To a soundtrack of 1920s music, passengers shuffle on board an open-air streetcar, eager to experience what the brochure calls a "ride into history."
Motorman Alex Bruchac, who normally works restoring and repairing the cars, drives today. "Does anyone here speak Spanish?" he calls out. One man raises his hand. "You are the only person here who's really qualified to ride this car," Bruchac announces. Built in 1906, this perennial favorite of the guests traveled the streets of Vera Cruz, Mexico, before being brought to Trolleyville in 1964.
Now, it winds through the not-so-historical mobile home community of Columbia Park Manufactured Housing. This unusual scenario represents what Bruchac calls "one man's full-sized model railroad," referring to the late Gerald E. Brookins, who founded Trolleyville U.S.A., the Gerald E. Brookins Museum of Electric Railways Inc. in 1954. The nonprofit educational museum acquires and repairs streetcars and interurban train cars -- along with the occasional freight car and caboose -- restoring many of them to working order. Now home to thirty cars, half of which are operational, Trolleyville is staffed primarily with knowledgeable and friendly volunteers.
They're even friendly to stowaways. One child climbed into a freight car without a ticket and came face to face with a motorman who picked him up under the arms, exclaimed, "A hobo! You know what we do with hobos!" and good-naturedly threatened to throw him off the car while the boy laughed.
The museum hosts special events like the annual "5 Cent Day," which offers a reduced fare and specific historical context (all cars in use on this day were built before 1924). Around the holidays, there's a children's Halloween party and a Festival of Lights beginning at the end of November.
When they're not going for a nickel a ride, fares are $5 for adults and $3 for children for unlimited rides on a choice of cars. The rides themselves start outside the Trolleyville U.S.A. gift shop and arrive about ten minutes later at the restored B&O Berea Depot. Visitors may stay aboard for the return trip or disembark to check out the historic station, now nearly 125 years old.
Every fifteen minutes, another train arrives to carry guests through the mobile homes and lawn ornaments. Will it be a 1906 interurban car, a 1914 Cleveland streetcar, or a caboose from the 1880s? Hard to say, but it's a quick ride back to the present, where model trains are only toys.
-- Tara Phillips
Trolleyville U.S.A., open Saturdays and Sundays through November 21. 7100 Columbia Road, Olmsted Township. For more information, call 440-235-4725.
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