“I love things that drive and move and moons,” Sprout announced to me the other day. When you’ve watched trains and ridden the Metro so many times you’ve lost count, what’s the mom of a transit-loving kid to do? Bring them to the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville, MD!
While the D.C. region has a wealth of museums, none of the others have trolleys (aka streetcars) you can actually ride on. If the idea of a 15-minute trolley ride through the woods doesn’t thrill you, this museum probably isn’t for you.
Just to make it clear, the museum specifically says, “No trains.” Unlike subways or trains, trolleys only run above-ground and on electricity. Unlike buses, they only run on tracks, making their routes and schedule predictable. While they were ubiquitous before cars, most cities stripped them out after lobbying by the automotive industry.
The museum shared much of this information in large posters on a canvas-like material with huge blocks of text. Even I, museum-lover that I am, couldn’t get through it all.
Fortunately, there was a major draw for the kids – a model set that featured a trolley instead of a train. It was even interactive, with a giant switch kids could flip to make the trolley go and a crank to power the tiny city’s lights.
In addition to the model set, there was also a tiny theater showing wacky silent movies featuring trolleys. Sprout and the other kids didn’t quite know what to make of silent movies at first – especially because they assume you know how to read – but got into them as the hijinks became more and more ridiculous.
Between the model set and the movies, it was actually pretty easy to kill time while we waited for the tour of the trolley barn and the trolley rides to start.
The barn was filled with trolleys of various ages and states of disrepair. While much of the guide’s narration was of interest to only the hardest-core of enthusiasts, the actual machines were intriguing. One looked like a boat, while another had a sign advertising how you could avoid parking issues if you took public transit. Some things never change in D.C.!
Of course, the trolley rides themselves were the museum’s major draw. On any given day, the museum has two different trolleys out. You can ride in both of them as long as you’re there long enough. The first we took was a Dutch streetcar that was used through the 1990s. All of the advertising was in Dutch (of course), which made it both impossible to understand and inherently interesting. The second was a streetcar from Toronto that had been retired in the 1980s, with all of the period-appropriate posters. Both were pleasant enough to ride in for 15 minutes or so, although I was glad I didn’t need to do so on a regular basis.
The ride itself was was lovely, winding through fields and forests. While it would have been prettier in the spring or fall, the winter made it easier to spot animals. We saw a few deer; a volunteer said she had once seen a red fox. Even without the animals, Sprout was thrilled. He stared out the window the whole time, lost in reverie.
So if you have a kid who loves “things that go,” the National Capital Trolley Museum is worth an afternoon day trip. Even if you don’t live in the Washington D.C. area, there are similar trolley museums all over the country to check out.
If your kid is also obsessed with trains, check out my posts on the trains at the Gaithersburg Community Museum and the amazing Christmas model train display at the U.S. Botanic Gardens. For updates, follow me on Facebook!