Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys and PCC #2168

By October 7, 2020Features

By Matt Nawn and Harry Donahue, Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys

There are a handful of foundations and other organizations that provide financial and other assistance to railway preservationists. One of the more specialized is the Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys, which has donated over $200,000 toward the restoration of hometown streetcars. This article is reproduced with permission from the Streamliner newsletter.

June 2020 marks fifteen years since former SEPTA PCC Car #2168 arrived at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.  This was the beginning of a long and beneficial partnership between The Friends of Philadelphia, Inc. and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum that has helped both organizations grow and further enhance their respective missions.

The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys was incorporated as a non-profit organization on March 6, 2003 in Philadelphia to provide for the preservation and restoration of vintage electric trolley cars from the Philadelphia area.  The original goal of the organization was to provide a source of funding for the maintenance and repair of SEPTA PCC Car #2168, which at the time was still active in Philadelphia for special events and operations.  The original founding members of the organization were Harry Donahue, Dave Horwitz, Bill Monaghan, and Matt Nawn; four enthusiasts who shared a desire to find a means to support preservation of vintage trolley operation in Philadelphia and find others who shared the same goal.  The group was encouraged to be formally incorporated and mentored by the late Bob Hughes. The organizations’ leadership has expanded from the four founding members to a board of five Directors, which includes the original founding members and Roger DuPuis.  Several additional members serve as advisors to the board and board decisions are made by consensus.

Although formally incorporated in 2003, it could be argued that FPT’s origins go back to a series of trolley fantrips operated in the Philadelphia area.  Harry and Matt started organizing trips in 1998, with the first car chartered being #2168 in July 1998 to mark the car’s 50th anniversary of revenue service.  Additional trips followed with other cars, and even trackless trolleys at times.  Proceeds from each of these trips were donated to an established museum preserving a car from the Philadelphia area.  Harry and Matt organized these trips and typically requested Bill Monaghan, their long-time friend, as the operator.  Bill knew Dave Horwitz as one of his regular passengers on his “day job” of operating trolleys on the SEPTA subway-surface lines, and Harry and Matt met Dave on fantrips, thus the group started to form.  Roger got to know Dave, Harry, Matt, and Bill as well and his professional skills in the media industry would be a valuable asset, and thus he became the fifth director.  Each of the directors brings a unique skill to the organization, helping the organization make effective decisions, and work in harmony for common goals.

Following formal incorporation, FPT embarked on raising funds to be offered to SEPTA along with a proposal to restore and repaint car #2168 in its 1970s colors of orange, blue, and white, commonly nicknamed “Gulf Oil” colors, for use at special events.  FPT leadership felt that these colors would be remembered by Philadelphia residents since they had been in use in recent decades, would be eye catching, and represent something that was not preserved on any other remaining Philadelphia streetcar.  SEPTA gave the FPT proposal, and offer of funding, fair consideration, but the timing was simply not right.  SEPTA was beset by financial challenges at that time, and still lacked a steady source of funding since Pennsylvania Act 89 was still in the future.  To be fair as well, FPT had a lot of ambition, but was also still a new organization at this time.  SEPTA thanked FPT for its willingness to assist but politely declined the offer.  Shortly thereafter, things seemed to get worse, as SEPTA announced it would be disposing of the remaining historic cars in its collection, offering them to a list of museum organizations at nominal prices representing the administrative costs associated with getting the vehicles off of SEPTA’s book.  Cars not selected for preservation would likely be sold for scrap.

Early 2005 represented a turning point for FPT as an organization.  The leadership considered the future of the organization since the original goal was no longer possible, and options considered including disbanding the organization and distributing the treasury among established museums in Pennsylvania as a final step.  Other proposals for support for specific Philadelphia cars in museums were considered, but none of these proved to be viable at that time.  The end of FPT appeared to be in sight.

