Streetcar 23’s driving force honoured on last run

Nelson Electric Tramway Society volunteers were on hand to celebrate Mike Culham’s contribution to the society at a surprise party at the end of his last shift on Sunday. Culham is pictured at centre. Photo submittedNelson Electric Tramway Society volunteers were on hand to celebrate Mike Culham’s contribution to the society at a surprise party at the end of his last shift on Sunday. Culham is pictured at centre. Photo submitted
Superintendent Terry Thompson (left) and operator Jean Elliot (right) present Mike Culham (centre) with a thank you gift for his 35 years of service to the streetcar. Photo submittedSuperintendent Terry Thompson (left) and operator Jean Elliot (right) present Mike Culham (centre) with a thank you gift for his 35 years of service to the streetcar. Photo submitted

Forty years ago Reid Henderson of the RDCK wrote to the City of Nelson that the body of Streetcar 23 was available for sale, and wondered if there was interest in a restoration project.

With a lot of help from the City of Nelson, the Chamber of Commerce, CP Rail, the Province of BC, West Kootenay Power (now FortisBC) and many local businesses and individuals, over the next 10 years the restoration of Streetcar 23 was completed, the car barn built and tracks and electrical system installed.

Local dentist Dr. Mike Culham was involved almost from the beginning. He had a passion for trains and was a natural choice for chair of the restoration committee. When this committee became Nelson Electric Tramway Society in 1988, Culham became the society’s inaugural president, a position he held for many years.

Culham led the acquisition of the mechanical and electrical parts from around the world needed to make Streetcar 23 operational, the building of the tracks from Rotary Lakeside Park to the airport, building the car barn and recruiting and training volunteers — in short ensuring the success of the society and creating such a delightful and interesting piece of working history right on our waterfront.

When operators pass their written and on-board tests, they are issued a number. Culham was No. 1, meaning he was the first licensed operator qualified to operate the revived Streetcar 23 out of almost 200 volunteer drivers to date. He moved to Vancouver several years ago but still returned to Nelson every summer to operate the streetcar.

Sunday was Culham’s last run. A group of dedicated society volunteers (including Reid Henderson) surprised him at the car barn at the end of his last shift, where he was presented with a piece of photographic art by Greg Osadchuk and donated by Jean Elliot, another longtime volunteer and operator. Culham said he still might come back, so maybe this isn’t the end of an era after all.