Last motorman was a living history lesson

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Saturday, November 29, 2003 9:00pm
  • Local News

Walter Shannon was born in Chicago in 1910. That same year, the Niles Car &Manufacturing Co. in Ohio built a handsome wooden car that became Trolley No. 55 on the Interurban Line.

The destinies of man and trolley would eventually meet. After moving to Everett as a boy, Shannon operated a trolley car for the first light rail line linking Everett and Seattle.

Before his death on Nov. 20, at 93, the Everett man was the last surviving motorman of the Interurban Line. The electric railway line was run by Puget Sound Traction, Light and Power Co. between 1910 and 1939.

Shannon lived Snohomish County history and later helped save it.

David Dilgard, historian with the Everett Public Library, spoke eloquently Tuesday at Shannon’s funeral in Everett.

"I had the chance to shake hands with the last living motorman," Dilgard said. "I’m so grateful to be one of the people to hear his stories."

Calling Shannon "a living link to this place," Dilgard said, "the shoulders with which Walter carried the responsibility for local history were very broad shoulders."

Shannon’s donations of photographs and other Interurban items make up the bulk of an exhibit called "Making Tracks" at the Snohomish County Museum and Historical Association.

He became an adviser and contributor to Lynnwood’s Car 55 Project.

Trolley No. 55 was one of six Interurban cars that made daily runs from Everett to Seattle. After the rail line’s demise, old 55 was used as a diner and then relegated to a storage shed.

The city of Lynnwood bought it for $500 from the Puget Sound Historical Railway Association in Snoqualmie and with a federal grant began restoring it in 1996, according to Laurie Cowan, parks planner with the city.

This past summer, with Shannon as a witness, the trolley car was moved from a warehouse to Lynnwood’s new Heritage Park, at Alderwood Mall Parkway and Poplar Way on the east side of I-5. "It’s in a new shelter reminiscent of a historic building," Cowan said.

Shannon, she said, donated an original conductor’s bell and other accessories. He offered advice on restoration that included new windows, refinished wood and paint in the colors from his memory, white with a blue-green base and red trim.

Shannon’s daughter, 56-year-old Jean Rogers of Everett, will never forget taking her father to see Trolley 55 being moved to the park.

"I got him up at 5 in the morning with coffee and doughnuts," Rogers said. "When we drove down and I pulled into the impound garage, there were some men standing there. I rolled down the window and said, ‘Gentlemen, I have Walt Shannon here.’

"The men who were moving it got so excited, they mobbed him," she said.

As the old car was moved, Rogers and her father were part of the procession. "And he said to me, ‘I never thought I’d live to see an Interurban going through Alderwood,’ " Rogers said.

The rail system transformed wilderness into suburbs before it was dismantled in 1939, a victim of Highway 99 and the car culture.

The right-of-way became the transmission corridor for the Snohomish County PUD, and later the Interurban Trail system.

Shannon went on to drive a bus for North Coast Transit until it was acquired by Greyhound. In the 1950s, he changed careers and became a desk sergeant for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. After 20 years, he retired as a captain with the title chief civil deputy.

Sheriff Rick Bart, speaking at Tuesday’s funeral, described Shannon as a man who put "service above self, a hard and steady worker."

Although his last job was in law enforcement, Cowan believes his heart was always with his first job, on the Interurban.

"I went to his house once to talk about the trolley. He had film of this trolley and others he had taken over the years. He had narrated it, complete with trolley whistles," she said. "It was his life."

There are plans to place a plaque in Shannon’s memory at Heritage Park. The family would like any donations in Shannon’s name to go to the Snohomish County Museum and the Lynnwood Car 55 Project, Cowan said.

The Interurban played a role in family history, Rogers said, telling the tale of her parents’ meeting.

"My mother was a conductor’s daughter. Her name was Izelda Amundson; her father was Arthur Amundson. She was in high school at Everett High, and they met in the waiting room at the depot," Rogers said.

A conductor would take tickets as the motorman ran the car. Up to 55 passengers could travel to Seattle in about an hour and a half, with stops all along the way.

Patricia Brust remembers.

The 74-year-old Everett woman was a cousin of Izelda Amundson’s. "She was older than I was, but her sister and I were two years apart.

"We would ride with Izelda on the Interurban. I remember we would sit in the back," Brust said. "She would take these two little girls to Seattle. It was a great thing to do."

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com

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