However, by chance, Harry learned from John Engleman at the 2005 East Penn Trolley Meet that Baltimore Streetcar Museum had already purchased SEPTA PCC car #2799 and snow sweeper C-145 (which, unknown at that time, years later would become another FPT sponsored project) for the whopping price of $200 each, and was considering purchase of at least one more former SEPTA PCC cars for use as a “beater car” for operation and special events.  Harry quickly discussed the idea of FPT supporting acquisition of car #2168 by BSM with FPT’s founding members, who all agreed to proceed, and upon Ed Amrhein’s confirmation on behalf of BSM, the deal was consummated.  FPT next provided the initial $200 to BSM for the acquisition of #2168, and thus began a new chapter for The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

The specific story of #2168 will be covered a little later in this article, but the sponsorship of #2168 by The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys led to positive things beyond the most far-fetched dreams of the organization’s founders.  With this humble beginning, FPT has grown to provide more than $200,000 in grants to established museums as far away as Missouri for sixteen different vehicles originally from the Philadelphia area, as well as providing technical assistance to organizations nationwide.  Membership in FPT does not automatically convey a membership as well in BSM or any other museum, but FPT leadership always, strongly, encourages its members to become active at a trolley museum (or museums) of their choice, and many FPT members are also active members of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.  FPT does not favor any museum over another; grant selections are made through outreach to FPT, provision of an acceptable plan for how grant funds will be spent, and consideration of the organization’s past performance with previous FPT grants (where applicable).

With the FPT recent grant of an additional $9000 for lower carbody repair work to #2168, this car now represents the largest cumulative investment to date by FPT (over $50,000), and FPT could not be more pleased with the results of its partnership with BSM.  This once shabby looking vehicle has become one of the most popular operating cars at BSM and has led to an increase of new visitors and members.  Fifteen years ago, Baltimore Streetcar Museum graciously provided The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys, a then new and unproven organization, an opportunity to support car #2168.  The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys will always be grateful to BSM for providing this opportunity and it has led and hopefully will continue to lead to a bright future for both organizations.  Thanks, Baltimore Streetcar Museum!

For more information about The Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys, please visit http://friendsofphiladelphiatrolleys.org/.

Projects Financially Supported by FPT Grants 2005-2020; Cumulative Total over $200,000

 SEPTA #2168: Baltimore Streetcar Museum (largest cumulative support to date)

PTC #2743: Railways To Yesterday (second largest cumulative support to date)

#2743 during and after restoration.

PTC #8042: Pennsylvania Trolley Museum (third largest cumulative support to date)

Car 8042’s last weekend in service.

The restoration of #8042 is underway.

PRT C-145: Baltimore Streetcar Museum (fourth largest cumulative support to date)

The start of the C-145 project.

The restoration is approaching completion.

Red Arrow Cars: Branford Electric Railway Association

PTC Trackless Trolley: Branford Electric Railway Association (storm damage recovery)

PST #8: Branford Electric Railway Association (storm damage recovery)

Red Arrow Brilliner #8

SEPTA #482-483: Craggy Mountain Lines (Woodfin, NC)
This pair of ex-Chicago L cars were purchased to keep the Norristown High Speed Line running between the retirement of the Bullet cars and the delivery of the new N5 cars.

482 and 483 being loaded.

PTC #5205: Electric City Trolley Museum Association

Under restoration in Scranton.

PTC #2740: Museum of Transportation, St, Louis

P&WCT #85: National Capital Trolley Museum

PST #23: Newtown Square Pennsylvania Railroad Museum

#23 under restoration.

PST #66: Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

SEPTA #24: Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

PRT #6618: Seashore Trolley Museum

Other Significant (Non-financial) Support provided by FPT 2005-2020

SEPTA #2168: Management of restoration project

SEPTA #2168: Recurring maintenance and repair (to date)

PTC #2743: Contract writing and restoration project management

PTC #2743: Recurring maintenance and repair (to date)

PRT #C-145: Restoration support

SEPTA #482-483: Coordination of shipment to North Carolina

PST #23: Development of restoration plan, scope, and cost estimate

PCC-related technical support to museums across the USA

The History of PCC Car #2168

St. Louis Car Company delivered PCC car #2168 to the Philadelphia Transportation Co (PTC) in July, 1948, as part of a 110 car order.  This was PTC’s last order of new cars.  PTC originally ordered the group as two man cars numbered #2801-2910, but after construction had started, the management modified the order and had them built for one man operation and renumbered them #2091-2200.

