Friday, September 7, 2012

Take a ride on a M-Line trolley in Uptown - Dallas Morning News

The M-Line trolleys have been operating along McKinney and Cole avenues in the Uptown area since 1983, but somehow I’d never hopped aboard. I remedied that omission in my “doing all things Dallas” quest this week with a round-trip, 4.6-mile journey, jumping on and off the streetcars named Petunia and Green Dragon (Rosie and Matilda complete the fleet). What a nostalgically charming, relaxing way to see Uptown and the edge of downtown Dallas.

Once aboard Green Dragon (and later Petunia), I was delighted by the old-school ads above the seats for things such as “The Folding Brownie” camera (slogan: Almost a Kodak!) for $5, vegetable soups from Campbell’s for 12 cents a can, once-fashionable Arrow collars and more.

It’s not the fastest way to travel â€" a round trip takes about 40-45 minutes if you don’t get off anywhere, with trolleys going an average of 20 mph â€" but it sure is sweet to merely amble through the streets of busy Uptown. Midday riders on a Wednesday seemed to be a mix of tourists and residents. Nancy Bannister, business director for the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA), says the system gets more than 200,000 riders annually.

Trolley trips are free; the M-Line’s operating expenses are underwritten by DART and the Uptown and downtown public-improvement districts. Other income comes from parties and other charters, advertising and donations.

The route runs from the Dallas Museum of Art in the downtown Arts District to the Cityplace DART station on North Central Expressway between Blackburn Street and Lemmon Avenue. In summer 2013, an Arts District Loop is scheduled to open, expanding trolley service farther into downtown, and there’s already a stop within yards of Klyde Warren Park, which is set to open in October over Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

MATA is also currently restoring a trolley to resemble a classic railroad dining car. Along the current trolley route, you’ll find a world traveler’s assortment of restaurants â€" Yutaka Sushi Bistro (Japanese), Gloria’s (Salvadoran), Avanti Ristorante (Italian), Chipotle (Mexican), Pei Wei (Asian) or Gui (Korean), among many others â€" along with the retail mecca of West Village, not one but two Starbucks, lots of gorgeous Uptown hotels and condos-apartments, and a few older homes.

You can eat lunch or dinner; take a stroll along the Katy Trail; see a movie or theatrical show; get your nails done, have a chiropractic treatment, get dental implants or eyelash extensions; take your dog to the vet (trolleys are dog-friendly for well-behaved pooches and their humans); stock up on fly-fishing gear; receive liquid enlightenment at the Black Friar Pub; get groceries (Albertson’s) and, of course, shop for clothes, accessories and trinkets of all kinds at stores ranging from Tommy Bahama and the Gap to cozy boutiques like Krimson & Klover or the Texas Rangers shop.

It’s an easy walk from trolley stops to historic Greenwood Cemetery and the Arts District, where you’ll find the DMA, Nasher Sculpture Center, Winspear Opera House, Wyly Theatre, Meyerson Symphony Center, Crow Collection of Asian Art and the Dallas City Performance Hall, which has its grand-opening fetes Sept. 13-16.

I started my trip at the Cityplace DART Station, where you can sit aboard the trolley as it turns around atop a stone turntable (yes! the world’s slowest amusement ride!).

The vintage trolleys, built between 1909 and 1925, are air-conditioned and have been lovingly restored. Green Dragon is bigger than Petunia, but I confess a preference for Petunia’s ambience.

My girl Petunia was built in 1920 as a one-man Birney Safety Car; the motormen on the M-Line, by the way, are both extremely professional and extremely friendly. Birneys were known for their “bouncy” rides, which made them somewhat unpopular. Yes, I felt bouncy all along the route, â€" but in a good way, as Petunia now boasts shock absorbers.

Petunia ran faithfully in Dallas till 1947, when she was replaced by more modern equipment. Age discrimination! She was â€" be prepared to weep now â€" stripped of her wheels, motors and electrical equipment before being sold to a West Texas rancher who used her as his home for 30 years.

In the 1970s, Dallas trolley buff Ed Landrum acquired the car and cosmetically restored it. A new 8-foot truck was built for the car, and Petunia went into service with MATA in 1980. Petunia, also known as Car 636, is 28 feet long and weighs 10 tons, which makes her a lithe supermodel, as trolleys go.

As legend has it, she was nicknamed for her “petite size and generally sweet nature.”

To get in the mood for your ride, visit the MATA website,, where you can listen to trolley “talk”: Petunia’s feisty “toot-toot” air-chime whistle, as well as bells and other sounds.

Trolleys run 365 days a day. Operating hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 7 a.m. to

10 p.m., Fridays 7 a.m. to midnight, Saturdays

10 a.m. to midnight, Sundays and holidays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free. See website for schedule. You can charter trolleys for private rides and parties; see website for information and prices. 214-855-0006.

A Halloween Dine-A-Round party will take place Oct. 31 at 6:30 p.m. starting at the Cityplace DART station. Dress is “smart casual” with costumes welcome. $85 per person (includes 20 percent gratuity for food servers and complimentary glass of wine provided by Vino 100). Reservations required at

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