Birney Car 357 - "Ernie the Birney"

Known as "The Old Spaghetti Factory car", "Ernie the Bernie", or simply car 357, our 1917 Bellingham trolley has quite a history. It originally was part of the Bellingham trolley and interurban system and was an excellent way to get around the community of Bellingham, as well as to travel to one of the many small towns on the 29-mile route south to Mt. Vernon. Both systems were owned by the Puget Sound Power & Light Company. The interurban route lasted a relatively short time, from 1912 to 1930. According to Robert S. Wilson in his book Trolley Trails Through The West, Volume 4,

“Another division of the (Puget Sound Power & Light Company), once known as Puget Sound & International Railway, connected Bellingham with Mt. Vernon. This was a scenic line over most of its length, skirting closely along the shore of Puget Sound, some of the track even occupying trestle work on pilings beyond the waves that lap upon the sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky beach. Population in this area (was) scant, however, and the interurban ceased to function in the early 1930’s. Some of its long and heavy wooden cars were brought to Everett (that system had the same owner), only to be scrapped with cessation of the later line. The bodies of others might be seen for many years along the highway, some distance from Mt. Vernon, put to prosaic uses greatly at variance with their proudest days of public service.”

How did Bellingham trolley 357 get to San Diego? The answer comes from Paul Class of Oregon:

“The 357 as you may know, is a St. Louis Car Company product and was originally built for the Brocton & Plymouth Street Railway in Massachusetts but was diverted to Bellingham. No numbers were changed. The year was 1917. Stone and Webster Management sold the body off in 1938 or 39, about the time the North Coast lines were shutting down. We obtained the body from a location along the east side of Lake Whatcom where it was used as a vacation home. We restored it at our Glenwood Railway shops in Oregon before taking it to San Diego. Gus Dussin, President of the Old Spaghetti Factories, never wanted the car to be completely restored and only wanted them to be functional for his restaurant service.”

Today, the only known Bellingham trolleys still in existence are the 357 and the 360, which is still at the Spaghetti Factory in Seattle. (as of Jun '05).

Car 357 arrived in San Diego in 1972 where it was popular among diners at the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter (formerly located at 275 5th Ave). Diners often waited to eat inside it, however, plans to expand a nearby restaurant left this beloved car on the auction block.

Bellingham Birney 2

Cars 215 & 212 wait outside a Puget Sound Power & Light barn. Photo by Robert S. Wilson.

Bellingham Birney 1

Birney car running in Bellingham, WA. Photo by Robert S. Wilson.

357 comes to the National City Depot

SDERA member Sam Judd bought at auction the red and white Birney streetcar body which had graced the Old Spaghetti Factory for over 30 years. Sam generously donated it to SDERA in memory of his father, longtime rail and streetcar fan, antique auto preservationist, and founding member of SDERA,  Lyle Judd. On February 14, 2005, history was made as the Birney streetcar body was carefully extracted from side of the building at 6th and K Streets and trucked to the National City Depot with the help of our friends at Superior House Moving. A dedication was held July 8, 2006 where a plaque was placed into the car honoring Lyle Judd and acknowledging Sam Judd's generous gift. 

Since its arrival on the grounds, SDERA has turned this colorful car into a "Birthday Car" and even held a contest to name it with a prize supplied by a local model train store - "Trains Are Good." Four year old Ethan Lindsey and his father Ted had the winning name and even had a slogan to go with it! “Come on a birthday journey with Ernie the Birney. We'll all be happy and jolly on our favorite birthday trolley.” If you are interested in holding an event in Ernie or any other public meeting, contact our staff at the National City Depot (619-474-4400).

SDERA Volunteers have done some initial touch ups to help protect 357 from the elements. While at the restaurant, the car had air conditioning ducts placed through the roof which allowed the rain to come through once in the yard. Patches were made by Charles Smith, Sean McColgan, Jim Anderson, Scotty and Timmy Lewis and Mike Quigg but long term plans are to properly replace the ceiling. Bi-fold doors were built by Art Adeylotte and Chuck Bencik. Lucite panels were donated by a friend of SDERA and installed as interim windows by Dave Slater, Mike Quigg, and Charles Smith, Pete Pearson, and Art Adeylotte. Additionally, the car has been connected so that the headlamps and interior lighting works.

What's Next for 357?

SDERA has long-term plans to replace the "dummy trucks" used for the restaurant with real trucks and motors, make proper sashes for the windows, and obtain controls and seats. While using 357 as a Birthday Car is nice in the meantime, San Diego Electric Railway Association's goal is to restore the car and possibly to be able to operate - either by trolley pole or gas engine. If you are interested in participating in the restoration efforts or can donate resources, please contact SDERA President Dave Slater -

Time Line for Car 357

  • 1917: Built by St Louis Car Company, delivered to Bellingham, WA

  • 1917 - 1938: Run as a streetcar in Bellingham operated by Puget Sound Power & Light.

  • 1939 - 1970: Used as a vacation home near Lake Whatcom, WA.

  • 1970: Saved when the Old Spaghetti Factory (OSF) restaurants actively sought vintage streetcars for their restaurants. Rebuilt at Glenwood Railway shops in Oregon.

  • 1971 - 2004: In place at OSF in San Diego. Thousands of people ate meals in it.

  • Jan 10, 2005: Purchased at auction by SDERA member Sam Judd who donated it to SDERA.

  • Feb 14, 2005: Delivered to National City Depot.

  • April, 2006: Named Ernie the Birney by Ted & Ethan Lindsey.

Back to Rolling Stock page...

Birney Move 1

357 is removed from the side of the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chuck Bencik.

Birney Move 2

Car  357 as it arrives at the National City Depot. Photo by Chuck Bencik.

Ernie Birthday Party

"Ernie's" first birthday party event. Photo by Jim Price.

Birney Work Pary

SDERA volunteers work on the roof of car 357. Photo by Robert Baxter.

Thanks to SDERA member Jeff Trimble for research towards this page. Robert S. Wilson's book was published in 1978 by Wilson Brothers Publications, Yakima, WA. Used copies are occasionally available through on-line retailers. Photos used with permission of the current copyright holder, Hilding Larson.