A Trip to West Allis, 1956

Screen Shot 05-05-15 at 07.33 PM

The liner notes that come with record albums are often perfunctory, giving very little information about what you’re listening to. But in the case of Side One of Railroad Record Club LP #35, the liner notes offer a wonderful description of what you hear when playing the record.

This recording was made in 1956, during the twilight years of Milwaukee’s streetcar system, on busy Route 10 going to West Allis. While the classic era of Milwaukee streetcars and trolley buses is long over, the city seems poised to start a new one, with plans for a “starter” streetcar line coming to fruition. You can read more about that effort here.

We wish we knew more about the author, identified as William F. Nedden, who must have been there for the ride, along with the reel-to-reel tape recorder that captured the long-gone sounds of Milwaukee streetcars in action.

We offered a complete Railroad Record Club discography in one of our earlier posts. As far as we know, this is the first complete listing of the 40 or so RRC recordings on the World Wide Web.

While we have yet to learn much about William F. Nedden, the good news is that this, and several other RRC LPs, have been transferred to Compact Discs and digitally remastered. You can find them in our Online Store.

Our intention is to hunt down copies of all these out-of-print public domain recordings and make them available to railfans once again after many years, and at reasonable prices. All discs come with the original liner notes such as you find here.

We will be adding several new titles in the near future. If you have copies of RRC discs that we do not have, such as RRC #23 (Pennsy Trolleys), drop us a line. We will transfer the audio to CD using the latest technology and return your original disc to you in good shape, along with a CD for your troubles.

The proceeds from the sale of these discs will be used to help offset the expense involved in running this web site, including our original research. In just over three months, we have made several hundred rare images available to you in high quality form. In our first 100 days, we received over 25,000 page views, so we must be doing something right. We can continue this work with your help and support. Donations are always welcome.

-David Sadowski

RAILROAD RECORD CLUB #35 LINER NOTES

MILWAUKEE AND SUBURBAN TRANSPORT

It is Sunday, April 29, 1956, a wet chilly and depressing day in Milwaukee. The once great Milwaukee electric interurban and streetcar system has withered away until only two streetcar lines and a few freight operations remain. Car 971, built by St. Louis in 1927, clanks up to the corner of 4th and Wells, holding down a run on the No. 10 Wells-West Allis line. By the time the recording equipment is set up, we are already at 31st and Wells, an area of stately old homes and towering trees arching over the street like a Gothic cathedral. The brakes are kicked off with their characteristic “wish,” and the 971 rumbles along to 33rd and Wells for a regular service stop. Our motorman announces the next stop, 35th Street, where one can transfer to the Rt. 35 trolley bus line. After the traffic lights change, the 971 grinds along to 37th Street where only the briefest of arterial stops is made.

Leaving 37th Street, the 971 whizzes past the electric company substation and onto a private right-of-way. The old car bumps and rolls over the specialwork of a crossing and a siding and all of a sudden we find ourselves roaring across the Menomonee River Valley on a high spindly trestle. In rapid succession, we whiz past the Miller Brewery, and over some light industry, the Menomonee River, and the Milwaukee Road tracks while in the distance can be seen the Transport Company’s Cold Spring Shops with only a few pieces of work equipment visible. After what seems like an eternity of being suspended in space, the 971 slides off the trestle and back onto solid ground again on the west side of the valley.

There are approximately six more blocks of street running left before the private right-of-way of the West Allis branch is reached at 52nd and Wells. As we once again experience the rumbling echo of the 971 off of the pavement, one service stop is made between the trestle and 32nd Street. With a certain degree of eagerness, our motorman glides up to the specialwork at 52nd and skillfully moves the car through a sharp curve to the left. Now on a private right-of-way that seems to literally run through people’s back yards, the 971 makes service stops at Wisconsin Avenue and Blue Mound Road. Leaving Blue Mound, our motorman raps the controller up to a full 8 points, and we sail along the eastern edge of Calvary Cemetery, gradually dropping downhill until the cemetery stop is made at the bottom of the hill.

As the brakes are kicked off, the 971 squeals around a sharp curve to the right and begins a stiff uphill climb to the Hawley Road station where a service stop is made. This part of the West Allis branch was always the cause of a broken heart after June 30, 1951, for on that date, interurban service into the downtown area on the Milwaukee Electric’s Rapid Transit was abandoned.

From 52nd to 68th Streets, the Rapid Transit line and the West Allis branch shared a magnificent 4 track right-of-way that featured catenary overhead, huge transmission towers straddling the tracks, and complete freedom from grade crossings. Another service stop is made at 62nd Street, and as we roar over the numerous bridges leading us to 68th Street, we can’t help but wish the interurban was still in business. As we near 68th, our tracks drop down to the street level, cross 68th, and come to a stop between the unused bridge abutments of the abandoned Rapid Transit line, which continues to the west.

We leave the 68th Street stop, and after a few blocks of devious twists and turns, we find ourselves heading due south toward our ultimate destination, 70th and Greenfield in “downtown” West Allis. Our tracks are running along the east side of South 70th Street, and as we roar over the Milwaukee Road tracks on a short bridge, the huge sprawling Allis-Chalmers plant looms up on the left. Sandwiched between the plant and the street, the 971 rockets along, seemingly oblivious to the consequences of its high (35 MPH) speed and makes one service stop before reaching the end of the line and comes to a rather anticlimactic stop. The lone passenger disembarks, the compressor furiously comes to life again, and our trip is over.

Early in the morning on Sunday, March 2, 1958, sister cars 995 and 975 made the last run of all time over the West Allis branch and the era of street car in Milwaukee vanished forever.

William F. Nedden, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

To read about preserved Milwaukee transit equipment, go here. Milwaukee streetcar 972, a sister to the 971 featured on the Railroad Record Club recording, is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum, while car 846 is in operable condition on the East Troy Electric Railroad.

5 thoughts on “A Trip to West Allis, 1956

  1. According to Russ Schultz, Bill Nedden was born in 1943 and died in 2005. When he went on this trip, he must have been all of 13 years old. Here’s what Russ has to say:

    I met Milwaukee’s William F. Nedden 50 years ago, June 20, 1965, on Milwaukee’s last trackless trolley run. I knew him well to the extent of writing his obituary and arranging his memorial gathering. It is very likely he wrote the notes for the Hawkins Record Club streetcar recording. Milwaukee streetcars were his first love.

    There is a picture of Bill in CERA Bulletin 112.

    Like

  2. I knew Bill well…he was a longtime fixture of the Milwaukee traction community. I, too, doubt that he had been on the trip when this was recorded…though Bill knew the route and Milwaukee history so well that writing something like this would have been no problem for him.

    He wrote two small softcover books when he was attending Purdue…”Indiana Revisited”, about some personal recollections of the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley interurban and the Lafayette, IN streetcar system, and “Small Hoosier Lines”. Both are fun reads and excellent examples of Bill’s writing style, which can also be found at points in CERA’s “TM” book.

    Like

  3. Our motorman announces the next stop, 35th Street, where one can transfer to the Rt. 25 trolley bus line.

    The Rt. 35 trackless trolley line operated on north and south 35th street.

    Like

  4. I’ll never forget Bill Nedden.I went to his funeral. It was at McD’s.His sister played a recording of Bill singing, “My Way”.Good buddy.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s