Many years ago, old-time railfans would compile “dossiers” or scrapbooks about their favorite lines. Eventually, some of these dossiers were used to help write books about those same properties.
Over the last three years or so, I have been collecting information about the Fairmount Park trolley operation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today’s post is my “dossier” for your enjoyment. Hopefully, it will give you some of the flavor of what it must have been like to ride that long-gone scenic trolley.
There are today, of course, other scenic trolleys with open cars in service, but these are latter-day recreations such as in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Photos of the Fairmount Park trolley are scarce, so it took quite some time to find this many. Pictures in color are even scarcer, as few people were using color film as early as 1946.
There are some books about this line that do not have as many pictures as we have in this post. Most of the images you see here are taken from the original medium-format negatives.
Some of those dark spots that you see in the sky in some of the pictures are actually birds flying around in the park.
Even finding a decent map of the line was not easy. I purchased one of the “broadsides” used for the 1946 auction, and this fortunately had a nice map in it. Apparently the electric cars were used one last time to give prospective bidders a tour of the line, just days before the end of the half-century long franchise agreement.
Reports indicate that many people refused to get off the cars at the end of the line, having enjoyed it so much they went for multiple rides. This created problems on busy days.
Dr. Harold E. Cox, in his 1970 book The Fairmount Park Trolley: A Unique Philadelphia Experiment, told the fascinating story of this self-contained trolley operation that ran in a very large public park for nearly 50 years, from November 1896 until September 1946. He called it an experiment, because a park trolley line was quite unusual. There was one other example that ran in Europe, but for a much shorter period of time.
The Fairmount Park Transportation Company used the same rolling stock, originally built by Brill in 1896-97, for the entire life of the 8-mile long trolley. This was also quite unusual. Nothing seems to have been updated or replaced with anything newer.
J. G. Brill was an obvious choice for a builder as they were located in Philadelphia, and were at that time the industry leader.
By 1946, Fairmount Park was a virtual rolling museum of vintage equipment. The trolley operated year-round, on a reduced schedule during the winter of course. Open cars were used in the summer and closed cars in the winter.
The line mainly ran on the west side of the park, on a long one-way single track loop entirely on private right-of-way. There was a Junction station if you wanted to take a short cut and not have to ride all the way around the loop.
There were some double-tracked sections too, which you can see on the map below.
The east and west halves of the park were connected by a long bridge, built by the trolley company. It was renovated in the 1990s and is still in use today.
The FPTC built Woodside Amusement Park in 1897 and this provided another reason to use the park trolley. Woodside actually outlasted the trolley and closed in 1955.
Through the years, one of the closed cars was converted to a rather bizarre-looking line car. Various models have been made of this car. It sticks in your mind, just as it does the first time you see Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together from parts of various cadavers.
After World War II, the park trolley was badly in need to new equipment and new track, but it had operated at a loss for many years, and there were no funds available. The Philadelphia chapter of the National Railway Historical Society drafted a proposal to save the line, suggesting that if fares were increased, additional monies could be used for renovations. Unfortunately, this came to naught, and the trolley was allowed to abandon service as of September 1946, about two months before the end of its 50-year franchise.
The trolley assets were sold at auction in November 1946, an event advertised using a large “broadside” printed brochure. All the cars were scrapped, and the rails, ties, wire, and line poles removed.
Eventually, it became difficult to tell just where the trolley had run through the park. In recent years, efforts have been made to turn the old trolley right-of-way into a trail. You can read about the Trolley Trail Demonstration Project here.
Some remnants of the trolley persist- read about that here.
In spite of the winters in the northeast, there were a few streetcar lines that used open cars in warm weather for longer than practically anywhere else. Open cars were used in service to shuttle people to the Yale Bowl in Connecticut as late as 1948.
We are also featuring a few additional pictures from the Five Mile Beach Electric Railway, which ran open cars on the Jersey shore until 1945. We thank our resident New Jersey expert Kenneth Gear for helping research this obscure trolley line.
In addition, there is some interesting correspondence with Andre Kristopans and more great restored Chicago Aurora & Elgin pictures, courtesy of Jack Bejna.
PS- The word “broadside,” meaning a large advertisement such as this, took on an additional meaning during the folk song revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s. It brings to mind Broadside magazine, which began publishing in 1962 and continued through the 1970s.
