In 1940, several of the original members of the Pittsburgh Electric Railway club attempted to establish a trolley museum in the Pittsburgh area. The group acquired the body of a Pittsburgh Railways trailer car and moved it to a location in the eastern suburbs. The project met with only limited success, and was eventually forced to an end by vandalism and the wartime scrap drive.
With the acquisition of another historic streetcar in 1949, this group became determined to establish permanent protection for it and the cars that would follow. Several sites on the West Penn Railways lines in Fayette and Westmoreland counties were considered but rejected, mainly due to their distance from Pittsburgh. The purchase of West Penn 832 in 1952 added to the need for a suitable location where the cars could be stored, maintained, and eventually displayed and operated.
During these years, Pittsburgh Railways supported the group in many ways, allowing cars to be stored and moved over its lines. On May 10, 1953, a special trip was arranged to bring 832 from Charleroi (where it had been stored) to Ingram. Pittsburgh Railways’ cooperation allowed this and other chartered car “fantrips” to be operated, which raised needed funds for the fledgling museum. The Railways Company had been storing the cars free of charge and were anxious to have the group find a permanent site.
Plans were announced in 1952 to abandon the interurban lines to Washington and Charleroi and this presented several opportunities for possible sites. After due consideration of sites on both lines, a 2000-foot segment of the Washington line was selected as best meeting the museum’s needs. It included a 900-foot passing siding and intersected the abandoned right-of-way of a coal mine branch, on which track could be built to extend the trolley ride that would be an integral part of the museum operation. An important consideration for antique vehicles was that the trackage was nearly level. In addition, the Washington branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad paralleled the line, providing an important link through which to receive shipments.
At this time, the Pittsburgh Electric Railway Club was incorporated as a nonprofit for the purpose of issuing bonds, purchasing trackage, and commencing construction of a permanent home for the collection. The first two cars and a third one – 3756, which had just been acquired – were moved to the site under their own power on February 7, 1954 (along with a fourth car to take the riders back to Pittsburgh). This was the final movement over the line, the remainder of which was then dismantled. Today the South Hills Village segment of the Pittsburgh light rail system is the surviving remnant of the Washington Interurban as it continues to branch from the Library line at Washington Junction station, as it has for more than 100 years.
Development of the Arden Electric Railway (as the museum was originally known) was initiated in 1955 with the purchase of additional track work needed for the proposed carbarn. The same year, second hand ties were acquired from the Pennsylvania Railroad and delivered to the PRR Arden Station. Use of a motor car and trailer was secured and the ties were transferred to the museum site for carbarn track construction. At the carbarn site, switches and rail were laid out to form a three track “ladder” for the building. Founder Bartley prepared plans for the construction of the carbarn and in June 1957, the Directors made this authorization:
Price for a building from Alcoa was $1189 for a modified Northern Poultry House. Poles for a building would cost $473. Lou is going to talk to Levinson Steel about money. He is going to try to get a building from Armco. Bills were then presented. The museum received some bolts free from the Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt Co. Work details were planned. Motion to buy poles was then made by Bowker and seconded by Galbraith. In favor 12. Opposed 0. Carbarn is now the first consideration.
Volunteers gathered at the site on weekend,s bringing track tools in the trunks of their cars, and worked until dark, performing most of the work by hand. This building was started in summer of 1957 and completed in 1961, utilizing primarily volunteer labor. Its 143-foot length provided the distinction of being the only trolley museum to have its entire collection indoors. Fantrips continued to be a part of the Museum activities with an active schedule of trips that provided proceeds to fund the Museum’s construction.
Meeting minutes from late 1957 describe a photo history presented by Bob Scanlon:
Scanlon showed a photo history of the building of our museum. 1954 photos showed the building of the hand flat car. 1955 photos showed start of siding construction and the 1956 spring photos showed addition of the ex-PRR caboose. Sept.-Oct. 1957 shots showed the sidings being completed and poles being erected. Nov.-Dec. 1957 photos showed the framework for the carhouse going up.
There were several acquisitions in the formative years. Cars 3487 and 4398 were acquired in 1956 and again, with the generosity of Pittsburgh Railways, were allowed storage at Glenwood Car House until 1960. During that time, they were used for several fund raising trips, including an extensive one arranged in conjunction with the National Model Railroaders’ Convention in 1958. The first car from outside Pittsburgh (Philadelphia Transportation Co. 5326) was purchased in 1957. Logistics delayed its transportation to the museum until 1958, when it became the first streetcar to travel the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Other acquisitions included West Penn Locomotive 1 in 1958 and Johnstown 350 in September 1959.