The General Electric equipped cars, #2141-2200, started arriving in early June 1948 and went into temporary service on Route 56 Erie-Torresdale, mixed in with the #2031-2090 series of older air-electric cars.  As more new cars were delivered, they were used, starting on June 20, on suburban Route 6, which ran from the Broad-Olney subway terminal to Willow Grove.   As the balance of the 2100s arrived, they were assigned, on August 2, to Route 43 Spring Garden, and finally in September to Route 5 Frankford-South Philadelphia, replacing the ancient two man “Nearside” cars used on that line.  The depot assignments, once all the cars were delivered were as follows: #2091-2116 and #2141-2151 to Luzerne; #2117-2140 to Callowhill; #2152-2200 to Frankford.

Surviving records indicate car #2168 first entered revenue service on July 5, 1948.  From September 1948 through the summer of 1955, car #2168 worked the very heavy Route 5, and, on Sundays, Route 3 Columbia Avenue and Route 15 Girard Avenue.  Routes 3 and 15 at this time used PCC cars only on Sundays.

When PTC acquired the second hand Kansas City PCCs, #2251-2290, in 1955, these cars were sent to Frankford for Route 5, and cars #2152-2200 were subsequently transferred to Luzerne Depot.  At this time, #2168 became a regular car on the very heavy Route 47 Olney -South Philadelphia.  As late as 1965, Route 47 was second only to Route 23 Chestnut Hill-South Philadelphia in car assignments, with approximately 40 cars needed for PM rush hour service.

From 1955 until the summer of 1968, car #2168 remained at Luzerne and, and in addition to Rt. 47, would have seen service on the following lines: 6, 20, 21 26, 50, 53, 56 & 60.  During the summer of 1968, as PTC was about to be taken over by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), a group of six all electric cars, including 2168, were moved to Woodland Depot for use on the Subway-Surface lines, which had used only air electric cars since 1955.  After SEPTA took over the system, a large number of the newer all electrics were moved to Woodland while the air cars went to Luzerne.  The swap was done in anticipation of the closing of the Girard Avenue bridge for rebuilding which would cut off access to the Courtland Shops for Woodland and Callowhill based cars.

In March of 1973, SEPTA introduced the “Painted Ladies” to the public.  This was a public relations event, in which two PCCs were completely rebuilt and repainted and the public and employees were asked to vote on which version they preferred.  The first car, #2565, was painted in a blue, white and orange motif, while the second, #2168, was painted in a yellow-gold, plum and white.  Both cars had body and electrical work performed, as well as imitation wood grain interiors below the windows.  Car #2565 quickly became the “Gulf Oil” car, while #2168 was nicknamed the “Banana car” as the yellow-gold looked like a bright yellow.  Evidently, the survey participants preferred the “Gulf Oil” colors, and SEPTA began a mini-rehab program which resulting in approximately 160 of the blue, white and orange PCCs running around Philadelphia by 1978.

It was during this time that #2168 appears to have become a favorite for chartered fantrips due to the “banana car” colors.  However, by early 1974, the car lost its “banana” scheme and was repainted in the “Gulf Oil” colors.  From its arrival at Woodland in 1968 until early 1982, when the last of the new Kawasaki cars arrived at Elmwood Depot,  #2168 was assigned to the Subway-Surface lines, Routes 11, 13, 34 & 36, except for a very brief period in 1973 when SEPTA apparently wanted the “banana car” on Route 56.

