The Shore Line Trolley Museum appointed John Proto as executive director of the organization this past February, and to him, it seems like it was meant to be.
“This is 50 years in the making,” John says.
John had been the museum manager since July 2016. After the general manager stepped down in January, the museum consolidated the positions, and that’s when John was named executive director. His involvement with the museum goes back much further, however.
John started going to the museum in 1968, when he was five. He says it became somewhat of an annual trip, as his parents would take him every year as a child.
One year, his parents said they were taking him to Disney World. He wanted to go, but added a stipulation.
“I said, ‘OK, but we have to go to the trolley museum, too,’” John recalls.
John became a museum member in 1991, and has been an active member ever since. He started to volunteer as a trolley operator and tour guide around 2002.
He says he has always been fascinated by mechanical things, such as trains, trolleys, and cars, and says his parents remembered the trolleys when they ran in New Haven. In fact, John says he enjoys when he can hear a memory about a trolley experience from someone firsthand.
“You can fantasize about what it was like—how the trolleys were so integrated with the functioning of the city,” he says.
Another thing that John appreciates about trolleys is the craftsmanship. He says there’s much more to appreciate about them than other means of public transportation, like buses.
“You look at the woodwork and the detailing; people took a lot of pride in what they did,” he says.
The museum itself is the oldest, continually operated suburban street railway in the country. There is 1 ½ miles of track left from a 17-mile run that goes from the museum in East Haven to Short Beach in Branford. The museum has about 100 pieces of rolling stock in the collection, including trolleys, subway cars, and old buses.
Of the 100 pieces in the collection, John says that 59 were operational until storms Sandy and Irene hit, which brought the number down to just three. However, he says the museum is in a restoration mode, and has close to a dozen operating again. He says that all restoration and track work is done by volunteers.
The museum also has one of the largest archival collections of electric railway journals, blueprints, and track layouts.
“I love looking at the old maps,” John says.
Fellow members of the museum have voiced their support for John stepping up as executive director. Association President Wayne Sanford said that this is a major step forward for the museum, and that having an executive director is a must for a non-profit organization in this age. Board Chair Peter Callahan said that the advent of a full-time executive director is another important milestone that will make the museum a more sophisticated organization.
“We were fortunate to find within our own circle an individual with the professional talents needed to move us forward as our first executive director,” Callahan said in a press relase announcing the appointment.
John’s already at work on upcoming events. The Easter Bunny will be at the museum on Saturdays and Sundays, April 8 and 9 and 14 and 15. Superhero Day, when people will come out dressed in superhero costumes, is scheduled for Saturday, May 20 and will also feature food and ice cream vendors. There are even guest operator weekends, where people can make reservations and learn how to drive a trolley.
When he sees people and families come out for these events, it reminds John of when there used to be crowds of people at the museum when he was a kid.
“It feels good,” he says, “It feels like we’re making a difference in these families’ lives.”
For more information on the museum and volunteer or member opportunities, visit www.shorelinetrolley.org or call 203-467-6927.