From its humble beginnings -- a forlorn field with three trolley cars and cows for neighbors -- to a complex of three buildings and more than 50 trolleys, the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum has a lot to celebrate during this weekend's "All the Streetcars You Desire," marking the museum's 50th anniversary.
The nonprofit museum in Chartiers will host families, history lovers and rail fans for a two-day event that will offer trolley rides, tours of the museum and restoration shop, and appearances by Mr. McFeely of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and the Washington Wild Things mascot.
The celebration consists of parades of historic trolleys on Saturday and a classic car show on Sunday. Food vendors will be there.
"This is a fascinating place. It is really a 3-D experience for visitors," said Scott Becker, executive director and trolley buff. "We get to ride our artifacts."
The volunteers who founded the museum started well before the building opened in 1963, said Bill Fornczek, a retired ophthalmologist and volunteer since 1954.
"I started when I was 15 years old and would take a streetcar into Pittsburgh for the meetings once a month," recalled Dr. Fornczek, who grew up in Lawrenceville.
The original group of volunteers started in the late 1940s.
They met in town until they obtained what Mr. Becker called a "long, long lease" from Washington County on a piece of property that contained an abandoned section of railroad track, left over from the interurban line, a 28.5-mile line from Washington County into Pittsburgh. Under the train tracks were trolley tracks, Mr. Becker said.
By that time, the group had acquired three trolleys.
Dr. Fornczek said volunteers began constructing the building by hand. He recalled that he took the trolley to the last stop on the line and other volunteers picked him up to take him to the site. While he was in medical school, he slept in the caboose car at night during the summer months so that he could work on the project.
"That was our overnight accommodation," he said.
The volunteers stored their tools and supplies in the trunks of their cars because they didn't have any storage space.
The son of a doctor, Dr. Fronczek said his parents couldn't understand why he was so driven by his love of trolleys to help with the project.
"They kept saying, 'You may hurt your hands,' " he said.
The work and dedication of the volunteers enabled the museum to open its doors on June 23, 1963.
"They were a group of hard-working individuals who didn't have two nickels to rub together for this project," Mr. Becker said. "They raised all of the money themselves."
Mr. Becker was the first paid staff member when he was hired as the director in 1993 after three years of volunteering.
At that time, he was the only paid employee. Today, the museum has four full-time and one part-time worker and more than 150 volunteers.
One of the volunteers, Art Ellis, 93, donated more than 1,000 hours last year.
"He works in the gift shop and is just a wealth of information," Mr. Becker said. "He was involved with the Pittsburgh Railways and knows so much history."
The trolley rides are particularly attractive to families with young children, and history and trolley buffs enjoy the tours by knowledgeable volunteer guides such as Mr. Ellis.
"The people of Western Pennsylvania really like their history, industrial history in particular. This is a jewel for them and is a living history museum," Mr. Becker said.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults; $9 for age 62 and older; $7 for ages 3 to 15; free for children younger than 3. Two-day passes are $15.
More information: www.patrolley.org or 724-228-9256.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published June 20, 2013 9:45 AM