a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Back from Rio

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is one of those places where grown men go to play with big toys.

Last week, an older guy was in a garage at the Chartiers Township, Pa., museum and restoring an old government surplus front loader. It will be used to put down new trolley tracks.

Jim Herron of nearby Canonsburg enjoyed putting a new finish on wood trim native to South America that was used to adorn a 1911 Rio De Janeiro 1758, an open-air trolley the museum has acquired.

“It’ll be a big hit,” said Scott R. Becker, executive director of the museum.

Also known as a breezer, the car is similar to the one used as a backdrop in the 1944 movie, "Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland.

The singer and actress popularized "The Trolley Song” in the movie while riding in one of the cars that traditionally were used during the summer months to take people to amusement parks. That’s why it looks as if it belongs in a circus, Becker said.

“There’s nothing like an open car to take a ride on a hot summer day,” he said.

This one started out as a kit sold by the J.G. Brill Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., that included parts cast by the Cambria Iron Works of Johnstown, Pa. Then it was shipped and assembled in Rio and eventually mothballed before being purchased in 1965 by group of museums in the United States. The car returned via a coffee freighter to North America, was rebuilt and put in service on a trolley line at the Magee Museum of Transportation in Bloomsburg, Pa. Car 1758 was put out of service again after that museum was inundated by floodwater during storms spurred by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. From there, it sat in a Florida warehouse until being purchased in 1965 by the trolley museum in Chartiers.

It will be the oldest car in operation at the museum, Washington County’s most popular historic attraction. Nearly 22,000 visitors stopped by last year from all across the globe.

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