McVEYTOWN – There was a time in Lewistown when streetcars rumbled down Market Street and carried workers from the Viscose plant in Granville Township or Standard Steel in Burnham Borough. On a Saturday night, the streetcars carried people into town to check out a film at one of the many theaters in downtown Lewistown.
Those days have long since gone, but one of the streetcars that once was used on the Lewistown and Reedsville Electric Railway is about to get a new lease on life.
After spending many years in a field off U.S. 522 near McVeytown, Car 23, built by the J.G. Brill Co., of Philadelphia, for the Jersey Central Co. in 1914, and which eventually served on the Lewistown line shortly thereafter, has been moved to Middletown.
Wendell Dillinger, a semi-retired railroader with Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad, moved the street car to join a collection of railroad cars that are awaiting restoration.
Currently, Dillinger and others are trying to restore three cabooses at the Middletown/Hummelstown Railroad, and they have a working streetcar from a North Carolina line as well.
“We have all the pieces, it’s just a question of time and money,” he said of Car 23.
Dillinger grew up around streetcars and the railroad on the outskirts of Chicago, and as a teenager got to know the motorman who operated the streetcar that went past his house. One thing led to another and Dillinger was soon operating the streetcar from time to time, on the sly.
Dillinger said he joined a railroad company out of Chicago in 1948, and since that time has continued to work for railroad companies throughout his career.
“It’s always been a labor of love,” Dillinger said.
Currently, Dillinger fills in as needed at the Middletown/Hummelstown Railroad as an engineer, conductor and gift shop worker. He also serves as the supervisor of the track crew. And he has been president of the railroad for 30 years.
“We do most of our track work on the weekends … everyone there is pretty dedicated,” Dillinger said.
On April 4, a large flatbed tractor trailer and crane backed into Leonard Barger’s farm outside McVeytown and, after sorting out the logistics of getting the streetcar on the truck, it pulled away and headed to Hummelstown with Car 23.
The streetcar, once owned by Barger, was sold to Dillinger just prior to the Lewistown Narrows project along U.S. 322 on the Mifflin and Juniata counties border. The multimillon dollar project was completed in 2007, widening the road from a single lane highway to double lane highway in each direction.
The streetcar resided on property near the Juniata River in the Narrows for many years, where it was used by the Toonerville Club, which was founded by several individuals, including Charles Cherry, the owner of the Lewistown-Reedsville line.
Dillinger said the company completely abandoned the streetcar system 1933, after the Public Utility Commission gave them permission. Buses briefly replaced the streetcars in 1932, but that, too, faded away as automobiles became more and more prevalent in the area.
The three cars that Lewistown and Reedsville Electric purchased for the line were different from the Lewistown streetcars in that they were “center door” cars, meaning that people entered and left the car by means of doors in the center of the car. The reason for the center door was that it could be low to the ground, since it was not located over the wheels, Dillinger said.
“These three cars were really too heavy and too fast for the Lewistown streetcar system. At the time of their purchase, there was talk of building a trolley line from Reedsville to Huntingdon, and this may be the reason they were purchased,” Dillinger said.
Another difference between the streetcars was most of the Lewistown cars were converted to one man operation instead of having both a motorman and a conductor. However, they could not convert Car 23 to a one man operation due to the center door configuration, which required a conductor in the center of the car. Thereafter Car 23 was used only in rush hour service to Standard Steel and the American Viscose plant, Dillinger said.
After the car ended up in the Lewistown Narrows, the Toonerville Club converted it to a clubhouse.
Dillinger said an addition was added to the streetcar, which became a dining room. Every Tuesday evening the group met for a catered meal, after which they played poker, Dillinger said.
“The Toonerville Club existed until sometime after 1982. The car was then sold to Harold Powell Jr., who in turn sold it to Leonard Barger,” Dillinger said.
“We hope to get into operating condition,” Dillinger said of Car 23.