Trolley enters seventh year on Astoria riverfront; volunteers are key in keeping popular attraction operatingIt's 92 years old, weighs 40,000 pounds and is fun for the whole family. It's the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Old 300, burnished and gleaming, is back on the tracks for its seventh season, running along the Columbia River from the Astoria Red Lion Inn on the west side of town, through Uniontown, downtown and Uppertown, to Comfort Suites and the East Mooring Basin and back again.

"Everybody who gets on that trolley, or even sees it, has a big smile on their face," said Jim Wilkins, an Astoria contractor who has been involved with the trolley since he helped Mayor Willis Van Dusen rescue it from a trolley park near Forest Grove in 1998. Wilkins used his Low Boy trailer to haul the antique trolley to Astoria, where 300 volunteers spent the winter restoring it, paying for the project with money from fundraisers. When the trolley made its maiden voyage in the summer of 1999, Wilkins was at the controls.

This year, Astoria City Manager Dan Bartlett expects 50,000 people to ride the trolley.

"It's kind of an orientation to Astoria," he said, a way for visitors to learn the layout of the town. It's also a chance to find out about Astoria's history, provided in humorous fashion by trolley conductors on every trip. And all for just $1 a ride, or $2 for an all-day pass.

MORE INFO.The trolley's summer schedule starts Friday.

It will run from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday through Monday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

Call the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, 325-6311, for information on upcoming trolley certification classes.Bartlett said he has seen cruise ship passengers buy a pass, then use the trolley for transportation as they figure out where to eat, where to shop and what sights to see. Trolley volunteers make it easy by selling tickets in advance as the ships unload passengers near the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

The trolley has been the key to development of Astoria's Riverwalk, which now extends along the entire trolley route, said Steve Nurding, president of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce. An active member of the nonprofit Astoria Riverfront Trolley Association, Nurding's classic Corvette sports a license plate holder that reads "My Other Car is a Trolley."

"Our whole riverfront has been opened up and made into a 'people place' by a combination of the trolley and the Riverwalk," Nurding said.

Wilkins agrees, calling the trolley an "economic engine of development" that has helped Astoria flower. "People come here just to ride the trolley," Wilkins said.

The city of Astoria leases the trolley, built in 1913, from the San Antonio (Texas) Museum Association, for $1 a year. Plans are in the works for the city to buy it, using money from fund raising and trolley fares. The city owns the tracks and the right-of-way and is responsible for maintaining most of the tracks, bridges and trestles. The city owns the trolley barn, but the trolley association is paying back the loan the city used to finance it.

Volunteers make it possibleEd and Schatzie Perkins are a married couple who almost always operate the trolley together. Former Portlanders, they took the motorman training class two years ago. It was Schatzie's idea, said Ed, who is 68.

"I went along for the ride, but then I kind of got excited about it," he said.

At first, getting on the microphone and talking about Astoria's history was a lot scarier for Ed Perkins than driving the 20-ton machine with 50 passengers inside. Now, he enjoys sharing his knowledge of the area and interacting with passengers, telling jokes and having fun.

"Very rarely do you run into a sourpuss," Ed said.LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

"It probably has some worn pieces inside" says train consultant John Smatlack, looking at the controller, which has been causing intermittent problems. He inspected the trolley Thursday.Movies set in Astoria are an important part of the conductors' spiel, and Ed has a great anecdote to share, because Schatzie was a stand-in for Arnold Schwarzenegger's love interest, Penelope Ann Miller, in the movie "Kindergarten Cop." When the trolley passes the old Seafare Restaurant, where the movie couple dined, he said he tells trolley riders his wife was the "second most famous woman in Astoria" during filming of the 1990 movie.

Schatzie, 65, said she likes driving best, and has never been concerned about the trolley's huge size. Her name, which means "sweetheart" in German is really a nickname she invented 30 years ago, based on her maiden name, Schatz. What's her real first name? She doesn't like it and she won't tell. But she does like the trolley and wants more people to experience it.

"Tell people it's great fun," she said. "We need more volunteers."

The trolley association has about 100 members, and an active roster of about 60, who make up two-person crews who man the trolley for three-hour shifts, taking turns as motorman and conductor. Don Morden, one of the association's two paid employees, is the scheduler. By phone and e-mail, he makes sure every shift is filled, and often takes the controls himself. For information about becoming a motorman, call the chamber, 325-6311.

Calling in the expertThe other employee is Errol Eshaia, a school teacher who serves as a part-time trolley mechanic. School is still in session, so Eshaia missed a visit last week from John Smatlack, a train consultant from California. Smatlack, Bartlett, Wilkins and Russ Thompson took the trolley out on a rainy morning so the expert could fine-tune it. With the trolley in motion, Smatlack lifted a floor panel to check the motors, located over the wheels. He checked the grease and noted that the motors have been repacked.

"It's not like the last time I was here. That thing was really making an awful racket then," Smatlack said.

But the controller, the apparatus that regulates the amount of electricity sent to the trolley's motor, and thus controls the trolley's speed, isn't working just right. After carefully turning off the power, Smatlack removed the wooden case and checked the machinery.

"It's missing right there," he said. He told Thompson and Wilkins the controller might need to be taken apart and rebuilt. "It's a big giant drum switch," Smatlack said. "It probably has some worn pieces inside."

He turned the power back on, and headed the trolley toward the barn, all the while checking for problems, and finding a few minor ones. He made a list of suggestions for Eshaia and the volunteers to look into.

Smatlack's suggestions are likely to be followed. "He knows every trolley system existing, past and planned, and even those that are twinkles in somebody's mind, and their status," Bartlett said.