Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Sweet Story: Hershey Trolley Works has the lowdown on Chocolatetown

Craig Porterfield, Paula Russell

History is important. If we don’t pay attention, we may be doomed to repeat it.

But the history of Hershey is different. It bears repeating—again and again.

Nothing tells the story of a small company town in central Pennsylvania the way that Hershey Trolley Works does.

Combining sights, sounds and a hint of theatrics, Hershey Trolley Works transports curious riders a hundred years into the past to a time when trolley cars ruled the primitive streets of Derry Township, the distinct aroma of chocolate filled the air, and a young entrepreneur was employing ingenuity and persistence to overcome failures.

Of course, the key to Hershey Trolley Works’ success is that it has a great story to tell.

“Hershey is very historic, but in a slightly different way,” said Curt Sisco, vice president and general manager of Hershey Trolley Works. “We’re recounting history over the last 100 years, from the late 19th century into the 20th century. A lot of the original stuff is still here. We’re looking at Mr. Hershey’s company town. Ultimately, we’re telling the story of Milton Hershey and chocolate, because without that, the rest of it wouldn’t be here.”

Piloted by a motor “mam” and narrated by a knowledgeable and entertaining conductor, Hershey Trolley Works treats passengers to a 75-minute, 15-mile comprehensive tour of Chocolatetown, USA. All that is required of the patrons is their attention and a little bit of imagination.

“I would say that, most times, people are laughing at my jokes and getting a sparkle in their eyes,” said Craig Porterfield, a 66-year-old Hershey native and conductor. “When I can’t get that, I have to dig a little deeper. When people thank me coming off the tour, it’s very rewarding. They’ll say, ‘I learned something’ or, ‘it was a good tour,’ or ‘thank you for telling me the story.’”

Originating from the outside of Hershey’s Chocolate World, the Hershey Trolley Works tour takes in most of the significant sites along the way. This includes the still-operating Hershey West Plant, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup factory, Founder’s Hall, the Hershey Country Club, Milton and Catherine Hershey’s High Point Mansion, the original Hershey Chocolate Factory, Hersheypark, Zoo America, the Hershey Hotel and Hershey Gardens.

“If people want to know the history of the town, I would encourage them to come and take the tour,” said Porterfield. “I want them to know what made Milton Hershey significant besides the chocolate. It’s a way to get a better understanding of the man and the chocolate tour.”

The vast majority of riders are out-of-town visitors. But why should tourists have all the fun? For $17.95, locals also can jump on board.

“Our biggest segment of passengers by far is people visiting Hershey,” said Sisco. “You’ve got day-trippers. Some people are here three or four days, or a week, and they literally come from all over the world.”

But he would love to have more Hershey-area residents learn about their own town.

“If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me they live here and have never taken the tour, I wouldn’t have to work anymore,” Sisco said.


Aha Moment

Passengers are treated to a Hershey’s goodie bag as they exit the tour, but Hershey Trolley Works is not operated by either the Hershey Company or Hershey Entertainment and Resorts.

Privately owned, the trolley was established in 1988 for the exact purpose it now has mastered.

“The couple who founded it had moved to Hershey and loved the Hershey story,” Sisco said. “They found themselves driving around and telling people the story of Hershey. Then they had one of those ‘aha’ moments. They thought to themselves, ‘We could make a business out of this.’ That was the impetus behind it.”

From modest beginnings of offering tours mostly during the summer months, Hershey Trolley Works now operates year-round, 364 days a year. Over the past 33 years, ridership has grown from 20,000 visitors a year to more than 150,000.

“They’re tourists. They come from all over,” Porterfield said. “Tourism has always been important to Hershey.”

If history never gets old, then the future of Hershey Trolley Works is secure. There is nothing to suggest that the public’s interest in Hershey’s amazing story is waning.

“I’m of the strongest opinion that we haven’t yet reached our peak,” Sisco said.

In fact, the company is expanding, currently building a fifth trolley car.

“The story itself is tremendous,” Sisco said. “To me, the story of Hershey is a story of opportunities. I think the crucial centerpiece of the story is the Milton Hershey School, but it all comes back to Mr. Hershey and chocolate.”

Hershey Trolley Works is located in Hershey’s Chocolate World at 101 Chocolate Way, Hershey. For more information, call 717-533-3000 or visit

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