Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Last Days of Windber

It has recently become relatively common knowledge that the private collection of electric cars in Windber, PA, which operates under the name Vintage Electric Streetcar Company - or VESCO - is going away. The owner has sold the equipment there to a scrapping company, though there is some sort of grace period stretching at least through much of this year, during which cars or other parts can still be removed. Given that this is by far the largest private collection of electric railway cars in the country at 57 pieces, and given the indubitable fact that most of the equipment will end up scrapped, this will have a significant impact on the PNAERC roster. So, why not take an inventory of the cars that will be affected?
Due to the size of the collection, I'll split it into groups - and I'll start with the group most likely to be saved: the cars stored inside, of which there are eight. This eclectic group includes two 1910 car bodies from Grand Rapids (the better of the two is shown above in a photo from this site), two 1948 PCC cars built for Philadelphia, three 1945 air-electric PCC cars from Boston (numbered 3247, 3266, and 3271), and Johnstown 362, the only complete car on the property that isn't a PCC. These cars are mostly unvandalized, though intruders in 2020 did break some windows. The PCCs are complete and have been kept inside for at least 15-20 years, so while not "ready to run" they're likely restorable. The once-handsome Grand Rapids cars are significant, as they're the only two preserved streetcars built for any Michigan city that isn't Detroit, but they're just bodies. The Johnstown car, which was purchased from the Fox River Trolley Museum in 2010, is rough but complete. It's the only single-ended Johnstown car preserved and is owned by the local historical society, which evidently has plans to move it to Johnstown and put it on display.
The next group is Boston PCCs, of which there are 13 cars not counting the three cars stored indoors (the unfortunates outside are 3229, 3242, 3244, 3246, 3252, 3255, 3256, 3259, 3261, 3267, 3270, 3285, and 3326). The above photo is from this site. A dozen of these are typical wartime Boston air-electric cars built by Pullman-Standard in 1945. They comprise roughly half of all the examples of this type still in existence (the nine cars currently in operation on the Mattapan line make up many of the other examples). The last two are work cars: 3285 is a line car rebuilt by the "T" from a 1951 "picture window" car while 3326 is a sand car that was rebuilt from an ex-Dallas double-ender. None of these are unique (save for the work car modifications) and all are in bad to terrible condition.
Next is a group of 10 Kansas City PCCs, shown on the right in the above Flickr photo. These cars all started in Kansas City and were sold to Philadelphia, which numbered them 2258, 2259, 2261, 2269, 2270, 2271, 2274, 2279, 2283, and 2290 and later repainted them all in Bicentennial colors. All of the cars are in bad condition, though they haven't suffered quite as grievously as some of the others on the property (it looks like their Lexan windows have helped). While they may not seem rare, there are only 14 ex-KCPS PCC cars still in existence, so once these go away the only four will be two at Seashore in rough shape, one in its hometown in use as an ice cream parlor, and one car at IRM under restoration.
Then there are the spam cans: a group of five pairs of ex-Chicago Transit Authority 6000-series 'L' cars later sold to SEPTA for use on the old Philadelphia & Western during the era just before the arrival of the "new" cars. The above photo is from here. Their SEPTA numbers are 478-479, 480-481, 484-485, 486-487, and 488-489. As with everything else outside, they're in rough shape and have suffered quite a bit from vandalism. There are eight pairs of 6000-series "spam cans" preserved elsewhere in better condition, including one pair that was sold to SEPTA, so these aren't particularly historic.
The next most numerous group of cars are the Shaker Heights PCCs, of which there are seven, such as they are (the above photo is from this site). These cars include 56 and 58 (both ex-Minneapolis cars built by St. Louis) plus 73, 77, 89, 91, and 93 (Pullman-Standard cars built new for Shaker Heights). Shaker PCCs are prized for their compromise-tread wheels, but don't bother asking - 10 or 15 years ago VESCO sold the trucks from all these cars, supposedly to an overseas buyer. The cars themselves were dumped on the front lawn in various states of distress, and as far as I know they're still there.
If you thought the Shaker cars were a piteous sight, wait until you see the Pittsburgh PCCs, of which there are six (photo above from here). These cars, all 1700-series cars with sealed windows, include 1703, 1738, 1741, 1750, 1754, and 1771. I'm not sure exactly why, but most - or maybe all - of them have completely collapsed. One side (or both sides) of just about every car has detached from the floor and dropped, giving each car a horrendous lean (or just a sinking appearance). You couldn't remove any of these cars intact if you wanted to. They make up half of the 12 1700-series PCCs still in existence (not counting cars rebuilt as 4000s), though they stretch the definition of "still in existence."
And that leaves a one-off or two. Above is Red Arrow 20, a "St. Louie" double-ender and one of seven of the type still in existence (photo from here). This car went to the New Hope Steam Railway after it was retired, where it sat outside for a while before coming to Windber and sitting outside for a long while. Its roof and interior are basically gone. And that leaves one mystery car, Toronto 4524, a PCC which I don't think is actually located in Windber because I have not come across any photos of it. Any information on its whereabouts is appreciated.

So there you go. With luck, a couple of the cars in the building may be saved - a steam railroad business car located in that same building was just purchased by a tourist line, so all hope is not lost. The Johnstown car, at the very least, would be a shame to see cut up. As for the rest, there are several car here I've wondered about retaining on the list given their clearly unsalvageable condition, but the case will apparently be decided for good soon enough.

EDIT: Thanks to Scott Becker for reporting on the status of Johnstown 362 and to Jonathan Belcher for pointing out that MBTA 3239 was an erroneous listing - the car was never owned by VESCO and was scrapped in the 1980s in Boston.


  1. Mention of MBTA wire car 3285 brings back memories of seeing it in Reservoir Yard in July 1977. My photos were probably taken shortly after its conversion to a works car.

  2. Ed Metka had a bold idea of obtaining these cars and reselling them or parting them out to museums, vintage trolley lines, etc. I think some of that did happen, but not to the extent he hoped.

  3. Save the Red Arrow Streamliners, for Muni. They will eventually figure out the door arrangement...