By Brooke Sherrard, Correspondent
For more than seven years now, people have been learning about county history through rides on the Historic Preservation Corporation’s trolley.
May is National Preservation Month, and corporation members say now is the perfect time to consider reserving the trolley for events in the coming year.
Corporation President Bette Howell said anyone wanting to rent the trolley for a wedding, for example, should act quickly because it is often booked up to a year in advance. It has also proved popular for class reunions and church events.
The rental fee for the trolley is $100 for the first hour and $50 an hour after that.
The State Street Trolley is the corporation’s second. It replaced the previous trolley, State Street Stella, in 2010.
The new trolley has several features that make it more versatile than Stella. It can travel at highway speeds, facilitating travel between towns. It is heated, air conditioned and handicap accessible.
“People don’t realize how nice it is; they still think it’s the old trolley,” corporation member Kathy Cridlebaugh said.
Howell said a handful of other Iowa towns have trolleys, but they are all much bigger.
“For a town our size it’s unbelievable, I think,” she said.
The trolley is not itself a historical artifact — it is a 2000 model American Heritage Streetcar that was retired by a city that uses them for public transportation. But it does resemble the streetcars that used to operate in Centerville, Howell said.
Every Friday during the summer, the trolley is used for history tours that accommodate up to 28 people. The tours start at 1:30 p.m. and cost $6 per person. Tour-goers gather beforehand at the Big Red Realty & Insurance Office on the east side of the square.
This year’s first tour will be May 18.
Groups interested in a tour can also book the trolley. Volunteer driver Gene Davis said one of the tour possibilities is to visit the museums in Plano, Exline, Moravia and Moulton. Another interesting tour, he said, is the ghost town tour. The trolley visits markers around the county at the sites of towns that no longer exist.
Davis said the ghost town tour was a particular love of tour guide and local history expert O.R. Parks, who died in January 2012.
“One of his main things he liked to do was commemorate all the towns here,” Davis said.
Davis started driving the trolley about two years ago. He said he volunteered because it was a way to help the community. Plus, he gets to interact with the people who rent the trolley.
“You really meet a lot of nice people,” Davis said. “They are characters, some of them.”
Davis said he enjoys teaching visitors about the history of the area. Indeed, he said, he has learned a lot himself since becoming a volunteer.
“We have had people come who went to high school and left and come back and they do the tour and they say, ‘We didn’t know that!’” Davis said.
By driving and giving tours, Davis is following in the footsteps of the original State Street Stella driver, Dave Stuart, who died in December 2011.
“He just loved that Stella,” Davis said. “One of his wishes was to have the trolley carry his ashes out to the cemetery, so we did that for him. His last ride was on this trolley.”
Davis has chauffeured many wedding parties and class reunions during the past two years and said he gets a kick out of watching people enjoy the trolley.
For instance, he said, watching wedding photographers pose bridal parties for photographs has opened his eyes to the beauty of the area. One photographer took pictures of a bride in an alley behind the square. Davis thought the setting, which he had never noticed before, was so striking that the next day he brought his wife, Connie Davis, to the same spot for pictures.
He has also stopped with bridal parties so they could take pictures in cornfields and around Rathbun Lake.
“If you grow up here you don’t think about it, but there’s some gorgeous scenery around here,” he said.
The new trolley was purchased through the combined efforts of the Historical Preservation Corporation, Appanoose County Foundation, Appanoose Industrial Corporation and Appanoose County Tourism.
Donations fund the trolley’s upkeep and insurance.
Howell said donations to trolley upkeep include some perks. Anyone who donates $500 gains use of the trolley for three hours and is designated a Baron donor. Donors giving $200 to $499 are Conductor donors. Donors of $100 to $199 are Ticket-Taker donors. All other donors are trolley participants. Donors will be listed in brochures handed out on the trolley.
The corporation continues to hold drive-through dinners the first Thursday of every month at the State Street Station to raise money for the trolley’s maintenance. Howell said the volunteers prepare between 70 and 80 meals for each event.
Along with the trolley, the corporation owns the State Street Station and the historic Second Baptist Church. The church is used for periodic gospel sings. Annual dues to belong to the corporation are $15.
Anyone wishing to book the trolley can contact Howell at (641) 437-4700.