The “Other” Penn Central

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at the end of line (in) South Fork. Note motorman raising trolley to wire from window. These were center door cars. 1918."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at the end of line (in) South Fork. Note motorman raising trolley to wire from window. These were center door cars. 1918.”

Railfans are probably familiar with the ill-fated Penn Central railroad, described by the Wikipedia as follows:

The Penn Central Transportation Company, commonly abbreviated to Penn Central, was an American Class I railroad headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that operated from 1968 until 1976. It was created by the 1968 merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad was added to the merger in 1969; by 1970, the company had filed for what was, at that time, the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

However, you might not be aware there was another ill-fated Penn Central, a short trolley line that briefly operated about 50 years before the more famous one. I certainly knew nothing about it until recently, when a few mysterious snapshots from 1918 surfaced:

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 leaving South Fork, 1918. After several runaways, (the) borough put (a) bumping block across tracks where car is pictured."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 leaving South Fork, 1918. After several runaways, (the) borough put (a) bumping block across tracks where car is pictured.”

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR cut between Summerhill and Wilmore, 1918. Motorman on front. Line never ran long enough for crews to have uniforms. This also was a 1200 volt line getting power from Southern Cambria."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR cut between Summerhill and Wilmore, 1918. Motorman on front. Line never ran long enough for crews to have uniforms. This also was a 1200 volt line getting power from Southern Cambria.”

Photo caption: "Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR Cut, 1918. Motorman and Conductor on front."

Photo caption: “Penn Central Railway #2 at Old Portage RR Cut, 1918. Motorman and Conductor on front.”

I decided to do a bit of research. Turns out it’s an interesting story.

The web site of CamTran, a Pennsylvania bus operator, gives the following information:

Southern Cambria Railway Co. 1908-1928

The “fabulous Southern Cambria, dread of the timid traveler,” is a story of a transit line that tried to conquer the tortuous terrain of the Alleghanies. Extending from Johnstown to Nanty Glo, South Fork, and Ebensburg, the line was plagued by numerous accidents, the most tragic of which was the head-on crash of two trolleys on August 12, 1916. Twenty-seven lives were lost and 80 injured. The Southern Cambria continued operating until December 17, 1928.

South Fork-Portage Railway Co. 1912-1928

The South Fork-Portage Company was originally chartered as the Johnstown & Altoona Railway Co. with the intention of connecting the two cities by rail. But money problems narrowed the vision to a three mile trolley line between South Fork and Summerhill. In 1918, the company failed and reorganized as the Penn Central Railway Co. with the goal of extending the line to Portage. Numerous derailments resulted in the termination of the company in 1928.

Even these few facts may be subject to correction. According to Department Reports of Pennsylvania, Volume 3, Part 4, the date of reorganization was 1917, not 1918:

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.28 AM.PNG

The captions on the 1918 snapshots make me wonder if the 1928 termination date is accurate. They indicate that the line did not run long enough for the crews to get uniforms. They also allude to the short operation being accident prone, with several runaway trains leading the local government to place a barrier across the tracks. Since there the entire fleet seems to have been two cars built in 1913 by Niles, it wouldn’t have taken much to finish it off.

There seems to have been a cozy relationship between the Penn Central and the Southern Cambria. There may have been perfectly good reasons for forming a separate entity in this case, but perhaps the Penn Central operated only briefly in 1918 and existed on paper until the demise of the Southern Cambria ten years later.

It should be remembered that interurbans were the hi-tech enterprises of their time, chronically underfunded and overextended, with a very short peak coming around the time of the first World War– just the time we are dealing with here. From all accounts, the first Penn Central was a marginal operation at best, with a quick demise.

George W. Hilton and John Fitzgerald Due, in their classic The Electric Interurban Railways in America (1960), speculated that if highways had been developed a few years earlier, there might not have been an “Interurban Era” at all.

However, I for one think America is better off today for having had such marvelous electric interurban railways as the North Shore Line, South Shore Line, Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, Pacific Electric, and Lehigh Valley Transit, among others too numerous to mention. These were giants in their field, and long stood the test of time. With a bit more help, we could have saved a great deal more of this heritage than was actually done. Still, we are undergoing a true “trolley renaissance” today, and if transported into the past, some of today’s light rail surely has much in common with the earlier interurbans.

