Just 13 miles north from my house here in Washington, DC is the National Capital Trolley Museum. Readers outside the USA may prefer tram instead of trolley but what’s in a name? It’s the vehicles that matter.
A few Sundays ago, two of our friends from Perth in Australia were in town and had expressed a wish to take a look at this museum. It had been some years since my last visit to the NCTM (I seem to remember in the company of Macfilos editor Mike), so I was quite happy to be chauffeur and tour guide for the day.
The museum is open Saturday and Sundays from noon to 5 pm. Regular admission is $10 per person. As with many of this type of location, it is run by volunteers. And again, as with all such attractions, they are having a very difficult time recruiting and retaining volunteers.
So much was obvious during our visit. Just three gentlemen were running the entire show that day. One was stationed in the gift shop and ticket office, one was keeping an eye on the inside of the museum, while the third volunteer drove the trolley for its 25-minute run and consequently also managed the short tour of the “Street Car Hall”.
The museum had been at another location and was moved to its current place due to the construction of the Intercounty Connector Highway. Here is an a real video of the museum’s current location. In 2003 a fire destroyed one of the car barns and more than a third of the museum’s trolleys were lost.
As mentioned previously, the museum does have a stretch of track on which it runs its working vehicles. On our visit, the running museum piece was a Presidents’ Conference Committee streetcar from the Toronto Transit Commission. These streetcars were usually referred to simply as “PCCs”. In short, the PCCs were designed to standardise streetcars and streamline their production, thus reducing costs for the individual transit. More than 5000 of these units were built.
The Street Car Hall has a few units in various states of repair on view. Among them some trams from Brussels and Berlin, as well as a set from the Rheinische Verkehrsbetriebe in Germany. There is also a Capital Traction vehicle.
Alas, my favourite of the bunch was not running during the day of our visit: A former Blackpool Transport Services “boat tram”, No.606. This is an open-air tram shaped like a boat, of which the north-west England resort of Blackpool had and still has a few in service.
Apparently the boat tram owned by the National Capital Trolley Museum had developed a leak in the air brake system and was in the shop for repairs. Pity!
There are a few extra tram-related exhibits at the museum. One of those is a preserved cross-section of a Washington DC conduit current-collection rail system. This system was used in cities which, generally for aesthetic reasons, did not allow overhead wiring for the tram’s current collection. Among those places were south London, New York City, Berlin and Brussels.
Unfortunately, the volunteer was not totally up to par regarding this technology, insisting that DC was the only place it had ever been used and that this method of current collection is obsolete. Well, tell that to the good people in, among others, Dubai and Bordeaux. They seem to be quite happy with their new, in-ground current-collection system.
The museum’s entrance hall also has a nice O-scale trolley lay out. This can be activated by the visitor.
From my experience, this museum doesn’t receive as many visitors as it should. There was only a handful of keen types walking around during our time there. That’s really a shame. It is, after all, a piece of the capital’s history and I would hate to see it disappear. So, if on another nice weekend there seems to be nothing to do, grab the kids, husbands, wives, friends or whoever and pay this place a visit. You won’t regret it.
All photographs by Ralf Meier unless otherwise noted. (iPhone X and Sony RX-100M7)
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