Sometimes the best part of visiting a working trolley museum isn’t necessarily the ride, but the host of treasures to be found lurking in storage — and in the memories of dedicated volunteers.
Slowly but surely, as you can see, I am working through the photos and stories from my trek across Pennsylvania and into Ohio early last month, and in reverse order. My last post highlighted the joys of railfanning Cleveland’s rapid transit system. The journey started with a few days spent reacquainting myself with Pittsburgh’s light rail and bus network. Between the rival burghs, I spent a sunny June afternoon at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, located south of Pittsburgh in Washington, Pa. The museum grew up around a section of original right-of-way on Pittsburgh Railways’ Pittsburgh-Washington interurban line, with several cars famously traveling to the site under their own power along the interurban tracks in 1954.
I confess that I’ve always personally thought of this facility as the Pittsburgh Trolley Museum, as it really has the best collection of working cars from the Steel City, quite literally ranging from a horsecar to the system’s last revenue PCC car, a 1988 rebuild of a 1949 car (and which I was proudly aboard for the last run in 1999). It is thus the place to go when I want to ride (or at least see) a Pittsburgh PCC car. But that is, I acknowledge, a rather narrow view of the museum’s mission and collection, in which cars from across the commonwealth and neighboring Ohio feature prominently.
Alas, Wednesday, June 6 was not a day to ride Pittsburgh cars at the museum — and indeed, many of the cars I saw on static display were from Philadelphia and other cities. The Pittsburgh PCCs I really wanted to see were parked together inside the carbarn, where an overhead wire project effectively placed them off limits, even for photos, this day.
No complaints, though, because this sunny afternoon yielded many treasures and memories. You can browse photos from the day here, on my Flickr page.
Whilst sunny, it was a weekday in early June, so visitor traffic was light. The only trolley in service while I was visiting was Rio de Janeiro Tramways open car 1758. Museums know well that open cars are crowd-pleasers, especially on fine days. They’ve never been my favorite type, but it’s also hard to dislike swaying through the countryside on a century-old breezer. And as this fun car was acquired by PTM after my last visit in 2005, it was nice to make her acquaintance.
Of course, it was bittersweet to see two Philadelphia-area cars sitting nearby, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (Red Arrow) streamliner 14, a 1949 St. Louis Car Co. product, was parked adjacent to the mainline platform, out of service due to mechanical problems, according to the museum’s website. Restored in 2004, the car still looked sharp, and I have fond memories of it zipping along the museum line during my 2005 visit.
Just outside the carbarn nearby was another Red Arrow veteran, 1926 center entrance car 66. Being well acquainted with sister car 76 in Scranton, a ride aboard the lower-numbered car might have made for a fun comparison, but it was not to be. Whilst operational, 66 was merely standing by this day.
After two few leisurely late morning trips on the open car, a friendly motorman opened the door to the day’s first unexpected surprises with the impromptu offer of a quick, escorted peek inside the museum’s car shops. Looming high overhead, jacked off its trucks, was one happy sight: Cincinnati Street Railway 2227, a big orange refugee from the scattered Trolleyville USA collection. I was lucky enough to ride the 1919-vintage car in 2000 at the now defunct museum in suburban Cleveland.
“I rode this car –” I excitedly told the motorman.
“You don’t look that old,” he quipped before I could complete the thought.
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to some of Pittsburgh’s deck-roofed cars, it will surely be a welcome addition to the fleet. Lovingly restored as recently as 1998, it’s good to see this valuable car — said to be the only operating Cincinnati streetcar in existence — find refuge at one of the oldest and most capable trolley museums.
Then, along one wall, I spotted a sadder relic from Pittsburgh, bigger than a bread box but considerably smaller than a streetcar, bearing only a number and a name. Do you know what this is?
Although I didn’t ask, I have little doubt but that this battered piece of metal is a remnant of Pittsburgh PCC car 1742 — more specifically a curbside chunk of the front dash. Car 1742 spent its final days in one of the more popular all-over advertising schemes of Pittsburgh’s later PCC era, promoting a famous candy bar first produced in the Steel City a century ago:
Those burn marks around the edges of this faded bit of 1742 suggest someone had the foresight to request a souvenir from “the Clark car” (a pun on its advertising subject, the Clark bar) as torch-wielding scrappers cut the forlorn PCC up for scrap. Like the captured shield of a conquered army, it hung in the museum’s shops beside salvaged number panels from other lost trolleys.
The day’s highlight, though, wasn’t up on jacks or displayed on a wall. For a few extra dollars, the museum offers a longer, guided tour of the display building and all of its cars. On this quiet weekday, I was fortunate enough to be the only taker for the extended tour — and more fortunate still that the tour was offered by museum volunteer Art Ellis, a Pittsburgh Railways/Port Authority retiree now in his early 90s.
I admit feeling guilty at first for being the sole reason Mr. Ellis had to drive over from the visitors center (on four rubber tires, not steel wheels) just to walk me through rows of trolleys stored in the cavernous, 22,000-square-foot display building. As we wandered down the aisles, discussing the brakes on West Penn cars, the history of individual vehicles and a wide range of fan trips Mr. Ellis attended in decades past, I realized the effort was a joy for both of us.
That alone was worth the price of admission.