In that sense, the word “interurban” itself has a sociological meaning that ties it to an earlier era, mainly the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, most people who ride the South Shore Line (the last classic passenger interurban) probably think of it as commuter rail.

Perhaps the second Penn Central would have been better off choosing a different name. It seems that 50 years before the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad, this name was already jinxed.


Electric Traction magazine reported on page 513 of their August 1918 issue:

NEW ELECTRIC LINE OPENED

The formal opening of the new line of the Penn Central Railway Company, of South Fork, Pa., from South Fork to a point beyond Summerhill, took place recently when a car traversed the line bearing officials of the company, and others who had been invited to attend the event. Without the slightest hitch the car moved over the line from South Fork to the eastern terminus, where a stop of an hour was made before the return.

The roadbed over the entire 3 1/2 miles was found to be in splendid condition and the car negotiated the distance with all the ease and comfort of a Pullman coach. Secretary and Manager O. P. Thomas was congratulated over the achievement of the company in pushing its line through as far as it has gone, and the brilliant prospects for completing the line to Portage at no very distant date.

The car is of the heavy side entrance type and ideal for suburban traffic. Practically the only heavy grade on the line is encountered immediately after leaving the South Fork terminal. From the end of the eastern terminal on to Portage the trolley company will use the old roadbed of the Pennsylvania Railroad the greater part of the distance. Grading for the balance of the lines is 90% completed and the only factors that may handicap its early completion are lack of rails and labor.

The new line will draw on a rather thickly populated territory, including South Fork, Ehrenfeld, Summerhill, Wilmore, Portage, Beaverdale, St. Michael and other places. The original charter has been extended to Gallitzin, still further paralleling the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The latter has aided the trolley company in the development of it project in every way.

One car is now running regularly on the completed line; the fare is 10 cents.

Officers of the Penn Central Railway Company are: Robert Pearce, of Portage, president; Henry J. Raab, of Johnstown, vice-president; Andrew Strayer, of Johnstown, treasurer; and O. P. Thomas, of Johnstown, secretary and manager.


Forgive me if the above seems imbued with a sense of rosy, unwarranted optimism, trying to mask a sense of imminent dread and desperation. Ten cents seems to be a lot to charge for a 3 1/2 mile ride in 1918. There were many operators of the time charging a fraction of that for much longer journeys.

Why did it take five years to build a 3 1/2 mile line? Perhaps we will never know, but for part of that time, there was a war going on.

The first Penn Central turned out to be a trolley so obscure that there is nothing to be found about it on Don Ross‘ excellent and voluminous web site.

As for the rolling stock, the Electric Railway Journal reported as follows on page 768 of their April 26, 1913 issue:

NEW CENTER-ENTRANCE COMBINATION CARS

Two cars designed by W. A. Haller, of the Federal Light & Traction Company, have just been built by the Niles Car & Manufacturing Company for the South Fork-Portage Railway. This road is now under construction between South Fork and Portage by the Portage Construction Comapny, of which G. U. G. Holman is president. An extension of the line will be made as rapidly as possible so as to operate through cars crossing the mountain range between Johnstown and Altoona. Between South Fork and Johnstown the cars will run over the tracks of the Southern Cambria Railway Company.

Owing to the almost continuous climb from both Johnstown and Altoona to the summit, it was considered necessary to have cars as light as possible yet with great seating capacity to accommodate the mining population in the small coal towns though which the road runs. In fact, for a considerable portion of the distance, these mining towns are at close intervals, and the traffic at present will be primarily local. Larger cars of the same type are contemplated for through service when the road is extended. while the extreme length of the present car is only 45 ft. 7 in. and 44 ft. 7 in. over vestibules, the seating capacity is fifty-six persons. There is also a baggage compartment 8 ft. long which also can be occupied by passengers.

One of the novel features is the folding motorman’s cab, which isolates the motorman at the front end and which, when at the rear end, swings transversely with the car and supports two folding seats, increasing the seating capacity by four persons. The left sides of the center vestibule and of the baggage room also are fitted with folding slat seats as it is intended to open only the right-hand side.

Each side of the center vestibule is fitted with four pairs of two-panel folding doors glazed with clear glass from top to bottom, so that the conductor can observe the pavement from his station. These doors are operated by handles from the conductor’s station only. The step openings are covered by Edwards automatic steel trap doors.

