Standing with Car 23 are, (left to right): Rod Harris, maintenance; Charlie Bunce, 91, (maintenance supervisor who also worked on the streetcar system when it operated in Nelson); Jean Elliot (driver and member of the board of directors); Jim Robertson, (secretary-treasurer and operation superintendent) Walt Laurie (society president).

Historic Car 23 needs ‘young blood’

Society campaigning to recruit new members

The Nelson Electric Tramway Society, dedicated aficionados of the past, are aiming to secure their future.

The volunteer organization that has been transporting locals and tourists in Car 23 along the city’s waterfront for 26 years is on a drive to recruit new members.

“We need some fresh, young blood,” declared Walt Laurie, the 95-year-old president of the society.

Jim Robertson, a driver and the secretary/treasurer of the non-profit society, echoed Laurie’s plea, saying the average age of operators is between 65 and 70 years of age.

“Our oldest driver is 85 and our youngest is 40,” said Robertson, adding there are 12 females among the 42 qualified operators who guide Car 23 on a 1.5 km-long track between the Prestige Lakeside Resort and the Nelson Bridge.

As the temperature starts to climb, the society hopes the average age of drivers and conductors begins to drop.

“We welcome everyone. It’s a lot of fun,” said Robertson, who joined 10 years ago, shortly after retiring at the end of a long career with CP Rail.

Robertson, born and raised in Nelson and a third generation railway employee, said he couldn’t wait to become a tram operator.

“It’s a gas. It’s a high for me to be a driver,” the 73-year-old said, adding, “The social aspect is unbelievable.”

In 2017, about 19,000 passengers from around the world hopped on and off Car 23 between the Victoria Day weekend and Thanksgiving.

Robertson, 73, who is also the society’s operation superintendent, said all drivers and conductors – veterans and rookies – go through a mandatory 10-hour training course every spring.

“It is under the jurisdiction of Tech Safety B.C., in accordance with the federal Railway Act,” he said.

“Everyone who wants to be a driver must have a driver’s licence, pass a doctor’s medical and be at least 21 years of age.”

Robertson said anyone who doesn’t qualify to work as a driver or conductor can volunteer to work in maintenance or in the society’s museum.

He explained that drivers, working in tandem with a conductor, volunteer for three-hour shifts to cover the daily operating hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While the maximum speed is 15 kmh, Car 23 usually travels at about 10 km – especially while rolling along the north side of the often busy Chahko Mika Mall.

“We have had a couple of minor collisions with vehicles over the years, but no injuries,” said Robertson, adding the society is comprised of a unique mix of big-hearted individuals.

There are two drivers – both in their 60s – who travel long distances to volunteer their time on Car 23.

“There’s a man from Spokane, who has lost an arm and wears a prosthetic, who drives here with his wife a few weekends every summer. She works as the conductor,” said Robertson, adding “and there’s another driver who flies here from Vernon.”

For history buffs, the Nelson Electric Tramway Company, operated a street railway system in Nelson from Dec. 13, 1899 until June 20, 1949 when all three streetcars were retired and replaced by buses. Car 23, built in Cleveland in 1906, was primarily used as backup to the main cars, 21 & 22.

In 1982, Car 23 became the property of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and, with the help of Selkirk College, was restored. The car made its first run on Canada Day, 1992, after 43 years of being idle.

Robertson said anyone interested in becoming a driver, conductor, or a maintenance member is welcome to drop by the society’s musem, 1801 Lakeside Drive, any Tuesday or Thursday between 9 a.m. and 12 noon.

“No previous experience is necessary. We’ll train you,” said Robertson.

Training is set to begin soon as Car 23 rolls again on, Friday, May 19.

For more information, call 250-352-7672 or visit nelsonstreetcar.org

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