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WMU's iconic trolley car replica undergoing repairs

by Jeanne Baron

Nov. 4, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of WMU trolley car replica.
Trolley was created by senior engineering students.
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's iconic trolley car replica that has stood in front of the Bernhard Center since 2003 was moved last month so it can be repaired.

The non-working replica was created in honor of the University's centennial celebration by engineering students as a senior design project. Over the years, it has suffered considerable water damage.

Facilities Management personnel moved the trolley to a lab in the Engineering and Applied Sciences Building, where a new group of students will inspect and fix the replica. Their work will be directed by Fred Sitkins, professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering and one of the faculty members involved in the replica's original construction.

Plans call for the trolley to be back in front of the Bernhard Center this spring after undergoing some design and materials changes to improve its weather resistance and give it a greater than 10-year life expectancy.

The famous Western Trolley, which was actually classified and registered as a railroad, served WMU's historic East Campus from 1908 to 1949. For nearly 40 years, its two trolley cars carried students and faculty up and down the steep incline of Prospect Hill, on which the original WMU campus was built.

An article in a 1931 issue of the Western Herald, the student newspaper, reported that the trolley averaged 2,280 passengers daily. In its heyday, the little railroad was feature in news stories across the country. It is Michigan's only known incline railroad, and may be the only railroad ever owned and operated by a college or university.