Some of the images in today’s post were taken by the Reverend W. Lupher Hay (1905-1984), who lived in Canton, Ohio. According to author George W. Hilton, W. Lupher Hay purchased an interurban car from the Toledo, Port Clinton and Lakeside in 1934 for use as a summer home; he sold it in 1941.* Interestingly, his wife Fay (nee Siebert) (1910-2010), who survived him, passed away one day short of her 100th birthday.
*From The Toledo, Port Clinton and Lakeside Railway, Bulletin 42 of the Electric Railway Historical Society (1964), page 32.
Our next post will be our 200th, and we have been saving up some great Chicago images for that. Watch this space.
1946 Color Film by Gerhard Salomon:
Bill Volkmer Writes:
Might be of interest to you. I believe the Strawberry Mansion Bridge photos came in an estate collection I bought from Syd Walker who was a bus driver for Southern Penn. Bought them ca. 1960.
Thanks very much!
Five Mile Beach Electric Railway
Me, to Kenneth Gear:
I have collected a few photos of the Five Mile Beach Electric Railway in Wildwood, NJ. As a New Jersey-ite, I was wondering if you can tell me anything about it. There hardly seems to be any info about it online.
I get the impression that the trolleys ran until the mid-1940s. It seems the company is still in business, and runs tourist trolleys that are gas powered. They claim to be an “interurban” on their web site but offer no history.
Wow, “New Jersey-ite”! That’s probably the nicest thing we’ve been called in a long time!
As for the Five Mile Beach Electric Railway, I personally know very little but my “go to” reference book on NJ streetcar lines has 6 pages of information. The book is STREETCARS OF NEW JERSEY by Joseph F. Eid, Jr. & Barker Gummere.
I’ve scanned the pages and attached them. Hope this tells you all you want to know.
Hey, thanks very much!
So, what nicknames do people from NJ go by? Here, I guess we have Chicagoans, or Illinoisans.
We prefer “Jerseyian” or for us men, “Jersey Guys”.
OK, thanks… FYI, I organized your scans into a PDF.
So, the trolley quit in 1945 but the bus operation that succeeded it is still going. Apparently, the character of life on the Jersey Shore changed during World War II, as there were German U-Boats preying on shipping just off the coast. They used the lights from the boardwalks to outline ships they were hunting, so a nighttime blackout was instituted.
Incredibly, there are reports that sometimes sailors from the U-Boats would row ashore and buy food locally to take back to their submarines.
Unlike the Fairmount Park trolley, at least one car from Five Mile Beach was saved. Car 36 is now at the Connecticut Trolley Museum. Read more about it here.
Wildwood: The History of An American Resort
NJN Documentary Our Vanishing Past – Wildwood
Wildwoods by the Sea:
CA&E 1923 Pullman Cars
Here are more great Chicago Aurora & Elgin photo restorations, courtesy of Jack Bejna:
I recently received my copy of “Images of Rail: Chicago Trolleys”, just in time to take with on a flight from Florida to Los Angeles. I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it immensely!
Glad you like it. Thanks!
In 1923 CA&E ordered 20 new cars (400419) from Pullman. These cars were all steel and were state of the art when purchased. They were equipped with Tomlinson couplers and were not capable of training with any of the wood cars in the fleet. The new cars were put into limited service initially, but they eventually were used for all types of service.
Of these, the 409 at the Illinois Railway Museum is the lone survivor.
The Last of the Red-Hot Pullmans
Me, to Andre Kristopans:
After the last of the red streetcars were taken out of service in May 1954, I read that the CTA planned to keep “about 10 or so” cars for emergency use.
It seems like the figure was actually nine cars. Looks like six were burned in March 1956, an event that was covered in the CTA Transit News. There is some film footage too:
From photos taken at that time, I see that some of the cars burned were 362, 453 (or is it 153), and 542. The three saved cars, of course, are 144, 225, and 460.
Any idea what numbers the other three cars might have been?
Actually, there seem to have been eight. There are 8 cars listed as off the books on 2/23/56:
They were part of a large group of 55 cars retired on AFR 16455R, comprising all remaining red cars. Rest were scrapped in 1955.
Thanks very much… but that CTA video sure seems to show six cars being torched.
This is somewhat strange, isn’t it? LOOKS like it might be six cars, but the scrap lists (which are contemporary records!) show only 8 cars with a 2/23/56 disposal date. Also, why do 144, 225, 460 show a “scrap date”? In fact 144 didn’t go to IRM until 1959, 460 sat around until 1985!. Only other departure was 225, supposedly in 1956 (but see below!). Apparently these are “removed from the books” dates. Another strange observation: Why are these cars so badly banged up? Especially the one at the north end of the lineup. Looks like it was chewed up by something. Were they pushing them around with forklifts? Even a forklift wouldn’t do THAT much damage. Looks like it was hit by a train!
