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Fort Smith Trolley Museum 9/23/2022

by Chris Guenzler

After arriving in Van Buren off the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad train, Elizabeth followed me onto the bus and we took our regular seats and were driven to the crossing of the trolley tracks. Here the National Railway Historical Society members went to the second floor of the Museum of History and enjoyed a good boxed lunch, while I walked down to the Fort Smith Trolley Museum and photographed all of their equipment.

Fort Smith Streetcar History

The Fort Smith Railway Company began operation in 1883 with three mule-drawn rail cars, offering the area's first public transportation. As these cars progressed through the unpaved streets, the "Gee" and "Haw" from the drivers could be clearly heard.

Ten years later, the first electric streetcar service was franchised to the "Fort Smith & Van Buren Electric Street Railway Light & Power Company", and two electric trolleys soon began operation. By 1899, all the lines in Fort Smith were electrified and running with open-platform cars, which made their use dependent on good weather. The riders did have a roof, but the motorman stood outside in the elements, and did the braking by hand.

In 1903, the two above-mentioned companies combined to form the Fort Smith Traction Light & Power Company. Later that same year, the company was reorganized to become the Fort Smith Light & Traction Company.

By 1911, enclosed streetcars had become the norm, since they could run year-round, but they were heavy and created more wear on the tracks. Airbrakes also became standard. The enclosed Birney "Safety Car" made its appearance in Fort Smith in 1920. It was a lighter car with a "dead man control" - designed to stop and open the door if the motorman did not exert downward pressure on the control handle or depress a foot valve. These cars were heated by under-seat electric heaters, assuring comfort in cold weather.

During the 1920's, FSL&T made some poor choices regarding bridge tolls, fare amounts and routes, getting into several legal spats along the way. This, combined with the growing popularity of automobiles and the onset of the Great Depression, took a heavy toll on the company. By 1933, FSL&T was a subsidiary of Oklahoma Gas & Electric and operating at a deficit, though it retained the name Fort Smith Traction. In August of that year, OG&E announced that the streetcars would run make their final run on November 15, and the company would be dissolved.

After the last run, all of the cars were quickly scrapped; motors and wheels were removed for salvage, and bodies sold off and used for assorted purposes. For instance, FSL&T 224, the first car to be restored by the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, spent many years as a diner in Ashdown, Arkansas, with the name "Streetcar Cafe." Within a few years, all 33 miles of Fort Smith's trolley track were ripped up and sold for salvage.

Our tour

I walked over to the trolley museum.

St. Louis-San Francisco 2-8-2 4003 built by American Locomtive Company in 1919 for the Pennsylvania Railroad but they rejected it and the United States Railway Administration assigned it to the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad. 4003 was retired in early 1952. The Frisco kept the locomotive until 1954 when it was donated to the City of Fort Smith and placed on display in Kay Rodgers Park. It remained there for almost fifty years until in 2002, the city transferred ownership to the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas coach 910 built by American Car and Foundry in 1938 and converted to Diner Bunk Car 100162.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas power car 100201, nee World War II trooper sleeper X2400.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas caboose 126 built by International Car in 1966.

Missouri Pacific box car 251368 built by American Car and Foundry in 1963.

Missouri Pacific Cushion Car 365387 built by American Car and Foundry in 1971.

Augusta Railroad 7 built by Vulcan in April 1942.

United States Air Force 44 ton switcher 1246 built by General Electric in January 1953.

Burlington Northern caboose 11560 built by the railroad.

One of the switchers from the Purina plant, built by General Electric in 1956.

Union Pacific caboose 25139 built by Pullman in 1964.

Burlington Northern caboose 12240 built by Pacific Coast and Foundry in 1978.

St. Louis-San Francisco box car 22060 built by Pullman-Standard in 1966.

The trolley mural in Fort Smith.

The Trolley House in Fort Smith.

St. Louis-San Francisco Fort Smith station built in 1910. I walked back to where the bus dropped us off and boarded Fort Smith Light & Traction 224.

Fort Smith Light & Traction Birney Safety Car 224 built in 1926. In 1933, Fort Smith Light & Traction closed its doors and scrapped all of its cars. The motors and wheels were removed for salvage and the bodies sold off to any buyer. Car 224 became a diner in Ashdown, Arkansas with the name "Street Car Cafe". Later, the body was sold to Louis Hennick in Shreveport, Louisiana. After the publication of a history of the Fort Smith streetcar system, car 224 was discovered listed for sale in an antique journal. Interested citizens formed a non-profit organization - the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association - and purchased the car. This soon led to the donation of another Fort Smith car body, 205, from Mulberry, Arkansas. The cars arrived in July/August of 1979 and restoration work began.

Inside the streetcar.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 after my ride. I then visted the trolley barn.

Hot Springs Street Railway 53 is a double-ended double truck St. Louis Car Company trolley built in 1904. It is inoperable, with its parts being salvaged for renovation of 50.

Hot Springs Street Railway 50 is a double-ended double truck car built in 1904 by the St. Louis Car Company. It includes a few wooden parts from Hot Springs Street Railway 54. It is currently under renovation.

Augusta Railroad Plymouth switcher 6 built by the company in 1940.

Kansas City Public Service 1545 is a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car built in December 1919 by American Car Company for the Kansas City Railways Company. The truck, motor, control and brakes from 1545 have been installed in FSL&T 224. 1545 was retired to the Ohio Railway Museum in Worthington and after several years, was purchased with donated funds by the Fort Smith Street Car Restoration Association in 1984.

Whiting TM2 Trackmobile 2163.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 returning to their station.

The streetcar leaving the station. I visited the gift shop and bought Elizabeth and I two T-shirts. She then visited herself and found two lapel pins as well as several very friendly cats. I walked back to the bus and talked with the driver and soon after, people returned to the bus and we started back to Van Buren.

Fort Smith Railroad Alabama and Florida 1612 and PREX GP20 2031 ex Santa Fe.

Miss Laura's Brothel Museum. We then returned to the Van Buren Arkansas and Missouri station and we debussed.