The Trolley Barn houses the Museum’s restored interurban streetcar that ran from Fort Missoula to Bonner from 1912 to 1932; a 1918 American-La France fire engine; and the Blackfoot Stagecoach.
Can you spot... the steering wheel of the fire truck? What is unusual about it?
It is located on the opposite side of the truck than what is common in the US today.
The Trolley Barn was built by volunteers to house the Museum’s restored interurban streetcar, a 1918 American LaFrance fire engine and other transportation equipment.
Missoula’s first streetcar system began operations in May of 1892 and operated through August of 1897 when re-planking of the Higgins Street Bridge necessitated the removal of the tracks. Ten years later U.S. Senator William A. Clark toured the area in hopes of forming a trolley system from Great Falls to Missoula, and then south on to Hamilton. Clark’s Missoula Street Railway Company was incorporated in February of 1909 and a streetcar service was again available to Missoulians from 1910 until 1932. The Missoula Street Railway Company was later bought out by both the Missoula Public Service Company and the Montana Power Company.
Streetcar tracks in Missoula eventually stretched from the University of Missoula to Fort Missoula, passing through the business district with a stop at the Northern Pacific Railway station. It then continued on four miles east to Bonner. Over a period of two and a half years, 2,500,000 passengers were served by the streetcar system, and approximately 1,000,000 car miles were run.
Streetcar #50 was one of the first streetcars in Missoula as well as in the United States to be successfully operated by only one service man. It ran the interurban line between Fort Missoula and Bonner twice daily from 1912 to 1932.
World War I, post-war inflation, and the evolution of cars and bus systems throughout Montana, cut into street railway revenues and eventually undermined the entire streetcar system. On January 24, 1932, Missoula’s beloved streetcar system made its last run. Systems in Billings, Bozeman and Helena also shutdown. Most of the cars were partially dismantled and used for housing at a local tourist camp.
In 1974, the only remaining car, the #50, was donated to the Museum. In 1993 the Museum considered selling it for commercial use at Caras Park, as it had severely deteriorated from years of being outside. Missoulians had other plans for the streetcar, and fought against selling the trolley. Instead, with aid from the Federal Transportation Funds and donations from the Friends of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the streetcar was sent to Big Sandy, Montana to be restored as you see it today.
The 1918 American La France was Missoula’s first fire truck. It arrived in Missoula in 1920 to be used by the City of Missoula. For its time, the LaFrance was a top-of-the-line fire engine, equipped especially for small communities. Upon arrival it was equipped with a 45-gallon chemical holding tank, a mixture of soda and acid, for fire suppression. After a large fire that took out a significant portion of the Florence Hotel in 1936, the tank was replaced with a 45-gallon water tank and a 750-gallon per minute rotary pump. In 1954 a new fire station was built and the La France was only used during special occasions like parades and homecoming for the University of Montana. The fire engine became well known for often breaking down during parades. It was donated to the museum in 1975 after many Museum volunteers worked to get it restored for display.