FCMR HISTORY: THE EARLY YEARS

Car 103 at the barn.The Denver and Interurban Railroad (D&I), a subsidiary of the Colorado and Southern (C&S), built a three-legged streetcar line in Fort Collins in 1907 as part of their expansion along Colorado's Front Range. The plan was to develop electric feeder or "collector" lines to connect with the C&S, the major transportation artery up and down the Front Range.

Fort Collins streetcar lines fanned out from the intersection of Mountain Ave. and College Ave. in downtown Fort Collins:
  • West on Mountain Ave. to the cemetery (later thru City Park)
  • South to the (then new) high school on Pitkin
  • Northeast on Linden, then East to Lindenmeier Lake

The first line to open was on West Mountain Ave. and served the annual Race Meet and Stock Show at the county fairgrounds, now part of the City Park complex. Because the power plant was not yet in operation, the C&S used a small steam switcher and old coaches to provide service from downtown to the fairgrounds. The fare for this three-day operation was five cents per ride, the same basic fare that would stick with the system throughout its life.

Car 106 with crew.Four new Woeber double-truck streetcars arrived from Denver in the fall and begain operating on all three lines on December 29, 1907. The cars were numbered 101-104. Two additional pair of Jewett motors and trailers were added later. Here is the two-man crew of car M-106 in the early years of operation. The conductor is Red Brewster.

Daily operation consisted of three cars running on the three lines. Each car had a two-man crew. All cars meet at the wye at Mountain and College every 20 minutes, then departed in a different direction. Cars ran from 5 AM through midnight, serving most of the businesses in the City, plus students at the high school on Pitkin and Colorado A&M College along College Ave.

After only a few years of operation, the D&I cut back on service by eliminating the conductor on each car. From then until the end in 1951, the motorman assumed the addional task of collecting fares and issuing transfers. Over the years, other economies were made to improve operation or save money, including dropping the stub line from Mountain and College to the C&S depot, and extending the College Ave. line East to Remington and Whedbee to form a loop though that southeastern residental area.

The D&I also built an interurban line between Denver and Boulder, and planned to extend the interurban north through Longmont and Loveland to the Fort. By 1918, however, the automobile had made a permanent dent in interurban and streetcar revenues. The D&I was loosing money on all its operations and fell into recievership. The Fort Collins system stopped running without warning on July 10, 1918.

THE BIRNEYS ARRIVE

After trying a gasoline bus and a railcar in 1918 with little success, the City realized that it could not function without reliable public transportation. In January 1919, the City asked citizens to purchase the system and pay $100,000 to revitalize it. The vote was 8:1 in favor of keeping the system. As it turned out, Fort Collins continued being the smallest (and last) city in the USA to operate a regularly scheduled streetcar service.

At Mountain & College.The City quickly acquired the streetcar line from the D&I and began upgrading it. Four new single-truck Birney Safety Cars were ordered from the American Car Company in St. Louis, MO. Much of the line to Lindenmeier Lake was removed, the rail and materials used to extend the Mountain Ave. line down Roosevelt Ave, through the City Park, and back to Mountain Ave. at the bridge over an irrigation ditch. The loop at the west end of Mountain Ave. at the cemetery entrance was removed, as was the loop near the high school at the south end of town. The City also replaced the inefficent 700 VDC generator set with new motor-generators delivering 600 VDC.

The new Birney Safety Cars were the forerunners of what we now call "light rail." The new cars cost the City $6,200 each and were numbered 20 through 23. Car 21 arrived first and was used to test the updated system. Shortly after, service was resumed on the new lines on a 20-minute headway. The three cars met every 20 minutes downtown at the Mountain & College wye. This operation continued daily from 6 AM through midnight until halted in 1951.

Cars at the barn in 1947.Between 1920 and 1946, Fort Collins purchased five more single-truck Birneys to supplement the original four. Car 24 came new from Cincinnati, but was retired shortly after arrival. Cars 25 and 26 arrived from Cheyenne, WY in 1924. Replacements for cars 24 and 25 arrived from Richmond, VA in 1946. For more about second car 25, click "Car 25 Returns" (below right).

