In my recent post about San Diego’s new vintage PCC service I promised to bring you the story of another heritage PCC car returned to service, on the other side of the country.
Saturday, Aug. 27 was the first day that former New ark City Subway PCC car 6 was in regular service for visitors at the Rockhill Trolley Museum in the Allegheny Mountains of southcentral Pennsylvania, a little more than three months after it arrived at the museum from New Jersey. Its formal return to passenger service came just over a decade after New Jersey Transit retired the Newark PCCs in favor of low-floor Kinki Sharyo light rail vehicles.
“Rockhill Trolley Museum is honored to be able to preserve this historic car and thanks all of the donors, friends, and volunteers who have made it possible,” said Matthew W. Nawn, who is first vice president of Railways To Yesterday, Inc., the museum’s parent organization.
Car 6 “provides the museum an excellent example of a PCC car for use in fulfilling its educational mission,” he wrote. “The car’s condition and back end controls make it ideally suited for our operation. Its all steel construction make it an ideal car for foul weather operations (as compared with the majority of the cars in our collection that have canvas covered wooden roofs).”
Matt was kind enough to share with me some detailed thoughts about car 6 and its restoration, which we will read more about below. First, a little history.
The museum’s new acquisition was originally built as car 325 for the Twin City Rapid Transit Company of Minneapolis in 1946 by St. Louis Car Company. As I wrote about on my Newark City Subway tribute pages a decade ago, TCRT acquired 141 PCCs between 1945 and 1949, but their service in Minnesota was short-lived; all had been sold prior to the end of TCRT streetcar service in 1954.
New management took over TCRT in 1949, and quickly embarked on a plan to replace streetcars with buses. Management was successful in finding buyers for its virtually new PCCs, selling the cars at bargain prices. Mexico City took the lion’s share, while Cleveland’s Shaker Heights Rapid Transit bought 20. Public Service Coordinated Transport, predecessor of New Jersey Transit, bought 30 cars for the Newark City Subway.
Both Newark and TCRT got what they believed they wanted. Despite the low selling price, TCRT was more than happy to have quick cash for new buses, which were cheaper than trams. Total PCC sales (Newark took $350,000 worth) netted the company more than a million dollars, though its controversial trolley liquidation program would come back to haunt the company. As Rockhill’s history of car 6 puts it, “the president of TCRT, as well as another company official and the owner of a local scrap firm all were later convicted in federal court on fraud and associated charges related to the rapid dismantling of the TCRT streetcar system.”
Newark, meanwhile, took ownership of shiny, like-new PCCs (TCRT 320-339, 360-364, 415-419) which were shipped east in 1953. Renumbered 1-30 and repainted in a striking livery of grey and white with blue stripes, they cut an attractive figure compared with the subway’s dowdy conventional cars. TCRT 325 was renumbered 6 by PSCT.
The years were kind to Newark’s PCCs. The 7 City Subway line operated entirely on private right-of-way, with a single grade crossing at Orange Street. Stored underground at Newark Penn Station, the cars were protected from the elements and lovingly maintained. Comparatively few modifications were made over the years, so that even despite a 1980s overhaul program, they ended their service lives looking very much as they did in the 1940s — paint scheme aside — down to window guards, crank operated windows, arm rests, and foot rests. The most noticeable difference was the addition of pantographs in their later years, as the line prepared for upgrading to light rail operation. Nearly a half-century after they arrived in New Jersey, 24 of of Newark’s PCC cars remained in active service, a major draw for trolley fans. Four of the lost cars (8, 18, 29 and 30) had earlier been scrapped, while two (3 and 27) were sold to Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority in 1978 for Shaker Heights Service.
In early 2001, car 6 was was cosmetically restored to its 1954 appearance in preparation for PCC farewell ceremonies. According to Rockhill, the car “was specifically selected for preservation in 2001 as it was considered one of the three best operating cars by NJ Transit City Subway maintenance personnel.” It received new wheels about one year before retirement and was also the last PCC car painted before retirement, museum officials said.
“After a number of years in storage, plans for a transportation heritage museum in New Jersey fell through and Car #6 became available for museum preservation elsewhere,” according to Rockhill’s history of the car. “After more than a year of planning, Car #6 was sold to the Rockhill Trolley Museum via the Friends of the New Jersey Transportation Heritage Center in April 2011.”
A new life
Car 6 arrived at the museum in mid-April, with volunteers quickly getting down to work assessing its condition and maintenance needs. Matt Nawn recounted for me the work which has been done:
The bulk of the work was cosmetic, but the first things that took place after acquisition of the car were a thorough cleaning and a complete mechanical and electrical inspection and servicing. This was very straightforward, but a little time consuming. All electrical cabinets were blown clean, inspected, and all electrical contactors, motor brushes, MG set brushes, etc. were all cleaned and serviced. One relay had a weak spring which was replaced. The car received a new set of batteries and the voltage regulator was reset.
The car came with a backup controller, which was disconnected and badly deteriorated. The backup controller was replaced in its entirety with a spare from museum stock and wiring was repaired where it had been cut in years prior to disable the original backup controller. The car also received a front pole using the former pantograph mount as a base to facilitate safe reverse moves over our 1.54 mile line. [Ed: Which lacks turning loops for single-ended cars.]
The original plan was to simply clean the car, do some minor touch ups, and put the car in service as is, but the paint work done in 2001 had deteriorated badly after nearly 10 years in unprotected storage. Thus, all loose paint inside and out was removed, the car spot primed, some deteriorated areas cleaned and patched with body filler, and the car was completely repainted in colors color matched to the original. The most of the interior was done as well, but the interior had not deteriorated like the exterior. The car was painted in the same manner the fleet was painted in Newark over the years — using brushes and foam rollers.
