Last ride of the Loop Trolley breaks down: Inside that two-hour final trip

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

The Loop Trolley broke down on its last ride down the Delmar Loop last month, ending its 13-month run as problem-plagued as it began.

The last ride of the Loop Trolley lasted about two hours, with a 45-minute breakdown halfway through the 2.5-mile trip in front of the Peacock Diner on Delmar.

It was just the latest in a series of problems that have plagued trolley operations since before it opened in November 2018, starting with lawsuits to block it in the first place, snowy weather the first day, trolley cars that never got out of the shop and banging into parked cars. Much-lower ridership than anticipated doomed it for now, but Bi-State could take it over.

The single trolley operating on the Loop Trolley’s last day was packed with people, who mostly said they were riding it for the first time and wanted to make sure that they didn’t miss it before it might end forever. So many squeezed into the trolley that many had to hang onto the ceiling straps as if riding the New York subway.

Early on, one rider warned this reporter, who boarded at the Missouri History Museum for the trolley’s final loop on the Loop, that the trolley had broken down during her ride for 30 minutes while they fixed the doors.

And that happened again at 5:50 p.m., 10 minutes before the trolley was slated to close for the night. The trolley had finished its run down Delmar and doubled back to the History Museum. But instead it stopped traffic in front of the Peacock Diner.

One family with two young children almost immediately exited once the trolley stopped, but nearly everyone else waited it out for the entire 45 minutes. They came for the last ride of the Loop Trolley, after all, and they were going to experience it.

The rider who had tipped off this reporter about the door situation had already gotten off, so she didn’t have to experience two breakdowns in one ride.

But armed with the knowledge that the doors had inexplicably led to a breakdown of the trolley earlier that night, I knew quicker than my fellow riders that this might not be a quick resolution once I saw the worker at the back of the trolley, where I was, start opening and closing the door over and over again, looking up to the front of the trolley to the driver and radioing that no, the doors weren’t closing together.

For some reason, the trolley was built so that the back door and front door of the trolley have to open and close at the same time, or the trolley can’t move.

So with the back door not syncing with the front door, the trolley wasn’t budging from the middle of Delmar Boulevard.

And after many tries to get the doors to close simultaneously, the driver’s admission finally came over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are suffering technical difficulties.”

Everyone groaned, but went along with it. At first, riders and workers were jovial in the breakdown, seeing it all as part of the experience. Political consultant Richard Callow, who was not on the last ride, tweeted, “I think that ‘having ridden the Loop Trolley on its last day’ will be this generation’s ‘was at Woodstock,’ though without the music, sex and drugs.”

Another Twitter user replied, “You clearly were on the wrong trolley.”

In the festive mood, some of the riders took advantage of the breakdown to head to the back of the trolley to take a better selfie or photo out the trolley window of the Christmas lights strung across Delmar.

Some took to Twitter to tell their followers that you just can’t make this up and you won’t believe it, but the last ride of the Loop Trolley broke down.

Taking the “clang, clang” of the trolley literally, some riders started ringing the trolley bell over and over to amuse themselves. Others sang along to “The Trolley Song” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” blasting from their phones.

“They said we were never going to come back to U City — I guess we’re never going to leave,” joked a retired trolley worker who returned for the last ride.

But halfway through the 45-minute breakdown, some riders started getting antsy. Bob, an older gentleman who was riding across from me with his son and a family friend, started wanting his dinner very badly: “Let’s move this damn thing.”

 

 

In response, his son said, “What are we in a hurry for? Where are we going?”

Two of the three started laughing uproariously when another family member who was meeting up with the trio texted asking where they were now that their trolley ride was over. They couldn’t do anything but laugh at the texter’s disbelief that the family could still be on the trolley.

Bob was a bit grouchier though, still thinking about his dinner: “Tell them to get in the garage and bring the car to us so we can get off this trolley,” he growled.

The driver came to the back to open up one of the trolley seats, where the mechanics were stored, and fix something.

Then the announcement came that the trolley would soon be moving, specifically that we were “ready to roll.” But it didn’t move. And then it moved about a foot.

Bob started questioning whether his next meal would be dinner, or breakfast.

After waiting most of the 45 minutes, even the retired worker who wanted to experience the last ride eventually bailed.

An enterprising television reporter used the broken-down trolley as the back of a live shot about the trolley’s last day.

At 6:26 p.m., a rider asked, “Should we grab the life preservers?” Someone else shouted out, “We believe in the trolley!”

Another rider had a solution: “Joe Edwards better get over here and push us!”

Edwards, the Loop Trolley developer who came up with the idea and willed the trolley to happen, was not on the last ride.

After one more trip to the trolley bench to fiddle with the mechanics again, the driver “rebooted” the trolley by shutting it down and turning it on again. That always works, nd it works on trolleys too: At 6:36 p.m., the trolley started its last mile.

The solution to the door issue? Just don’t open the back door at all.

At 7 p.m., at the end of the last two-hour roundtrip of the Loop Trolley — at least for now — the workers were still in a good mood despite the frustrations.

“We enjoyed you,” the driver said to this reporter and exiting passengers as the trolley sat at its final stop, its last ride over.