The St. Charles Avenue streetcar: a historic ride

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Every ride on the St. Charles streetcar is historic.

The olive drab cars are more than 90 years old. And, much of what you see and what keeps the cars running is about that old as well.

“We still have the electric motors,” says Wil Mullet, Superintendent of Rail and Traction Power at Carrollton Station. “It’s a GE–General Electric motor. Same trucks. Same body.”

They were purchased in 1923 for around $15,000 each from North Carolina manufacturer Perley A. Thomas, which is why they are often referred to as the “Perley Thomas” streetcars.

Mullet says they have made some big changes over the years. “We went away from the wood doors and the window sills being wood,” he points out. “We went with the metal.”

But, even some of the new parts are made in the old ways.

“I would say about 95% of everything you see inside the car, underneath the car, and around the car is fabricated here at the Carrollton Barn,” says Mullet. “Hand straps. All the electrical that’s done inside this car. The flooring. The window sills. Shades. All that’s done in-house.”

He says you can’t just order parts for a 90-plus-year-old streetcar on Amazon. So, he and workers build them.

“And, that’s a good thing,” Mullet adds, “because that retains the historic nature of the car. It’s part of New Orleans.”

One thing that won’t change: the sound that the Perley Thomas streetcars make.

“This one still has the steel wheels. This one still has the clankity-clank, the clankity-clank. It still runs with an air compressor,” says Mullet.

He says they once considered insulating the air compressors so they would not make as much noise. But, it was the riders who convinced them to abandon that idea.

“The riding public gets used to all those different sounds and all those different noises,” says Mullet. “And, they look forward to that ride. So, you don’t want to change that.”


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