The entire underframe, side frame and outside sheathing are of steel– the interior finish being of agasote and mahogany. Each car is equipped with four Westinghouse 1200-volt, 75-hp motors with HL double-end control and geared for a speed of 45 m.p.h.

On account of local clearances, the car is mounted with the bottoms of side sills 7 in. above the rails, the first step being 15 in. high. This may, however, be lowered to 11 in. if obstructions permit.

There were two South Fork-Portage cars, built by the Nile Car & Manufacturing company in 1913.

There were two South Fork-Portage cars, built by the Nile Car & Manufacturing company in 1913.

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 03.44 AM 001.PNG

South Fork-Portage Railway stock, issued in 1912.

South Fork-Portage Railway stock, issued in 1912.

This summary, from a World War I-era McGraw Transit Directory, shows that the principals of the South Fork-Portage Railway were the same as those of the Penn Central, which is was reorganized into in 1917:

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.13 AM.PNG

Screen Shot 05-29-16 at 05.13 AM 001.PNG


Correspondence

Daria Phoebe Brashear
writes:

I have some clippings for you regarding the line.

Also of note, the line had no passing siding, so apparently (I recall, probably from a Ben Rohrbeck book) that one of the 2 cars was sold off at some point, having otherwise been stuck at the end of the line.

That 1915 “subway” trackage dispute probably killed the line, given they would then have had no good way to pass the PRR line’s embankment what with the old Portage Railroad right of way consumed by what became route 53.

Altoona Mirror, 24 May 13:
SOUTH FORK PORTAGE RY. ON PENNSY TRACK

Valuable concessions. which will hasten the completion of the trolley line from this city to Johnstown, have been granted to the South Fork • Portage Railway Company by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The concessions have been secured by Mr. George Holeman, who is promoting the new railway. The line between South Fork and Portage is nearing completion, and cars will be operated there before many days, be(sic) those two points. Following is a summary of the agreement which has been secured from the Pennsy by Mr. Holman : “The exclusive use of the Old Portage and New Portage roadbeds between SummerhiII and Gallitzin. The use of the Pennsylvania’s own right of way and property at six places—through Cassandra borough ; a piece of land, east of Cassandra upon the main line right of way at the deep cut. between Cassandra and Lilly; a plot of land in Cresson borough, and a plot of ground between Cresson and Gallitzin.” The right is also granted to cross the P. R. R. main line at eight under-grade and five overhead crossings. together with the right to cross branch tracks at grade. Mr. Holman is to be congratulated upon the successful negotiation of this valuable right to the trolley company. He expects to be able to announce the date of the opening of the line within the next few weeks.

Altoona Times, 27 May 13:
BURY CORPSE ON RIGHT OF WAY OF S. F.-P. RAILWAY

Effort Is Made To Prevent Trolley Line From Crossing Cemetery

SOUTH FORK, May 26.—In an effort to check work of the South Fork•Portage Railway company upon the property of St. James Cemetery Association for the reason, it is understood, that the right-of-way has not been paid for, interested persons are alleged to have disinterred a body from the burial ground near Summerhill last evening and buried it again just in front of the steam shovel used in constructing the trolley line. This was not accomplished however, until two foreigners, laborers for the trolley company, had been arrested for trespass.

About 9 o’clock last evening people who are protesting against the progress of the traction line over cemetery property before legal matters are adjusted went to the right-of-way and dug a grave in front of the steam shovel. They then went to that section of the burial ground known as the “potters’ field,” it is said, and disinterred the body of an unknown man, killed on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks several months ago. Before they removed the body to the prepared grave, officials of the traction company learned of the move, and sent two foreigners to the shovel to till the grave. This was done, large stones being dropped into the hole. Undaunted, however, the other party dug a new grave close to the shovel and placed the body in it, it is said.

The two foreigners were then arrested on charges of trespass. The body was placed close to the winding roadway that leads from the township highway up through the cemetery.

Attorney Arthur C. Simler, an official of the South Fork – Portage line, said today that permission to construct the line hail been given by Bishop Eugene A. Garvey, pending the granting of a petition by the court.

