Yellow cars on Wildwood Boardwalk are a familiar sight to weary tourists
By COURTNEY McCANN
WILDWOOD – Joelle Ellis had never been so happy to see a tram car in her life.
Two years ago the State College, Pa. native, her husband and their young son, Jonah, were spending a family night out on the Boardwalk here when a spontaneous summer storm unloaded on the shore town.
Cold and drenched, the Ellises grimly entertained the prospect of lugging a sopping toddler several blocks down the Boardwalk to their lodgings. Then they spotted salvation in the form of a bright yellow tram car.
“It was packed. There were about six people crammed on each bench,” Ellis said, recalling the event. “But it was worth it. We were very grateful for the tram that night.”
Now a tram ride is a must for the Ellises, just as it is for all visitors who trek down to Wildwood for a few days of sun and sand each summer. For riders the tram cars are a respite for weary legs. For walkers, the tram can be summed up in just four words:
“Watch the tram car, please!”
“I think we said that about 100 times in the truck on the way down here.” said Nick Picarello, 33, of Butler, Morris County, as he and girlfriend, Jessica Bateson, 24, hopped a ride on the tram. “And her father busted our chops about it before we left.”
Walking two miles of boardwalk seemed a good idea that morning, when the couple finished breakfast and needed some exercise to walk off the calories. But with the sun overhead and sweat pouring down their faces as they reached the north end of the Boardwalk, Picarello and Bateson voted to take the tram car back.
The tram sailed along at a slow pace past the amusement piers, carnival- game hawkers and French fry vendors in a blur of intoxicating sights, smells and sounds.
Picarello and Bateson were just looking for a ride, but they got more than that when tram-car supervisor John “Gig” Gigliotti hopped on board. He offered the couple suggestions for dinner reservations (Groff’s Restaurant or the Boat House) and a good place to get fudge (Laura’s Fudge on Wildwood Avenue).
If you’ve ridden a tram car in the past 16 years, you’ve probably met “Gig.” He spent 40 years working as a conductor on the Reading, Amtrak and Conrail railroad lines. Running the tram car service seemed a seamless transition for retirement … almost.
“On the train I could drive 100 mph,” Gigliotti said. “Now on the tram car I can only go 5 mph.”
Gigliotti works with maintenance supervisor Rick Devanti to make sure the tram cars and their operators are in top working order. But chatting with the riders is Gigliotti’s favorite part of the job.
“I’m like an ambassador to the people. I answer all their questions,” Gigliotti said. “I tell them where the bathrooms are, where they can take a shower, when the trams arrive.”