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Book chronicles history of electric trolleys in valley
By Elizabeth Skrapits   - 07/27/2009

Citizens Voice

More Info on This Book: Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys

From 1888 to 1950, electrified trolleys provided an efficient and cheap means of transportation from one end of the region to the other.

Local historian Harrison Wick chronicles the final decades of trolley service in a newly released pictorial book, "Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys."

Wick, who is special collections librarian and archivist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said he has always been interested in trains and trolleys. Although people didn't realize it at the time they were in service, trolleys were "clean" transportation because they used electricity instead of burning coal like trains or gasoline like cars.

Wick got the inspiration for "Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys" while working on his first book, "Pennsylvania's Back Mountain." He said he was looking for a specific photo of a Dallas trolley next to the roller coaster at Fernbrook Park.

Wick found the picture, which had been taken in 1938, and also discovered the photographer, Edward Miller, was still around. Miller, who had taken dozens of pictures of trolleys during the 1930s and 1940s, was willing to share his work.

"He lent me a scrapbook," Wick said. "And he said, 'oh, I have another 20 upstairs of the trolleys of the Valley.' I looked at them all and wrote the book."

Other photographs came from sources such as Misericordia University, where Wick worked for three years as archivist; the late Michael Lavelle Sr.; and the Luzerne County Historical Society.

Wick focuses on four parts of the region: the Hanover Township and Nanticoke area; Wilkes-Barre; the upper valley, or Pittston area; and the West Side. The photos offer a glimpse of a vanished Valley, when trolley tracks and wires zigzagged around thriving towns, carrying people to long-gone destinations.

"The neat thing about the trolley book is you can see what neighborhoods used to look like, see churches that have changed in time but are still structurally the same," Wick said.

Many of the trolley cars were purchased secondhand. They bore letter designations like "H" for Harveys Lake, "HT" for the Heights section of Wilkes-Barre, "LU" for Luzerne, "P" for Parsons and "Y" for Wyoming. Some cars were very nicely appointed, with leather seats, mahogany woodwork and electric lighting, Wick said. One of the stranger models he found was a funeral trolley that had a door in front for a casket.

In the 1940s, as the trolley lines were being phased out, most of the cars were sold for scrap. Louis Cohen & Son in Hanover Township would burn them and recycle the metal, Wick said. Some cars were sold out West, and ended up in places like San Francisco, he said.

"I bet there are trolleys that ran in Wilkes-Barre that are still in California," he speculated.

Wick said "Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys" was fun to write. He's working on a third book about Luzerne County history, but won't divulge the topic.

"It's a surprise," he said.

Buy It Now: Greater Wyoming Valley Trolleys $21.99

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