Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Who Was the Skipper on the Pelham Manor Trolley the Day Fontaine Fox Rode the Line and Was Inspired?

Lower Westchester County once was criss-crossed with trolley tracks that carried clattering trolley cars throughout the region. By 1899, Travelers could journey between New Rochelle, Pelham, Mount Vernon or Yonkers and the Battery for a single fare of eight cents. Early last century, one of those trolley lines located in Pelham inspired the creative genius of a man named Fontaine Talbot Fox (1884-1964) who created one of the most popular comic strips in the United States -- “Toonerville Folks”.

The strip centered around the quirky inhabitants of a town called “Toonerville” and its rickety and unpredictable trolley car called “The Toonerville Trolley.” The operator of the trolley was “The Skipper.” The comic strip was based in part on the artist’s experience during a trolley ride on a visit to Pelham in 1909. The strip ran in hundreds of newspapers from about 1913 to 1955 and brought national attention to Pelham and its little trolley line.

Fontaine Fox repeatedly said that he was inspired to create the "Toonerville Trolley" and its skipper based on a trolley ride he took in Pelham Manor. During that ride he observed the trolley car operator gossip with passengers and, once, stop the vehicle to pick apples in an adjacent orchard.

Who was the trolley car operator who inspired Fontaine Fox to create the "Skipper" and the trolley that "met all the trains"? There is evidence that it was James ("Old Jim") Bailey who lived for many years at 717 Grote Street in the Bronx.

One piece of that evidence is an article that appeared in The New York Times on July 30, 1937, the day before the last journey of the Pelham Manor trolley due to its replacement by a bus route. The article reported, among other things, that Mr. Bailey piloted the Pelham trolley from 1900 to 1914. According to the article:

"Back in 1909, when Mr. Fox took a ride on the Pelham line, then served by a rickety little car, he watched the 'skipper' gossip with the passengers and stop the car to pick apples for them; thus he drew his inspiration for his 'Toonerville Trolley' comics."

Trolley's Passing Saddens 'Skipper', N.Y. Times, Jul. 30, 1937, p. 17, col. 4.

To learn more about the Toonerville Trolley, see the following:

Bell, Blake A., Pelham and the Toonerville Trolley, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 11, Mar. 12, 2004, p. 19, col. 1.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005: The Toonerville Trolley Pays Its Bills -- Late!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005: Pelham's "Toonerville Trolley" Goes To War

Friday, June 17, 2005: "Skipper Louie" of Pelham Manor's Toonerville Trolley

Tuesday, April 19, 2005: Pelham Manor Residents Fight Construction of the Toonerville Trolley Line

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