Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where Have All the Trolleys Gone?

On October 26, 1903, the dream of Francis Marion "Borax" Smith was realized when his Key Route electric railway and ferryboat empire opened for service in the San Francisco Bay area.

Fast forward to 1946. Mr. Smith's fortune from Boraxo production was insufficient for maintaining the transportation company and the automobile was replacing the electric railway as a popular means of transportation.

Enter the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association. The group began acquiring and restoring electric railway equipment. Today, the Association has over 110 pieces of historic rolling stock in the Western Railway Museum on 2400 acres just north of Rio Vista, about 60 miles east of San Francisco.

Meet Fred Krock, our guide through the Museum and a short trolley (or streetcar) ride through the coutryside. His voice, delivery, and easy laugh were meant for the silver screen (actually, radio--we asked him).

We began our short ride on the trolley shown here, but I forgot to record its identity and history.

This photo shows a scene along the short ride we took. I was struck by the contrast between our trolley, the rusting farm machinery, and some of the wind mills that were part of the largest wind farm in the state.

Following the ride, we began a tour of a small portion of the Museum's collection. We began with the Sacramento Northern #62, built in 1920, and known as the Birney Safety Car. Doors would not open unless brakes were applied fully; releasing the brakes closed and locked the dorrs. If the motorman took his hand off the controller while the car was in motion, the car stopped and the doors unlocked.

The cars were not popular. Kids learned that jumping up and down in unison on the back platform could bounce the car off the track. The cars became known as "bobbers" and even "cootie cars."

Originally painted all black, this car was built by the Brill Company in Philadelphia in 1929. These cars were blamed for any nightime accidents with autos in Sacramento and Stockton (CA), because the drivers would say, "I couldn't see it." Painted yellow with lights in the inverted "boxes" (shown in the front and side above the 7s), the "couldn't see it" excuse was not believable.

Built in 1904 for the Petaluma and Santa Rosa (CA) Railroad, this car was scrapped in 1932 and its body built into a weekend cabin. The Museum bought the body in 1967 and did an amazing job of restoration, complete with the advertising slogans that appeared on the exterior.

This car had three compartments: smokers, non-smokers, and baggage. Smokers rode in a separate section for the sake of women, that is, "it was thought that women needed protection from overhearing racy stories being exchanged by traveling salesmen in the smoking compartment" (Museum Guide).

In 1934, this car ("The Boat Car") appeared on the Promenade Line that ran for five miles along the seashore resort of Blackpool on the Irish Sea. Primarily for tourists, open cars like this one operated only during fair weather; double-decker closed cars operated in rainy weather. The cream-colored tower was necessary so that the trolley pole base was in the same location as it would be on the double-deck cars.

This steel open-platform observation car was built in 1916 for the Salt Lake and Utah Railroad. The line ran into Utah County from Salt Lake City to Provo and Payson. The railroad stopped supplying chairs for the platform, when the company realized that chairs would mysteriously fall off only while the train was passing through farms owned by rear platform passengers.

There was a story associated with obtaining paint for this car, but the end result was that the Museum received a donation of a special paint that cost $200 per gallon that was a perfect match for the original color.

We were kind of partial to this last car, built by the Cincinnati Car Company in 1930. This car represented the last efforts of the interurban industry to save itself from ruinous competition of private autos. Guess who won.

During our years in Iowa City, we could have used the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City (CRANDIC) Railroad, but it stopped service in 1953.

This car could operate safely at high speeds on poor track. Top speed was 80 mph. Originally, they were painted a deep red and known as "Red Devils."

As a publicity stunt, a similar car raced against an airplane while being filmed. The car won.

It was a very slow biplane.

[Note: Some of the wonderful Philadelphia trolleys have been spotted in New Orleans and San Francisco. Glad they're still around--somewhere.]

No comments: