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TRIPS : VENTURA TROLLEY : 7-Mile Chat : Dillard Fox keeps it lively with tales of Charlie Manson and Johnny Cash.

May 10, 1990|JANE HULSE

Dillard (Foxy) Fox clanged the bell and eased the San Francisco-style trolley in front of Ventura's stately City Hall.

"Isn't this a lovely building in front of us," he gushes. "This was completed in 1913 at a price of $287,000. Oh, it is beau-tee-ful. We have a copper roof on it, a glass skylight and all our marble was brought in from Italy."

The historical patter takes a contemporary turn as he points to the wing that once housed the jail.

"Charles Manson was arrested here in 1968," he tells us. (Manson and his followers apparently were just creating a bit of a nuisance then--well before his group's famous homicidal rampage.) "They found him out on Deer Creek Road and Highway 1, him and his people. They were all drunk. He spent a night in jail here."

The four passengers on the trolley, all elderly women, are still digesting that one as Fox continues: "You remember Johnny Cash. He's been in here a few times. He used to live up in Casitas, you know."

Riding the trolley through Ventura with Fox is like chatting with a friend who has the last party line in town. As the trolley clangs he might tell a cornball joke--something about a Texan, an Australian and a giant cricket. Or, as he passes a restaurant, he'll give a lip-smacking endorsement.

"Their pepper steak is out of this world," he'll say in a way that suggests he ate there last night.

The trolley, a replica that was built in Maine five years ago, has graced Ventura streets since 1988. It runs Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., over a seven-mile route connecting the harbor, major hotels, downtown Ventura and cultural spots.

The trolley, owned by Barbara Ketchum of Ojai, is an attraction itself. The solid brass bell originally clanged in an 1887-vintage San Francisco trolley. The seats are old-time park-bench style and the windows have frosted designs. When Fox runs low on patter, he plugs in a tape of honky-tonk piano music.

The cost to ride the trolley is $2 for adults, $1 for students 5 through 18, and for children under 5 years, it's free.

Seniors can get a monthly pass for $5 and ride as much as they want. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the trolley stops at Mervyn's Department Store and Buenaventura Plaza on its runs.

In fact, seniors are Fox's best and most frequent customers.

"Lots of times I come out here to the harbor and walk around," says Martha Noga. "Or I go to Main Street and get my hair done."

Fox, 66, is a retired bus driver. He worked in Indianapolis for 30 years before moving to Ventura a few years ago. He has amassed his knowledge of Ventura from books and from bits of information passed on to him, mostly by seniors.

He's a man who loves his job. At Christmastime he dons a Santa suit and at Easter, he's the Easter bunny.

He can tell you about the bullfights that were staged near Santa Clara and Figuerosa Streets in the 1800s to celebrate San Miguel's Day. Or the story about an angry mob that hanged a murderer from the limb of an old pear tree near Main Street and Ventura Avenue.

Or, as he cruises past the pier, he can show you where the old dance hall once stood, and talk about the first oil tanker in Ventura. He tells the story of the trolley's demise in Ventura in 1908 when Halloween pranksters pushed it off the pier into the ocean.

But that's not all. As the trolley rolls down the freeway, he points to a hillside house overlooking the ocean where Marilyn Monroe reportedly once stayed. At the harbor, he talks about actor George Kennedy, of "Dallas," who lives in the area and occasionally dines here with his wife. Gesturing to a row of yachts, he singles out entertainer John Davidson's.

"If you had come out here the winter before last, Malcolm Forbes had his boat out here," he says. "You should have seen it. Boy, it was a pretty thing."

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