From public works to trolley storyteller, Neal Wallace is enjoying his retirement. “I am the perfect kind of busy. It’s been very enjoyable so far and doing what I can to make sure it stays that way.”
Staying involved with outside influences and community organizations keeps Wallace’s social needs fulfilled.
Wallace, who joined the all-volunteer trolley team in August, has lived in Seaside for 25 years. Before retiring in 2015, he was Seaside’s Public Works director.
He arrived in Seaside during the spring break quake in 1993 and went to work as a surveyor for the planning firm HLB, then in Manzanita. A little more than a year into his job, HLB opened an office in Gearhart, where Wallace remained for the next five years.
In 1998, Wallace was hired to do land surveys, engineering and project management for the city of Seaside.
“I didn’t have anyone to supervise and only one person to answer to,” he said. “It was perfect.”
Five years in, the Public Works director position became opened, and after a discussion with his wife Lisa, he decided to “throw his hat into the ring.” The rest is history.
Before retiring, Wallace finished his commitment to the food bank board and felt fortunate to have helped with the new building’s completion. He then took time to refocus and redirect his interests.
“After a while I had enough of that. There’s only so much inner focus I could do.”
Still, he wondered if he could let go of the job. “I really enjoyed my time with the city. It was the best job I ever had.”
Wallace said being in the buzz during the early stages, working with the council and “bringing the seeds of ideas collected enough to actually form a project, develop it and find funding for it is what I enjoyed the most, and will always miss that.”
He joined the board for Camp Kiwanilong, which proved to be a perfect outlet for filling in what he missed, using his skills in forming, funding and managing projects.
If that wasn’t enough to keep Wallace busy, his wife asked if he knew they were looking for trolley men, saying she felt he would be good at it. He wasn’t so keen on the idea, but “it kept spinning around in my head and I thought, ‘yeah it might be fun.’”
He submitted his application and quickly found himself in the training program. “After I drove the train the first time, I was pretty well hooked.”
Wallace has joined an elite group of about 45 certified volunteers, mostly retirees. He goes about once a week, and says there are always two volunteers on the trolley who split the shift, alternating between driving and conducting. There is no set schedule and no commitment.
“That works for me because if I don’t have anything going on, I can sign up for a shift if it’s available. I like that.”
The trolley has become part of Astoria’s scenic fabric. It runs along the waterfront daily from noon to 6 p.m., from spring to October. For a dollar, passengers can take the hour ride from the Trolley Barn off Industry to the 39th Street Pier and back.
The route is linear, and when the train stops to prepare for the trip back, passengers are instructed to stand and move a lever which flips the seat-back over so passengers are always facing forward. “Some people get shanghaied in Astoria, some people get turned around in Astoria,” he joked.
Wallace enjoys learning about the early history of Astoria and its colorful past. “It’s fascinating, especially when you realize how quickly things happened. Part of that makes me realize how big a focus there was on the northwest and how many foreign countries were interested in this area.”
He learned about the War of 1812 and why Astoria was renamed Fort George. He’s fascinated by the different nationalities and looks forward to learning more about the river pilots and bar pilots.
“You take people’s money, greet them, give them a bit of history and some stand up,” he said. “I enjoy doing that. I like telling stories and I like learning stories. After spending 25 years in Seaside and learning all about it, it’s nice learning something different, and Astoria has a lot of history.”
Though some of the locals are quick to correct Wallace on historical facts, he says “that doesn’t happen a whole lot.”
“Most people don’t know Astoria that much and they enjoy hearing the history. Where else can you look at the most gorgeous scenery for an hour? Where are you going to get that for a buck? It’s a unique experience both from my end and the passengers’ end,” he said.
“It’s really gotten under my skin.”