The odyssey of a rusted old D.C. Transit streetcar -- placed in service here in 1945, sent to Texas in 1962 when Washington trolleys stopped running and later moved to an Ozark mountain top by a collector -- ended yesterday at the National Capital Trolley Museum in the Montgomery County suburbs.
The arrival of the car, a "PCC 1540" model notable for its extra high "standee windows," was part of an elaborate swap engineered by Jim Hogan, a local museum activist, with the car's owner, Jim Kates of Galveston, Tex., who got a streetcar from Cleveland in the deal.
Fifteen years ago, Kates bought the 1540 for $1 for his country home in the Ozark mountains. Kates' new Cleveland streetcar was trucked last weekend to his Arkansas mountain retreat.
Local trolley buffs were ecstatic yesterday as they watched two 60-ton cranes hoist the 40,000-pound hulk from the back of a flatbed truck that carried it here onto the rails in front of the museum car barn in Wheaton. The streamlined streetcar is the museum's 14th, and its newest.
A dozen rail fans were on hand, snapping pictures, videotaping and kibitzing as Johnson Crane Service Co. of Beltsville ("Our Business is Booming") went to work.
"There it goes. Oh, boy!" exclaimed Larry Glick, a trolley museum director, as the the 42-year-old streetcar was suspended from the cranes' steel cables and gently maneuvered onto the track.
Its former owner, reached in Texas, was wistful. "If it weren't for the gentleman's agreement, I regret the whole deal," said Kates, 55, a retired Air Force pilot and trolley buff.
"I can truly say it was a work of art," he said of the Washington car. "Like somebody looking at the Mona Lisa, I get the same feeling. I almost think I'm looney. Then I find all these other museum guys feel the same way."
Marion (Ham) Sisson, 74, was one of the museum guys around yesterday. "For a bunch of streetcar nuts, rail buffs, naturally this is exciting," said Sisson, a former trolley operator and conductor in Washington.
Sisson recalled when the 1540, operating out of the Eastern Carbarn at 14th and East Capitol streets (now the Carbarn Condominiums), rode the rails from Union Station to Cabin John and, in its final years, to Mount Pleasant.
It was an updated version of the modern-looking PCC car 1101 designed in the 1930s to compete with the automobile.
The 1540 was built especially for Capital Transit at the end of World War II. Only 200 cars were produced, and only two of them are left. It is said that the 1540 was the pride of the fleet.
What was unloaded yesterday, however, was a stripped version, which museum treasurer Wes Paulson said probably will take "two years of concerted weekend effort" by the museum members to restore. Not to mention replacing missing parts.
"It's basically in kit form," he said, issuing a plea for tempered safety glass for window replacement, 600-volt wiring for the electrical system and plywood for flooring.
The streetcar was one of several 1540s acquired by a Fort Worth department store for promotion purposes after the trolleys shut down here. This particular car was cannibalized for parts but still has its seats. On its faded green exterior is the the D.C. Transit decal superimposed over "Capital Transit," the predecessor company. On the front of the car, a sign proclaims, "Street Cars and Buses. In Your Service. Safe. Convenient. Economical."
But getting it here was not cheap. The whole operation cost $7,500. Hogan, who found the car through trolley contacts in other cities, has contributed almost $2,000 to the effort.
Hogan went to Cleveland in April to bid on two surplus cars, getting both for $1,100. (The other car was traded to an Ohio museum for replacement electrical parts for the Washington streetcar.) Then Hogan went to Cleveland last week to pick up the other one for Kates, who had turned down offers of money but agreed to trade.
Hogan followed the Cleveland streetcar to Arkansas, where the switch was made, then flew back here. Only a truck tire blow-out on the Beltway marred the streetcar's return trip.
Hogan was absent during the homecoming operation's final phase yesterday. A transportation engineer with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, he said he had used up too much annual leave getting it here.