When historian Norm Krentel asked his audience if any had ridden an interurban car, only Zeeland resident Elaine Veneklasen Van Zoeren, 92, could say yes. She'd been about four years old when she and her mom stepped onto a car bound for Holland one snowy day, she said later.
"My father was in Holland Hospital with appendicitis," she said. "We stayed in town with a friend so my mother could be near the hospital, instead of going back and forth."
Krentels talk, the first event jointly organized by the Howard Miller Library and Zeeland Historical Society, was a huge hit. More than 150 people attended, many lingering afterward to chat with Krentel and friends.
From the early 1900s until the mid-1920s, he said, people living in West Michigan could zip around on large electric-powered interurban cars. But they needed to flag down a car using some kind of light after dark and had to pay cash. Dean and Beth Havens of Jenison said they wanted to hear Krentel's talk because they like history. Beth learned her dad was right about an interurban station being across from her childhood home. The Havens' friend, John Snyder, said he attended because, as a retired railroad worker, he enjoys transportation history.
They learned that one Holland-Zeeland route took the cars along Eighth Street but went underground just beyond Lincoln, traveling under the railroad and Seventh Street. Many, if not all the underground tunnels, were filled in during the 1970s, Krentel said.
Even as Krentel showed museum images while explaining how the 60-foot cars zipped around a Michigan electrified network, he threw in as-yet unanswered questions about the transit system, hoping someone could recall details or share a family photo.
"You have allowed us to have a ride back into time, not a step, but a ride," said Historical Society co-chairwoman Sara Donkersloot to Krentel before reminding the crowd that Zeeland Historical Society celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. "Our mission is to preserve the past, present and future."
Zeeland's library director, Bob Vande Vusse, said the collaboration was successful and he hopes to see more in the future.