EAST WINDSOR — Though the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on many things in the state, some great things continue to give us that cheer of the changing of the seasons — whether it be foliage turning to its robust hues of reds, yellows, and browns, the crisp, chilled morning air, or the abundance of pumpkin and apple spice products at your favorite coffee shop or grocery store.
A local tradition has even been able to open its doors — granted with some restrictions and alterations. The Connecticut Trolley Museum celebrates autumn with its annual Pumpkin Patch Trolley and its nighttime thriller, Rails to the Darkside, which has been rechristened this year as The Scary Trolley Ride on the Darkside Electric Railway.
“We have suffered,” said Gina Alimberti, museum business manager. “We were supposed to have opened in April with our Easter event and lost a huge chunk of revenue. We couldn’t do our beer and wine fundraiser and we didn’t end up opening until June 20 with a limited schedule and a limited amount of visitors. That ran through the summer. We could only have so many people here.”
The museum is a non-profit organization, Alimberti said, and because of the shut down and current restrictions, the museum has lost close to $50,000 in revenue this year, which helps keep the museum open and operational, paying for overhead, maintenance and restoration of the trolleys, and staff.
If You Go
Pumpkin Patch Trolley
Dates and times: Sept. 24-Oct. 31; Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tickets: General admission, $13; members, $7.50; must be purchased online
The Scary Trolley Ride on the Darkside Electric Railway
Dates and Times: Oct. 10-30, Fridays and Saturdays; more information to come soon
Contact: Connecticut Trolley Museum, 58 North Road, East Windsor; 860-627-6540; ct-trolley.org
“We need visitors because we need that income,” she said.
Alimberti said guests should expect some changes coming at the Trolley Museum this year. Trolleys will be filled to only about half capacity, from 55 passengers to about 22, with riders socially distanced.
The museum has been running the open-air trolleys as often as possible as well, she said.
“The weather has been great, so we could most of the summer,” she said about using the open-air trolleys. “We run the enclosed ones, but we kept distance from everybody, and everyone wears masks, so it’s a safe visit.”
Though the visitor’s center is open during the day, she said, guests will not be able to enter the actual trolley cars in the center.
“We just can’t keep them clean quick enough,” she said.
Other cleanliness protocols are in place as well, including directional arrows for people to follow and hand sanitizer throughout the center.
Opening today and running through Oct. 31, the Pumpkin Patch Trolley can be boarded every Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Though much of the Pumpkin Patch Trolley experience will be the same, Alimberti said, the trolleys are limited to 22 people, the corn pit has been canceled, and pumpkin decorating has been cancelled.
“Instead of decorating the pumpkins here, everybody will get their own plastic bag with goodies to take home and decorate their pumpkins,” she said.
In addition, she said, “I’m hoping to get a food truck. I’m hoping to have kettle corn that would be here.
Pumpkin pickers will be reminded to keep 6 feet apart. The pumpkin patch, near Skylark Airport, is pretty big and easy to maintain social distancing.
“People get it,” she said. “People understand what’s going on. We haven’t had any issues. Everyone is to wear a mask, unless you’re eating. It’s a really cool spot. They have planes flying overhead. When they come back, they can visit the visitor’s center. There are two craft tables. It’s decorated for Halloween. The Fire Truck Museum is open as well, they can visit fire trucks and talk to the crew over there.”
Rails to the Darkside will also see some changes. The walkthrough that leads guests through narrow passageways between trolley cars in the visitor’s center will not have the usual ghouls and spooks popping out and frightening passersby.
We can’t manage that,” Alimberti said. “There’s too many people, it’s dark, you can’t social distance, you just can’t do it.”
What will happen instead, she said, is an embellished and extended trolley ride.
“We’re going to be adding to it,” she said. “It’s going to be a longer interaction piece on the ride, and there will be a new theme this year.
“It’s going to start off with a ghost story,” she said. “We’re incorporating the Hancock family, who was buried here on the property. That’s going to be incorporated with the ride. There’s a graveyard that you pull up to. Maybe some scary people and dead people. There’s going to be a few parts to it. It’s not just going to be a ride down and a ride back. There’s going to be parts to it and some interactive pieces.”
Prices will remain the same as last year, she said.
“We’re going to charge the same amount,” she said.
“It’s our fundraiser to stay alive and to be able to stay alive for next year. We have to charge what we have to charge.”