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RyPN Editorials March 27, 2004
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Recalling the National Capital Trolley Museum Fire
Six Months Later
Editor's Note: in this article from the newsletter of the National Capital Trolley Museum, NCTM Board member and RyPN reader Wes Paulson looks back six months later on the Museum's effort to recover from a carbarn fire and loss of 8 street railway vehicles in September 2003. We reprint it here with the permission of the author.

People continue to ask me "How are you doing after the fire?" Elliot Pfanstiehl, Executive Director of Strathmore Hall (Editor's Note: a large classical music venue in Montgomery County, MD), is a colleague of mine. A resident of nearby Stonegate, Elliot is a neighbor of the Museum. In a recent e-mail, Elliot commented "I drive by the Museum twice a day and wonder how does someone recover from something like that fire?"

Each of us involved at the Museum has felt the impact from the fire in some way. I have spent a lot of my emotional energy in working on the salvage and demolition of what I called the ruins. Working with Bob Schnabel, Ken Rucker and others, I helped to identify parts and pieces for salvage, carry larger parts and artifacts away from the building, and help secure the property each day after the demolition contractor had finished for the day. All went well until the day I arrived and the remains of JTCo. 352 were in the dumpster, and the trucks had been pulled outside the building. There was an empty space on track three where the car sat. The car was gone.

Johnstown Transit Company 352 in happier days, March 2003; remains of JTC 352 the afternoon following the fire. Erik Ledbetter photos.

My outlook slowly improved in the days following the removal of the Johnstown car. I stopped closely examining the contractor's demolition work and that seemed to help my attitude. Soon after that, the architect delivered some good news about the plans for the new building: we are almost ready to file for approval of plans for the design of the display carbarn. Last week Charles Tirschman reported that our visitor counts for February were higher than the previous two years. Museum educator Sonya Kearney reports a full schedule of groups for the Spring school program dates. The most recent good news was the announcement that the County Executive recommended funding the Museum's request for sprinklers in the Visitor's Center and remaining carhouse. The recent good news does not minimize the fact that the Museum has suffered a major loss from the fire. Each of us will carry this loss for many more months and into the coming years. Rather I see and feel the hope for our continued future in these new developments.

Vienna power car 6062 in happier days, October 1999. Erik Ledbetter photo.

After the fire I copied photos for my screensaver at work from the Museum's website. Images of JTCo 352, CTCo 07 and CTCo 1053 parade across my screen each day. I selected a photo of the Vienna train for my desktop wallpaper on the computer. I have looked the images each day for the last six months. One day last week I took a long look at the image of the Vienna train, framed by some pink dogwoods, and for the first time I smiled and recalled the happy times I have shared operating cars and working with friends at the Museum. The cars are gone, but the memories will always be there as we move ahead together into the future.