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Boy Scouts pitch in on Belmont Trolley project

Jan 23, 2020 12:50PM

The Boy Scout Troop 56 guys who had a work day on the Belmont Trolley. Back row Left to Right – Nick Rothrock, Austin Andrews, Jesse Whaley, Ethan Thagard, Jake Thovtrup. Front Row – Joshua Morales (in hat,) Samuel Morgan, Cooper Sass, Austin Kellogg,  Zander Wells.

By Alan Hodge

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Boy Scouts are supposed to do a good deed everyday and a group of them from Troop 56 based at First United Methodist Church Belmont did just that on January 11.

The deed involved some dusty work on the Belmont Trolley project. The scouts spent the day sanding and cleaning the 1913 trolley that’s being slowly but surely restored with the dream of one day having it operational. For now, the trolley is still in the City of Belmont public works garage where it’s been for several years.

Belmont Trolley, Inc. secretary and scout leader Nate Wells was on the scene with the scouts. “The boys re-kicked off our restoration effort to cosmetically restore the car,” Wells said.  “They tore down cast iron seats, de-rusted and painted the seat castings, polished and oiled wooden seat supports, sanded the car body in preparation for a new paint scheme and cleaned up two years, and what seemed like two inches, of dust from the car.  They accomplished more in a few hours that what myself and other volunteers took many more hours and days to accomplish stretched out over months.”

Wells went on.

“It was a four-hour session where these kids got to participate, hands-on, in a unique project with which few scouts across the country have ever had the opportunity to participate,” he said.  “This session has been in the making for about a year as scout leaders expressed their interest in wanting to help and get the boys involved in a cool project to accumulate some service hours.  This will probably be something that our troop will do on a regular basis to help the trolley project and use the skills they have learned through scouting.  If this does become a regular service project, I’d like to submit the story to the national scout magazine, “Boys’ Life” and get some national attention for the troop, Belmont and the trolley project.”  

Troop 56 adult leader Michael Sass added these comments about the workday.

“I think it was more of an experience than necessarily a day for learning skills.  I would add they actually enjoyed the physical labor,” he said.  “So, while they may not have inquired about the car’s story, they came away with an appreciation of history and good old fashion hands-on work.  It was fun to them and not just a chore to acquire service hours or a rank advancement requirement or skill.  Their scouts’ parents already “got it” and were glad their boys were there to participate.  It’s an exciting project that people want to be associated with.   

 I felt that this volunteer day was beneficial to the scouts in several different ways.  First, they learned about the restoration process.  I feel that they now have a real sense of how much effort is needed and how much work goes into the restoration process.  We were able to do some sanding on the original wood exterior and cast iron seat bases which showed the level intricacy and detail need for this type of work.  We also disassembled the seat bases and stained some of the wood pieces.  

We always want the scouts to be involved in, and be a part of  the community.  This was a chance for them to be directly involved in a major Belmont project. I saw a sense of pride as they worked on the individual seats, the scouts took note of each seat on which they were working and commented that they would look for that seat once the trolley was operational.  They were all very interested in the history of the trolley and the story of how in made its way to Belmont.   The scouts are eager to volunteer for this again and to follow the trolley’s progress.”

One of the scouts who took part, Zander Wells, reflected on what the  trolley work day meant to him

“It was awesome getting together with our friends and working on an old trolley,” he said.  “It was also fun playing on our bikes during our free time.The best part was when were exploring the building and we found the scaffolding that we thought was stolen during a robbery at the building that happened a few weeks ago.  When we found it, we brung it back and used it to climb on top of the roof of the trolley. While we were on top of the trolley we cleaned the roof and we found an empty bucket of butter. “I figured out what a “walkover seat” looks like and how to take it apart.  It was cool how it worked.”

The Belmont Trolley project has been ongoing since it arrived in 2015. Once it is running, the idea is to have it deployed on the tracks that run alongside N. Main from downtown Belmont to Belmont Abbey College.

Wells provided an update on where the project is heading.

“One of our board members this time last year pumped $25,000 into the restoration campaign and we used that to pay for some mechanical work and cosmetic work,” he said. “Since Chris Allen, our restoration guy, passed this time last year, the board kind of put it in my hands to make the calls as to how to proceed with the restoration.  I took Chris’s plans, some advice from others around the country who have worked on these same cars and input from the board to include cosmetic work and decided to get the controllers worked on first (they needed to be totally refurbished:  they have these large, fancy, multi-position drum switches that control the speed of the trolley as it is notched into different speed settings.  The work was intensive to rehabilitate the case, remove asbestos insulators to protect the contacts from arching and causing controllers fires, controller handle fabricated since one was missing, etc.)  The controllers were expensive to repair, but will allow us to wire the car next (since we will not be using 100 year old wire for obvious safety reasons) since we need something to wire to.  Once the wiring is complete, we can begin to put the windows, attractive wood paneling, doors and seats back in the car, so we can work towards closing it up to while we wait to finish the mechanical restoration.  Also, the controls look great, so fulfill a cosmetic improvement for us as well.  

In addition to the controllers, I had some underbody work completed and the rattan seats sent out to be reupholstered.  The seat cushions look awesome and this is where the boys come in.  

The next steps will be to prep the body to be repainted, paint the seat castings so the rattan cushions can be reinstalled, replace the original window glass in the car with tempered glass for liability reasons, wire the car, then begin to put everything back together with respect to the body.  This will show tangible progress while we raise money to complete the undercarriage restoration.  

The undercarriage will be handled by Jenkins Electric.  They were already doing the heavy mechanical work for us in tandem with Chris Allen who took apart the undercarriage, so after asking around they just happen to be the best option from a cost and quality standpoint to continue the work.  They’ll now do the tear-down and rebuild of the undercarriage that Chris Allen was doing as well the heavy motor work and machining they were already doing for us.  

If all goes smoothly, I think we can have this car operational by the end of this year and use the car to help juice the larger campaign to build a car barn to house the trolley - which will be really cool in its own right.”