The mainstay of the fleet at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton since the facility began operation has been Red Arrow center door car 76, a Brill product built in 1926 for what was then Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Co.
Other than somewhat sporadic appearances by the spasmodic Red Arrow car 80 (a Brill Master Unit of 1932), car 76 has been the working face of this museum, introducing (or reintroducing) visitors to the sights, sounds and sensations of trolley travel. A suburban vehice of almost interurban proportions, 76 is a comfortable and fun car to ride. Its size makes it an excellent crowd swallower on busy weekend trips, such as the museum’s baseball specials that carry fans to PNC Field in suburban Moosic, home of the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Swaying over the wooded right-of-way on a hot July day and bounding through the former Laurel Line interurban tunnel aboard the maroon behemoth filled with parents and children, it’s easy to slip into a reverie about what the trolley era must have felt like at its glorious peak.
On a more personal note, 76 has been something of a fixture in my life over the past half decade. On days when I needed my quick fix of electric traction, on summer weekends when friends joined me for a leisurely ride to learn more about this hobby of mine they dimly understood, when railfan friends and relatives came from out-of-town to visit, car 76 has been the omnipresent host for daydreaming, hospitality, education and bonding.
Like any trolley, I imagine 76 would have plenty to say if she could talk. There would be memories of carrying workaday crowds, many of them long dead; of those lean Depression years and hauling the masses during the hectic war years; of surviving the scrapper and bouncing around in preservation, from greater Philadelphia ultimately to Scranton.
And then there would be those memories more personal to me, of the many guests I’ve brought aboard the car, of family, of friends moved on to other towns and jobs and lives. And of those who tragically now fall into the category of “former friends.”
The memories wafted yesterday afternoon as I introduced a new friend and colleague to car 76, to the trolley era and the saga of electric traction in Northeast Pennsylvania — a history he knew nothing about, despite growing up here. The circle continues, the story is passed to another interested listener and I feel as if I have done another small service to my life’s work by helping open one more person’s eyes to this fascinating chapter in our nation’s industrial history.
But I can’t help feeling the sting of loss, for those who have gone before and gone away. And if the preservationists succeed at their craft, that damn trolley will outlive us all.