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Push On To Save Historic Trolley

December 2, 2018
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Push On To Save Historic Trolley

FRANKLIN TWP. — Conrad Baut remembers when he first saw Trolley 790.

“One summer, I went out for a ride on my 10-speed bike, and I’m chugging up the hill on Old Mill Road, and I see this side of house has a trolley face,” he said. “And on the other side of the house, there’s a trolley sticking out of it.”

The image stuck with him. About a decade later, he began going back.

Baut met Mary Krakoski, who lived in the home and had been part of its construction with her husband, Walter. He visited on occasion over the years, even bringing his newborn baby with him to help convince Krakoski to grant him a tour of the trolley, car 790 from the former Wilkes-Barre Transit Corporation.

About six years ago, he went back again. Mary was gone, and no one else was living there.

He knocked next door. A neighbor eventually agreed to pass along his contact information to the home’s owners.

Baut struck a deal: Let him preserve the trolley car and he would dismantle the home around it and leave a level lot.

That’s where he is now.

He started a nonprofit group, Anthracite Trolleys Inc., to fundraise for the project. His goal is to restore the car and donate it to the Electric City Trolley Museum. He hopes it can become part of the collection of operating vehicles that take visitors on excursions.

“It will be up there running alongside Scranton trolley cars, uniting Wilkes-Barre and Scranton once again, like the Laurel Line did,” he said, referring to the Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley Railroad that once connected the two cities.

THE PROJECT

Before the trolley can roll again, it needs to be excavated from the home that surrounds it.

Removing it will be an exacting process. Some parts of the house must be carefully peeled away while others are left standing until organizers can figure out how to lift the car. During the process, some parts of the trolley may be exposed to weather for weeks at a time, which is why Baut wants to wait until winter is over to begin the excavation.

A tour of the structure showed some of the problems organizers will have to solve in order to remove the car. For example, in the basement, peering up at the bottom of the trolley, a large metal screw was attached on one side of the vehicle. The corresponding screw on the other side was cut. It’s just one piece organizers will have to secure before moving the massive vehicle.

When it’s finally ready to be lifted onto a flatbed truck, contractors will build a cage around the vehicle, then lift out the cage, keeping the trolley intact inside.

The group estimates it will need about $30,000 to extract the trolley from the house, load it onto a flatbed trailer and transport it to Baut Studios in Swoyersville, where it will stay during restoration.

The complete project will require a total of about $300,000 to restore the vehicle to the point where it can operate again, Baut estimated.

The long road to excavation started when Baut and his twin sons filled a 26-foot long dumpster with old furniture and other assorted detritus that had been untouched in the home for years.

“This was a holy mess,” said Anthracite Trolleys treasurer Emil Augustine.

Since then, they the begun piecing together parts of the project bit by bit.

For example, the Electric City Trolley Museum is planning to help with the restoration by donating a set of train wheels to the project, said curator David Biles.

The trolley body is intact, but there are a lot of parts the are needed for restoration. There’s also a lot of trading that goes on between different railway museums that could possibly help acquire parts for a project like this, Biles said.

A LONG HISTORY

Anthracite Trolleys has traced the car’s origins back to 1924, when Philadelphia manufacturer J.G. Brill Co. built the vehicle and sold it to East Penn Railways of Pottsville. Seven years later, East Penn stopped trolley operations and later found a buyer in Wilkes-Barre Railroad Co.

It ran there until 1950, when trackless trolleys and motor buses took public transit in the region. In the wake of World War II, streetcar systems were falling out of favor. Some troleys found new life as structures for other enterprises, like restaurants, tool sheds or even chicken coops.

“That’s what happened here,” Baut said.

After the trolley had ran its last length of track, Mary and Walter Krakoski bought it for $200. At the time, Walter Krakoski was suffering from asthma from his work as a coal miner. A doctor prescribed fresh air, so when the couple saw the trolley for sale, they saw an opportunity. They shipped it to Perrins Marsh in Franklin Twp. and began building a new home around it.

The Krakoski’s design was a stroke of good luck for a preservation project like this one. Each end is exposed and one side of the car is open to the weather, but much of the trolley is covered by the home built around it, which did a good job of protecting it. Baut has seen trolleys restored before, and sees this as a rare occasion in which the vehicle is in pretty nice shape.

“It’s just amazing that it’s still here,” he said. “It’s just a miracle. It was hidden in that house, disguised for all these years.”

Contac the writer:

bwellock@citizensvoice.com

570-821-2051, @CVBillW

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