“The title to all church property in the diocese is vested in the Bishop,” said Mr. Simler. He was willing that we build the line through the St.James cemetery, as the tracks are beside the township road, on a strip separated from the cemetery proper by a fence. “We have the option on the property, but can’t close up the right-of-way til we get an order from the Court for the transfer. Our petition for that must be presented during a session of a court, and it it will be presented the first Monday in June. Pending the granting of the order Bishop Garvey indicated his willingness that we proceed with the grading.”

The body will not be moved, at least not for a short time, said Mr. Simler. The steam shovel will be moved to the other end of the cemetery strip, from where work will be done toward the grave. Squire Schofield has not given the two foreigners a hearing, as an attempt is being made to settle the case.

Thomas McGuire. who made the informations against the foreigners, could not be reached today, and an effort to communicate with Father Quinn, pastor of St James Church this afternoon elicited the information that he was at the cemetery.

The body that was placed in the right-of-way was never identified, it is said. The man was thought to have been from Sharon. He was killed near South Fork by a freight train.

Harrisburg Telegraph, 17 Aug 15:
Cunningham Insists on Public Utilities Co. Complying With Law

Highway Commissioner Cunningham and Chief Engineer Uhler served notice to-day by a ruling that public utilities corporations must conform with the law when dealing with the State Highway Department. The South Fork – Portage Railway Company, in Cambria county, has been endeavoring for some time past to secure right of way along a State highway route. Permission to pass beneath a subway, now occupied by the State highway, had been denied, but, through a misunderstanding, the railway company proceeded to lay tracks without a permit along this road.

Chief Engineer Uhler ordered the tracks removed and, on the failure of the company to do so, the State highway employees tore them up. Notwithstanding this, the railway company relaid the tracks and then secured a preliminary injunction in the Cambria county courts preventing the State Highway Department from removing the tracks. Officers said the work had been done without orders. Commissioner Cunningham observed that the officers of the company were responsible for the acts of subordinates.

The representatives of the company were told that unless the tracks were voluntarily removed and the preliminary injunction not acted upon, the department would be perfectly willing to take the subject into the courts for a ruling. After some argument the railway officials acceded to this demand and the tracks in dispute will be removed.

Also, The Johnstown and Altoona Railway was apparently a competitor. See page 32:
https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/MainSite/Content/TheOffice/OfficialAttorneyGeneralOpinions/1911_1912_AG_Bell_opinions.pdf

We are grateful to Daria Phoebe Brashear for sharing this information.

Editor’s Note: Benson W. Rohrbeck (1933-2015), mentioned above, authored about a dozen books on various Pennsylvania trolley lines, starting in 1964. These were self-published (by Ben Rohrbeck Traction Publications) and spiral-bound. They are an excellent resource.

Again, from Daria Phoebe Brashear:

Stephen Titchenal (Stephen@Titchenal.com)’s guess at the line (heavy yellow line). Mostly matches what I had but I’m unsure what the situation was with the first two underpasses east of Summerhill, why those were okay but the third wasn’t. My guess was that it followed the route of what’s now route 53 (thin yellow line) but the aerials from 1939 don’t obviously show such. Also a small fragment of a 1918 PRR valuation map which I don’t have publication permission for, which confirms the line ran (there) on the north side of the portage railroad, and made it to what would be the 3rd subway east of Summerhill, which is presumably the one the court case was about, which makes sense given that was the “deep” Portage Railroad cut, square in the middle of that fragment.

Given this, it seems pretty likely that that case, making the line unable to use that subway, was what did it in so early (and why it never made it to Portage.)

Of course, looking carefully, the fragment shows the trolley in the 2nd of 3 tunnels at the left. So. Yeah. I guess his map is right!

Last little bits: Since you still wonder about it on the page, I can identify the locations of all 4 pictures.

The two in the portage cut are one end of the line. The other two are in the same spot on Maple Avenue, at the other end of the line, what appears to be at Grant St.

Of note:
http://data.cei.psu.edu/pennpilot/era1970/cambria_1967/cambria_1967_photos_jpg_800/cambria_090367_apy_9hh_184.jpg

We’re looking up the hill, northeastward out of South Fork. The Line would have logically started where the Southern Cambria connected, which was via the bridge over the PRR, now gone, but shown in this aerial, and still standing when I was in high school, complete with what were probably the bents that held the trolley wire spanning the bridge still standing 60+ years after the Southern Cambria ceased service. On the right side of the street there’s a tailor, and another building behind it, further from us, right out against the street, but on the corner we can see in one of the pictures that the building is set a bit back. It matches Maple and Grant on this image which is 50 years later… but it’s not like there was a lot of reason for South Fork to turn over heavily.

