Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
Houston, PA September 29, 2001
by Bob LeBras
Upon the personal invitation of Museum Executive
Director, Scott Becker, I returned to the
near Houston, PA on September
29, 2001. Located along a small industrial
park across from the Washington County Fairgrounds,
the museum is easily accessed via Interstate
79 from the Meadowlands exit.
Started in 1953 as the Pittsburgh Electric
Railway Club, the museum has grown immensely
over the subsequent years thanks to the
generosity of individuals, corporations,
government and the transit industry. Truly,
a herculean effort has been undertaken to
preserve an important part of America's
history in this sleepy, still farm-oriented
community in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The reason for the return trip to the
museum was because of a less-than-expected
experience the prior week. Mr. Becker invited
me back and offered to conduct a personal
tour to demonstrate both his, and the volunteers,
commitment to providing an enjoyable and
memorable historical journey for all visitors.
I was excited about the prospect of a detailed
tour, and I was definitely not disappointed.
I met Mr. Becker, a kind, softspoken gentleman,
at the entrance to the Museum Store promptly
at 1:00 p.m. He apologized for my previous
week's trip, handed me a Guest ticket and
brochure, I outlined my interest in railfanning,
and we proceeded to tour the grounds. Scott
took me to every corner of the property,
introduced me to volunteers who live on
my street, and explained every facet of
the museum's operations, it's collection,
and the future plans. He answered every
question with authority and conviction.
His enthusiasm is boundless, and his commitment
to preserving our electric rail heritage
is immense. I was both impressed and gratified
to have the opportunity to meet this man
of the rail cloth.
We first toured the trolleybarn which
I noted had been rebuilt in metal to the
same dimensions as the original wood structure.
I took an extensive amount of time here
along with a significant trip back in time.
Scott pointed out the various trolleys and
detailed their histories. He even pointed
out good photographic angles to me and raised
the pole on a PCC so that I could photograph
the interior. My enthusiasm grew with each
trolley we boarded.
Scott then took me out the back door of
the barn explaining that it was not on the
normal tour, but there were a couple of
things that I should see. I was absolutely
blown away to see a City of Philadelphia
transit car in pristine stainless steel
parked behind the shed. Scott explained
that SEPTA and the City of Brotherly Love
have been very generous to them allowing
a museum volunteer their pick of cars for
transfer, then ensuring the selected car
was absolutely complete with original operating
manuals. They even left rolls of film in
the cab with photos of the car undergoing
rehabilitation. A truly amazing tale of
Also, out back, there was an interesting
artifact that the Port Authority Transit
of Allegheny County (PAT) found that even
they didn't know they had. Scott asked me
what I thought it was?
It looked like a big hunk of iron and
I could not discern its purpose. He explained
that it was the mold for the concrete trolley
passenger stops that dotted the city. Instantly,
I recognized it and was amazed that PAT
didn't throw anything away. Indeed, one
of the PCC trolleys inside the barn, restored
by Bombardier, was given brand new wheels
by PAT because they had them in stock.
Next, we toured the parts storage area
that would make any railfan drool. Stacked
floor-to-ceiling were parts ranging from
the smallest bolts to heavy traction motors,
and everything in between. There were seats,
fareboxes, and storage bins filled with
every imaginable pieces parts. My only thought
was that, these alone, could fetch hundreds
of thousands of dollars on eBay.
The next stop on the tour was the, generally,
off-limits restoration facility. Here I
was introduced to volunteers who have spent
years of their free time rebuilding trolleys.
I could feel the sense of dedication and
pride these folks lavish on thier creations
in infinitesimal detail on a 1:1 scale.
Scott took me to the museum's administrative
offices and showed me their ambitious $10
million expansion plans which include a
new, interactive visitor's center and expanded
rail operations. Everything I saw was designed
to be both historically accurate, and engage
visitor's of all ages in the history and
significance of urban and interurban rail
transit. During this phase of the tour,
I was thinking, "An operating O gauge trolley
layout would be perfect."
Next, Scott drove me, in his minivan,
to the far east end of the line, undergoing
expansion as I watched. Volunteers were
laying and cutting rail, poles have been
erected, and wire has been strung a full
half mile from the museum site. I saw a
graded loop and all it needed was track.
Scott also gave me a visual impression of
the significant fill required to bring the
east end above the flood plain. In fact,
all the permits are in place and everything
is a go, merely awaiting funding.
