Homeless in Vancouver: Hello trolley!

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      At 7:33 p.m. Saturday evening (September 15) I saw a totally unexpected thing—a 1954 Brill trolley bus—coasting majestically through the 1400 block of West Broadway—and full of passengers!

      I had to blink. Then I had to take some photos.

      According to the big placard on its side, the vintage transit bus (#2146, to be precise) was rolled out of moth balls to celebrate 70 years of electric trolley buses in Metro Vancouver.

      According to the Internet it has intermittently been rolling around Vancouver since August.

      Brill-iant blast from the past

      I did. did! I did taw a Brill trolley bus!

      Naturally this 1954 Brill anniversary trolley was perfectly restored and resplendent in the authentic livery of its heyday: glossy sea-foam white, with horizontal waist strips of dark blue and green—the corporate colours of B.C. Hydro, which operated the Greater Vancouver trolley bus system until 1979.

      The region's transit system actually began introducing electric trolleys 73 years ago, in 1945. But it was only in 1948 that the trolleys apparently completely replaced the older electric streetcars of the interurban, or electric railway, era of Lower Mainland transit; a conversion process reportedly dubbed “rails to rubber” at the time.

      Seventy years later, the current regional transit authority, now called TransLink, still runs electric trolley buses but seemingly only in Vancouver. In fact, Vancouver—which has the third-largest trolley fleet in North America—is apparently now alone in Canada in continuing to run electric trolleys powered by overhead wires.

      Not that trolleys don’t continue to make economic sense. According to TransLink, on a per-bus-per-year basis, an electric trolley bus uses around $15,000 of electricity, while diesel buses use something like $40,000 in diesel fuel.

      Brings back electrifying memories

      I know the rear end of a Brill like the back of my hand!
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      I fondly remember these Brill trolley buses from my childhood in Saskatoon. I remember both the rounded and riveted, glossy, enamelled-steel-and-chrome interiors—so inviting with the big upholstered seats and without a sharp corner anywhere. And I remember the likewise rounded exteriors.

      More than anything though, I remember the rear ends of these buses, with the two bulbous housings covering the take-ups reels of the power poles ropes.

      Many a dark winter morning I, and other children, found ourselves looking up at these twin domes—and past them to the hypnotic play of electric fire on the frosted overhead trolley wires—as we engaged in something called “bumper sliding”.

      Bumper sliding was (and may still be) a deliciously hair-raising winter sport involving holding on for dear life to the underside of the back bumper of a transit bus; bracing the body in a sort of sitting position—with snow-booted feet flat on the icy road—and then letting yourself be dragged by the bus over the road but not under its big back wheels.

      Just thinking about it gives me a thrill and a chill. 

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      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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