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Site Recounts Historic Trolley Accident

SANATOGA PA – GenDisasters.com, a genealogy website that specializes in what it calls “events that touched our ancestors’ lives,” on Wednesday (April 8, 2009) resurrected an 88-year-old disaster tale in Sanatoga’s trolley history from the pages of The Gettysburg (PA) Times newspaper.

Schuylkill Valley Transit trolley No. 119, on Ridge Pike in Trooper PA during May 1932.

Schuylkill Valley Transit trolley No. 119 travels along rural Ridge Pike in Trooper PA during May 1932.

Website author Stu Beitler, who in the past 18 months has added dozens of historical articles to the GenDisasters archives, contributed the Times‘ July 18, 1921, story of a trolley car collision on Rahn’s Hill, “about a mile from Pottstown.” Three people were killed and 25 injured.

“A car going westward in charge of Motorman Paul Heimbach, drifted past a switch when the brake apparatus was disabled, and, out of control, ran into a car in charge of Conductor Robert Lachman and Motorman Calvin, which was to have passed Heimbach’s car on the switch,” the decades-old Times article reported. “It had stopped on Rahn’s Hill to let off passengers and the runaway car crashed into it with terrific force.”

Rahn’s Hill, according to Lower Pottsgrove (PA) Township Fire Marshal Lew Babel, was the site of a sprawling farm owned by the Rahn family. It began roughly on East High Street (referred to in the Times‘ article as “the pike”) at Sprogel’s Run – near what is now the corner of East High and Sunnybrook Road – and stretched east up the hill toward Sanatoga village center.

The existing Specht office building, at 1800 E. High St., and the Sunnybrook branch of National Penn Bank, at 1830 E. High St., both were built on former Rahn farm property, Babel said Monday (April 13, 2009).

“There were wild scenes after the collision,” the Times‘ article continued, “many passengers being caught between the seats. Motorman Calvin Levan, aged 30 years, of Pottstown was pinned beneath the wreckage and Dr. Stapp had to amputate a crushed leg to get him loose. His other leg had been cut off in the crash.”

The trolley cars had been operating on the “Pottstown & Phoenixville Railway Line,” according to the article.

Dependable train and trolley service once was a staple of daily life in Sanatoga. Two separate train stations operated in Pottstown during the 1920s, and trolleys ran every 15 minutes from Sanatoga through Pottstown to Stowe, and less frequently from Sanatoga to Norristown. Ridership fell off, and later ended, as private automobile use grew.

GenDisasters describes itself as “a genealogy site, compiling information on the historic disasters, events, and tragic accidents our ancestors endured, as well as, information about their life and death.” Its database and records are searchable by surname.

Photo by William Watts II from the Philadelphia Trolley Tracks website

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