Also, if you look at the image which shows the top of the hill, note that the track appears to move from the center, toward the left, but at the same time the street is narrower and on a shelf? The grade separation is visible in the aerial.

I’ll attach Sanborn 1916s for South Fork which came from sanborn.umi.com and thus can’t be distributed today; alas the Penn State library’s scans of originals only include 1910, and Library of Congress’s aren’t online, or those would be publishable.

The other end was taken looking basically east, from a point slightly west of this:
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Summerhill,+PA/@40.376462,-78.7443303,241m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89cb0a5b6dd618af:0xd4cc84b70057a7e4!8m2!3d40.3781296!4d-78.7605764

The trolley line ran on the north of the Portage Railroad (which is now Portage St, route 53) through the cut which is mostly still there just to the west of this point. The railroad cars were on the track to the right — that is, south — of the line outbound from South Fork, and basically just behind the car from our vantage was the other car that never ran, and then the line would have turned slightly left, northeastward, to go through the subway that Cunningham and Uhler scolded them over.

I get it, I suppose. All 3 such subways look like this.

And the problem wasn’t even just that: staying along route 53 would have involved 3 such tunnels between here and Wilmore, and staying on the south side of the PRR here would have bypassed only two of those, leaving the line to need to still somehow get under the PRR and into the middle of Wilmore. Doable, but not cheap. Or they could have bypassed all 3, missed the center of Wilmore and showed up on the south side of the PRR in Portage, but presumably they hadn’t secured usage of any right of way to have let them do that, and they apparently had already used up all their funds getting done only what they did. So that story from 1915 was, realistically, the death of the line, in spite of the opening 2 years later. All I can guess is they hoped to make a good show of opening in the hopes they’d get more funds somehow, but the era of that was over.

Looks like you have solved the mystery for sure… kudos to you, thanks!

More Mystery Photos

If you can help us identify some of these pictures, we would greatly appreciate it. You can either leave a comment on this post, or drop us a line at:

thetrolleydodger@gmail.com

-David Sadowski

Editor’s Note: Our readers (see the Comments to this post) have helped us reach a general consensus about most of these pictures.

1. The picture of Met “L” cars was taken at the Laramie shops on the Garfield Park line.

2. The Douglas picture may show the Kenton Yard.

3. We have a difference of opinion about the gate cars in the yard, but this could very well be Linden Yard in Wilmette looking north from Maple Avenue. The contemporary view lines up well with the older photo, and this is a place where you would have expected to see gate cars. They were, of course, used throughout the CTA system but in the 1940s and 50s you would have been more likely to see Met cars in the Laramie Yard.

4. and 5. Theses two pictures likely show the Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago operation which ran until 1940. You can read more about that here. This had common ownership with the South Chicago City Railway Company, which explains why these cars look so much like Chicago’s.

6. We are now certain that the picture of car 242 shows the Chicago and Joliet Electric.

Thanks to all who contributed information.

These are Chicago Metropolitan "L" cars, but where was this picture taken? There seems to be dirt beneath the tracks, indicating we are at ground level.

These are Chicago Metropolitan “L” cars, but where was this picture taken? There seems to be dirt beneath the tracks, indicating we are at ground level.

That this is a CTA wooden "L" car (#2338) signed for the Douglas Park line is clear, but not the location. Where could this picture have been taken?

That this is a CTA wooden “L” car (#2338) signed for the Douglas Park line is clear, but not the location. Where could this picture have been taken?

CRT/CTA gate cars-- but where was this picture taken?

CRT/CTA gate cars– but where was this picture taken?

CTA's Linden Yard as it looks today, looking north from Maple. The track layout looks much the same as in the mystery picture, with three cars side-by-side. It would make sense to see gate cars there in the 1940s and 50s when the older picture was taken.

CTA’s Linden Yard as it looks today, looking north from Maple. The track layout looks much the same as in the mystery picture, with three cars side-by-side. It would make sense to see gate cars there in the 1940s and 50s when the older picture was taken.

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

Is this a Chicago streetcar, and if so, where was this picture taken? (Sorry for the lo-res image.)

