Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Montana Trolleys

More than 80,000 trolleys once clanged over 45,000 miles of track in cities across the United States. Between 1888 and 1890, there were twenty-seven attempts to establish street railway service in nine Montana cities, but credit goes to Billings for establishing the first operational system. Two bright yellow horse-drawn cars ferried passengers in 1883. Business boomed temporarily when railway promoters offered twenty-five cent tickets and coupons for free beer at a local brewery. But the company soon went out of business. Its two wayward horses refused to keep to a schedule. Reliable service in Montana began in Helena on September 25, 1886. Hundreds watched in awe as the Helena Street Railway Company’s two horse-drawn Pullman cars made their maiden trips to the depot on newly laid iron rails. Soon, steam engines pulled some of the cars, but residents complained about the noisy, dirty coal-burning engines. Dust from the smoke settled in homes and the commotion frightened horse traffic. By the early 1890s, an assortment of trolleys operating on steam, horsepower, and the new electric system operated in Montana cities.
Horse-drawn trolleys like this newly-refurbished gem on Helena’s south Walking Mall once ferried passengers to the depot. Photo courtesy of Dean Rognrud.

Montana first licensed automobiles in 1913. This, World War I, postwar inflation, and changing travel patterns took their toll. The Billings Traction Company folded in 1917. Bozeman’s system closed because of complaints that trolleys pushed aside snow, interfering with automobiles. Helena’s last car entered the barn at midnight on New Year’s Day in 1928; bus service began a few hours later. The Rainbow Hotel in Great Falls hosted a funeral in December 1931 for its trolleys. Guests filed past a battered streetcar and sang specially composed songs conceding that the trolleys "ain't gonna run no more." Missoula’s streetcar service ended in 1932, Butte’s in 1937, and Montana’s last trolley bell clanged in 1951 with a final run between Anaconda’s smelter and the town of Opportunity.


  1. Above shown trolley looks very good, stylish and fancy. This sort of trolley are located over in Montana and the history is also interesting of trolley buses.

    Hospitality Trolleys

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am sure the City of Helena and Dean Rognrud will appreicate your compliment!