When in my teenage years, I wanted nothing more than a bicycle of my own. This would mean I could go and visit friends in other nearby communities easier than walking, or taking public transportation called the Philadelphia Transit Authority, the latter meaning Philadelphia’s famous “we go everywhere” trolley cars.
There wasn’t a section of that very large city where there wasn’t tracks with overhead lines that sent electric power to operate the trolley cars. I remember that you’d buy small metal tokens, two for 15 cents. If you needed to transfer from one trolley line to the next, or the subway, you used one seven and a half cent token, instead of paying ten cents cash each way. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
There was usually one conductor driving the trolley, taking payment at the front door. He wore one of those change things that hung around his waist with sections for quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. You handed him your payment and if needed he simply reached down to that “gizmo,” clicked it and out came the change. Then you’d take your seat. On some of the large routes there would be a second conductor.
This second conductor was positioned toward the back of the trolley near the middle door. When almost at your stop you simply went toward the front of the trolley where the conductor could see you wanted to exit. If you wanted to leave from the back door, you reached a wire above your head and pulled it. A bell would ring announcing, “Hey, I’m getting off here,” so the conductor could open the back door.
I remember that if the car got to a stop and nobody was leaving, and if it wasn’t at a traffic light or a stop sign, the conductor would simply slow down and then speed up and keep going. There were often other times when the overhead attachment connecting the trolley car to the overhead electrical system would become disconnected.
The trolley would come to an abrupt stop. The conductor would then have to open up the front door, get out and reach up to some kind of long pole, grab it, adjust the wires so that the proper connection could be made. You could hear the electricity begin buzzing again, and off we’d go.
The PTA also had a “transfer.” If you took a car from the Overbrook section of Philly and wanted to go elsewhere on another line, you received this transfer, a piece of paper about the size of a standard playing card – and handed it to the conductor of the next trolley heading wherever you were going. I sometimes played a silly game, costing only a dime or less, seeing how many times and ways I could transfer.
I loved any kind of vehicles that run on a rail. I remember one of those trolleys being different than the ones running all over Philly. Our grandmother Stokes took my three cousins, my sister Jeanne and I in the subway two stations from Windsor station near her home to the end of the line at the Olney station, transferring us to an open-air trolley car that took us to Willow Grove Park.
That particular park was where she and my Grandfather Albert Warren Stokes had met on the Ferris wheel so many years before. The park had a lot of amusements and the one we liked the most was a train ride, a very mild one with little tiny rolling hills, whose line headed out from the main part of the park and over through the picnic area with a ton of beautiful trees.
After the ride we’d have a picnic lunch with whatever Grandmother had packed. It always included iced tea and cheese sandwiches. Money was always in short supply, so we got one ride, a very plain lunch, and a couple of cookies. We enjoyed, more than anything else, the ride to and from the Olney station and the park. All five of us would hang out of the sides of that open trolley car and enjoy the warm summer air.
A few later years I married my first husband, Don. Shortly after World War II, we bought our first house in a suburb of Philly in the town of Roslyn. It was there that I could walk with my two young sons, Don Jr. and Doug, to Willow Grove Park, bringing back precious memories of those PTA trolley rides.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.