Clank Clank Clank Goes the Trolley at the Rockhill Trolley Museum

The author waves from an historic trolley at the Rockhill Trolley Museum; the trolley is a bright orange.

Once ubiquitous in the United States, trolley cars and street cars are mostly a thing of the past. But these much beloved icons are preserved in our collective memories — from the trolley featured on Mr. Rogers to Toby and Henrietta from the Thomas the Tank Engine series to Judy Garland’s famous song, the “Trolley Car” (from Meet Me in St Louis, 1944).

Photo shows the front view of an historic trolley in a garage. It is labeled 172 and "Blacklog." The wooden trolley is painted red and white.
Built in 1929, the Oporto #175 is a small two-axle trolley, often called a Toonerville trolley. The
nickname comes from a series of silent comedy films by that name, which featured a rickety little trolley
bouncing along the countryside as its motorman engaged in a series of comical adventures.

Today, almost all the streetcar systems have been replaced by subway and light rail systems.

An historic sign that states: Notice, This Car Stop Discontinued. Street Car Patrons Please Board Cars at Lincoln Street. One block to the left.

But there’s a quirky and fun museum in Rockhill Furnace, PA, the aptly named Rockhill Trolley Museum, which collects and preserves antique and historic trolleys and streetcars. 

An historic, open trolley is in a garage; its destination sign indicates "Car Barn." The trolley has wooden benches for seats and is painted bright yellow.
Car 1875 is an open car or “summer trolley,” because open trolleys were only comfortable being used
during the warmer months in the United States. This trolley was built in 1912 and used in Brazil.

Located in Rockhill, PA, the trolley museum is the oldest operating trolley museum in the state.

A partial front-view of an historic, wooden trolley, painted white (although the paint is flaking off). The single head lamp of the trolley is prominent, as are the number 64.
A most useful trolley at the museum is the track service car 65 from Oporto, Portugal. Built
in 1933, these workhorses hauled freight and can handle heavy odd jobs. Since being
acquired by the museum in 1967, it has been outfitted with an electric arc welder,
acetylene cutting torch, air compressor, generator and numerous hand and power tools.

This is a fabulous little museum that will delight kids and adults alike. For the kids: who doesn’t enjoy a quick trolley ride, with the clickety clack of riding the rails and the classic trolley ding ding ding… goes the bell. 

The photo shows a front view of a green and beige trolley from Philadelphia, # 2743; the destination sign above the front windows indicates "23 Germantown Ave - Mermaid Lane"
This trolley car carried passengers in Philadelphia between 1947 and 1993, and
was designed to appeal to passengers, offering a a smoother ride than the older trolleys,
faster acceleration, a reduced noise level and comfortable seating. 

For the adults: an opportunity to browse through the various colorful old trolley cars, learn a little of the history of the local area, including how the trolley’s were used locally. And did I mention getting to ride a trolley? There’s a kid inside all of us who still enjoys the clank clank clank of the trolley!

An inside view of an formerly elegant trolley car; construction equipment litters the floor and paint tape remains on the walls.
Restoration of historic trolley cars is an important part of the museum’s mission.

The oldest trolley car at the museum is from 1895, although most of the rest of the trolley cars are from the early 20th century. Its most recent is the fire-engine red 1982 San Diego trolley car.

A photo of a photo showing what the trolley car in the photo above this one looked like in its hay day!

The museum has operated since 1960, sharing trolley history and importantly, preserving and restoring antique and historic trolley cars. 

We were lucky enough to get an opportunity to get a close look at a current restoration project, Car 315, originally part of the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad, an interurban rail system between Chicago and its western suburbs. Built in 1909 by the Kuhlman Car Co., it ran until 1957.

As cities grew larger, the streetcar lines followed the expanding city boundaries and continued on to other cities. These lines, called interurban lines, often operated different types of cars than those which operated in the cities. These interurban cars provided their passengers comfort, and were also faster and more ornate than strictly urban streetcars.

Underneath layers of paint lurked the original mahogany panels, with a light golden wood inlay. This car is a classic example of the grand splendor of interurban travel experienced at the beginning of the 20th century. Stained glass windows adorned the sides; comfortable leather seats allowed an enjoyable ride. Brass luggage holders and fixtures completed the luxurious setting.

Okay, so I think the coolest trolley was the bright yellow snow plow, the Philadelphia & Western Plow #10, which helped maintain the rails and ensure travel throughout the winters. This particular car hails from Philadelphia and was built in 1910.

Although the museum offers short trolley rides to Blacklog Narrows, the museum brings out different trolleys at different times. We had the opportunity to ride the Johnstown #355, which had operated in Johnstown PA between 1925, when it was built, through 1960, when Johnstown ceased operating its trolley car system.

Bud Blair, left, remembers his childhood riding on Car #355;
Larry Zilch, right, shares local industrial history. Note the woven tweed seats.

One of the volunteers driving the #355 trolley car was Bud Blair, who recalled riding this very car as a child growing up in Johnstown, catching it to go to school. 

This double truck “Birney Safety Car” was built in 1922 for Bangor, ME but was sold to
Johnstown PA in 1941, where it served until 1960; it was the first trolley acquired by the museum.

Volunteers are an important part of the museum. In addition to Bud Blair, Larry Zilch provided us a quick overview of how the trolley line served local industry, helping carry freight to and from the iron furnace (the ruins of which you can still see along the trolley line), and served the local community. Ron Rabeno also helped drive the trolley car.

This 1931 “bullet car” style trolley operated in Philadelphia on the
Norristown line. The car operated an amazing 59 years before being retired in 1990.

Although the days of active trolley systems are mostly passed, the Rockhill Trolley Museum allows us to dip back into the first half of the 20th century to experience and enjoy these iconic trolleys!

Know before you go: Right across the street is the East Broad Top Railroad Museum. Make a full day of it by visiting there as well!

Getting there: 430 Meadow Street, Rockhill Furnace, PA

Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, Memorial Day weekend through October, 11 a.m. – 4:15 p.m. Trolleys depart at 11:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:45 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4:15 p.m. In addition to its normal, weekend operating schedule, Special Events occur throughout the operating season, as well as on selected off-season weekends; check the website below for more information.

Website: http://rockhilltrolley.org/

Can’t get enough of rail history? Check out other articles about rail history and scenic railroads:

Leave a Reply