Not long ago someone called Ken Rinehart and asked how much he would charge to haul an old streetcar off to the scrap yard. Ken, head of a Landover company called General Machine, did some quick calculations and told the man it would cost more to move the trolley than it was worth in scrap.
“He said, ‘You wanna buy it?’ ” Ken told me. “I made some stupid offer and he accepted.”
And that is how Ken found himself the new owner of the streetcar that for the past seven years has sat in front of Glen Echo Park. Last Tuesday, a crew used two forklifts to load the trolley onto a flatbed and haul it away.
“I thought it was almost a historic piece,” Ken said. “I thought, we’ve got plenty of room here. We’ve got three acres. We can stick it next to our 747 cockpit.”
Yes, Ken has a 747 cockpit. And some old printing presses. And an old voting machine (Clinton/Gore vs. Dole/Kemp).
Still, it’s doubtful any of those things are as sentimental as the 1947 streetcar, a stylish, streamlined model known as a PCC. It’s of the type that used to ply Washington’s rails. Ken used to ride the streetcar to Glen Echo as a boy from his father’s Foggy Bottom service station.
He never rode this particular car, though. It spent its career in Philadelphia before being donated to Glen Echo in 2005 by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transport Authority.
The national park had great plans to restore it. The park — and the suburb — exist because of the streetcar line. But it sat uncovered in the elements and ended up looking rather forlorn, mottled with rust and primer. The National Park Service said the car needed an outlay of about $100,000 to restore it.
Bethesda blogger and streetcar buff Robert Dyer is pretty upset that the streetcar is gone. He doesn’t think the Park Service did enough to try to save it. “If there had been a public announcement that we need help to restore the trolley, I would have definitely noticed it,” he said.
Robert is especially upset that the trolley showed up on eBay last month, with a starting bid of $30,000.
Polly Angelakis, site manager of Clara Barton National Historic Site and Glen Echo Park, said the Park Service is not allowed to sell government property. She doesn’t know who put the trolley on eBay. Maybe it was the person who sold it to Ken. (She said the sale was handled by the General Services Administration and the listing was taken down.)
Polly added that the Park Service is not allowed to actively seek donations. Didn’t Target give $1 million to help restore the Washington Monument in 1996?
I think the real issue is that this particular car is a Philly car, not a D.C. one. And it had become a bit of an eyesore, not the first thing you want visitors to see.
Polly says her rangers will continue to tell visitors about the importance of streetcars to the park. They will point out the historic track out front. And she said if they were ever to locate a real Glen Echo trolley, they’d be interested in it — as long as they had the budget to store and maintain it.
Some in the small but active trolley community are sad the streetcar is gone. “It’s a shame,” said Harry Donahue of Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys, a nonprofit that raises money to save streetcars such as this one. “Somebody took it down there with a good idea to restore it and paint it like a Washington car,” Harry said. “But if it’s going to sit outside, you have to maintain it. It’s 65 years old. You can’t leave it out in the elements.”
Harry said if Ken doesn’t want to keep the streetcar it would be good for parts. There’s even a vintage trolley line in San Diego that uses that exact model to carry passengers today. “I know they’re interested in it,” Harry said.
Said Ken: “There’s always a price but right now it’s not for sale. It’s just kind of neat. I never had a streetcar before.”
If you want to see a real Washington streetcar, visit the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville. It has three PCC cars in its collection.
To read previous columns, visit www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.