Amusement Park Donates Trolley to Pennsylvania Museum

The historic trolley had been converted into a cabin at a well-known Pennsylvania amusement park where it has been for 86 years. Here it is seen arriving at its new home. Photo Courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

Amusement Park Donates Trolley to Pennsylvania Museum

By Eric Berger

A classic Brill trolley car that has been hiding in plain sight at a Pennsylvania amusement park for more than eight decades is finally being preserved.

Due to the sturdy construction methods required for trolley car bodies, countless numbers of them were converted to other uses after their retirement from transit service. Beginning early in the 20th Century, they showed up in locations across the nation as diners and sheds, cabins and chicken coops.  A notable example of the once-common practice will soon be used to tell the story of such conversions at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, thanks to its donation by the family that has been using the car since 1938.

Shamokin & Mount Carmel Electric Railway bought semi-convertible Car 33 from Brill in 1905 for its lines serving Northumberland County’s anthracite coal-producing communities. The company was reorganized as Shamokin & Mount Carmel Transit following a fatal wreck in 1906. Photos show Car 33 being used to shuttle coal miners during shift changes at one point in its service life. The car operated until Ashland & Shamokin Auto Bus Company took over the trolley routes in 1936.

Two years later, Car 33 was moved to Knoebels Grove Amusement Park in Elysburg where it was converted into a cottage, the start of an 86-year stay at the historic park. Known today as America’s largest amusement park with free admission, Knoebels Grove has been in operation since farmer Henry Knoebel built a carousel, restaurant and concrete swimming pool in 1926 alongside his already popular “swimming hole.” The car was lettered “Toonerville Trolley 33,” a reference to the popular “Toonerville Folks” cartoon by Fontaine Fox that ran in newspapers between 1908 and 1955. It initially was used as a cabin by various park associates and was later moved under the Lost Logger pavilion, where chainsaw woodcarver Don Nelson demonstrated his skills for many years.

Traction preservationists have long sought to obtain the car and the Knoebel family was well aware of its historic value, not to mention its sentimental value to the family. They initially offered the car to the Electric City Trolley Museum, but Larry Lovejoy of PTM said, “ECTMA has space constraints and, realizing how they could not do the car justice, generously told Knoebels that PTM would be a better custodian of the 33. We thank our friends at ECTMA for both their generosity and their confidence.”

The museum noted, “The car body is in excellent condition and still sports a sink and toilet from its days as a cabin. PTM will initially restore and display this car as a cabin to tell the story of how trolley cars lived on after they were no longer used as transit vehicles. PTM will also work to find the missing mechanical equipment and running gear, which was removed when it became a cabin, so the car can eventually become operational on PTM’s trolley line. We are thankful the Knoebel family decided we were the best home for the trolley.” The museum also thanked Brownlee Trucking, which delivered the car on August 16.

“We’ve loved having the trolley in our park for guests to enjoy in a variety of ways for over 80 years. We’re sad to see this rich piece of history leave Knoebels, but we know it will be in great hands with the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum,” said Rick Knoebel, a fourth-generation Knoebel family member and co-owner. For more information about the park, visit www.knoebels.com.

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum is currently opposite the Washington County Fairgrounds but will be moving to new facilities this fall so please call 724-228-9256 or visit www.patrolley.org for additional information before visiting.  

This article was posted on: August 30, 2023