Even our parking spot overlooking the
work-in-progress was interesting because
the company, Rockwell's Reliance Electric
Division, donates storage space to the museum.
I asked, "What does Reliance do?"
Scott answered, "They rebuild electric
traction motors and have donated the time
and materials necessary to rebuilding of
several of our units."
I was absolutely stunned by this and got
that warm gushy feeling inside which told
me that this was truly a community of devoted
individuals who have come together in the
greatest American spirit of community. Scott
further told me that a museum member is
the owner of Fife Moving and Storage. His
company has been instrumental in transporting
many cars in the museum's collection from
distant locations. Even though I had volunteered
at the museum in the past, my astonishment
continued, unabated, throughout the tour.
Situated along a portion of the original
transit line between Pittsburgh and Washington,
PA, on well-maintained land graciously leased
by Washington County, combined with the
cooperation of many local businesses, a
band of dedicated volunteers, and headed
by an enthusiastic, knowledgeable historian
and railfan, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
is on-track to a bright future, and well-worth
a visit. Once there, you'll likely become
hooked by the hands-on experience and the
passion for historic preservation.
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Freight Station was torn down, but museum
volunteers were able to save this massive
sweeper cars were built by two different
manufacturers. Both operate and the
red car has been converted to a line
museum has several of these passenger
shelters all of which are original to
various trolley lines in the area.
down the tracks towards the east end.
The crane car performs some minor maintenance.
To the left, a yellow flashing signal
and concrete barrier once a common site
on Pittsburgh streets.
trolley jumped the wire. Museum Executive
Director, Scott Becker, assists the
Conductor in reconnecting the pole to
the wire after a smooth glide to station
used as the Museum Store, this Bessemer
& Lake Erie heavyweight coach is being
prepared for rail transport having been
donated to a local organization.
is the only word that describes this
recently restored PCC trolley by Bombardier
complete with rebuilt trucks and new
in the PCC are the large controls that
were the hallmark of earlier trolleys.
Operations are conducted via a series
of toggle switches.
Philadelphia transit car was a complete
shocker in the museum's backyard.
and forlorn, this hunk of metal was
the mold for Pittsburgh's trolley passenger
City of Philadelphia has been very generous
to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.
interior of PCC No. 2711 gleams like
the day it was born.
2711 is a later model PCC with subsequent
technological control advancements.
sign scroll on No. 2711 was donated
by a museum member.
early sweeper trolley awaits restoration.
350 is from Johnstown and is completely
intact and original. The Pepsi sign,
specifically designed for trolley car
use, was donated by a museum member.
called No. 350, "A time capsule. I swear
you can smell the steel in it."
to Scott, and I believe him, "These
are the most comfortable seats at the
museum." Can you imagine riding to work
in this luxury and comfort?
Red Arrow Lines interurban still has
the familiar controls of its ancestors.
suggested I take this photo showing
the stylish Art Deco raked lines of
massive marker lights on the Brill-built
Red Arrow heavyweight.
only about a half-decade apart, and
nose-to-nose, these two Brills from
the Red Arrow are wholly different in
past the enclosed control stand of one
Brill trolley into the luxurious accomodations
Executive Director, Scott Becker, imparts
his extensive knowledge about this immaculate
want parts? The museum's got 'em, floor-to-ceiling.
primed just this day, this SEPTA trolley,
similar to the PCC but wider, has been
the pet restoration project of a museum
volunteer since he was 15 years old.
shot of one of the museum's four historic
cab of the museum's center dump hopper
trolley. Only the Pennsylvania Trolley
Museum and the City of Boston have one.
dark, but you can see the massive metal
of the center dump trolley.
map shows the future expansion plans
for the east end site.
tourist trolley stops at the east end.
Unballasted track continues several
hundred yards beyond.
volunteers cut rail while the crane
car sits on unballasted track.
roadbed, with track laid to the left
and wire strung above, patiently awaits
the track crew.
side of the east end turning loop.
side of the east end turning loop.
view inside the museum with its many
fascinating "then and now" photo comparisons.
Pittsburgh, 6th at Smithfield, in front
of Gimbel's Department Store.
Park, PA both yesterday and today. As
a railfan, it's good to know that the
tried-and-true ideas are still the best
Aboard! Next stop, Pittsburgh."
heads east along the ancient right-of-way.
manicured museum grounds. On this day,
a young boy was having the birthday
party of a lifetime complete with specially
final glimpse eastward; a journey into
the past, and a look towards the future
of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.