Almost an hour south of Pittsburgh sits the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. Nestled between the Washington County fair grounds and miles of track laid by countless volunteers, visiting it was always a treat. It was constant past time in my early childhood as my grandpa was very involved with many events held there throughout the years. We attended everything from Santa Trolley days to rail dedications to autumn-themed days at the end of their normal season. One particularly cold blustery morning in early Spring will always remain in my memory.
While I may not remember the actual date of the event (I was sixteen then), I remember the trolley ride. I remember hearing about the completion of a very special set of rails that connected one part of the route to another. I remember my uncle unfurling his quintessential scroll of a speech, and I remember that the route in question was named “Redman Wye” for my grandpa, Lou “Uncle Louie” Redman. They dedicated a section of track in honor of him following is passing in 2002.
You see, way back in the museum’s infancy, Grandpa played a key role in not only obtaining trolleys for the historical site, but in ensuring the museum’s longevity as well. The museum’s executive director, Scott R. Becker, wrote this in 2002:
With the passing of Lou Redman, it gives us a moment to remember our humble roots during this time of great progress. Uncle Louie, as he was known to many of our volunteers, provided leadership, inspiration and salesmanship at a pivotal time at the very beginning of the Museum’s development. Others are putting this in greater detail but what impressed me the most about Lou was his drive and his enthusiasm for the development of this museum that spanned five decades. Lou was always great to talk to, great to get stories of the early days, but he did not live in the past for he was keenly interested in our future. He was an inspiration to me and his memory will be forever linked to the founding of our Museum.“Moving Forward While Remembering Our Roots,” by Scott R. Becker
With my family forever linked to the train and trolley scene here in Pennsylvania, I must admit I regret not carrying on his love for the mode of transportation until much later into my thirties. Heck, family picnics in the 90s were never complete without giant watermelon slices, shucking corn on the steps of the porch, and a walk down to the Emsworth Locks and Dams to squish pennies on the rails.
Now, four years from forty, I miss the massive train platforms. I miss the scent of ozone from the multitude of trains he ran for a month and a half over the Christmas season in their home. I miss the whole process of watching my uncles and older cousins carry plywood sections cut in various shapes and sizes down three flights of stairs while us younger ones passed down the supports made of many 2x4s.
With as much passion as Grandpa Redman put in to those platforms, he put an equal amount of passion into his love for trolleys and those associated with both the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum and Train Collector’s Association.
We can’t forget the many others who continually play equally important roles in The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.
As much as I’d like to think Grandpa was the one to single-handedly found the museum, I know that is far from the truth. I may have called it “Grandpa’s museum” as a child, but today’s post will also recognize the hard work of everyone who have continued on their love of trolleys to the present day. It is here I’ll refer back to the aforementioned title by Mr. Becker: “Moving Forward While Remembering Our Roots.”
History is one thing those of us who love conducing research can count on. While it may change as new information presents itself, it’s always nice to have history that remains constant. Let’s take a look at The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum’s own seventy-six years’ of it.
Streetcars served America through two world wars and a depression, but affluence and automobiles caused the end of the Trolley Era and a greatly diminished role for public transportation. As streetcars were phased out, groups formed to preserve trolleys with the goal of operating them for future generations.source
The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, along with several others (ie the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, PA) have certainly upheld this mission. There are still many groups of volunteers throughout this Commonwealth (and country) passionate about saving this part of American history. These very specialized museums will forever look to the future as they work to preserve the past.
In this PDF document, contributor Doug Mahrer includes this snippet:
It is important to me (Operator 348) to remember and honor those who begansource – PA Trolley Museum
what the successor to the Arden Electric Railway has become:
Lee Madden, Dave Burt, Frank Reese, Seth Bower, Dave Gratz,
Herman Brown, Art Schwartz, Barb Myers-Cicone, Frank Tomaselo,
Raymond Windle, Ray Mackenzie, Lou Redman, George Tucker,
(I won’t sign it because I’m not ready to add my name to the list.)
Clubs, associations, societies and the like were popular ways to share common interests in the mid 1900s. Through the hard work of those with the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club, The Railways Company and the Pennsylvania Railway, the Arden Electric Railway [original name for PA Trolley Museum] came to be. Here’s a very cool quote from the museum’s beginnings:
Price for a building from Alcoa was $1189 for a modified Northern Poultry House. Poles for a building would cost $473. Lou is going to talk to Levinson Steel about money. He is going to try to get a building from Armco. Bills were then presented. The museum received some bolts free from the Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt Co. Work details were planned. Motion to buy poles was then made by Bowker and seconded by Galbraith. In favor 12. Opposed 0. Carbarn is now the first consideration.source – Early Days & Formative Years
Wouldn’t this be a sight to see? To see a trolley come down the infamous Pennsylvania Turnpike?
The first car from outside Pittsburgh (Philadelphia Transportation Co. 5326) was purchased in 1957. Logistics delayed its transportation to the museum until 1958, when it became the first streetcar to travel the Pennsylvania Turnpike.source – Early Days & Formative Years
And, for fifty years, the Museum provided trolley transportation to Washington County’s fair grounds:
In 1979 the Museum’s “Park & Ride” operation (established in 1971) was able to drop visitors off at the gate to the Fair. This was an improvement on our earlier efforts as well as the the trolley era when visitors would get off the Pittsburgh bound car at Arden stop and then walk along N. Main Street to the Washington County Fair gate.source – the 1980s
Throughout the decades the museum has expanded its rail lines tenfold from the originals built in the 1950s:
The VEC allowed greatly expanded interpretive efforts so in 1999 an Educator was hired to take advantage of this space. Regular guided tours and changing exhibits in the Visitor Education Center became a standard part of the visitor experience. More school groups were coming to the Museum and outreach efforts into the community increased.source – Early Days & Formative Years
While much of the museum’s expansion occurred continuously throughout its seventy-six years of existence, I think it’s safe to say that facilities such as these is facing their most difficult times in this decade. With funding and tickets always on the agenda. The matters that arose in 2019/2020 didn’t help much either.
This is exactly why I’ve begun my own journey; a journey to ride the nation’s rails.
Ever since I began my writing journey back in 2016, learning history has become a hobby of mine. Regardless of if its for a potential novel idea or not. Within the last five years I’ve enjoyed riding several rails with my family. Examples: the Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad, the Florida Railroad Museum and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Ohio.
Quite unfortunately, it has been a while since I rode a trolley. To remedy that, I’ll have to book a ride once their season opens in the Spring. I don’t believe my nephew has yet to ride a trolley, but I know they’ve attended several of the museum’s annual pumpkin patches.
With the future of museums like The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum uncertain, it is more important than ever to help them continue their mission of preservation, education and community connections. My grandpa was all about connections, both with the rails and with people. I always joke that my family knows everybody in Southwestern PA. But Grandpa knew everyone in Pennsylvania. Everyone who loved trains and trolleys as much as he did.
While the future is not always certain, you can be certain that the volunteers, staff and board of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum will forever take the steps to ensure their slice of history another seventy-six years in the hills of Washington, PA. Uncle Louie wouldn’t have it any other way.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Hoser, Manager of Visitor Experience, who gave me a hand with this post. And for her own continued passion for The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.