Another tidbit – 2/1/56 roster on the IRM-CTA website has these same 8 cars listed as authorized for retirement but still around. 3/1/55 roster at same shows 60 cars in storage – scrap lists for 52 all come up April-May 1955. So unless there were some shenanigans – such as the 225 at Seashore isn’t the real 225, but another car sent to Seashore renumbered 225 and stricken off the books in 1955 under it’s real number and the real 225 was actually burned 2/56??? I can’t come up with another explanation. Can you?
I’ve been to Seashore, and that car is largely in original condition, more so than 144. There’s nothing to indicate any changes in numbering.
I think 225 might have left Chicago in 1957.
144 may have belonged to IERM while still being used in fantrip service.
I posted this on the chicagobus.org forum. This is the only thing that makes sense. If there are indeed six being burned in the video, I can’t come up with a better explanation.
You guys want to hear an interesting conspiracy theory? Well, I have one for you. First, a bit of background: I have in my possession a CTA list, hand-written and added-on to over they years, of scrapping dates for all streetcars. This can be considered a “contemporary record”. I also have in my possession a listing of which streetcars were retired under which Authorization for Retirement. Finally, the IRM-CTA website has on it various CTA rosters, with the pertinent dates being for 3/1/54 and 2/1/56.
According to the 3/1/54 roster, there were still 60 red streetcars sitting in storage. The 2/1/56 roster lists 8 left (144,225,288,362,453,460,507,542). The scrap list gives dates for the other 52 as in April and May of 1955, so this all comes out correct.
Now it gets interesting. CTA Connections has a video showing the burning of what is said to be the last red streetcars at 77th in the winter of 1956. The scrap list shows a 2/23/56 date for all eight cars listed above. HOWEVER — there is a problem. The video shows what appears to be six cars being burned. There should only have been five! Note of the above eight cars listed, three supposedly still exist – 144, 225, and 460. So what gives???
144 went to IRM in 1959. 460 sat at CTA for decades at Lincoln, Lawndale, etc. until it was finally shipped to IRM in 1985. 225 is at Seashore, and has been there since 1956, according to their website. It appears the dates in the scrap lists are actually the date a car was removed from inventory, not necessarily the actual date burned, though that date was probably soon after. So what would the sixth car scrapped in March of 1956 have been?
Here is a thought: Is it possible CTA did a number swap in 1955, and another car was actually shipped off to Seashore, lettered as 225? At this point, 61 years later, it would probably not be possible to determine if this is true, except maybe by a VERY detailed examination of the car at Seashore. However, if this is what happened, then the real 225 was the sixth car burned in 1956. Of the six cars being burned, you can only make out numbers on a couple, and in fact at least one has its number painted out. Maybe this swap was made because the real 225 had a major problem, and somebody at South Shops took it upon themselves to “send a better car?” CTA list does not note anything about 144 or 460 except a date, so if a car shown as off the inventory in 1955 was in fact shipped out, there would not likely be any note attached to it either.
Any better explanations??
On the other hand, how about this scenario:
- The three saved cars 144, 225, and 460 have their original numbers.
2. Five other red cars were burned early in 1956.
3. One other car, not on the list of eight, was also burned at that time. This had been involved in a major wreck at some time previous, and therefore had an earlier retirement date, since there was no intention of fixing it.
This car sat around for some time until they got around to torching it with the others.
CTA was very good at scrapping what the paper said was scrapped. So definitely something marked 225 was burned that day in all likelihood, while whatever car went to Seashore while it might have been marked 225 on the car itself as it sat on the flatcar was written off as it’s “real” number, whatever it might have been. Or alternatively, the 225 burned wasn’t “really” 225 but something else in reality. No way to tell at this point, except that most likely the car at Seashore is most likely not really 225???
On the car at Seashore, I did not notice anything inside the car that would look as though the number got changed. Pretty sure I took some pictures of that too.
