Cliff Fournier is something of a living museum piece, a 96-year-old survivor from a bygone era in Tacoma. He’s the last of 212 trainmen who conducted trolleys through the city from 1890 to 1938.
“When I started on the trolleys, all the conductors were old men. I’d stop to pick up passengers, open the doors and these 17-, 18-year-old girls would see me and yell, ‘A young man!’” Fournier recalled last week from his home in Thurston County.
He was supposed to be 21 when he got the job with what one day would become Pierce County Transit.
“When I got the job in 1936, it was Tacoma Transit,” Fournier said. “I wasn’t 21 yet, I was only 20 and a half years old.”
So what did he do about the age discrepancy?
“I lied,” he said.
Now retired and living on Offut Lake in Tenino, he and wife Dorine have been married 67 years. For the past few, Fournier has taken up playing the organ. Dorine sat and listened to a mini-concert during which her husband played and sang.
“She’s a great audience,” he said. “She always listens to me, whether she likes it or not.”
Their home has the warmth of family, with photos of their three children, eight grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
There are photos of Cliff and Dorine leaving a chapel in 1944 – she in a wedding dress, he in his Army uniform.
The trolley line was a tradition passed on from his grandfather.
“You didn’t call it ‘driving.’ You were a conductor, a motorman,” Fournier said. “There were cable cars and trolleys. About a year or so after I started, my grandfather retired and they gave me his badge.”
After high school, Fournier had worked on a railroad crew, laying down ties and then rails, living in Rainier.
When he joined Tacoma Transit, he didn’t know a thing about the city.
“There were 20 lines, and when I was being trained I’d work an eight-hour shift on each one – that’s how you learned the city. You had to be able to answer questions for the passengers,” Fournier said. “After a few months, I knew the city like the back of my hand.”
In July 1938, two years after he began, the last trolley run came to an end.
“The last day, people wanted my hat. They wanted my uniform. They took seats out of the trolley — they all wanted something to remember.”
Fournier is left with his memories, which are still strong.
“I never had my photograph taken on a trolley, and I wish I had.”
Trolleys gave way to buses. Fournier made the transition, though his driving career was put on hold for World War II.
His mother was working in the shipyards, and when he had a 30-day furlough in 1944, he came home to visit.
“She played cupid,” he said.
As Dorine recalls it, cupid’s magic happened quickly: “I worked with his mother in the shipyards during the war, and she introduced us when he was on furlough. When his furlough was over, I flew to where he was stationed — Riverside, Calif. — and we were married.”
The quick courtship turned into a long marriage.
“I’ve never had a regret,” Dorine said.
“Neither have I,” Fournier said.
After the war, he rejoined what was then Pierce County Transit and drove a bus until his retirement in 1981. Did he miss the trolleys?
“No. In the winter, if there was snow, trolley wheels would spin on the tracks,” Fournier said. “Those big oak leaves would get on the track and the wheels would spin. You had to get out of the car and put sand on the track.
“At the end of the line, you had to turn the seats around, because you’d be going in the other direction.”
The change was good for customers, too.
“People fell down more often on the trolley,” he said. “You got a much better ride on the bus.”
If Tacoma reopened a trolley line, like was talked about five years ago, would he come back?
“I’d go up and ring the bell. That’s about all I’d do,” Fournier said, then grinned. “Those young girls wouldn’t want to ride with me now.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638