Petunia

There are four operating passenger streetcars in the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority‘s fleet of trolley cars. I had ridden (and written about) two of them – Matilda and Rosie. I decided to take a shot at getting on another of them and sat down at the trolley stop next to the Dallas Museum of Art and pulled out my Kindle to read a bit and wait for the car.

I was rewarded when a little streetcar named Petunia pulled up. I had not ridden this one yet.

The old streetcar next to the Art Museum and the glass towers of downtown.

Petunia was built in 1920 and is a “Birney Safety Car” named after her designer, Charles O Birney. Birneys were known for their bouncy ride. Petunia ran in Dallas until 1947. For the next 30 years, she was stripped of her running gear, then equipped with a stove, sink, bed, refrigerator, easy chair, and blue curtains, and used for a residence. She was acquired by MATA and rebuilt – with shock absorbers added to even out the ride.

MATA Photo - Petunia before restoration.

She was packed with shoppers, commuters, and tourists (and me) and off we went across Woodall Rodgers and up McKinney Avenue. I chatted with some folks about child-raising and looked at all the folks eating in the restaurants and walking from bar to bar. Some young tourists kept going up to the streetcar engineer with a map on an iPad and tried to show him where they were trying to get to, but nobody could figure anything out.

The added shocks must work because Petunia has a much sweeter ride than the similarly sized Rosie. It was a fun and comfortable trip uptown.

There is something really cool about a trolley – whether it’s clanking through the crowded streets of Dallas or the misty neutral ground of New Orleans. There are plans for a real expansion of the trolley in Dallas… through the new park nearing construction on across the river into Oak Cliff. I wish they would hurry up – nobody lives forever.

Petunia in Uptown, at the other end of the line.

The Streetcar Renaissance in Dallas

Tour Dallas By Trolley

The On-Line Birney Safety Car Museum

The Birney Safety Car

McKinney Avenue Trolley’s fleet

Texas Streetcar Systems – Dallas

Matilda

I was walking through downtown on my way to take pictures of a giant naked man when I walked across Akard street. Peering down the canyon between edifice walls of glittering glass I spotted an ancient little machine shaking on its set of steel rails. The sign under its cyclops eye of a light said “Matilda.” It was an M-Line trolley car I have not ridden yet. So I detoured and climbed on board right before it took off for its route down McKinney and around uptown.

Matilda was built in 1925 in Melbourne, Australia, for the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board. It operated in Australia for sixty years until it was purchased for use in Dallas. It still ran great and only needed cosmetic modifications (it looks like these were new paint and added air conditioning).

It’s a long car, with an unusual configuration. It is divided up into three sections, with longitudinal red velvet benches on each end, and ordinary wooden seats in the center. It’s a beautiful streetcar with a gorgeous interior. Matilda runs a lot smoother than the older (by only a few years), shorter car, Rosie, I rode a couple of weeks ago.

It was bitter cold outside and very few people were out and about. A couple of commuters were on the car, plus a mother and her five sons. Yes, five boys – the oldest looked about twelve. They were good kids… but… man! Five! The youngest was a toddler and he had that devilish smile. Whenever they looked away from him he would take off running down the aisle.

When we reached the end of the line I was talking to the boys about the turntable under construction (it is almost finished) when one of the boys said, “You know we’re going to have a sister,” and pointed to their mom.

Man… five boys and a girl. I don’t know if I could do that.

The M Line Trolley in Dallas

Dallas M Line Trolley

Car 636, “Petunia” coming back the other way. I’ll have to get down there and ride that one soon.