Every other day or so Emil Augustine finds checks in his mailbox in Jenkins Twp. They can be for $10, $25 or $100 or more and they can come from Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts or Texas. There is usually a note with the check thanking Augustine and the rest of the 501c3 committee he volunteers with for working to preserve a significant piece of both rail and Wyoming Valley history.
Two years ago, Conrad Baut, of Baut Studios in Swoyersville, and Jim Wert, a retired Methodist minister, dropped in on Augustine at his home in Jenkins Twp. They played it coy as Augustine recalls, just chit-chatting, setting him up to be asked if he would take the role of treasurer of Anthracite Trolleys Inc., a 5013c set up to raise money for restoring an old trolley.
Augustine agreed, after all he was a friend of Wert’s, a fellow parishioner at the Wyoming Methodist Church and, having gone to accounting school and having worked compiling tonnage figures for the Navy, he was a numbers guy. Then when he heard the trolley was the 790 from the Nanticoke-Wilkes-Barre line, he was all in.
At age 86, he was old enough to have actually ridden the trolley to Wilkes-Barre several times when he was growing up in Newport Twp. He recalls the route went along the creek behind San Souci Park. The electric trolleys were powered by a single pole attached to overhead electrified lines.
Anthracite Trolleys Inc. is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the Wilkes-Barre Traction Company’s Trolley 790 built by J.G. Brill Co. of Philadelphia in 1924.
The 790 is the last such trolley known to exist. It ran between Nanticoke and Wilkes-Barre from the 1920s until 1950. After the 790 and the line’s other trolleys went out of service, they were scrapped. Most wound up at Cohen’s scrapyard, but one — the 790 — was sold to Mary and Walter Krakowski. The Krakowskis bought the 790 for use as a cottage on their property at Perrins Marsh in Franklin Twp., aka “Stump Pond.”
Eventually, the Krakowskis incorporated the 790 into a cottage they built around it, with the front and back of the trolley visible, looking like bay windows. Baut spotted the trolley cottage during a bike ride back in the 1980s and immediately knew what it was.
“The cute little trolley faces were still sporting their destination roll signs,” he said.
He was familiar with the trolleys because his father had lived next to the trolley barn in Kingston and often talked about them.
Walter Krakowski died in the 1970s. Before Mary died in 1998, she let Baut, Wert and the late railroad historian and author Ed Miller in her cottage to see the inside of the trolley. In the early 2000s, Baut convinced a neighbor to ask the heirs, the couple’s nieces and nephews, to contact him. It took three years for them to contact him and another several years for the heirs to agree to give the trolley to Baut and Anthracite Trolley Inc., in exchange for removing trees and demolishing the cottage.
Trolleys Inc. raised $40,000. The worked was completed last July. Lane’s Cranes, the Avoca-based business, moved the trolley to a Robert J. Barna Trucking flatbed which hauled it to an Arrow Metal Parts garage behind Baut Studios in Swoyersville.
Earlier this year a “Trolley Fair” fundraiser at Baut Studios raised $5,000. Another is being planned for the spring. In the meantime Baut is calling for volunteers.
“People who can help with woodworking, steel fabrication, sheet metal and asbestos removal,” Baut said. “Maybe somebody retired who has completed his honey-do list.”
There’s a long way to go. Baut estimates it could take $250,000 to get the trolley, which has been stripped of its seats and electrical equipment, back on track. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 570-855-3977 or visitanthracitetrolleys.business.site, where you can make a donation through PayPal. Donate by check to Anthracite Trolley’s Inc. Project 790, 228 Pollock Drive, Pittston, PA 18640.