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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Fleetwood, Pennsylvania

I've made many visits to the Keystone State - Pennsylvania, during my years in the United States, visiting towns and communities large and small. New Hope is one place in particular which stays in memory as a centre for creative arts in Bucks County on the border with New Jersey. I made the long drive to a classic train and trolley museum in the middle of the State at Rockhill Furnace on several occasions; as well as another thriving museum at Washington, PA. Since those now far off days a further dedicated trolley museum has emerged in Scranton - Electric City another famous industrial centre in the state - there are a great many more. Scranton had a most interesting streetcar system with dark blue and white trolleys. One example survives from the 1930s - now under restoration to its groundbreaking design which included those front fenders which were copied by English Electric in their 1933 design of a new tram for Blackpool. Two of Pennsylvania's great cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia still have light rail systems, surviving the era of PCC era operation into an age more sympathetic to electric urban traction. This new chapter started with the bold introduction of a line in San Diego in the 1980s - the San Diego Trolley which ran right up to the border crossing point with Mexico. This initiative by city politicians prompted a succession of US urban centres to re-adopt the streetcar in a wave which grows exponentially; with the notable exception of New York City which set its political face against streetcars in the late 1930s.

One Pennsylvania community which was notable for reasons closer to Blackpool - Fleetwood, I never visited in the two decades I spent in the USA. Fleetwood, PA has deep historical roots with our area. In the mid 1800s - emigrant families from the Preston area transferred their carpentry and coachmaking skills across the Atlantic to settle in what then was a hamlet in the rural middle of Pennsylvania. The resulting generational change and growth resulted in the Fleetwood Metal Body Company designing and constructing bespoke automobiles for growing demand in the 1900s.

Fleetwood Metal Body produced classic vehicles for the moneyed classes attracting attention of ambitious new owners who then turned the company into a brand in demand. Fleetwood became synonymous with prestige motoring to the extent of designing cars for US Presidents (Hoover and FDR), movie stars and more. Becoming part of General Motors combine in the 1920s, Fleetwood was assigned to that group's Cadillac brand, in turning becoming the top of Cadillac model offer. Cadillac Fleetwood was in production through successive designs and models until the 1970s and its vehicles are now in the pantheon of classic marques sought after by museums and collectors. One 1930s example is on display at the excellent Lakeside Motor Museum in Cumbria - a diverse display originating from a Blackpool businessman's collection.

Fleetwood, Pennsylvania is twinned with Fleetwood, Lancashire very appropriate given the 18th Century links between these two distant locations. The Fleetwood brand lives on in automotive circles even though the marque's production by General Motors important Cadillac business has lapsed. The original Fleetwood factory still stands, ironically set against the tracks of mainline trains running through Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Harrisburg - the State Capitol (and beyond to midwest states). See below - the proud owners signage still adorns their factory alongside the railroad.

Watch this space......

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