Where is Watertown's trolley? Drivers needed to return it to service

Gordy Othus helped bring the trolley into Watertown and was the main driver.
Gordy Othus helped bring the trolley into Watertown and was the main driver.

Watertown misses its big, green trolley.

What once transported guests to downtown shops, to weddings, through the Winter Wonderland and elsewhere has not been seen in the streets of Watertown for several months.

The trolley became a reality for Watertown thanks to the efforts of Gordy Osthus. He was aware that Pierre was providing transportation with at least two trolleys. He wanted to bring that enjoyment back home.

Osthus got to work writing letters and speaking with the mayor, city council and government boards to try and bring a trolley into the city. In 2010, his efforts were successful. A trolley traveled from Deadwood to Watertown, ready to make its daily routes to downtown for shopping and adventure.

“When visitors would come into town ... nobody from out of the town would know where to go,” said Lynn Osthus, Gordy’s wife.

The Watertown Trolley
The Watertown Trolley

A guided tour through the city on a classic trolley, stopping at multiple places of interest, helped fix that. With the Redlin Art Center as the trolley’s hub, Watertown visitors would stop at restaurants, stay at local hotels, visit multiple shops downtown and travel through the Winter Wonderland.

But for Gordy, it was more than just something fun for the tourists. It was an important way to get around for many Watertown residents.

“He would provide rides to anyone who called and said they needed one,” said Lynn. “He would take kids to and from the zoo. Every Saturday, the hotels would call him and tell him how many passengers he was supposed to pick up and take them through Winter Wonderland.”

Like a Christmas ghost, the trolley has disappeared. It is not taking holiday spirit seekers to downtown or through the Winter Wonderland.

The trolley was purchased by the city and managed by the Watertown Convention and Visitors Bureau. For the past eight years, it has been housed and maintained by the Watertown Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

In March, Gordy died from cancer. Between his death and the staffing difficulties that came in the wake of COVID-19, parks and rec has a trolley ready to use, but no driver to staff it.

“Gordy was the spearhead of the trolley in Watertown. He was the cheerleader. Whatever the purpose was for the trolley, you could rely on him,” said Terry Kelly, director of the the Watertown Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

Kelly said the department has been actively searching for people who have a commercial driver's license endorsement. But with their main driver gone, there is not enough staff to run the nights and weekend shift that the trolley is used for.

“Typically, people don’t want the trolley during the day Monday through Friday. They want it on the weekends, and the position is usually short-term,” Kelly said. “The market is difficult right now. We are fighting for the same qualified people as metro transit and for school bus drivers.”

Parks and rec has been keeping the trolley indoors and is actively maintaining it. But unless an organization or private individual comes through with a driver who has the required endorsements, the department cannot rent out the trolley.

Taking the trolley out of storage is still the goal. Focusing more on using the trolley through the warmer months, the department is looking to rent out the trolley for ballgames, zoo visits and the downtown routes. Hiring campaigns will begin in spring to help ensure there will be drivers available for those events.

“We think it’s a great attribute to the city,” said Kelly. “It’s great when you can use it, but right now, it’s really just a resource issue.”

This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: Where is Watertown's trolley? Drivers needed to return it to service