By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor
I last visited the Electric City Trolley Museum during the 2000 ARM conference in Scranton. Streetcar operations had commenced, but only as far as the Roaring Fork Creek bridge, just short of the mile-long South Scranton tunnel. In fact the old Laurel Line interurban right of way was blocked just south of the tunnel.
Recreating the interurban
Since then the line has been opened through the tunnel and extended to a new carbarn next to the Scranton minor league baseball stadium. It’s a 5-mile one-way ride at good speed and I’ve wanted to take a ride.
There are two operational cars, both ex-Philadelphia Suburban (Red Arrow). Car 80 (Brill 1931) is a high speed lightweight. For my visit they ran center entrance #76 (Brill 1926).
The trolley museum and the interurban line are separated by several non-electrified yard tracks used by Steamtown and freight operator Delaware-Lackawanna. Electric cars have to be towed through a lengthy seesaw move, so it doesn’t happen very often. The interurbans load on one side of a platform shared with Steamtown’s railroad excursions.
The ride starts out slowly on ex-Delaware, Lackawanna & Western track that skirts Steamtown’s roundhouse and backshop. There are blind crossings of two streets with no crossing gates, requiring the conductor to dismount and flag the car across. Beyond the second crossing is a one-car storage barn for whichever car is in service. Just after that the line passes the site of the Laurel Line’s Scranton terminal.
Once past the crossings, the car skirts the D-L’s yard before crossing Roaring Brook and entering the tunnel. The tunnel interior is lit and the car accelerates to 30 mph.
In about a mile the freight-only Minooka branch takes off to the right and switchbacks up the hill to serve local industries. A S-curving connector shifts the interurban over to the parallel ex-Erie, originally part of a coal hauling gravity railroad. On both sides of the connector and in the tunnel the car hits 30 (maybe more, there’s no speedometer). Good speed really helps recreate the interurban feel.
At Montage Mountain Road the interurban swings sharply to the left and snakes up a steep twisting grade to the carbarn.
On Sundays baseball fans can ride the streetcar to Scranton Rail Cats games. Streetcars don’t run for night games due to safety concerns about running in the dark, as well as having to clear the line for freight trains. Streetcar ridership has been averaging about 38,000 per year.
A complicated museum
The Electric City Trolley Museum has a complicated structure. It’s owned and operated by Lackawanna County, which leases the museum buildings from Steamtown (National Park Service).
The museum needed streetcars, and got them from the non-profit Electric City Trolley Museum Association, formed from the Buckingham Valley Trolley Association and East Penn Valley Traction. The county now owns the streetcars and county employees run the museum. The all-volunteer non-profit raises funds, does restoration work and otherwise provides volunteer support.
The interurban runs on a county-owned railroad and is subject to FRA regulation. The line is dispatched by Delaware-Lackawanna.
The museum building initially served as the restoration shop, but was too small to house the streetcar collection.
So the county built a carbarn/shop building on vacant land next to the county-owned ballpark. The entire collection is now under roof. Some cars are still kept at the museum for display purposes. No work is done there.
Predecessor Buckingham Valley Trolley Association was located in Buckingham, north of Philadelphia, and ran streetcars on a mile or so of what is now the New Hope & Ivyland tourist railroad. They still do restoration in their old shop building there, and store parts in an adjacent wood barn. Until recently two cars, Third Avenue Railway open car #651 and Philadelphia single trucker #120 (thought to be Jackson & Sharp 1904) were restored there.
Both are now in Scranton, but the open car’s trucks are still being rebuilt at Buckingham, along with other components.
The county provides two full-time mechanics and they are supplemented by volunteers.
There is another big restoration project, Scranton Electromobile #505 (Osgood Bradley 1929).
The car was complete when received but suffered badly from exposure to the elements, so it’s a total reconstruction from original parts, with much new metal needed.. Major funds have been raised and it is currently at the Stourbridge Line shop in Honesdale, PA.