By the time of Rockhill’s Members’ Day on May 21, the vehicle was able to operate for the very first time since since Aug. 24, 2001 — although, as Matt noted, “the car was far from ready for public operation at this time and the museum was closed that day to the general public.”
Even so, the car was ready for regular public service by Saturday, Aug. 27, a fitting remembrance of its formal retirement 10 years previously. Compared with the time, money and effort often required to bring antique trolley cars back to life, this was a remarkable achievement for a car which spent 10 years languishing in storage — “a testament to what teamwork and dedicated volunteer effort can accomplish,” Matt wrote. Its journey into restoration is far from over, however:
“Work that remains to be done is some troubleshooting of a problematic headlight and marker light circuit,” Matt wrote. “There appears to be an intermittent ground condition in the wiring harness to the headlight. For the time being, the roof headlight is used. The museum also plans to discreetly add a rear headlight and 12V horn under the rear end of the car to facilitate safer backup moves, especially at night.”
One of the most visible, and sometimes controversial, questions arising in trolley restoration projects is what era to represent when restoring a car which wore multiple liveries during its working life — not to mention physical alterations made to vehicles over the years (which these cars were largely spared). Remember that PCC 6 was built for the Twin Cities. After that it wore three different liveries during its half-century in Newark, being repainted in its 1954 colors as it headed for retirement and preservation. What identity will it ultimately take on for riders at Rockhill? Fans of PSCT’s sedate grey, white and blue hues can rejoice at what Matt told me.
“The plan is to maintain the car in PSCT colors for the long term,” he wrote. “Should sufficient money be raised in the future, the museum would consider a complete professional stripping of the entire body and refinishing to the level of quality done with the former SEPTA #2168 at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum. We even have an extra set of PSCT decals just for this purpose.”
As a side note, SEPTA PCC 2168 presents an interesting case study in preservation livery choice. Its restoration was supported by donations from Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys, a dedicated group of enthusiasts who have contributed to the preservation and maintenance of cars in a number of locations, including another Rockhill PCC, SEPTA 2743. The quality and financing of 2768’s refinishing isn’t the only thing which stands out. That car wears the orange, blue and white “Gulf Oil” livery carried by many SEPTA vehicles in the 1970s and ’80s. Those colors represent neither the long-lived green and cream livery worn by generations of Philadelphia trolleys, nor the red white and blue corporate livery which was ultimately adopted by SEPTA, carried by this car in its final years and still used, with variations, today. It could be argued that “Gulf Oil” — a tongue-in-cheek nickname acknowledging how the colors mimicked those of the petroleum giant — recalls SEPTA’s trolley operations at their most careworn, when ramshackle streetcars rattled the streets covered in graffiti. But these colors were a favorite of many Philly railfans and represent a period not formally represented by preserved Philadelphia PCCs elsewhere.
As for NJT 6, its future at Rockhill looks bright, whatever colors it may be wearing. Those who wish to contribute to its maintenance and upkeep are referred to this preservation fund form at the Rockhill website.
Rockhill’s car 6 is not the only Newark PCC to find a new life after LRVs took over subway operations. Only four of Newark’s 30 PCCs were scrapped and two were sold prior to the end of service. Of the rest, a respectable number have gone on to good homes, including 11 cars purchased for service in San Francisco in 2004. Now numbered 1070-1080, those vehicles operate alongside restored SEPTA PCCs in the historic liveries of PCC operations from across North America, including Newark’s 1950s colors. A number of other cars are owned by museums, while several remain in storage on New Jersey Transit property, including eight at the Communipaw Avenue yards of the Hudson-Bergen light rail system in Jersey City.
For the purposes of this post I wanted to see how many I could track down. Happily, the answer seems to be all of them. Based on my research, official published sources and reliable railfans, I present the following unofficial accounting of Newark’s PCC cars as of September 2011, including relevant links where available. Particular thanks to Harry A. Donohue, Jeff Marinoff and several other contributors to the Philly Traction Yahoo group. Any updates or corrections would be most warmly appreciated.
- 1 – Stored outside at Bloomfield, NJT facility on behalf of a Newark museum which lacks storage space.
- 2 – San Francisco Muni 1074, in Toronto colors.
- 3 – Minnesota Streetcar Museum as TCRT 322.
- 4 – Shrink wrapped at Jersey City.
- 5 – Acquired by Seashore Trolley Museum, 2011.
- 6 – Acquired by Rockhill Trolley Museum, 2011.
- 7 – At Jersey City.
- 8 – Scrapped.
- 9 – San Francisco Muni 1080 in Los Angeles colors.
- 10 – Stored at Baltimore Streetcar Museum; bound for San Diego as 534.
- 11 – San Francisco Muni 1079 in Detroit colors.
- 12 – San Francisco Muni 1076 in Washington, D.C. colors.
- 13 – At Jersey City.
- 14 – San Francisco Muni 1070 in Newark PSCT colors.
- 15 – At Jersey City.
- 16 – Listed as work car but unused since 2001; stored outside with car 1.
- 17 – San Francisco Muni 1075 in Cleveland Transit colors.
- 18 – Scrapped.
- 19 – San Francisco Muni 1078 in San Diego colors.
- 20 – San Francisco Muni 1072 in Mexico City colors.
- 21 – San Francisco Muni 1077 in Birmingham colors.
- 22 – San Francisco Muni 1073 in El Paso colors.
- 23 – San Francisco Muni 1071 in TCRT colors.
- 24 – At Jersey City.
- 25 – At Jersey City.
- 26 – At Jersey City.
- 27 – Shore Line Trolley Museum.
- 28 – At Jersey City.
- 29 – Scrapped.
- 30 – Scrapped.