WILDWOOD - In 1994, one of Wildwood’s original electric trolleys was stored in a former electrical plant on New Jersey and Spencer avenues where it awaited enough donations to fund its restoration.
At the time, Five Mile Beach Trolley No. 20 would have cost about $100,000 to restore, according to Al Brannen of the Wildwoods Historical Trolley Restoration, Inc. The number of donations the nonprofit received did not reach that goal.
“It’s hard enough to get $100 from the locals, let alone ($100,000),” Brannen said.
The dilapidated 1913 trolley sat for over two decades in the brick building owned by Atlantic City Electric (ACE). But in October 2018, the trolley restoration project received a letter from ACE terminating their lease by early 2019.
“Atlantic City Electric is in the process of either selling the building or tearing it down,” Brannen said. “It was the original steam-generating plant to make electricity to run the trolleys.”
Brannen, as well as Benjamin Lauriello and Joseph Salerno - the trolley’s owners and members of the Trolley Restoration project - needed to find a place for the trolley to go to save it from possible destruction.
“We offered it to (Historic) Cold Spring Village and a couple other museums in the state,” Brannen said. “But it was too much of a project (for those museums) to take on.”
Next, the members contacted the Liberty Historic Railway (LHRy) in Berkeley Heights, a nonprofit funded by donations which preserves trains, buses, trolleys, and other artifacts of New Jersey transportation history. In the past few months, LHRy acquired an Atlantic City trolley and a Trenton trolley and plans to restore them.
William McKelvey, chairman, LHRy, had followed the Trolley Restoration project from the beginning. After inspecting the trolley this past November, he met with LHRy’s board of directors who agreed to fund the trolley’s restoration.
On Jan. 3, the trolley was deeded to LHRy. Over the next four days, a crew of four from Venezia Bulk Transport stabilized and braced it to prepare for shipment.
“We encased the entire trolley car in plywood,” McKelvey said. “Then we put moving blankets up on the roof.”
Finally, it was shrink-wrapped by Phil Swetsky of CPS Marine. Next, it will be pulled out of the building by a trailer and trucked to Iowa, where it will be restored by Gomaco Trolley Company.
“It’s now ready to go,” McKelvey said. “What’s holding us up is they have had two or three feet of snow out in Iowa, and we really need to wait until snow season is over because we don’t want to get caught on the road in bad conditions.”
McKelvey hopes to ship the trolley in March. ACE extended the evacuation date to accommodate the trolley’s removal, Brannen said.
“We’ve already spent well over $10,000 on it and it isn’t even out of Wildwood yet,” McKelvey said. “We’re looking at a half a million dollars at least to restore that car.”
Gomaco plans to install on the trolley two four-wheel trucks or wheel assemblies salvaged from retired trolleys in Milan, Italy. Trolley No. 20’s original trucks were lost and replaced with a bus chassis long ago.
“The price tag on that is about $125,000 just for the wheels,” McKelvey said. “In addition to that, you’ve got the electrical control equipment and an air compressor for the air brakes. All of that was stripped out of the car.”
Besides replacing those missing parts, Gomaco will also build wooden bench seats which flip to face the opposite direction, just like the originals did when the trolley backed up.
McKelvey is not sure how long the restoration will take but told Gomaco to take their time while LHRy decides on a destination for the restored trolley.
“We’re working on a building in Boonton that would be absolutely perfect for it,” McKelvey said.
The building is a former warehouse next to train tracks which run through Grace Lord Park. McKelvey’s goal is to use the warehouse to store and display historic trolleys, and to build electrical infrastructure to run trolleys through the park.
“This is a very historic relic,” McKelvey said of the trolley. “We’re pleased to get it.”
The members of the Trolley Restoration project and the City of Wildwood both have right of first refusal if LHRy defaults on the trolley.
Trolley No. 20 is the last Wildwood trolley still in New Jersey, according to McKelvey. Two others are in museums in Connecticut and one is in Scranton, Pa. Trolley No. 20 is also one of six century-old wooden trolleys in New Jersey.
The two trolleys in Connecticut were not original to Wildwood - they were purchased secondhand from other municipalities by the Five Mile Beach Electric Railway Company. Trolley No. 20, however, was purchased new from the JG Brill Company of Philadelphia in 1913.
The trolley was in a fleet which traversed Wildwood, North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest until the line closed in 1945. At the time, Trolley No. 20 was one of the last windowless open cars still operating in the nation.
“That was most appropriate for Wildwood because it’s a hot summer area, but there’s (sic) always nice cool breezes,” McKelvey said.
The Five Mile Beach Electric Railway Company still exists and, in summers, runs buses which resemble trolleys, McKelvey said.
After it was put out of commission, Trolley No. 20 was moved to Middle Township where it housed a dog kennel and storage shed for the next four decades. In the late 1980s, the trolley’s owner, the late John Kwasnieski, donated it to the Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, which evolved into the Trolley Restoration project.
The trolley was stored outdoors at the Wildwood Crest Public Works yard until ACE donated the use of its building.
“We are currently reviewing our options regarding next steps in relation to this property in Wildwood,” stated ACE spokesperson Frank Tedesco. “We will continue to work with the building occupants, including representatives with the Trolley Restoration Project, until a final decision is ultimately made.”
Although the trolley will soon leave Cape May County for the first time in over a century, it may make visits to Wildwood after it is restored, Brannen said.
“Some of the locals were a little upset because they felt it should stay (in Wildwood),” Brannen said. “To preserve it, this is the only option I saw. At least it was saved.”
To contact Taylor Henry, email email@example.com.