John Bartzen has been guiding visitors around Door County as a driver and tour guide for the Door County Trolley for six years. We caught up with him to talk about why he loves his “office” and how he keeps his tours fresh and interesting no matter how many times he does them.
Q: How did you end up in Door County driving the trolley?
A: Six years ago I was living in Milwaukee and needed a change. My uncle AJ Frank was up here, and he owns the Door County Trolley, so I asked if there was anything I could do for him. I started by doing landscaping and odd jobs, but soon got my CDL license and next thing I was loving driving the trolley.
Q: You’re from Germantown, WI, so what was your original connection to Door County?
A: For many years, my family came up here for reunions or vacations, so I was camping up here from a young age. It’s such an amazing place that you can drive two and a half hours and feel like you’re in a completely different country.
Q: What groups are the most fun to have aboard?
A: That’s hard to say. Every group is different. Weddings are like a mini party before the ceremony, so those are fun. But I love the tours. Getting to show people the place that I love.
Q: What are the questions you get asked the most from riders?
A: I’m not sure why, but people always ask how Door County got its name. People always say, “I don’t want to sound stupid, but…” Then they ask, “is it a town, or a city, or a county?” It’s bigger than itself.
The most shocking thing, is telling them how each of the towns and villages got their name. There’s great history behind it, and people love the stories.
Number one is Egg Harbor, and the story of it being named after an egg fight. “How could the town be named after an egg fight?” It gets people laughing.
Q: How do you keep it fresh when you’re giving the same tour several times a day?
A: Even if I’m having a bad day, which isn’t very often, I remind myself that for the people aboard, it’s their big thing to do that day, and they paid good money, so I want to show them a good time and bring my energy.
Hey, I could be at a desk right now. Instead I’m driving through town, ringing the bell and seeing a child’s face light up. I’m seeing incredible views. The winds change, the colors change. And I’m meeting new people and hearing their backstories. That’s a pretty good way to live.
Q: Where do you go to build your knowledge about the county?
A: Every single one of these drivers knows this county inside and out. We’re like the front desk at a resort. We experience it, get out to try places. The Door County Visitor Bureau’s Certified Travel Ambassador program is a great way to learn about the county and its history.
For our ghost tours you look up history in books and libraries digging in to find stories of tragedies like the E.L. Hackley and we go and talk to family members who know family lore. We want to make it as historically accurate as possible.
Q: OK John, so what are your “insider tips” you tell people to check out during their Door County vacation?
A: Number one, you’ve got to go to Cave Point, take a walk around, see the waves crashing. It’s a beautiful spot.
Number two, I’d tell them Eagle Tower, but since that’s down for reconstruction I tell them Potawatomi Tower in Sturgeon Bay. That view might actually be better, where you can see the bay, the park, and the shipyards of the canal.
Finally, if you want the true Wisconsin experience, you have to go to a supper club. I love Donny’s Glidden Lodge, but you could check out several different places.
Door County Trolley offers tours of the peninsula all year long. Among them are Winter Wonderland Tours, Beer and Burger tours, Lighthouse tours, and many options to satisfy any passion. Learn more.
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