Herbie - Car 5227

Important News! Car 5227 is a unique vehicle and, as such, has some unique needs and expenses. Our organization needs your help to keep this one-of-a-kind item running and properly maintained. We have found that it requires service more than most due to the modifications from the original VW vehicle it was intended to be - especially with the clutch and the extended cables. The transmission is coming up for major service. SDERA is considering its options - including selling this visitor favorite - if the expenses can't be met by donations. At a time where we are facing construction expenses and the impacts of this challenging economy, we can't keep Hebie running from our General Fund. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation restricted for use in keeping Herbie in National City!

From an article by Chuck Bencik (appeared in the July, 2007 Trolley Lines newsletter)

Bob Publicover of Tucson, AZ, likes to build -- “a couple of cars, 2 motor homes, and a few other things...” And he's a trolley fan. A while back, he built a little blue and yellow trolley, for his young 8 and 10 year old children. Bob grew up in Boston, and has an affection for “the famous Boston Type 5 streetcar, designed by the Boston Elevated Railway in 1921... which ran over the streets of Boston from 1922 to 1958.” Not surprisingly, he also drove Old Pueblo Trolley's Car 10, the Birney car now at Orange Empire Railway Museum.

The Boston Type 5 was a semi-convertible trolley, 45' long, 10' 7 1/2” high, and 8' 6” wide, weighing 31,000 lbs. J. G. Brill Company built most of those 490 or so cars for Boston. Similar cars ran at Reading, Pottsville, Shamokin and Wilkes-Barre. Traveling initially at 25 mph, later at 35 mph, they seated 48 on “hickory seat cushions” and could carry a total of 137 passengers. A one or two man crew ran them in subways, on the streets, and on elevated railways. By the late 1970s, only 5 Type 5 cars could be found in the trolley and rail museums.

In 1980, Publicover began plans to build a scaled-down replica of one of those Boston MTA cars. Starting with a totally wrecked, low mileage 1972 Volkswagen bus, Bob removed the body. He lengthened and extended the frame. He took the stock wiring diagram and redesigned it to operate rail-type head and tail lamps, as well as automotive stop, backup, license, and turning lights. Interior and destination sign lighting had to be added. Publicover replicated the old-style trolley hand brake operated by turning a wheel at the driver's position, and releasing it with a pedal. He made the four bifold doors and steps open and close using washing machine gears and electric-hydraulic convertible-top motors and cylinders. These could be operated from both outside and inside. He planned a special anti-theft switch, and unique dashboard light displays showing the status of important equipment. The left rear door could be opened with an emergency control.

For the trolley body and control stands, Bob made molds for fiberglass panels. He secured the panels to a steel framework. Doors, seats, and window frames were built of wood. To simulate the rivets that held the steel sheets on the original Type 5 cars, he used 1400 carpet tacks. A roll sign, with both Massachusetts and Arizona destinations, went into the destination window. And, with the orange, off-white, gray, maroon and black paint of the car's MTA livery, Publicover designed an “MTA” logo, surmounted with the word “TUCSON.” Construction was completed in February 1983. From the start, 5227 was a huge success. Bob entered it “in both the 1983 and 1984 World of Wheels Custom Car Show, where it took First Place in its class (Special Interest – Motorized), and the Outstanding engineering Award, for both shows!”

Publicover took some liberties with the Type 5 design. He shortened it by two passenger side windows – ten versus twelve. “The scale used in building was 5/8, except for the length which is done in ½ scale. Everything has been detailed as closely as possible to the original ...” Comparing photographs of Publicover's Car 5227 and the Boston Elevated's Type 5 cars, one senses the smaller rubber-tired version is lower, by about 20 percent, than originally planned. Still, she's a convincing scale replica.

In 1987, Publicover sold the VW-trolley to someone who later sold it to a James Hall, of Bisbee, AZ. Hall kept the car in a hangar, and used it in parades. A few years later, Hall sold it to an amusement park in Okoboji, Iowa. To this day, Car 5227 carries a 1991 identification plate as an Iowa “Amusement Park Ride.”

car 5227Around 1995, Mrs. Lou Bailey located the car in some weeds near a body shop, in Okoboji. It was not in running order, but she saw lots of possibilities in it: a children's reading room, a cute delivery van for her flower shop, taking people to the Heritage Trail, to see old houses. She bought the car, brought it to Red Oak, and kept it on display in front of her flower shop out on the town square. When the local Classy Chassis car club had their annual car show, they would bring their cars to the square, and Lou's little trolley was always a favorite. She had the names “Ashley” and “Dane” painted on the front, after her two grandchildren. The trolley got to be known as the “Ashley Dane.”

Eventually the Baileys moved the car to the dilapidated barn on their farm. But the barn was also in decline, and due to be torn down, so some friends helped her put it up for sale on eBay. In 2002, the Baileys sold it to Paul L. Shuster, operator of the ForestEdge Winery, in Laporte, Minnesota. Paul remembers it well:
“[The] Baileys had listed the trolley on eBay and when I found the listing, I talked to them by phone and ended up as the high bidder. My intent was to save it from a life as a small shop or ice cream stand!”

Bob Recks working inside car 5227.

Shuster had purchased several HO scale trolleys from someone on eBay. Realizing he would not have time to restore the trolley, Shuster asked the seller if he knew anyone that would be interested in saving Car 5227. “Turned out that he was a member of the San Diego Electric Railway Association and passed on the photos of 5227 to Gene [Calman] who then contacted me. The person that I did eBay business with should get some credit for the trolley ending up in San Diego! I would say that the trolley was intended to end up where it is. 'Karma,' you know!!”

In October 2003 Shuster contacted Gene, who bought the vehicle, arranged for its shipment, and the 5227 arrived in San Diego in early 2004.

With donated efforts by the automotive repair class at Madison High School, plus the work of several members of SDERA -- Bob Recks completely reconstructed the side windows and frames, Gene Calman reassembled the engine and all the other automotive components -- and a generous donation from South Bay Volkswagen, “Herbie” is now gassed up and ready to drive off, spreading the word about our plans for vintage trolleys in San Diego, National City and the South Bay area.

Webmaster's Note: The Boston Street Railway Association is working on the restoration of car #5706 - a Type 5 car from the Boston Elevated Railway. Click here for information on their efforts. Photos from the restoration can be found at Watch for the original seats on one of the photos and note the similarity to the ones in the photo above. Another car in the series, #5734 is currently at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME. Click here for more information.