Demise of a Dream

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Every so often, a breathless call would come into the Market Street Railway office. It usually went like this. “I was driving back from Tahoe and I saw all these streetcars sitting in a forest.They look like old Muni cars. Do you know about them?”

Yes. But now, they’re almost all gone, all but ending one man’s dream of a PCC Valhalla. The man is Gunnar Henrioulle, who owns a piece of land near the South Tahoe airport, visible from busy US 50. More than twenty years ago, Muni sold off most of its retired PCCs, keeping only about twenty for possible future use. Henrioulle bought the largest single batch, a mix of ‘Baby Ten’ class single-end cars, bought new by Muni in 1951-52 and ‘Elevens’, 1100-class single-end cars acquired second-hand by Muni from St. Louis Public Service in 1957. He augmented his ex-Muni fleet with an original San Diego PCC and a few ex-Toronto cars.

For years, he lobbied and cajoled public officials around South Lake Tahoe to build a streetcar system along the lakeshore, linking the airport to the casino area just inside Nevada. He called it Tahoe Valley Lines and had a logo and website designed. But he couldn’t win approval for his plan. What he did win, over time, was scrutiny from local planning officials who felt outdoor streetcar storage wasn’t an appropriate use for forested land near Lake Tahoe.

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Telstar Logistics photo.

So, under pressure, Henrioulle started selling off his stockpile of PCCs in 2001. At that point, he wanted to keep his fleet of Elevens intact, in hopes of still fulfilling his dream someday, but Market Street Railway bought four of his Baby Tens (identical in body style and size to the recently refurbished ex-Newark PCCs), and donated them to Muni for future restoration.

In 2003, Market Street Railway and Muni reacquired four Elevens from other sources, giving Muni twelve of its old PCCs of that class for potential future restoration, along with ten Baby Tens and four double-ended ‘Torpedoes’, making a total of thirty non-operational PCCs on the Muni property (including two non-operational ex-Philadelphia cars and two more from Pittsburgh).

As Tahoe planning officials turned up the heat, Henrioulle began phoning and faxing Muni and Market Street Railway regularly with various proposals to take back some of his Elevens, usually involving some kind of complicated trade for cars Muni had in storage. But doing the math, Market Street Railway calculated that Muni already had enough restorable cars on hand to operate much more frequent F-line service, plus full E-line service from Mission Bay all the way to the Presidio. And Muni officials were not anxious to spend more money leasing storage space for additional streetcars.

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Telstar Logistics photo.

So Henrioulle looked elsewhere. He tried to sell some cars to Sacramento, without success. He did sell two Elevens to San Diego (Nos. 1122 and 1123), where there are plans to restore them in San Diego livery (like Muni No. 1078) and run them on a downtown loop to augment ‘San Diego Trolley’ light rail service. Then, in one fell swoop, he sold nine of his Elevens to a residential housing developer’s project in St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, original home of the Elevens. Ultimately, ten miles of track is envisioned, linking the development to other parts of town. A developer’s representative has already gotten down to the detail level of restoring the original St. Louis Public Service numbers (all in the 1700s) to the cars. At the same time, though, elected officials in the town are saying they need federal money to build any track, and there’s none yet in sight. Meantime, the developer says, the streetcars can be stationed in the new development to serve as “old-fashioned diners, cafes, sushi bars or bookstores,” according to a news report.

So whether they ever operate again, at least these Elevens will be near their original home. As for Gunnar Henrioulle, he is still holding on to No. 1101, plus ex-San Diego No. 502, ex-Toronto No. 4404, and a double-ended mash-up made from ex-Muni Baby Tens Nos. 1024 and 1035 (but too long to operate in San Francisco). In a recent web newsgroup posting, he said he still hopes to get at least a starter line for South Tahoe. “Hybrid power would be used,” he wrote. “This proposal needs some oomph from secret admirers like Senator Feinstein, a streetcar person…”

Senator, there’s a call from a Mr. Henrioulle on line 2…

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