"Toonerville Trolley" question

Not altogether sure whether this belongs in “General Questions” or “Cafe Society” – anyway…

Prompted by recent discussion on a British message board on transport-related topics, about the American “Toonerville Trolley” “thing” – the early-ish 20th-century cartoon material (strip cartoon, and animated cartoon film) on the theme of a ramshackle overhead-electric local rail line; the name has, I understand, come to be a byword / “shorthand” in the States, for comical, small-time rail passenger operations of various types, usually somewhat antiquated. Do I assume rightly that the context of this “Toonerville” is a fictitious one – arrived at by the creator just because, with the alliteration, it “sounds right”?

Googling informed me of the existence in the USA of four “unincorporated communities” called Toonerville – one each in Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri and Pennsylvania; but gave no indication of electric-short-line associations re any of them. And I discovered that there is a street gang in Los Angeles called “Toonerville Rifa 13” (fancy paints this outfit as being passionately dedicated to the reinstatement of the L.A. area’s one-time superb “Big Red Cars” interurban electric rail / streetcar network, long ago swept away by motor roads in great volume – in fact, ready if need be to shed blood in this cause). I’m reckoning – unless told otherwise – that none of this stuff found via Google, is directly to do with the Toonerville Trolley “legend”.

I’m familiar with the comic strip and animated cartoons, but I’ve always assumed that “Toonerville” was a construction from “[car]toon + -er- + “Ville” (for “town”)” There isn’t any town called “Toonerville” that inspired this.


If it is such a shorthand in the U.S., I’d suspect that it’s either (a) an archaic phrase, and / or (b) a phrase that’s only really used by railfans. I’m not familiar with the term (and I was a railfan at one point in my youth), though it’s evocative enough that the picture it gives me in my head is pretty close to what you describe.

Google Ngram Viewer suggests that it was most commonly used from about 1930 to 1960, with a peak around 1945. It also shows a bump in usage (with a captial T in “Trolley”) in the late 1970s.

Edit: given the reference that CalMeacham gives, showing that the comic strip ended its run in 1955, that likely explains the drop in the Ngram rates at about that time.

This reference tells you the real-life inspiration for both the trolley and its driver:


As it says, the trolley itself appears to be based on one in Fox’s home town of Louisville, Kentucky, while the driver was based on one Fox met in Pelham Manor, Westchester County, New York. One might guess that the Toonerville in Kentucky could have been the source of the name, but according to Wiki it took it’s name from the comic strip, not vice versa.

The strip was officially called “Toonerville Folks,” but I can’t find in references whether the trolley was there from the beginning or was added after the town was named.

Toonerville Trolleys are more likely to be amusement park rides rather then ramshackle interurbans. There was a small railroad set up in Lorain Ohio and that was what we unofficially called it.


I am old enuf to have ridden part of the last of the Big Red cars ( I think to Long Beach) . And they were past their time, and no longer able to keep up, and no longer “superb”. As they ran a surface line, which crossed roads all the time, the average speed was less than 20MPH. *

My Mom would wait for the trolly when it went around a corner, we’d break into a trot and jump on. No one paid, no one cared you didnt pay. IIRC.

So, they were Ok when cars could barely go 25, and until 1924 horses were still fairly common. They had a resurgence during gas rationing for WW2. But due to the slow speed, they were dying even by WW2.
*Pacific Electric - Wikipedia
Although the railway owned extensive private roadbeds, usually between urban areas, much PE trackage in urban areas such as downtown Los Angeles west of the Los Angeles River was in streets shared with automobiles and trucks. Virtually all street crossings were at-grade, and increasing automobile traffic led to decreasing Red Car speeds on much of its trackage.[24] At its nadir, the busy Santa Monica Boulevard line, which connected Los Angeles to Hollywood and on to Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, had an average speed of 13 miles per hour (21 km/h)

Thanks to everybody, for “Toonerville Trolley” info – my lack of knowledge re same, comprehensively fought.

Oddly perhaps – though British, I’ve long known the expression: it was quite current some decades ago among that minority of British railfans who take any interest in railways outside of Britain :frowning: , as “American” for a ramshackle rural local railway.

Again many years back; on a journey on lesser rail lines in North Wales, I encountered a charming American tourist who was doing a day’s “exploration” of the same sort: he referred to the modern, comfortable and smoothly-running two-car diesel passenger unit, travelling on well-maintained track, in which we were riding – as a “Toonerville Trolley”. I felt that this was a rather unkind appellation; though the guy didn’t mean it in any snide way – he was finding the whole experience delightful.

Thanks ! – a most comprehensive guide to the “Toonerville” phenomenon. Reveals to me that it was an entire milieu, of which the Trolley element was just a part. A “relation”, one feels, of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 's “Toontown” – the “ghetto” in Los Angeles, where all the cartoon characters (“Toons”) live.

Point taken… I fear that as an impassioned railfan, I’m heavily biased, and have always totally bought into the “Big Red Cars – good; that which replaced them, loathsome” proposition. Am trying to take a more balanced view…