This is car number 242 of a 1920s side of the road interurban, but which one? Could it possibly be the Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway, which connected the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago, Ottawa & Peoria? They did have a car 242, but I'm not sure this is the same car. Don's Rail Photos says, "242 was built by Cummings Car & Coach Co. in 1927." They have another picture of C&JE car 242 here for comparison. If this is that car, it would narrow down the time when this picture could have been taken to between 1927 and 1933. (We previously ran a picture of car 242 in a previous post.)

This is car number 242 of a 1920s side of the road interurban, but which one? Could it possibly be the Chicago and Joliet Electric Railway, which connected the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago, Ottawa & Peoria? They did have a car 242, but I’m not sure this is the same car. Don’s Rail Photos says, “242 was built by Cummings Car & Coach Co. in 1927.” They have another picture of C&JE car 242 here for comparison. If this is that car, it would narrow down the time when this picture could have been taken to between 1927 and 1933. (We also ran a picture of car 242 in a previous post.)

A close-up of the logo on the side of car 242.

A close-up of the logo on the side of car 242.


To round out today’s post, here are a few more interesting shots. No mysteries, however:

This circa 1952 photo gives a "bird's eye view" from one of Montreal's four open-air sightseeing trams. Car #2 is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum, in operable condition. I was fortunate enough to ride that car in 2014. You can see pictures I took of it here.

This circa 1952 photo gives a “bird’s eye view” from one of Montreal’s four open-air sightseeing trams. Car #2 is now at the Seashore Trolley Museum, in operable condition. I was fortunate enough to ride that car in 2014. You can see pictures I took of it here.

montreal1

Montreal Tramways had four of these unique observation cars in their fleet, which were used for sightseeing tours. Here, car #3 is at St. Joseph's Shrine on August 14, 1948. All four cars have been preserved, and car 3 is now at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum. A few years ago, I rode the very similar car #2 at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

Montreal Tramways had four of these unique observation cars in their fleet, which were used for sightseeing tours. Here, car #3 is at St. Joseph’s Shrine on August 14, 1948. All four cars have been preserved, and car 3 is now at Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum. A few years ago, I rode the very similar car #2 at the Seashore Trolley Museum.

On the back of this photo, which shows Chicago Surface Lines 4003 at the Madison-Austin loop, it was misidentified as Brooklyn. See? You can't always trust what is written on the back of the photograph. As the man said, "trust, but verify."

On the back of this photo, which shows Chicago Surface Lines 4003 at the Madison-Austin loop, it was misidentified as Brooklyn. See? You can’t always trust what is written on the back of the photograph. As the man said, “trust, but verify.”

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Traction in Milwaukee

Milwaukee Electric 1121 crosses the Chicago and North Western on a 1949 fantrip over the North Shore Line. It even has a Skokie Valley Route sign on it.

Milwaukee Electric 1121 crosses the Chicago and North Western on a 1949 fantrip over the North Shore Line. It even has a Skokie Valley Route sign on it.

Our last post featured the Kenosha streetcar, which has been running now for 15 years. Milwaukee is planning a streetcar line of its own, and may begin construction next spring.

Today, we pay tribute to this rich traction history with a selection of classic photos showing Milwaukee streetcars and interurbans. Much of the information we are sharing about these railcars comes from Don’s Rail Photos, an excellent online archive. Don Ross has been collecting photos since 1946 and if you have not yet checked out his web site, I hope you will do so.

Milwaukee once had an interurban system, part of which was called a “rapid transit” line. The last vestige of this once-great system was called Speedrail.

Speedrail was a valiant effort to keep service going on a shoestring, in an era before government funding for transit. Unfortunately, there was a horrific accident on September 2, 1950 that led directly to the end of the interurban on June 30, 1951. That this crash was involved a train full of railfans, many of whom had come to Milwaukee from out of town to attend a convention, made things even more tragic. Jay Maeder, head of Speedrail, was at the controls of one of the two trains, which hit head-on on a blind curve. The exact cause of the accident was never determined. You can read more about it here.

Milwaukee’s last streetcar ran in 1958. If you would like to hear the sounds of Milwaukee streetcars in action, you may be interested in our compact disc of Railroad Record Club LPs #35 and 36, which you can find in our Online Store.

This Hi-Fi recording, made in the 1950s, has been digitally remastered and sounds great. It is paired with additional vintage recordings of the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee, Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, plus the Chicago Transit Authority’s Garfield Park “L”.

