back alleys, then back to Garrison Avenue. In the future, the driver said, the town might complete the "C" into a full circle.
In the meantime, he was enjoying giving the tour. He told me ruefully of some other drivers who don't care about history, and mentioned one that had driven the trolley right off the end of the tracks and into the traffic on Garrison Avenue (I'm glad I wasn't a passenger on THAT particular voyage).
Now, the town keeps a few of the restored streetcars in a barn (see previous photo) along the rail route. The ghost trolleys ride the old rails most of the year.