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Saturday essay: The last run

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Its swan song was on Jan. 1, 1969, the day the old man's last HO-scale model train platform came down for the final time. That same day, its red-and-white trolley bus was packed away for what would be nearly 45 years.

The bus spent many a Christmastime traversing its 4-by-4-foot third of the L-shaped platform that wrapped around the fireplace and through the community of Plasticville, named for the brand of its 1950s modeled plastic buildings.

And it was a temperamental beast. The bus took its power from a pantograph whose grooved rollers connected to overhead rails. They also served as a guideway to keep the bus running true down the street. As long as everything was in adjustment, there were few mishaps. But out of adjustment, oh, the carnage in Plasticville was legendary.

My brothers delivered the trolley bus on a visit from Ohio a few years ago; it remained packed away until this month, when, on a whim, the itch hit: Would it still run?

After a careful cleaning and thorough oiling — and mounting its power standards and meticulously positioning the overhead power rails on a circular base — the moment of truth came: By golly, it ran. After all those years.

A cellphone video was in order. And the 30-second clip indeed is a treasure.

Especially considering that a few seconds after the video ends, the trolley bus began to lurch, its motor burned up and the bus stopped dead in its tracks. It would be its last run. Sigh.

— Colin McNickle

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