- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - On any typical day, one might see pedestrians, bikers and a few cars pass by on the streets of Winona.

One might also see the familiar glimmer of a candy apple red trolley.

The Trester Trolley has become one of Winona’s newest icons, driven by one of the city’s older faces - Clarence Russell. The namesake it bears was the product of a brief friendship, and a project that proved wrong to a lot of people who didn’t think it would be a success, Winona Daily News (https://bit.ly/1pKPE3x ) reported.

Russell, 76, is an Illinois native who came to Winona in 1958 to attend Winona State University. To pay for college, Russell was a pizza delivery boy - a job in which he “learned a lot about people and a lot about the city, real quick.”

The skills would come in handy later in his life.

In two years Russell met his soon-to-be wife, got married and settled down. The couple had three sons: Brian, Scott and Kent.

While being a full-time dad, Russell did 30-plus years of accounting work for a number of different companies around the area - switching jobs every so often to keep things interesting, he said. Russell also worked for about eight years as a superintendent at Woodlawn Cemetery.

It wasn’t until 2006 that he met a friend who would change his life.

He first met Don Trester, the trolley’s namesake, when the two were both trying to save the Wilkie replica steamboat on the levee. Trester was an enthusiastic veteran and retired laborer who was always working on his next big idea, whether it was launching a local AMVETs chapter or restoring the old wagon bridge.

They quickly became good friends - and soon Trester enlisted Russell in his latest project.

“One morning, Don said to me, ‘I bought a trolley,’” Russell recalled.

“I said, ‘You did what?’”

“He said, ‘I bought a trolley.’ He had gotten it on the internet.”

Trester had the idea of using the 27-seat trolley to promote tourism by giving tours around the city. The trolley was in “pretty good shape” at the time - by their account. It just needed a few small things - like a new engine, a new transmission, a complete refurbishing of the floor, ceilings and seats.

Undaunted, the two got to work, enlisting the help of friends and volunteers, building and rebuilding out of donated warehouse space on Winona’s west end.

Their progress was halted, however, in 2007 when Trester had a stroke. He died a week later.

It took two long years before Russell got the trolley out of Trester’s estate, but he never gave up. Russell was determined to carry out Trester’s dream of using the trolley to promote the city of Winona.

Before long, he had the trolley running on city roads, offering tours on weekends and during special events.


Russell has since purchased a second trolley, and for the past five years, he has done a 28-mile city tour twice every Saturday, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Starting at the Holiday Inn on the east end, the tour runs past the Equestrian Center, Garvin Heights and the Visitors Center, rolls through the downtown area, past the Mississippi River, the Polish Heritage Museum, Watkins museum and finally St. Stan’s Basilica - if time allows.

Russell does wedding receptions, Christmas light tours, and takes visitors on exclusive tours during the week upon request. His most recent tour, added this year, is on Wednesday nights at 6:30 p.m. and focused on the historic architecture of Winona’s west end.

Russell is keeping Trester’s memory and belief in city spirit alive with every trolley ride, he said.

“My goal is to try and bring people back to Winona, or to share something new with the people who live here,” he said.

“When people tell me there is nothing to do in Winona, I say, ‘No way.’”

The tours require a lot of memorization. Russell said he has learned the history from being in town for so long, but does need to study every now and then. Some locals even seek him out to give him historical information to use.

The trolley business isn’t cheap, Russell said. The vehicle only gets about five miles to the gallon. Russell cleans the trolley regularly and does most of the repair work himself. Storage in the winter months costs, too, he said.

“Am I making any money on it?” Russell said. “So far, it’s been costing me money. But I enjoy it. I’m not doing it for pay.”

When Russell isn’t behind the wheel of the trolley, he’s looking for new ways he can help out in Winona. He’s an avid volunteer, preferring to work “behind the scenes,” he said, raising money for scholarships, helping with youth groups at the Winona Senior Friendship Center.

“If it’s something I feel good about, I’ll get behind it and push,” Russell said.

He’s also just a regular guy who enjoys spending time with family - he now has eight grandchildren. Later this month he’s looking forward to a two-week vacation to the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns National Park - a bucket-list trip he has wanted to complete since retirement.

When he gets back, though, he’s planning to sit right back down in the driver’s seat of the trolley.

The most rewarding part of being in the business, Russell said, is getting people interested in Winona and showing them everything the city has to offer.

“I am doing it to promote the city, plain and simple,” he said. “I enjoy what I do.”

“I just like Winona.”


Information from: Winona Daily News, https://www.winonadailynews.com



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