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Toonerville Trolley


Back in the 1920s, a Bismarck trolley car was named after a popular newspaper cartoon that was in syndication between 1908 and 1955. The cartoon was called variously Toonerville Folks or Toonerville Trolley.

Toonerville was the name of a city area we would now call the suburbs. A central theme to the gag was a rickety old trolley driven by a somewhat crazy driver named Skipper. His streetcar met commuter trains bringing to town such characters as The Powerful Katrinka, Aunt Eppie Hogg and Little Woo-Woo Wortle. Another central figure was the town bully, Mickey McGuire, who was later played by Mickey Rooney in more than 50 short comedy films.

For Bismarck to name its streetcar the Toonerville Trolley was not a compliment. In fact, on this date in 1927, a bill before the State Legislature favored getting rid of the state-owned trolleybus, calling it a “relic of bygone days.”

A short article in The Bismarck Daily Tribune read: “Bismarck’s ‘Toonerville Trolley,’ which jerks up the Captiol Hill every day, may soon be in the junk heap. . .”

Bismarck, however, had no other means of public transportation, and when the legislature was in session, this was a critical issue. The trolley ran between the State Capital and two major downtown hotels, providing much-needed transportation for many senate and house members. One of these hotels was at the end of the line, and in cold weather, trolley space was at a premium at this stop.

An article described it like this: “The car moves at regularly scheduled intervals, but there is always a watchman or two who looks down Fourth street from the other hotel and waits for the car to turn the corner off Main street. When the ‘watchmen’ commence to move into the street, it is a signal for a brisk exodus. Usually there are a few sluggards who make a dash for the car, but most of the legislature board it without resorting to dare-devil tactics.”

The need for this mode of transportation may explain why the trolley wasn’t actually retired in 1927, as called for in the new bill. In fact, it continued running until 1931— four years later.

An editorial at that time read: “Bismarck has a most kindly feeling toward the Twenty-second Legislature. [. . .] It rid the city of the old ‘Toonerville’ trolley which for years has been an eyesore and a menace to traffic.’”

By Merry Helm


The Bismarck Tribune. 2 Feb 1927; 17 Jan 1928; 6 Mar 1931.

Toonerville Folks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toonerville_Folks. 26 Dec 2008.

[caption id="attachment_8572" align="alignnone" width="282" caption="Toonerville Trolly"] "http://www.prairiepublic.org/wp-content/uploads/toonervilletrolly.jpg"