Fort Collins operated its small but quality system continuously until May 1951. By then, private autos had replaced the need for a public system in our small town and the City had grown far beyond the reach of its 6.2-mile line. The cars were also in need of expensive upgrading. After running the system in the red for four years, the end came on June 30, 1951. Car 22 was the last to run over the line.

The fare from 1919 through 1951 remained a nickel, allowing a rider to travel the entire system on the same car as long as desired. Every summer we talk to riders who rode the Birneys as kids, either to get to and from the high school on Pitkin St. or when their parents would visit the City. Visitors would put their kids on the streetcars while they visited friends or shoping. The City provided cheap day care that the kids remember fondly.

Although thousands of Birneys were built for cities around the world from 1917 through 1932, Fort Collins operated the last regularly scheduled single-truck Birneys in the USA. Most of the tracks were quickly paved over or torn up, and the cars were soon scattered across the country. Car 21, the first of the original Birneys to operate, was kept and put on display. For 27 years it sat on a short piece of track next to the library (later the Pioneer Museum), slowly giving in to the elements. Three other cars are in museums or being restored.

excursion 20

THE FCMR SOCIETY

A small group of volunteers began restoring Car 21 in 1977. They first moved the car to the old barn on North Howes St. and carefully dismantled it. While the restoration was taking place, the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society organized in 1980 to complete the restoration and rebuild part of the original Mountain Ave. line to run Car 21. With help from many members and organizations, plus generous support from local businesses, we built a new two-stall barn on West Mountain Ave. and rebuilt most of the west Mountain Ave. line.

Dedicating the rail in 1986. The first part of rebuilding was complete by the end of 1984, allowing restored Car 21 to run once again to City Park. The rest of the line was completed over the following two summers and turned over to the City in August 1986. As long-time fan and Society member, Jim Stitzel (shown above), said at the dedication ceremony: "The Society restored a 1.5 mile-long railway and historic streetcar valued at $2.5 million, and turned it all over to the City at no cost to the City or County." Since then, we've operated the car and maintained the railway at no cost to the City.

car 21 Car 21 has since carried over 200,000 riders. The restoration work has won both local and national recognition. The Society remains an all-volunteer effort maintaining the line and operating the car on summer weekends and holidays.

CAR 25 RETURNS

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway owned nine single-truck Birney Safety Cars between 1919 and 1951. The initial four, cars 20-23, arrived in 1919. The last two cars, second 24 and second 25 (shown here), arrived in 1946.

Car 25 at the barn in 1951. Second Car 25 came used from Virginia Railway & Power Co. in 1946, and was numbered 1520 when it ran on Richmond streets. It arrived in Fort Collins along with sister car 1530, becoming FCMR second Car 24. Second 24 eventually became a 'parts car' to help keep others running, while second 25 served the City well until operations ceased in June 1951. You see second 25 below meeting other cars downtown in 1944. FCMR second cars 24 and 25 were Brill products similar to FCMR cars from American Car Co. Noticeable differences are the high-back leather bucket seats, wider doors that open inward, and a bit longer than other cars.

All remaining FCMR Birneys were sold after the system shut down except Car 21. Second Car 25 was purchased by Jim Stitzel for less than $500 and moved to his family's second home in Victor, CO. It remained outside their former railroad depot until sold to SCANA Corporation of South Carolina in the early 1990s. SCANA cosmetically restored the car as their Charleston Car 407 for the 150th anniversary as a South Carolina utility. After the celebration, the car remained in storage in Columbia.

Second Car 25 changed hands in 1997 to Charlotte Trolleys, Inc. (CTI), a volunteer-based non-profit working with the city of Charlotte to provide a heritage streetcar experience. Purchase price this time was about $127,000. CTI planned to completely restore the car as Richmond car 1520 and operate it, along with other restored streetcars of the region, on Charlotte's expanding light-rail lines. Restoration cost was estimated at over $250,000.

