Restoring a Museum Trolley Spinning Wheel

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Trolley Spinning Wheel

Jim Seated at the restored Trolley Spinning Wheel

The wheel is part of the textile tool collection at the West Virginia State Farm Museum. The story below describes how Jim and Elizabeth restored this piece of history.

When Elizabeth volunteered as the Farm Museum's weaver, she found the wheel in a log cabin attic. In all our museum visits across the country, we had never seen such an odd spinning wheel. The bed was 10 feet long, there were two pulleys near the wheel, the reason for a treadle was not obvious, and there was a hand crank on the wheel.

Restoring Trolley Spinning Wheel

Jim Restoring Farm Museum's Trolley Spinning Wheel

Jim is seen leaning on his table saw pleased that after months of research, traveling over the a portion of eastern United States, etc., the little car moves back and forth when the treadle is depressed. New wood can be seen on the trolley front legs, front pulley assembly, and the unfinished car.

How we went about restoring a trolley spinning wheel:

First, we obtained permission to restore the wheel.

The first order of business was to figure out what we had. Using Internet resources and the telephone we first started in the state of Massachusetts.

Florence Feldman-Wood, known as the Spinning Wheel Sleuth, told us we had a trolley wheel. It was missing the front legs, the pulleys at the end of the bed, and most importantly, the apparatus that held the spindle assembly.

Ms. Wood then directed us toward the WV northern panhandle and a spinner who had spun on trolley wheel. The spinner then directed us toward a small museum in Springs, PA.

The museum in Springs graciously allowed us to photograph and measure their 13-foot long wheel. Using a bit of math, we calculated the dimensions for our missing parts.

Next we exchanged e-mail with author Peter Teal in England who had built his own trolley wheel from a photograph. His wheel was only nine feet long and called his creation a real "show stopper" when it was operating.

A phone call to another museum in PA gave us even more information on how to operate this quirky little invention.

Back home in the wood shop (his garage), Jim fabricated new legs, a trolley or moving spindle, and several other parts that can be seen in the photo above. Since we didn't know exactly what the trolley originally looked like, we used our collected information to build a rather crude looking, but working trolley.

For a while, the wheel stood just inside the Loom House door. It was interesting to watch the men entering the Loom House, walk over to the wheel, look up and down the track a few times, and the look up with a questioning look on their faces.

The wheel is believed to have been invented in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. It functions similar to a walking wheel, but allows the spinner to be seated, thus it is believed to be less tiring to operate. The white paint above hides the original burnt orange paint.

We recently purchased a trolley wheel frame on eBay. Jim plans to modify his plan for the Farm Museum trolley wheel to include ball bearings to improve the performance of our wheel.

In an odd twist of fate a few years earlier, Jim found a trolley from a trolley wheel at an Ohio antique shop. The dealer called it a foot-powered spinning wheel explaining it worked by rolling it back and forth with your foot. It was so odd that Jim couldn't believe it was a valid spinning wheel, he left it at the antique shop.