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Trolley Service Returning To French Lick Resort
Updated September 22, 2014 11:05 AM
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Trolley Vintage.jpg

(FRENCH LICK) - This fall the trolley service will return to the French Lick Resort.

The trolley's history has spanned many decades in French Lick and West Baden when it began in 1903. Guest could catch the streetcar at the steps of the West Baden Springs Hotel and go into downtown French Lick.

Now the train (trolley) will be pulling back into the station, literally, thanks to a partnership between the resort and the Indiana Railway Museum. IRM General Manager Rick Olsen worked with the Indiana Department of Transportation to draw up plans to redo the original track and secured a $200,000 grant.

Simultaneously, craftsman Dan Ping took on the daunting task of restoring the old trolley car and put in a total of 2,600 hours completing the project. The decay was extensive and the years had not been kind to #313. He saved as much of the original material as possible, including the interior components, and built a brand new cupola. The end result is nothing short of a work of art.

Project Manager Alan Beck went about finding someone to work on the undercarriage and add some "juice" to the former electric engine. Help would come by way of Andy Schwenk, who owns an ag-repair business in nearby Jasper, IN. Only stipulation was that the engine had to be green since Schwenk only works on John Deere machinery. The undercarriage is now powered by diesel and controlled by hydro-static transmission.

The trolley car was placed on the newly-laid track anticipation of the loading platforms being built near the casino on the French Lick property and adjacent to the garden at West Baden Springs Hotel. The new service is set to debut after Thanksgiving. The trolley will run seven days a week from 6am -10pm. Save your nickels, there is no charge for the service.

In 1916 the trolley set a record for carrying more than 250,000 people in a single year. At nickel a ride that was more than $300,000 in revenue. Not bad for the world's shortest trolley ride - one mile.

According to Railway Historian Alan Barnett, the electric cable car offered "ping-pong" service because it was not designed to make turns. When the car reached French Lick, the conductor would physically move the overhead power line around the back, allowing for the return trip to the depot at West Baden.

The advent of the automobile put the brakes on the trolley service in 1919. That is until Alan Barnett and the folks at the Indiana Railway Museum (IRM) resurrected the idea in 1987. They were able to find Trolley Car #313 from Portugal, the closest thing they could find to the original 1903 car.

The daily service ran for 15 years but ceased in 2002 when the trolley coasted quietly into the junk yard.

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