As the weeks count down for the arrival of our Streetcar #50, everyone here at HMFM is getting excited to bring back such an important part of Missoula’s history.
Missoula’s first streetcar system began operations in May of 1892 and operated through August of 1897 when re-planking of the Higgins Street Bridge necessitated the removal of the tracks.
In June of 1907, U.S. Senator William A. Clark toured the Bitterroot and Blackfoot Valleys in hopes of forming a trolley system from Great Falls to Missoula, and then south to Hamilton. Clark’s Missoula Street Railway Company was incorporated February 1909 and streetcar service was again available in Missoula from 1910-1932.
Missoula’s street railway track eventually stretched from the University of fort Missoula through the business district, with a loop at the Northern Pacific Railway Station to form a link with the railroad, and then continued on four miles east to Bonner. Over a period of two and a half years, 2,500,000 passengers were served and approximately 1,000,000 car miles were run.
Missoula was the first city in the U.S. to successfully operate a “one-man” trolley system with only one operator per car on Streetcar #50, which ran the Interurban line between fort Missoula and Bonner twice per day from 1912-1932.
The Missoula Street Railway Company was bought by Missoula Public Service in 1924, who operated it until 1928 when Montana Power Company then purchased it.
War and post-war inflation, along with the proliferation of internal combustion engines powering cars and buses throughout Montana, cut into street railway revenues and eventually undermined the state’s systems. Billings, Bozeman and Helena street railway systems collapsed. On January 24, 1932, Missoula’s beloved cars made their last run.
Most of the cars were placed in a tourist camp and later used for housing. In 1974 the only remaining car, the #50, was donated to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. In 1993 the Museum looked into selling it for commercial use at Caras Park, as it has severely deteriorated from years of being outside in the elements.
With Federal Transportation Funds and matching donations to The Friends of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the trolley was instead sent to Big Sandy, Montana to be completely restored for hopes of a future HMFM exhibit.
And that time is finally here! Look in the next weeks for a sneak peek at how the #50 looks complete restored!