History of Toonerville Trolley

The Detroit Lakes Jaycees “Toonerville Trolley”
The “Toonerville Trolley” was a widely popular cartoon in the major newspapers for over fifty years. In 1953 Dr. Tom Rogstad developed the idea of building a “Toonerville Trolley” to promote the Detroit Lakes Jaycees in Festival Parades around Minnesota. A Studebaker car was acquired by the Jaycees with a bad body but a motor that was in perfect condition. With a great deal of enthusiasm work began on the very first version of the “Toonerville Trolley”. The body of the car was removed and a wooden structure was built to fit over the Studebaker frame. This framework was then covered with a laminated board called “Masonite” which created the flat panels on the sides, roof, front and back of the Trolley. The completed unit mirrored the human like looks of the cartoon drawn trolley.

With yellow paint and black lettering and a small coal stove to put out black smoke the unit looked great and garnered a huge amount of attention for the Jaycees. However, when brought up to highway speeds to attend parades in other towns the joints were constantly shifting and the entire assembly was always coming loose. Even though the original version did not last for more than a few years it set in motion both major and minor revisions which continue sixty years later.

In the late 1950’s the Trolley was entirely rebuilt. A surplus WW2 jeep was purchased. The wooden frame was replaced with a pipe frame using electrical conduit brazed with brass rod. Sheet metal was then screwed to the conduit to create the sidewalls. The roof, back and front end were made out of wood which was cut into a curve and then covered with sheet metal. This building was done at a company owned by a couple of Jaycees, Earl King and Harry Grabow. Their company did heating and air-conditioning. They supplied the sheet metal and the
equipment to bend it along with the expertise in the formation of the sides. Dale Hagen, an electrician, supplied the conduit and the expertise on bending and brazing (welding with brass rod) the conduit. Heavily involved with this project was also Jack Renner, Duane Wething, Curt Cherry, Darryl Swanson, Dave Knutson and many others whose names have been lost to time.

In 1974 Don Davis, who was given the responsibility of caring for the Trolley, purchased a 1953 Ford pickup chassis. Mark Hagen and Jeff Swanson were drafted by Don Davis to “do a little welding and wiring on the trolley” two nights maximum. This was about the beginning of June. Water Carnival was over a month away. When Don brought the unit to Jeff Swanson’s shop it was discovered the unit needed to be attached to the frame, the back and front rebuilt, new wiring installed, and the entire unit repainted and lettered.

A month of late nights later the trolley had still wet red paint as it was headed to its first Water Carnival event. According to Jack Renner the 1958 version of the Trolley also entered the Water Carnival with wet paint. In the late 70’s the back end of the Trolley was rebuilt and the color was changed from yellow to red. TJ Foltz was responsible for the Trolley during the late 80’s. During that time it was parked at his house when not in use. TJ arranged for the all metal frame roof to be built and installed which replaced the rotting roof. In addition TJ’s mechanical and electrical skills were in constant use with upgrades to the PA and the wiring of the unit.

Many businesses over the years have been involved in working on the Trolley as a donation to Jaycees. They are to numerous to mention but their contributions are what kept the Trolley moving year in and year out. Jim Gulson took over the Trolley in the mid 90’s and replaced much of the rotten wood, put in new carpet, and provided the maintenance to keep it running. Always susceptible to vapor lock the trolley once went through a parade in Barnesville with the Jaycees pushing the entire route. During this time one of the more unusual stories found the Trolley going from Detroit Lakes to Vergas on an old trail dirt trail.

While in winter storage about ten years ago a number of parts were stolen from the Trolley including the carburetor. The engine had been giving problems so the decision was made to make the Trolley into a tow only unit. Certainly something was lost Recently TJ and April Foltz donated their motorhome chassis to breath new life into making the “Toonerville Trolley” self propelled again. A group on enthusiastic Jaycees are right now hard at work creating the newest chapter in a long history of the Trolley.

The “Toonerville Trolley” has served the Jaycees well for over sixty years. The unique idea, combined with the eternal enthusiasm of young Jaycees, has left behind hundreds of stories, most which will never be told in print.


Trolley Rental:

Are you or your group looking for an out of the ordinary experience? How does driving around Detroit Lakes in a trolley built out of a RV with no windows, windshield or seatbelts sound? Well, if you’re like us, you think it’d be a blast! And it literally is on a windy day since there are no windows. Lucky for you…the trolley is available for rent! We have ample cooler space and a rockin’ sound. That’s about all you need for a night of fun. Here’s what you’ll get when you reserve the trolley for your event:

· seating for 15
· personal chauffer
· room for coolers (it’s up to you to fill those coolers)
· custom seats built out of church pews
· a ride wherever you’d like to go (within a 15 mile radius of Detroit Lakes)

Here’s the fine print:

1. The trolley must be in Detroit Lakes City limits by sundown.
2. The trolley will not drive after midnight. You can be dropped off anywhere in city limits at midnight.

Rates: $250 for the first hour, $100 an hour after that.


To request rental please contact Julie Bommersbach 218-234-6154 or Jenny Seeley 218-779-9910.