“Matilda said, “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable…”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda
“The park was the heart of the city. He had come to the city – and with a knowing in his blood – he had established himself at the heart of it. Everyday he looked at the heart of it; every day; he was so stunned and awed and overwhelmed that just to think about it made him sweat. There was something, in the center of the park, that he had discovered. It was a mystery although it was in a glass case for everybody to see and there was a typewritten card over it telling all about it. But there was something the card couldn’t say and what it couldn’t say was inside him. He could not show the mystery to just anybody; but he had to show it to somebody. Who he had to show it to was a special person. This person could not be from the city but he didn’t know why. He knew he would know him when he saw him and that he would have to see him soon or the nerve inside him would grow so big that he would be forced to steal a car or rob a bank or jump out of a dark alley onto a woman.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
“It’s better to be hated for who you are, than to be loved for someone you’re not. It’s a sign of your worth sometimes, if you’re hated by the right people.”
― Bette Davis
I have always had a soft spot for streetcars – especially both the famous New Orleans version and the unknown Dallas version – The McKinney Avenue Trolleys. I’ve written about the trolley line before – and its individual cars – The Green Dragon, Petunia, Rosie, and Matilda.
The trolley line has expanded and has become very popular since the opening of Klyde Warren Park.
Last week, after I finished a tour of the underground tunnels beneath downtown, I walked over to Klyde Warren for a Food Truck lunch then decided to catch the streetcar for a ride to the turntable next to the CityPlace DART station.
I was lucky in that the car that I caught was Betty – a new car that I had never ridden before. Life if made of tiny thrills.
At the Central Expressway portion of the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority trolley line there always has been a dead end of the trolley tracks at the spot where the giant escalators plunge down into the earth for the CityPlace DART station, deep under the ground. That worked fine – the four trolley cars, Petunia, Rosie, Matilda, and The Green Dragon, all were double ended. They have dual driver’s stations, one on each end, and can run in either direction equally well.
The problem was, not all trolley cars are like that. The MATA began accumulating several cars that would only run one way. With the drastic expansion of the Dallas Streetcar System (into the new park being built over the Woodall Rogers Freeway, down into the West End, and across the Trinity River into Oak Cliff) they would need to restore and utilize these cars.
New tracks could be added into the downtown grid to allow trains to make a round trip, but at the CityPlace station there was no way to build in a loop. That station is the best connector between MATA and the DART trains, so it was impossible to abandon.
The decision was made to build a turntable, and money was found to put it in. That would allow the use of single-direction cars and would be a nice tourist attraction in and of itself. I’ve been following the progress of the construction and it was finished around the start of the year.
It looks really cool. It was designed to look good and is lit up at night with multicolored spotlights. There are some nice artworks near the turntable and places to sit and wait for the cars.
I rode the streetcar to the turntable, hoping it would go ’round, but all they did was drive onto the turntable and then go back the same way. Even with the turntable, they can’t use the single end cars until the tracks are extended on the other end. So I guess they don’t want to wear out the turntable until it is needed.
Still, it’s a nice, unique thing to take a look at. I’m looking forward to the expansion of the system, the new cars, and riding one around on the turntable. The wheels of development move slowly. Extreme patience is needed. I hope I live long enough.
I have ridden and written about three of the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority trolley cars – Petunia, Matilda, and Rosie. There was one more that I had never ridden (or at least didn’t remember riding) – The Green Dragon (MATA does have one more car – but it’s used for maintenance. They have several more being restored).
The Green Dragon is an unusual looking car. The driver’s station at each end looks like it was tacked onto a regular car. Its roof is flat and sort of sticks out and even looks like it dangles down a little bit.
It was built in 1913 (it will be a hundred years old next year) and ran in Dallas for 46 years. It ran on McKinney avenue and the SMU students gave it the nickname “Green Dragon” back in the day. She was retired in 1956 and used as a hay barn in North Dallas for a few decades. For a while it was used to display Roger Staubach’s Jersey in a sports museum in Grand Prairie.
I was happy to see the Green Dragon pull up to the Central Expressway Trolley stop. She is a large car and has a very smooth ride. From the inside, you can see the wooden bulkhead that marks the transition from the curved roof of the car to the flat roof of the cab. It doesn’t look as odd inside as it does when the car is clanking down the track.
The Green Dragon is a sweet ride and a great way to get around Uptown.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Car 636, “Petunia” coming back the other way. I’ll have to get down there and ride that one soon.