Trolley museum marks milestone

Published Feb 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm (Updated Feb 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm)

On Feb. 7, 1954, “Oh! My Pa-Pa” from Eddie Fisher was atop the Billboard singles chart and the World War II drama “Hell and High Water” just opened in movie theaters.

Also on that day, a Sunday, some residents between Pittsburgh and Chartiers Township were treated to the sight of three streetcars creeping down the Washington interurban line. Once a common sight, the streetcars stopped and the line was abandoned six months before. But because it was still intact, the streetcars traveled on it to 2,000 feet of track in Chartiers that had been purchased by the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club.

It was the beginnings of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, which now has four buildings and more than 50 streetcars in its collection.

Although Friday is a 60-year milestone for the trolley museum, nine years elapsed before it officially opened, at about the same time as The Meadows racetrack. Those years were filled by the slow process of finding money and building the museum, tasks carried out entirely by trolley enthusiasts laboring for the sheer love of it.

“That was all done by volunteers using tools they brought in their cars,” according to Scott Becker, the museum’s executive director. “Their vision was really incredible. They had the odds stacked against them. They had no funding and they built it out of their own pockets. They had a lot of obstacles to jump over.”

Art Ellis, a 94-year-old Upper St. Clair resident, still remembers that day. An employee of Pittsburgh Railways, he said that “it was cold and there was snow on the ground. We brought the three cars out and spent several hours playing with them on the track, moving them back and forth.”

No official festivities are planned to mark the anniversary, because the museum is closed during the winter. It will reopen in April, for a season that will last through Dec. 14.

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