In early 1982, the car left Elmwood for Luzerne where it would continue service on the remaining rail lines at the time, Routes 6, 23, 53 & 56; by January 1986 both Routes 6 & 53 had been permanently converted to bus operation.  In 1979 SEPTA had begun the General Overhaul Program (GOH) in which 112 all electrics were extensively rebuilt with the replacement of deteriorated frames, body panels, complete rewiring, repainting, and refurbished trucks.  By 1986, almost all of the selected cars had been completed.  Luckily #2168, which was the last “Gulf Oil” car in revenue service, was put on the GOH list near the end of the program and was  released for service from Woodland Shops in the summer of 1986.  All remaining cars not used in the GOH program were sold off for scrap or third parties, including the remaining Kansas City cars.  The GOH cars were painted in an attractive red, off white and blue, and were used on the three remaining surface lines, Routes 15, 23 & 56.  From August 1986 to mid-1992, car #2168 worked out of Luzerne on Routes 23 & 56 until their conversion to bus operation.

After institution of bus operation on Route 23, SEPTA, under pressure from the Chestnut Hill Community, agreed to a weekend PCC service, dubbed the “Chestnut Hill Trolley” (CHT) and repainted three cars into a representation of the late 1950s PTC colors of green and cream with a maroon belt rail.  The CHT ran operated from Germantown Depot to the Chestnut Hill loop on a twenty minute headway.  Again #2168 was lucky and was selected for this service along with cars 2750 and 2785.  Unfortunately the CHT was shut down in June 1996.  During this period, SEPTA sold off many of the GOH cars to MUNI in San Francisco, to New Orleans, Colorado Springs, and various museums and collectors.

From 1996 until 2005, car #2168 remained at Elmwood Depot, stored outside.  The car continued to be requested on many fantrips, including the annual New Year’s Eve charters.  Its final revenue trip in Philadelphia, on June 8, 2003, was a 5 hour charter for the newly formed  Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys (FPT).  This nonprofit group was originally incorporated in the hope of raising funds to assist SEPTA in restoring and maintaining #2168 for charters and other public relations events.  SEPTA, however, facing a budget crisis, decided to dispose of the remaining historic fleet, thus #2168 continued to sit outside at Elmwood facing an uncertain future.  In Spring 2005, SEPTA pursued removal of all surplus PCC cars off the property.   It was at this time that FPT and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum (BSM) formed a partnership, with BSM gaining ownership of #2168, while FPT would raise the funds to restore the car to its 1974 appearance.  The “Gulf Oil” colors were selected since no other museum has a Philadelphia PCC in those colors and the fact that #2168 was the last car to operate in revenue service in those colors in Philadelphia.  PCC #2168 arrived at BSM on Monday, June 20, 2005.

Since the interior of the car was in good condition, it was decided to leave the interior in its GOH two tone blue configuration, with some touch up work and added details.  The BSM shop crew fabricated new steel “donuts” and spacer bolts to regauge the Philadelphia trucks to the wider Baltimore gauge.  FPT contracted with Paul Minnicks and Mark Kelly to do the body work and repainting of the car.  Paul began in the summer of 2007 with the welding of new steel sections of the roof seams which were badly rusted from the car sitting outside for 13 years.

#2168 mid-restoration.

Early in spring 2009, an inspection revealed some damage to its controller, possibly due to #2168 having pushed a “dead” Kawasaki car out of the subway back in Philadelphia.  FPT members Matt Nawn, Bill Monaghan, Matthew Mummert, along with the BSM shop crew, worked to install a spare General Electric KM controller which was in BSM’s parts inventory (thanks to the foresight of the late Bob Hughes).  This work was successfully completed in August 2009.  On Saturday, September 12, 2009, PCC #2168 was ceremoniously rolled out and presented to the public in its restored condition at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

#2168 in September 2020.

Since that time, car #2168 has been among the most popular cars at BSM.  FPT and BSM volunteers continue to carefully maintain #2168, including periodic running repairs and general maintenance, ongoing replacement of deteriorated seat upholstery, and touch-up painting.  The motor-generator (MG) set failed several years ago after many years of use, and the volunteer crew obtained a loaner MG thanks to the generosity of Bill Wall, to enable to car to continue to operate while the original MG was overhauled, and installed both the loaner MG and the overhauled unit upon completion.  In fall 2019, FPT provided BSM with an additional grant of $9000 for lower carbody repairs due to deterioration at the floor line which was not repaired during the 2005-2009 repainting.  This work is scheduled to commence this fall and be completed by spring 2020.