The Denver Trolley gets a facelift in a year without riders

The trolley’s keepers are hoping to hit the rails again this fall — if, that is, COVID doesn’t rear its head again.

Dave Muggli rehabs some rotten floorboards in the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Dave Muggli rehabs some rotten floorboards in the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
KEVIN-lighter

It’s been over a year since the Denver Trolley packed its old wooden seats with screaming kids and drunk football fans. Still, a few people are still getting some joy out of it.

On a recent afternoon, we found a crew of retired volunteers at work on the old car, which has sat near Confluence Park for over 30 years. It’s not technically historic; it’s more of a Franken-trolley, with century-old hardware grafted to newer replica parts. But the floors are rotting, so the volunteers were busy tearing them out and replacing them with some state-of-the-art planks.

“It takes a beating from the weather,” Pete West told us. And of the new polypropylene flooring: “It’ll certainly last longer than Chuck” — another volunteer — “and I.”

West made the rounds, introducing us to the crew. There was the electrical engineer, the lumber guy and the photography enthusiast (the physicist didn’t make it out that day). Despite their array of expertise, everyone had something in common: a soft spot for transportation.

The renovations are the only action the trolley has seen in at least a year, Denver Tramway Heritage Society board chair Ethan Yazzie-Mintz told us. COVID-19 arrived right as the nonprofit was beginning to plan out its season, and it became clear pretty quickly that it would have to wait to fill the trolley again with people.

Outside of pandemic conditions, the trolley runs almost all year long. It takes families on short tours out of Confluence Park, shuttles Broncos fans to Mile High Stadium on game days and offers free rides to kids one day a month from the Children’s Museum. The repair work was also sorely needed, so the off-year made for a good opportunity for a complete facelift.

“We decided to take on some of these maintenance upgrade projects,” Yazzie-Mintz said. “We believe it will be in great shape.”

Chuck Mackey and Pete West are two volunteers rehabbing the old Denver Trolley by Confluence Park. April 22, 2021.

Chuck Mackey and Pete West are two volunteers rehabbing the old Denver Trolley by Confluence Park. April 22, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Dave Muggli rehabs some rotten floorboards in the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Dave Muggli rehabs some rotten floorboards in the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

West and Yazzie-Mintz are hoping the work will be completed by the end of summer, when COVID might be less of a concern and right before football begins. They’d like to run at least some regular rides in 2021.

But Yazzie-Mintz said they need to be careful. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Denver Tramway Heritage Society, and many of them fit the description of “high risk” when it comes to the virus. And even though there’s plenty of ventilation in the open-air car, he’s sensitive to the risks for kids and adults who might pile in. Yazzie-Mintz said he’s watching both city regulations and the latest from medical professionals to decide when the right time to reopen may be. He’s also wary of policing rowdy Broncos fans, so there’s all the more reason to “err on the side of super caution.”

Some of the Denver Trolley's guts are revealed now that rotten floorboards have been removed. April 22, 2021.

Some of the Denver Trolley's guts are revealed now that rotten floorboards have been removed. April 22, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Volunteers rehab the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Volunteers rehab the old Denver Trolley, which has sat outside by Confluence Park for three decades. April 22, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The good news is most of the trolley’s costs come from hiring a few seasonal workers, so they haven’t been bleeding money as the car remains dormant. A bigger concern, Yazzie-Mintz said, will be gathering the army of volunteers that had to step away when things slowed down.

But he and West have some time to rally the troops. The Franken-car at Confluence Park still has some guts that need refreshing.

Yazzie-Mintz said you can keep tabs on their website to see when they’re ready to start running rides again.

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