Advertisement
News

Trolley cars for N.J. museum rot in field

JOBSTOWN, N.J. — JOBSTOWN, N.J. - Here in a field slowly turning to woods are the remains of a dream.

Two trolley cars that once plied Philadelphia's streets lie rotting in this still-rural patch of Burlington County, nearly forgotten artifacts of what was supposed to become a working museum in 1973.

Advertisement

It was to be called Trolley Valhalla, after the great hall in Norse mythology where the souls of heroes slain in battle are received.

Instead, these skeletons of streetcars are a testament to the danger of mixing hobbyists' passion with poor planning and a vivid example of nature's determination to conceal human handiwork.

Advertisement

Mayor William Pettit of Springfield Township, in which Jobstown is located, said there are no plans for the site, which inspired a zoning battle 28 years ago.

"It hasn't been mentioned in years," said Pettit, who was on the zoning board when the museum was proposed.

Story goes back to 1950s

The story of how the cars ended up here goes back to the 1950s, when a group of trolley buffs from Philadelphia and the suburbs started saving streetcars from the scrap heap.

Known in the 1960s as the Metropolitan Philadelphia Railway Association, the group established a home in Tansboro, Winslow Township. But in 1972, as development boosted land values in that area, the group, then known as Trolley Valhalla, lost its lease.

Trolley Valhalla bought 5acres in Jobstown and moved its collection of 14 streetcars there.

The site was particularly attractive because it sat on Penn Central's recently abandoned Kinkora branch line. That opened up the possibility of offering actual trolley rides.

But as newspaper clips recount, Springfield, which even now has only 3,225 people, did not want to become a tourist attraction. The council passed a zoning ordinance banning streetcars from operating in the township.

Advertisement

"These people never applied for a variance," then-Mayor Clarence Ronan said at the time. "They just came in here arbitrarily."

The courts upheld the zoning ordinance, and Trolley Valhalla began looking for another home.

"There used to be a running joke," said the Rev. Edward Casey, a member of the group since 1970. "Trolley Valhalla: Coming to a field near you.""'Have trolley, will travel,' was another," said George Metz, a member since the 1960s.

About 1978, the group, which changed its name to the Buckingham Valley Trolley Association, moved some of the streetcars to the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad in Bucks County. Then, in 1982, it started running streetcars along Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia. But in 1995, the city shut down the line.

The group's rolling stock lay scattered around the area, including Jobstown, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority's Germantown Depot, and under Interstate 95 at Allen Street, where cars were vandalized and set on fire.

Group's leader dies

Advertisement

By March 2000, when Joseph F. Alfonsi Sr., a SEPTA supervisor and longtime leader of the group in its various incarnations, died at the age of 85, a home finally had been found for the scattered streetcars.

Joining with the East Penn Traction Association, the Buckingham Valley Trolley Association donated its collection to the Lackawanna Valley Heritage Authority for the creation of the Electric City Trolley Museum at the Steamtown National Park in Scranton.

The museum has five trolleys on display and a sixth - a car built by J.G. Brill in 1926 for the Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Co. - operates on an excursion line five days a week.

Charles Long of Cheltenham, another longtime group member, said that while the trolleys in Jobstown will never make it to Scranton, two of them made it possible for others to do so.

Over the years, the cars - Nos. 2257 and 5327 - were stripped of parts to keep other streetcars in shape for display or operation.

The owner of the Jobstown land is still listed as Trolley Valhalla Inc. The tax bills go to Metz's home in Newtown Square.

Advertisement

Also scattered about the property are two vintage buses - one from Philadelphia and one from New York - a possibly older work crane with "Philadelphia Dept. of Public Works" on the door, a rusted 1970s car, and several truck trailers. Most are swallowed by vegetation.

The property abuts a federal Superfund site where Kauffman & Minteer, a firm that transported bulk liquid wastes, discharged wastewater used to clean its trucks into a drainage ditch and unlined lagoon, contaminating ground water.

Metz, who is a member of the Electric City Trolley Museum board, said his group would like to sell the plot.

While the human stories in which trolleys 5327 and 2257 might have played a part when they moved Philadelphians about their lives are not recorded, some details about the streetcars are known.

No. 5327 was built in 1923 by J.G. Brill, a world-renowned Philadelphia trolley maker. The double-ended car operated on lines without loops at the end.

One of the last Philadelphia streetcars on which fares were collected by hand, 5327 last saw service on Route 46 in West Philadelphia before the route became a bus line in August 1957. Despite its condition, the streetcar might be further stripped of material for other trolleys, Metz said.

Advertisement

No. 2257 is a single-ended car built in 1946 by the St. Louis Car Co. for Kansas City. The Philadelphia Transportation Co. bought it in 1954. Trolley Valhalla purchased it as scrap. It arrived in Tansboro about 1967 without wheels and was used as a storage shed. The streetcar now lies on its left side in Jobstown.


Advertisement