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Take a Ride Through History on the Mars Shoreline

May 31, 2016 12:32PM ● Published by Jill Cueni Cohen

Gallery: Mars Shortline [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

Time travel is possible this summer, thanks to the efforts of the Mars History and Landmarks Society. Located at the south end of historical Mars, PA, at #1 Brickyard Road, the Mars History and Landmarks Society offers visitors the opportunity to experience an era when pioneer families lived on farms in Mars and Adams Township in Butler County.

Constructed in 1897, the Society has remodeled the town’s former train station, including a turn-of-the-century red caboose and the Adams Station of the Butler Shortline Trolley Route. 

Back in the late 1800s, communities grew up around train tracks, and that’s how Mars got its start—after the Pittsburgh and Western Railroad laid track through Butler County in 1877.

The Borough of Mars, which is thought to have been named for Judge Marshal, was incorporated on March 6, 1895. When the B&O Railroad wanted to tear down Mars’ railroad station in 2000, the Mars History and Landmarks Society, led by Curator William Swaney, jumped at the chance to create a place from the past. Land was purchased through donations to the Society, and they moved the 1897 Mars Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station, an original Adams Township rural trolley stop, and a 1926 B&O Railroad caboose to the site and had them restored.

“When they acquired the red caboose that sits along the road, everything grew up from there,” said society member Bob Lang, 73. “We kept getting more and more railroad- and Mars-related items for the museum.” Lang lives in Franklin Park, but he was born in Mars and has always had a soft spot for his hometown, so when they started remodeling the train station, he joined the group in 2005. 

A variety of antique equipment, including an operating windmill, a 1928 Plymouth Gasoline Switch Engine, an operating hand car, and other items from the old railroad can be seen throughout the site. “We have yearbooks from as far back as 1912,” said Lang, noting that the museum features tons of pictures and historical stories about the people who lived in and visited the Mars area. 

In 2013, the Society built the Mars Shortline Railroad (MSRR). The MSRR itself is a 7 ½” gauge (track width), 1/8” scale (railroad cars) railroad layout that consists of 650 feet of mainline track that traverses the perimeter of the property and a 150-foot siding track that accesses the MSRR train storage shed. A steel engineer’s gondola, three passenger cars, a conductor’s gondola, and a wooden caboose are pulled by a Diesel Switcher locomotive, which is powered by a 5-horsepower gasoline engine coupled to a hydraulic/chain drive system.

On May 27, the train began providing rides, and will continue doing so every Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on the second Saturday of each month from 1-4 p.m. or by appointment. The Society asks that visitors make a donation when riding the MSSR.

“The Mars History and Landmarks Society has been growing, and this railroad has attracted people to our campus to see the museum,” said Lang, adding that the MSRR has been a popular venue for birthday parties, playdates and meet-ups. “It’s been a wonderful thing for us. This spring we’re building a 20’ x 40’ pavilion for parties and picnics as well.

“The MAHLS is not just the railroad; it has so many people who dedicate so much time and effort to it,” he added. “Bill Swaney was instrumental in developing this whole thing. John Watson serves as the president. Charles Norton is the group’s historian and keeper of the area’s archives. But the railroad has brought in a lot of people who would never have heard of us otherwise.”

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