A fleet of rubber-tire streetcars known as Molly the Trolley will play a big role in moving people around Fort Worth and Sundance Square from Jan. 28 to Feb. 6, when crowds will likely swarm to the area in search of parties, ESPN broadcasts, celebrity sightings and all things football-related.
The trolleys -- bedecked with the city's Molly longhorn symbol -- are getting a makeover that includes fresh paint and new mahogany paneling. They normally circulate only downtown, offering workers and visitors free rides between upscale hotels and the Fort Worth Convention Center.
For Super Bowl week, however, the trolleys will run on expanded routes that include Fort Worth Museums and the Stockyards National Historic District.
But finding a way to expand the service without actually buying more vehicles created a dilemma for the trolleys' owner, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority. The T owns seven trolleys, but officials figured that they'd need at least nine to make it work. Yet they didn't have the time or money to order more.
That's when Joe Olmos and the other six employees of the T's body shop stepped up, offering to use their automotive skills to trick up the trolley service on a shoestring budget. They decided to take two regular buses, and give them a makeover, so they strongly resembled trolleys.
What happened next was almost like an episode of MTV's Pimp My Ride, in which a body shop turns a weather-worn vehicle into a dream machine.
Molly gets a makeover
First, they gave the two buses a fresh coat of "trolley green" paint -- a marked change from the T's usual white with blue and red stripes. They then cut and stained slabs of African mahogany and riveted them to the outside of the buses, giving them that old-fashioned look.
"Once you put the clear coat on it, it makes the grain in the wood pop out," Olmos said.
Another employee used pieces of chain-link fence to fabricate a cow catcher for the front of each bus.
Inside, the cloth seats were replaced by ones with a combination of leather and polished wood.
Stainless steel railings will be powder coated to look like brass.
There's even a giant, roof-mounted trolley bell, which driver Robby Robertson repeatedly clanged as he drove one of the trolley-decorated buses through downtown Monday afternoon.
The Molly makeover costs about $5,000 per vehicle, T maintenance director Ron Anderson said. The T's body shop workers did all the work themselves, in their spare time over several months, he said.
Changing perceptions
Cathryn Cox is impressed. The Sydney resident visited downtown Fort Worth on Monday with her husband and 13-year-old son. The family rode Molly the Trolley for a loop downtown, then caught a regular bus for a quick visit to the Stockyards.
The family hopes to take mass transit to all their tourist stops this week in Fort Worth and Dallas.
"I don't really like driving in America because I'm not really used to the different side of the road," Cox said. "And it's better because then all of us can just relax and look and the scenery."
Although the expanded use of the trolleys is just temporary, it could lead to changes in the way the T is perceived by area residents. Last month, the Fort Worth City Council rejected a plan to build a rail-based streetcar system connecting roughly the same areas that the Molly the Trolley system will serve.
During the streetcar debate, T officials disclosed that they had determined that they could provide a rubber-tire trolley service for a fraction of the cost of rail-based streetcars.
The made-over buses are even better for Molly the Trolley service in the Stockyards than the real trolleys, because they have a tight turning radius and can fit better on narrow streets, Anderson said.
And, unlike a real longhorn, there aren't funny smells coming out of the Molly the Trolley herd -- er, fleet. After all, they run on clean-burning compressed natural gas.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796