Many years ago while perusing the merchandise in a Castle Shannon antique store, a small plastic trolley caught my eye. Castle Shannon, by the way, is a borough just outside of the Pittsburgh area. This trolley car was made of plastic and quite detailed including transparent plastic windows and a black trolley pole on top. Because there was a coin slot in the roof, I assumed it was a bank of some kind. The proprietors of the store told me the trolley was given by Heinz Corporation to its employees as a Christmas gift many years ago.
That story I cannot verify, but as you can see in Picture 1, the sign on both sides of the trolley car clearly says Heinz Tomato Ketchup: Keystone Brand. The purchase of that trolley car led to several separate projects. First, I had decided to motorize that unit and add passengers. Only then came the idea of building a strong, functional coffee table in which the trolley would operate. The table would be made of wood and glass so that viewers could see the trolley passing through the four different seasons of the year from both the top and all sides.
Taking the trolley apart involved removing several screws, and then prying apart places where plastic pieces had been glued together. First, I installed two miniature lights in the interior ceiling of the car to light up the passenger compartment. To hide the bulbs and the wires, I glued small strips of an opaque material behind the clear glass in the dome-like top (Picture 2).
Then I glued in a floor, bench seats, and passengers in the space where the motor would not interfere with them. In Picture 2 you can see the passengers, and in Picture 3, you can see a little girl passenger who I glued directly to the motor housing along with her small bag. When the unit was reassembled, this tiny little girl seems to be mixed in with the other passengers hiding the motor housing.
The motorized trucks along with one set of dummy trucks were made by Bowser. You can clearly see the motor and trucks in Picture 3. Although the trucks are O-gauge, the motor unit runs on DC current. Thus, in my coffee table, I used Atlas two-track which was extremely difficult to bend and connect smoothly in such a small area. In another article, I will show and explain that coffee table.
Also in Picture 3 you can see the two ends of the trolley unit that remained connected to the bottom piece when I pried the unit apart. In order to bolt it together again without glue, I inserted two brass poles, threaded at each end, from top to bottom inside the driver’s compartments. You can clearly see them in Picture 2 sticking up from the roof section and extending downward in Pictures 4 and 5. Actually, these two poles look like grab rails for persons entering or leaving the car. Nuts at both ends helps keep the trolley together. At this point, I drilled out holes so I could install wires and an LED headlight at each car end.
In Picture 4, the heavy brown strip of wood is part of the coffee table that houses the trolley car as it runs around and around through four seasons of the year. Picture 5 shows the car coming out of a short tunnel into what would be the spring season. The Lionel bridge passes over a small pond. If you look closely, you can see the water where bull rushes and other pond plants thrive. In the background, the small stream which fills the pond is visible.
All in all, powering up this trolley was quite an achievement for me. It took many hours of intricate but fascinating work to get it to operate smoothly. Even more interesting was creating the coffee table and detailing each seasonal quarter of it. Incidentally, many months after completing the project, I revisited the same antique store to find a second matching trolley car. This is the unaltered car you see in Picture 1.
If and when you are in the Pittsburgh area, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see this operating coffee table with its unique trolley car.