The Trolley Museum

Nine hours later. I am finally beginning to warm up after my trip to the Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven.

Good God – It was as cold as I ever remember. The sunshine was deceiving. The gusty northwest wind just cut right through my clothing.

The winter hasn’t even begun!

Did I mention- I had a great time.

Peter, visiting from New Jersey, and I set out around 9:30 this morning. The museum is around 25 minutes away.

As soon as we arrived, we met up with my host, Dana Bowers. As with most active members of the museum, he loves trolleys and all sorts of trains.

The museum actually covers a lot of ground. There’s a depot, in a residential area of East Haven. A little farther up the track is the maintenance facility and yard. A single track continues to the Short Beach section of Branford.

My trolley was number 1602, a yellow car with red trim and the word “Connecticut” painted on each side. We hopped on board and I headed to the front. Actually, this trolley can be driven from either end, a definite advantage on this line where the track dead ends coming and going.

Controlling the trolley was fairly straightforward. There’s a switch for forward and reverse, a throttle and a brake lever. Each ‘click’ of the throttle switched out resistance and allowed more current to flow to the motor.

I am told this car could do 60 mph&#185. I never went above 20 mph or so (there is no speedometer) and often slowed to walking speed as we went over weaker sections of track.

We left the terminal, headed toward the yard and stopped to check a track switch. Poof, the power failed!

Thank God. It wasn’t anything I’d done… or at least so they said.

After a few minutes the lights returned and we headed out through a salt marsh toward the opposite end of the right-of-way. The road was curvy, crossing a few bridges and culverts. There was little time for steady speed.

The trolley sounded like the New York City subways I rode as a kid. The air compressor throbbed as it charged the brake system. The wheels screeched as we rounded turns.

The trolley itself responded exactly as I expected. I’d build some speed and then reduce to the throttle setting to allow the train to coast onward. Rails have less friction than an asphalt road, so the trolley wanted to drift along forever. Acceleration was slow, but steady. Braking was quiet but firm.

Was it cool? Are you kidding? Absolutely.

After my round trip, we headed to the shop area to look at some more of the rolling stock. The museum has over 1,000 members, but the number of active people working to restore older vehicles is much smaller. Many cars are in various stages of reconstruction. Others, unfortunately, are rotting away in the salty air.

Some of this collection is eclectic. There are tiny engines for moving trolleys around the yard, cars with expanding vee shaped plow blades to use in snow and open cars designed for summer excursions.

There aren’t that many trolleys left in the wild. This museum, like others, is trying to save a little piece of history.

Each trolley… each piece of each trolley… was handbuilt. Restoration is more than just sanding and painting. Each part must be cataloged and linked to its adjacent pieces.

There was one car I really wanted to see. Under a drab olive green paint job and with number 1689 on an enamel plate, this car was a prime example of the New York City Transit Authority R-9 subway car. This is what I rode to high school for four years on the “GG” line – the least glamorous line in the entire city (and the only full line that doesn’t touch Manhattan).

We climbed on board. 1689 car was just as I remembered, right down to the rattan seats and destination signs showing Queens- Forest Hills to Smith – 9th Street.

I stepped up on a foothold, outside on the end of the car, and reached under to pull the switches to open the doors. I had seen conductors do this thousands of times. I’d wanted to do this as a kid, and the desire hadn’t faded one bit.

Thanks to Dana and the museum members. It was a very cool trip. I just wish it hadn’t been so cold.

&#185 – An email received after this entry was posted says I’m wrong. It still was capable of going faster than I could handle.