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Looking Back: The Ybor City Streetcar gets a new life (Dec. 27, 1991)

Published Jul. 20, 2017

Before World War II Tampa's public transportation needs were covered by a network of Birney streetcars, with a peak of 24 million passengers in 1926. When a local streetcar enthusiast came across a 1920's model, she contacted the Tampa Trolley Society with an eye towards restoration. That streetcar would become the part of the 2002 phase of the TECO Line Streetcar System serving downtown, Channelside and Ybor City.

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on December 27, 1991. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos taken by Times freelance photographer Chris Clevenger.

TROLLEY'S FATE GETS A LIFT

By Kim Dutra

Times staff writer

The day after Christmas, Jeanne MacNeill Mydelski gave away a treasure - an original 1920s Birney trolley. Although plagued by rust holes, a crumbling ceiling and splintered wood, it was the best Christmas present ever to the Tampa Trolley Society.

"I had to let them have it," said Mydelski, who bought her one-bedroom Sulphur Springs house because the trolley car came with it. "I wanted it to be saved."

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

The old rusted car once shuttled passengers throughout Tampa, but has been sitting idle in the back yard for more than 40 years. The previous owner of the house rented it to people who visited Florida during the winter, Mydelski said.

When she bought the house in 1978 at 8211 N 10th St., she had bigger plans for the car. She was going to restore it and turn it into the perfect office for her travel agency, Travel by Jeanne.

But it cost too much to restore the car, Mydelski said. "I wanted to keep it. It's so quaint, so out of the ordinary, but I couldn't let it get in any worse condition."

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Society founder Tom Ruddell said it is a "treasure of a car." With volunteer help by the Woodcrafters Club of Tampa and Tampa Tank & Welding, it will cost about $60,000 to restore, Ruddell said.

With the car, the society is one step closer to fulfilling its goal of establishing regular trolley service between downtown Tampa and Ybor City. The society's plans are included in a feasibility study now being conducted by the state Department of Transportation and Tampa city officials.

"We're confident that it's not unfeasible at all," Ruddell said. "In time, we will have an operating trolley line in Tampa."

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

A crew of six used a forklift and flatbed trailer to remove the car from Mydelski's small yard. The move was a bit troubling; first the movers had to take down part of Mydelski's chain-link fence, then move her carport out of the way.

In exchange for the car, the society agreed to provide Mydelski a new storage shed - she stored brochures and other papers for her business in the car - and repair the damage to Mydelski's carport, fence and yard.

Mydelski also gets to help raise money for the restoration.

"You wouldn't think you could form an attachment to something like a trolley car, but I did," she said. "It was my dream."

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

The streetcar is one of 93 that ran from 1920 until the mid-1940s on a system operated by Tampa Electric Co. Service ended in 1946.

Although the metal frame is intact, much work needs to be done on the wooden floor and roof as well as the seats, windows and lights.

The society is restoring one other car, a two-car trolley acquired in September from the St. Petersburg Historical Museum. Another trolley from the Tampa trolley system has been promised to the society from the Museum of Science and Industry, Ruddell said.

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

Special to the Times | Chris Clevenger

To order reprints, license or download any Times image from this gallery, or to see other Dr. Paul Bearer photos, please visit the Times image archive.

Jeremy King

Twitter: @TBTimesArchive

e-mail: jking@tampabay.com

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