The “Disinformation Trolley” is up and running in Dallas. You get taken on a ride in more ways than one. No “waste of time” on “conspiracy theories”, “just the facts”. The creator of this ride used to call it “5.6 seconds” but he fails to know enough about the timing of the shots to understand that is what demolishes a single gunman using a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. Oswald did not shoot either President Kennedy or Officer Tippit that day. You may leave this tour crying, feeling you have seen “history” with your own eyes. In fact, you have seen it with your ears, being told about things at particular locations that did not happen that way.
JFK trolley tour takes passengers on historic journey
Dallas Morning News, 11 October 2012 10:34 PM
By JAMES RAGLAND
“As shocking as 9/11.”
Michael Scott Aston doesn’t shy away from dramatics when describing the day President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.
But his goal is more understated: He wants to bring Nov. 22, 1963, to life
for passengers on his JFK Trolley Tours, who, on this trip, are mostly
middle-aged tourists from the Midwest.
“I’m going to be doing a 49-year time warp,” he says, shortly before
steering his fire-engine-red trolley bus from its resting spot at the
historic corner of Elm and Houston streets downtown.
Aston, 50, who started the tours six weeks ago, also narrates the one-hour
rides that retrace Kennedy’s motorcade route and take tourists on a 12-mile round trip to other assassination-related sites, from downtown to Oak Cliff.
Kennedy “was in an open convertible,” Aston says, as he rhetorically paints
a picture of what downtown Dallas looked like in the early ’60s. “No politician would do that today.”
His narrative, uninterrupted by questions, grips the attention of those on
More than 1,500 sightseers have ridden the trolley since it began running on Aug. 31. Some get off the bus crying.
“I’ve always studied the Kennedy legacy,” says Aston, a Dallas native and
ex-sailor who returned to the area earlier this year to start the business.
“I knew there was nothing down here like this.”
He originally dubbed it the “5.6 tour” – a reference to the estimated
5.6 seconds it took for three shots fired from the Texas School Book
Depository to kill Kennedy nearly 49 years ago.
Now Aston simply refers to it as the “JFK Assassination Tour.” It begins
near The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, at 411 Elm St., and follows the president’s motorcade route on that infamous day.
Aston also tracks Lee Harvey Oswald’s path from the depository to the Oak
Cliff boarding house where the assassin lived. From there, he heads to the
intersection where Oswald killed police Officer J.D. Tippit, then to the
site of Oswald’s arrest, the Texas Theater on Jefferson Boulevard.
Aston read everything from the Warren Commission report on the JFK
assassination to Robert Caro’s books on Lyndon B. Johnson’s storied career
to create the script he deftly delivers from memory.
He says he’s also talked to people who were near the grassy knoll that day,
including an uncle, and other witnesses to key events.
$20 (less for seniors and kids) to ride the trolley.
“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” says Debbie Helser, a department store worker from Michigan who was on the tour with her husband, Bill, and her father-in-law, David. “We didn’t even know they had it until we got here.”
At one point, as Aston dramatizes how “the shots rang out,” Debbie Helser
flinches in her seat.
She says Aston “did a great job” re-creating the timeline of events and
painting a picture of the principal characters involved.
She says Aston’s vivid recollection of the challenges America faced at home and abroad in 1963 made her appreciate JFK even more.
“I really admired him [JFK]. He did a lot in a short amount of time,”
Her father-in-law, 85, says the tour brought back memories of where he was when Kennedy was killed.
“I was teaching high school,” he says. “I came into the principal’s office
and they said, ‘The president’s been shot.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be
kidding.’ But they weren’t.”
He says he was particularly pleased that Aston stuck to “the facts” and
didn’t waste time talking about all the conspiracy theories surrounding
“There’s so much confusion,” he says. “I don’t know if anybody knows
everything to be learned. There are so many theories.”
Jeff Snyder, 53, a veteran police officer from Ohio, says he was riveted by
Aston’s recounting of how Oswald gunned down Tippit.
cop-shooting part,” he says. “I’ve seen documentaries and pictures and
stuff, but it all looks a lot different in person.”
Aston, who lived in Florida before returning to the Dallas area to launch
Big D Fun Tours, started amassing the 13 local, state and federal permits he
needed for the JFK Trolley Tours back in March.
“It took me literally working 16 hours a day to make it happen,” he says.
On his first day, he says, the climate-controlled trolley in which he
invested about $100,000 to get up and running was filled to its 32-seat
capacity on all four of its daily runs.
Business has been steady ever since, says Aston’s 19-year-old daughter,
Samantha Howlett, who was standing at the corner of Elm and Houston streets rounding up customers.
“We’ve done 1,500 to 2,000 people so far,” she says. “We never do less than
50 to 60 a day.”
Nicola Longford, executive director of the popular Sixth Floor Museum, says the tour bus hasn’t created any problems. She emphasizes, though, that the tours are not associated with the museum.
“Because it loads in front of the former Texas School Book Depository, some of our visitors have mistakenly assumed that it is operated by the museum,” Longford says.
Dallas is fortunate that key historic sites related to the JFK assassination
still exist, she says. And that people will pay to see them.
“The apparent popularity of the JFK Trolley,” Longford says, “is a testament
to the fact that President Kennedy’s life, death and legacy are still
relevant to the public, even 49 years later.”
IF YOU GO: Tour details
What: JFK Trolley Tours
Times: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
Departure: 411 Elm St., near The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Tickets: $20 adults; $18 seniors (60+); $10 children 12 and under
Information: BigDfuntours.com; 214-400-9020
AT A GLANCE: What’s on the tour
- Presidential motorcade route along Harwood, Main and Elm streets downtown.
- The old Texas School Book Depository (now The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza), 411 Elm St., where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK.
- Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll, along Elm near the Triple Underpass.
- The Oak Cliff boarding house where Oswald lived, 1026 N. Beckley Ave.
- Scene of Officer J.D. Tippit’s slaying, 404 E. 10th St.
- The Texas Theater, 421 Jefferson Blvd., where Oswald was arrested.
- The old Dallas city jail, 106 S. Harwood, where Jack Ruby shot Oswald.
- Former site of Ruby’s Carousel Club, 1312 1/2 Commerce St.