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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018
Midwest Old Threshers Reunion

‘Rail fans’ flock to Old Threshers for Midwest Electric Railway trolleys

Sep 04, 2018
Photo by: Grace King John Seedorff steps off Car 1945 to ensure passengers board safely before climbing back aboard to operate the car on Friday, Aug. 31.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

John Seedorff was getting his “electric therapy” as he operated the Italian Stallion Street Car 1945 Friday, Aug. 31 during the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.

The operator hails from Scranton, Penn., also known as the Electric City, the perfect hometown for an electric streetcar fanatic. Seedorff is just one of many operators and volunteers who keep the trolleys running during the Reunion, transporting between 5,000 and 8,500 people daily.

In fact, Midwest Old Threshers has possibly the only trolley museum in the U.S. that actually picks up and drops off passengers, rather than just taking them on an amusement park-like ride.

“This reflects the trolley operation the most,” Seedorff said as he boarded Car 1945 from Milan, Italy. “The other (museums) are trying to recreate it, but this is it.”

Seedorff’s awe for it says a lot. He volunteers at a trolley museum back home and Scranton was the first to try the trolley and last to give up, he said.

Seedorff even grew up taking trolleys to go to school. He’s studied how towns were built along railways and the importance of the mass transit system. Even at its height, however, the trolley system was doomed. With the invention of cars, they didn’t stand a chance, Seedorff said.

Nevertheless, “rail fans” flock to Midwest Electric Railway during the reunion. Steve Jones, of Lincoln, Neb., had already used his 10 punches to ride the trolley by noon on Friday, Aug. 31 during the Reunion, but hugged the fence anyway. Jones chatted with trolley volunteers as they boarded on and off the trolleys and even threw in some trolley trivia knowledge of his own for passengers.

“There’s a lot of little trolley museums with tracks to run (trolleys) back and forth, but this is the only place that people ride like they were supposed to,” Jones said, reiterating the importance of Midwest Electric Railway at Old Threshers.

Jeep and Abbi Johnson, of Peoria, Ill., would also describe themselves as rail fans, saying they will come to the Old Threshers Reunion “for the rest of forever” to ride the trolleys. Abbi was introduced to the trolleys by Jeep while they were dating. She had heard him talk about the trolleys so much that finally she bought them both tickets to Old Threshers to see it for herself.

Since then, the couple has attended Midwest Electric Railway volunteer Wes Bender’s trolley talk for the past three years and are among the first to arrive at the Reunion gates on Wednesdays when they can ride the trolleys unlimited for $2 while volunteers test to make sure everything is working properly.

Their favorite, of course, is Car 320 from Chicago because it’s close to home.

James Forbeck, of Old Monroe, Mo., who has been attending the Reunion for almost 20 years, walked out of Bender’s morning trolley talk with the Johnsons on Friday, Aug. 31, in awe of the history the trolleys represent.

“There are too many things of history that get lost these days,” Forbeck said. “We recreate history books, tear down statues,” he said, grateful to the volunteers who work so hard to preserve the mechanics of the trolleys.

Midwest Electric Railway volunteer Phil Borleske’s history with the cars at Midwest Electric Railway transcends its existence. He took Car 381, currently out of commission at Old Threshers, from Waterloo to Cedar Falls for a college visit several decades ago. The car stopped running in 1958.

Borleske called Car 381 a “survivor among the survivors.” When it was taken out of commission and put on display in a Waterloo Park, its two sister cars, 380 and 382, were destroyed in two separate fires. “It’s a miracle this car is here,” he said.

Stepping off an open-air car with its roots in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Aug. 31, Borleske directed passengers as they boarded and began passionately talking about the cars history.

“The car you’re about to ride is 100 years old,” Borleske shouted to a full passenger car as he climbed aboard and the car took off to its next stop.

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