When the Illinois Electric Railway Museum, then located in North Chicago, purchased a Chicago, Aurora & Elgin railcar after the “Roarin’ Elgin” was abandoned, the suggestion was made to use a CA&E car on a North Shore Line fantrip. And although an inspection showed that the CA&E car was, most likely, in better shape than some of the CNS&M’s existing rolling stock, IERM was unable to get permission to use the car, and this historic opportunity was lost.

However, about a dozen years before this, a similar sort of trip was run, when Milwaukee Electric interurban car 1121 ran on a fantrip over North Shore Line trackage. We are pleased to offer three photos from that trip in this post.

According to the book Kenosha on the Go, by the Kenosha Streetcar Society, page 79, this fantrip took place on Sunday, December 4, 1949, with North Shore motorman Howard A. Odinius at the controls. It had been 27 months since the abandonment of the MRK (Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha) interurban line of KMCL (Kenosha Motor Coach Lines), which ran to downtown Kenosha. (Speedrail ran service to Waukesha.)

You can read Don Ross’ account of the fantrip here.

After Milwaukee lost its streetcars, the era of traction continued there until the North Shore Line quit in 1963, and the last Milwaukee trolley bus ran in 1965. Now, the Illinois Railway Museum has a variety of Milwaukee equipment in its extensive collections.

Let’s hope events in Milwaukee are gaining traction, and not losing it.

-Ye Olde Editor

PS- Here’s a video showing Milwaukee’s route 10 streetcar in 1957:

Milwaukee Electric car 1121 and an Electroliner near Racine on the 1949 North Shore Line fantrip. Don's Rail Photos adds, "1121 was built by Kuhlman Car in February 1909, #405. It was rebuilt in 1927. It was equipped with GE-207B motors to allow it to pull trailers. In 1949 it was found to have the best wheels, and thus it was selected for the fantrip on the North Shore Line to Green Bay Junction near Rondout. It was also used as a freight motor after the last regular freight motor was wrecked in 1950."

Milwaukee Electric car 1121 and an Electroliner near Racine on the 1949 North Shore Line fantrip. Don’s Rail Photos adds, “1121 was built by Kuhlman Car in February 1909, #405. It was rebuilt in 1927. It was equipped with GE-207B motors to allow it to pull trailers. In 1949 it was found to have the best wheels, and thus it was selected for the fantrip on the North Shore Line to Green Bay Junction near Rondout. It was also used as a freight motor after the last regular freight motor was wrecked in 1950.”

Milwaukee Electric car 1121 alongside an Electroliner (probably 803-804) at the Kenosha station. This was a 1949 fantrip where a TMER&T car was operated on part of the North Shore Line.

Milwaukee Electric car 1121 alongside an Electroliner (probably 803-804) at the Kenosha station. This was a 1949 fantrip where a TMER&T car was operated on part of the North Shore Line.

Don's Rail Photos says, "1182-1183 was rebuilt from an I&C (Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Co.) car in 1929 and scrapped in 1952." The car is shown at the North Side station in Milwaukee, signed for the Port Washington interurban line.

Don’s Rail Photos says, “1182-1183 was rebuilt from an I&C (Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Co.) car in 1929 and scrapped in 1952.” The car is shown at the North Side station in Milwaukee, signed for the Port Washington interurban line.

Don's Rail Photos says, "1196-1197 was built at Cold Spring in 1929. The second car was equipped with small dining facilities but it was shortly rebuilt with a baggage compartment at the rear end. It was stored at West Allis Station after a few years. In 1942 it was rebuilt with all coach and scrapped in 1952." This car is shown in downtown Milwaukee, signed for the Port Washington interurban line.

Don’s Rail Photos says, “1196-1197 was built at Cold Spring in 1929. The second car was equipped with small dining facilities but it was shortly rebuilt with a baggage compartment at the rear end. It was stored at West Allis Station after a few years. In 1942 it was rebuilt with all coach and scrapped in 1952.” This car is shown in downtown Milwaukee, signed for the Port Washington interurban line.

Milwaukee Electric Railway (The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Co.) car 1137, westbound on the Rapid Transit Line, 68th Street Bridge, July 22, 1949.

