Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers is the rail thing


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On the heels of the best ever attendance last year, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers is looking ahead to the 2012 season, which will open on March 30.

"We had 26,825 visitors in 2011, the first time we went over the 25,000 mark," said Scott Becker, executive director. "The majority of our visitors are from the Tri-state area, but Washington County is becoming more and more of a travel destination, and we're spotting more cars with out-of-state license plates in our parking lot."

Located near the intersection of two major interstates, I-70 and I-79, the museum has been doing more advertising on the Internet via banner ads and has bought spots on comcast.com, Mr. Becker said. In turn, Comcast's on-demand service has donated spots including a three-minute video produced by the Washington County Community Foundation.

Heading into the March 30 opener, the museum is updating its exhibits, including creation of a trolley timeline in the front lobby and installing a computer donated by Robert Morris University whereby visitors can record their trolley memories online.

"We're also planning to give more tours in the trolley restoration shop, which have proven very popular," Mr. Becker said.

The museum's series of special events will kick off on March 31 and April 1, 6 and 7 with the Bunny Trolley. In addition to being able to ride a restored antique trolley with the Easter Bunny, children will be able to see live rabbits for the first time at the museum, make a springtime craft and participate in an Easter egg hunt.

Robert Cronkhite, 18, from Clairton, has been both the head elf for the Santa Trolley and the Easter Bunny for the Bunny Trolley for the past five years.

"It's a lot of fun to see the kids' faces light up when they see the Bunny costume," he said. "I'm pretty much in it most of the day, and the hardest part is maneuvering around in those big feet."

Other special events include a Classic Car Show on June 24, a Trucks, Tractors and Trolleys Show on Aug. 26, the Pumpkin Trolley in October and the Santa Trolley in December.

From 1 to 4 p.m. on April 18, the museum will also invite people in who might want to become volunteers. Opportunities for those wanting to donate their time include leading tours, selling tickets and gift items in the museum shop and working behind the scenes in areas such as accounting.

"Last year, we had over 150 volunteers who gave over 26,000 hours of their time," Mr. Becker said.

One of the current volunteers, Jim Toepfer, 30, drives all the way from Warren, Ohio, to volunteer. Now in his second year as a volunteer, he said that he's been coming to the museum since he was 9 years old.

"The first time I saw the place I loved it," he said. "You know the expression 'a kid in a candy store?' Well, that was just about it for me."

On eight Sundays scattered throughout the season, visitors with a valid driver's license will have the opportunity to operate a trolley for an hour under the supervision of an instructor.

"For $100, they can handle the trolley controls, get an individual one-year trolley museum membership and tickets for three additional passengers to ride the trolley and tour the museum," Mr. Becker said.

Bruce Wells, 61, a retired shop teacher from Washington, serves as the chief "Operator for an Hour" instructor and has volunteered at the museum since 1965, when -- at the age of 15 -- he rode his bicycle from Pittsburgh to Chartiers and back home again.

"I usually start my instruction by giving the operator a run-through on the controls," he said. "Then, after getting the car to where there's no road crossing, I let them take over the controls. I do like to emphasize that it's easy to make the trolley go, but [it's] much more important to know how to make it stop."

Operators get to pick from either a modern Streamline car with foot controls, which are easier to drive, or an older, hand-controlled car.

"People are very careful for the most part," he said. "After I'm confident about their abilities, I suggest they go full speed just for the experience. All of them usually go full speed, then drop back after a couple seconds because they're nervous about it."

Patrons can also rent the museum's 1,000-square-foot events room for birthday and graduation parties, showers, reunions, anniversaries and wedding receptions, complete with a trolley ride and other benefits.

"We're considered in the mid-range of trolley museums, and I feel that we give our visitors a really quality experience," Mr. Becker said.

For more information, call 724-228-9256 or visit pa-trolley.org.


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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