The CTI mission changed in 2007 to restoring only cars that were ADA compliant. They contacted us in the hopes that we could complete the restoration. We quickly traveled to Charlotte, assessed the condition of the car and negotiated sale price and terms. Thanks to quick action by our Board and generous local donors, we raised the needed $196,000 purchase price and completed the purchase in December 2007. Car 25 is now back in the Howes St. carbarn, as shown below, undergoing a 5-7 year reconditioning. Unloading Car 25, May 2008.

For more about Car 25, see our newsletter archive.

FCMR EQUIPMENT ROSTER

The Denver and Interurban (D&I) Railroad built the original street railway in 1907 and operated double-truck streetcars from December 1907 through July 1918. Car 106 is shown with crew at right. After the City acquired the railway, it replaced the original cars with four new, single-truck Birney Safety cars. Along with additional used cars purchased in the 1920's and 1940's, the Birneys lasted until June 1951. Most Fort Collins Birneys still exist, scattered around the USA. Some are in museums while others are in various states of restoration. Here's a brief summary of the Birney roster:

The Birneys

Car 20 was built in 1919 by American Car Co. It was sold in 1951 and moved to the Pioneer Village in Minden, NE. On static display there ever since. Car 20 is shown at the head of a 1920 excursion on Wheedbee St. in The Birneys Arrive at left.

Car 21 was built in 1919 by American Car Co., retired in 1951 and on display outside the Fort Collins Museum from 1953 through 1977. Volunteers restored car 21 from 1978 through 1985. We now operate it on spring and summer weekends. Here's Car 21 in current service on Mountain Ave:

Car 22 was built in 1919 by American Car Co. and retired in 1951. Car 22 was featured in a three-part series on streetcars in Railroad Model Craftsman magazine in the September thru November 1983 issues. The November issue included many detail photos of Car 22 at the Colorado Railroad Museum, where it reposed from 1953-1996. It's now being restored by the Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation. Below you see Car 22 entering City Park in the late 1940's where the restored line now ends at our depot.

Car 23 was built in 1919 by American Car Co., retired 1951, and rusted away in a vacant lot until scrapped in 1957. This is the only known photo of Car 23:

First Car 24 was scrapped shortly after being purchased used from the Cincinnati Car Co. Second Car 24 (Brill) was purchased used from Richmond, VA in 1946, but seldom operated. Parts help keep other cars operating. Here's second Car 24 crossing the ditch at Bryant St. in 1947:

First Car 25 was built by American Car Co. for Cheyenne, WY in 1922. Fort Collins purchased it in 1924 but scrapped it prior to 1951. Second Car 25 (Brill) was purchased from Richmond, VA in 1946 and sold to James Stitzel in 1953. Second Car 25 resided next to the former Midland Terminal depot in Victor, CO until sold to the South Carolina Power Co. about 1990, where it was cosmetically restored as Charleston, SC car 407. After a celebration, it was sold to Charlotte Trolley, Inc. in 1998. Plans were to restore it to operation as original Richmond Car 1520.


We purchased Car 25 in 2007 and are restoring it for operation. Above is second Car 25 awaiting service outside the Howes St. carbarn in 1949. For more about Car 25, click Car 25 Returns above.

First Car 26 was built by American Car Co. for Cheyenne, WY. Fort Collins purchased it in 1924. Second Car 26 (Brill) was purchased from Richmond, VA in 1946. Sold to the Midwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in 1953. Second Car 26 participated in a transit history parade in Detroit before being donated to the Henry Ford Museum. Now on static display in Greenfield Village. Below is Car 26 on Whedbee at Olive St. on the last day of operation in June 1951. For more about Car 26's 1953 adventure in Detroit, read an article from the Midwest Chapter's newsletter.
Car 26 on Whedbee at Olive on last day of operation, 1951.

Maintenance equipment

We use two motorcars and some pushcars to help us maintain the line. MW01 (shown in forground below) was purchased from the Great Western Railway in 1984. We've recently upgraded it to Fairmont A4 mechanical condition.
Motorcar MW01, 2006.

MW02 (in background above) is a Fairmont A4E gang-car built in 1981 for the Canadian National RR. We purchased it from a Canadian dealer in 2002 to operate a mechanical flangeway cleaner that we designed. Both cars have been upgraded to two-axle drive to cope with our in-the-grass median.