Milwaukee Electric Railway (The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Transport Co.) car 1137, westbound on the Rapid Transit Line, 68th Street Bridge, July 22, 1949.

Speedrail cars 300 and 65, both signed for Hales Corners. According to Don's Rail Photos, "300 was built by St Louis Car in 1924. #1308. In 1936 it was sold to Cleveland Interurban RR as 300. CI became Shaker Heights Rapid Transit in 1944. It was sold to Milwaukee Rapid Transit & Speedrail in May 1950 as 300. It was scrapped in 1952." Car 65 at right is a "curved side" car built by the Cincinnati Car Company. It also came by way of Shaker Heights.

Speedrail cars 300 and 65, both signed for Hales Corners. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “300 was built by St Louis Car in 1924. #1308. In 1936 it was sold to Cleveland Interurban RR as 300. CI became Shaker Heights Rapid Transit in 1944. It was sold to Milwaukee Rapid Transit & Speedrail in May 1950 as 300. It was scrapped in 1952.” Car 65 at right is a “curved side” car built by the Cincinnati Car Company. It also came by way of Shaker Heights.

Speedrail car 66, shown here on the Waukesha loop, was a Cincinnati "curved-side" car. It had formerly been used by both Lehigh Valley Transit and the Dayton and Troy. This car, after having been refurbished for Speedrail, was only in service for a short period of time before the line quit in 1951.

Speedrail car 66, shown here on the Waukesha loop, was a Cincinnati “curved-side” car. It had formerly been used by both Lehigh Valley Transit and the Dayton and Troy. This car, after having been refurbished for Speedrail, was only in service for a short period of time before the line quit in 1951.

The tragic result of a head-on collision between two Speedrail cars on a blind curve on September 2, 1950. Heavyweight cars 1192-1193, at left, ran into lightweight articulated cars 39-40. Ten people were killed and dozens were injured.

The tragic result of a head-on collision between two Speedrail cars on a blind curve on September 2, 1950. Heavyweight cars 1192-1193, at left, ran into lightweight articulated cars 39-40. Ten people were killed and dozens were injured.

Here is a video about the Speedrail wreck:

Milwaukee city streetcar 570 on route 15. Don's Rail Photos adds, "570 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was one manned in 1931."

Milwaukee city streetcar 570 on route 15. Don’s Rail Photos adds, “570 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was one manned in 1931.”

The caption to this photo reads, "City car - Milwaukee. Last 2-man car pulling into station on last run in West Allis." Charles Kronenwetter adds, "Car 638 appears to be coming Northbound on 84th St approaching the National Ave intersection." Don's Rail Photos: "638 was built at Cold Springs in 1913. It was reconditioned as a two man car in 1928."

The caption to this photo reads, “City car – Milwaukee. Last 2-man car pulling into station on last run in West Allis.” Charles Kronenwetter adds, “Car 638 appears to be coming Northbound on 84th St approaching the National Ave intersection.” Don’s Rail Photos: “638 was built at Cold Springs in 1913. It was reconditioned as a two man car in 1928.”

Don's Rail Photos says, "589 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was rebuilt in 1927." This car is shown at the end of one of the Milwaukee city streetcar lines in West Allis. Charles Kronoenwetter says, "589 is coming off the short section of private right-of-way which ran between Mitchell St. and Becher St. onto Becher St."

Don’s Rail Photos says, “589 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was rebuilt in 1927.” This car is shown at the end of one of the Milwaukee city streetcar lines in West Allis. Charles Kronoenwetter says, “589 is coming off the short section of private right-of-way which ran between Mitchell St. and Becher St. onto Becher St.”

Milwaukee city car 556 on Becher St. in West Allis. Don's Rail Photos adds, "556 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was one manned in 1928."

Milwaukee city car 556 on Becher St. in West Allis. Don’s Rail Photos adds, “556 was built by St Louis Car Co in 1911. It was one manned in 1928.”

Railroad Record Club LP #35 features Hi-fi audio recordings of Milwaukee streetcars in the 1950s. We have digitized this and many other recordings, which you can find in our Online Store.

Railroad Record Club LP #35 features Hi-fi audio recordings of Milwaukee streetcars in the 1950s. We have digitized this and many other recordings, which you can find in our Online Store.

Updates

FYI, we’ve added another picture to a previous post, More Hoosier Traction:

Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago car 74.

Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago car 74.

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