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Retiree shares lifelong interest in trolleys of old
Don Bailey shows off trolley car paraphernalia at his home. Each summer, Bailey spends time with members of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, volunteering before, during and after the Washington County Fair. - photo by Autumn McBride

Don Bailey has taken the same summer vacation for more than three decades.

Each year in August, Bailey travels from his Forsyth County home to his hometown of Washington, Pa.

It’s a reunion of sorts, but not in the traditional family sense.

Bailey spends time with members of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, volunteering before, during and after the Washington County Fair.

"People always asked me why I spend two weeks of my hard-earned time off doing this," he said. "It’s kind of like coming home again."

Members of the museum restore street cars, work on the tracks and operate trolleys, which bring people to and from the museum during the county fair.

In official uniform, Bailey most enjoys working as a motorman during the fair, especially when operating the 1911 open car.

This year, people told him their "favorite ride at the fair is the street car," he said, "which is kind of ironic because we’re not actually in the fair."

Operating the trolleys outside of the fair also gives the museum a chance to introduce others to street cars.

After years of volunteering, Bailey can explain with ease how the trolley works and the history of manufacturers and routes.

He said friends in the Cumming-Forsyth Optimist Club have joked that he’s like a "trolley missionary."

"I’m spreading the gospel of street cars, like Johnny Appleseed or something," Bailey said, with a laugh. "Well if we didn’t enjoy it, we wouldn’t do it."

His member badge, displaying No. 181, dates his time of involvement with the organization, since the membership has swelled into the thousands.

Bailey said he’s been interested in trolleys since he would ride his tricycle to watch the street cars come and go as a boy in Washington, which is near Pittsburgh.

In his home today, Bailey keeps the sign that displays "30 Ingram," which was the route that went by his childhood home in the 1950s.

He has loads of trolley-related memorabilia, from his annual scrapbook of his fair visit to model street cars to antique pieces.

Bailey also named his cat, J.G. Brill, after a trolley manufacturer.

His enthusiasm for his hobby is well-matched at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

The museum’s executive director, Scott Becker, said the volunteers’ passion is what keeps their efforts rolling.

"He’s just a good example of the dedication of the volunteers we have here," Becker said. "Don’s a real nice person to be around, very upbeat, very energetic. It’s always a joy to see him come up here because he has a lot of can-do attitude."

Bailey’s one of the more distant members, Becker said, but that doesn’t keep him from being one of the most involved.

He even works on some projects at his Georgia home, such as making the retro Burma Shave advertisements to display along the trolley routes.

Bailey has more time these days to devote to those types of efforts, since retiring in June 2010 from his post as facilities manager for the Forsyth County Public Library, where he worked various jobs for nearly 30 years.

Library director Jon McDaniel said Bailey always had an outgoing personality and was a friendly person to work with.

Bailey usually kept some trolley memorabilia at his desk and had museum calendars for co-workers, McDaniel said.

He remembered Bailey leaving each year in August for the trolley museum and fair, and sharing details when he returned.

"He’s been doing it as long as I’ve known him," McDaniel said. "That was sort of his version of vacation."