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Originally published Friday, June 1, 2012 at 8:00 PM

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Living in a monorail car

A Texas family's home is built around the passenger car from the first commercial monorail ever run in the United States, which carried its first paying riders during the 1956 Texas State Fair.

Tyler (Texas) Morning Telegraph

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WILLS POINT, Texas —

Gillian Stewart regularly meets people who were in her home long before she was, before she even lived in this town with her husband, Roger.

In fact, her home was once a landmark and herald of a promising future both in Texas and around the country when it first opened in 1956.

The Stewarts' home is built around the passenger car from the first commercial monorail ever run in the U.S., which carried its first paying riders during the 1956 Texas State Fair at Fair Park in Dallas.

For 25 cents riders clambered into the hot-dog-shaped steel and fiberglass car from a loading platform at Cotton Bowl Plaza and trolled along First Avenue.

Gillian Stewart works as a hair stylist and said on more than one occasion that customers told her about seeing and riding in the car, called the Trailblazer.

"It was very famous when it was erected," she said. "It's strange, but I've loved living here."

The Trailblazer was manufactured in Houston, where its doors opened in February 1956 at Arrowhead Park, according to a Houston Chronicle article.

The rail's time in Houston was short-lived, as it was disassembled and moved to Fair Park that same year for the State Fair.

In "The Great State Fair of Texas — An Illustrated History," author Nancy Wiley wrote that the monorail was recommended as an attraction by R.L. Thornton, the fair's president that year.

At a cost of $125,000 (equivalent to more than $991,000 in 2010 dollars), the rail failed to debut on the fair's opening day, when it was intended to run, Wiley wrote. But by the end of the fair's first week, test runs of the 51-passenger car carrying loads of bricks were under way.

The monorail and Trailblazer didn't stay long in Dallas, either. The rail was disassembled in 1964 permanently, according to an article on a website devoted to train history.

Gillian Stewart said the car spent some years in a junkyard before Malcolm Paisley, a Wills Point man, bought it and had it hauled to its current resting place via flatbed trailer.

"We think this was his whole house," Gillian Stewart said one afternoon standing in her kitchen. "It didn't look like this when we bought it."

Today, the rows of seats that lined the car's walls in the '50s are gone, replaced by fine wood cabinets and countertops. Many of the original windows are still there.

The original lighting fixtures are still in place and run down the center of a half-moon roof. One end of the car has been converted to a semicircle dining area and at the other end is a bathroom.

The Stewarts bought the home in 1997. Little by little, they've added on to the place.

The master bathroom branches off from the Trailblazer and a short skip down the hall enters into their living room. The staircase from a B-52 bomber ferries guests to an upstairs loft area.

Throughout the years, they've heard from a number of people who remember the old rail car, including the son of Edward Oliver Haltom, who built the State Fair rail.

He "helped pioneer the monorail in the 1950s as an alternative mode of transportation," according to Haltom's obituary, which the Stewarts saved. "Although it was dismantled in 1963, the monorail was the prototype for other systems across the nation, including the one at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962."

Years back, the Stewarts received a letter from Haltom's son, who came to Wills Point searching for the piece of his father's legacy. He offered to buy the property if they ever decided to sell it.

Gillian Stewart plans to to retire soon and spend her time with her horses and the home.

Because the Trailblazer is more than half a century old, there are problems with it, she said.

"There's always something," she laughed. Despite the work, she and Roger have no plans on letting go of this piece of history anytime soon.

"Never in a million years did I imagine I'd end up living in a (train car)," she said. .

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