AMERICUS ELECTRIC CAR NO. 2
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Through circumstances, the first trolley car to run on the streets of Americus 100 years ago has been well preserved.
The electric care that so proudly opened the service of the Americus Street Railroad Co., on January 2, 1890, the second electric railway system in Georgia to be inaugurated, and which was in operation for only a short period of time because of finances, has been used in various ways since then.
After its intended use was abandoned, the car was sold to Sumter County officials and used as a “cook-shack” to prepare meals for county inmates, probably sometime during the early part of this century. Later, the car was sold to the late Robert T. Crabb, Sr. He transported it to the family property on the Sumter County side of Lake Blackshear sometime in the early forties “before roads were built,’ according to his daughter-in-law Gladys Crabb.
During his lifetime, Mr. Crabb used the car as a refuge for fishing and hunting base. Wings were added on two sides of the structure as separate times, plus a protective covering, and the Crabb family enjoyed their “place at the river” for many years.
There the car reposed at its peaceful river bank site for many years. But now the Americus artifact is coming home, and mainly due to the efforts of well-known Americus resident, Anna Cheokas, who launched a campaign to bring it back to its rightful place.
Through conversations with her friend, Gladys Crabb, Mrs. Cheokas knew of the existence of the streetcar, and because of her interest in historic preservation, though the city of Americus would be interested in moving the artifact back to the city and she approached city officials to that effect.
“About 3 years ago; several city officials went to the site and investigated,” said Mrs. Cheokas, but because of the lack of available funds could find no solution.
Prior to this, Mrs. Crabb was contacted by Gene Carson of Baltimore, MD, an analyst with the CSX Transportation Co. there, and also a streetcar and railroad buff, asking for information about the Americus Trolley, turned “cottage” to include in a book he is writing about the street railways in Georgia.
Mr. Carson knew of the streetcar’s existence after placing a classified as in the Americus Times-Recorder back in the early 1970s. The late Hugh Lloyd responded to Mr. Carson’s ad, and the two corresponded for years, with Mr. Lloyd providing Mr. Carson with information gleaned from the microfilm files of the Americus Times Recorder, located at the Lake Blackshear Regional Library, and also information about the streetcar system here contained in a book about the early history of Americus written by Virginia Culpepper, and the late Daisy Mallard.
Through Mr. Carson’s telephone conversations with Mrs. Crabb, and also a visit here in 1980 he verified that Mrs. Crabb’s streetcar turned cottage was indeed the official car which opened service here and, in fact, it is the only one of its era in the United States.
He recently returned for another look at the streetcar and during his visit said, “the trolley has a real history. That any of it survives is a miracle.” Subsequently, Mrs. Cheokas, also an artist, was teaching youngsters in an art class at the local library, discussed the streetcar with library officials, who expressed a desire to have it, provided Mrs. Crabb wanted to give it away.
More conversations ensued between Mrs. Cheokas and Mrs. Crabb who said she was willing to donate the streetcar to the library. Jane Hendrix, director of the library and June Ewing, chairman of the board, brought the subject up at a board of trustees meeting and later two of the library’s board members went to the river site to investigate the possibility of whether the artifact would be worth saving and bringing back to house on the library property. Their recommendation was positive.
Some months before Mrs. Crabb had listed her river property containing the streetcar with a real estate agent, and the property was sold to Robert Pilcher of Ellaville. At that time Mrs. Cheokas started the “ball rolling,” with the creation of the “Trolley Trust” to save the little streetcar for its future home at Lake Blackshear Regional Library.
“I’m overwhelmed at how fast Anna worked to get things moving,” said Mrs. Crabb.
In a period of less than two weeks, Mrs. Cheokas enlisted the services of a number of people and firms who volunteered their time and services to further the restoration of the trolley.
Johnny Shiver of Shiver Lumber Co. volunteered to transport it to town. Mr. Pilcher, the new owner of the property, assisted in dismantling the wings on either side of the structure so that it could be moved, and officials at South Georgia Technical Institute, Dea Pounders, President, Johnny Johnson, and Willie Yarbrough promises a place at the educational complex on Souther Field Road to house the trolley for the restoration work.
Mr. Carson was impressed with the efforts of preserving the historic streetcar after meeting with Mrs. Crabb, Mrs. Cheokas, Miss Hendrix, and others of the group at the river site. He said, “What all of these people are doing is volunteering their time and their efforts epitomizes the community spirit here in Sumter County, and shows their appreciation of their heritage.”
In the beginning, the work was done by South Georgia Tech carpentry students as a class project under the supervision of Willie Yarbrough, carpentry instructor, using the design and guideline renderings of the original trolley supplied by Gene Carson.
The students worked on the restoration project as time permitted. They uncovered the original pine flooring that rand the length of the car, still intact, after removing layer after layer of roofing. In its refurbishing, the carpentry students used as many of the original parts of the cars as possible, but many of the support side posts and overhead rafters had deteriorated and replacements were custom made according to the specifications by Shiver Lumber Co. and installed.
Because the restoration was meticulous and went slowly, South Georgia Tech master craftsman, Harold Cromer, who has done all of South Georgia Tech’s carpentry work for many years, accepted President Dea Pounder’s challenge to complete the restoration efforts.
He took over in the summer of 1989 researching the project, and then traveling to New Haven, Conn. to consult with Mr. Carson. He toured the trolley museum there in an effort to familiarize himself with electric trolley cars from the same era as the one in Americus. He began the arduous task of refinishing the project after returning to South Georgia Tech, armed with information, old pictures, and diagrams.
Having never worked on a project of this type before, it was “trial and error” at first, says Mr. Cromer. He enclosed the car, cutting the wood to size, installed workable windows and sliding doors, and virtually returning the structure to its original form.
“It (the project) has probably been the most complicated one I’ve ever tackled,” said Mr. Cromer, “but I continued to work on it because I wanted to prove that I could. I want the trolley to look like the exact original as much as possible.”
From the trolley’s origin in Philadelphia more than a century ago, through its intended use as a passenger car in this Southwest Georgia City to the present, the trolley has weathered the ravages of time. It has now been preserved as a historical community treasure.
A classic relic of the past
With its bold and colorful motif
For years neglected and forgotten
Will again grace our times
As it did in memories past.
Its years were few – its life was brief
Still so fulfilling
Offering a convenience to all
As it moved with dramatic flair
From street to street.
The overhead cable sparkled
As it imparted wondrous power
Capturing the imagination of the young
Who anxiously came aboard
Eager for the lengthy ride.
And as it made its daily run
This trudging boxy shape
With its gentle features and iron rails
Made a spectacular display.
These fond remembrances recapture
The charm and beauty of a time
Which is reason enough to welcome and preserve
This daring and magnificent device
That was so worthy of its day.