OK – this is what we know for sure: There are six cars burning. CTA 3/1/56 roster lists 8 cars. Scrap list corroborates these 8. 1954 roster lists 60. Scrap list corroborates that 52 scrapped 1955. So what conclusion can be drawn? A car that is listed as scrapped in 1955 at least on paper was renumbered 225 and burned 1956. Note we can make out 362, 542, 288, 507, 453 at various points, but not the sixth number. East lineup seems to be 362 (north), 453, unknown. West lineup is unknown, 288, 507?. 542 seems to be at the end of one of the rows. 542 is a smooth-side, the south car on the east row is not, but south car on west row is. Note south car on east row seems to have no visible numbers??? Only thing I can say is some number was retired in 1955 was actually 225 shipped out, while that number off the 1955 scrap list was actually burned in 1956. CTA was known to do number swapping to make reality match paperwork.
Got it, thanks.
225 was still on the property as of October 21, 1956. (It was used on a fantrip that date.)
Only thing I can say is somebody was fudging the paperwork. Were only 51 cars were burned in 1955 and the 52nd (number unknown) was actually burned in 1956? In that case somebody made a paperwork error, in multiple places, or was some other car previously written off as scrapped actually burned in 1956? This might be the case, if there is indeed a car with number painted out sitting in the fire line. Maybe another car was to go to Seashore and had been written off earlier, but then 225 was chosen instead and the original candidate burned? Like I said, it appears the dates are the day car was turned over to Materials Management for disposal, not the day something was actually burned. If somebody could come up with a specific date a specific car was burned, it might be possible to confirm this, but this is what it appears to be.
One car did seem to have the number painted out…
225 and 144 were both used for competing fantrips on February 10, 1957. Of the two, photos show 225’s number looking newer than 144. But of course that just may mean it had received a new paint job more recently than the other car. That does not necessarily indicate a renumbering of 225.
At least, that does confirm a 1957 date for 225 being moved to the Seashore Trolley Museum instead of 1956.
These car numbers only took on any significance when they were practically the only cars left. Before that, there were so many cars, one or two did not have particular importance. The May 16, 1954 “Farewell to the Red Cars” fantrip used 473 and 479, not 144 or 225.
Maybe the late Maury Klebolt was on to something when he “renumbered” the 144 into 225 for a December 1956 fantrip, eh?
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14 thoughts on “The Fairmount Park Trolley”
In the mid-1950s, after the abandonment of the Lake Street line, a red streetcar sat in the Hamlin Yard and could only be seen from the Lake L as it went by. I could never see a number but know it wasn’t a trailer. There were also stacks of wheels and axles around it. One day it was finally gone. Any ideas?
We posted a picture some time ago of a streetcar at Hamlin Yard. I will have to hunt down that picture, thanks.
At least 3 other Wildwood trolleys survive. Car 34 is at Branford, Conn., painted in its earlier Lynchburg, VA. colors. Car 24 is at Scranton, Pa., painted in its earlier New York, N.Y. colors. One body is in Wildwood.
How quiet those those cars must have rode with lots of swinging and swaying along their earthen right of ways compared to running on rails set in brick and concrete.
Let me compliment you on this post. I drove through Fairmount Park daily for 25 odd years coming and going to work and tried to search out remnants of the system. You mentioned Dr. Cox book and I would highly recommend it. Included with his book was an excellent, removable map of the system. There was no physical connection between the Park Trolley and PRT/PTC (now SEPTA) street car system due to a difference in track gauge. The Park Trolley was standard gauge while the city street cars were PA broad gauge (5′ 2 1/4″). I reference Dr. Cox book on page 21.
Note that on image 082, marked as negative CD-2364-D, was taken at the end of the line loop at Belmont and Parkside Aves. I believe the structure in the background was the home stadium of the Phila. Stars Negro League baseball team. The stadium is long gone but a historical marker and statue are located in a small park at the intersection.
Thanks for the information.
[…] Pullmans, and Andre Kristopan’s analysis of the end of the Red streetcars (see our post The Fairmount Park Trolley, November 7, […]
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[…] photos have been added to our previous post The Fairmount Park Trolley (November 7, 2017), which also featured several images from the Five Mile Beach Electric […]
[…] more pictures like the two above, check out our previous post The Fairmount Park Trolley (November 7, […]
I rode that trolley on the way to Woodside Park when I was a little girl. I believe we boarded at around 40th and Girard Ave.
We called it the Dinky and it was a very enchanted ride as much fun as the amusement park itself. I lived in Eastwick or as some called it Elmwood.
You boarded 4 blocks away from 40th St. & Girard Ave., at Belmont (44th St.) & Parkside Aves.
Thanks for the memory. You boarded 4 blocks away at Belmont (44th st.) & Parkside Aves.