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In the vanguard of the interurban era in 1893, the Sandusky, Milan &
Norwalk Electric Railway opened service on the Ohio shore of
Lake Erie. Rolling through pre-1900 Sandusky, the little white
combine was headed toward Thomas Edison's birthplace, Milan.
This company was later absorbed by the Lake Shore Electric Railway.
Stephen D. Maguire Collection.



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COD. 2

I . H . 8 .

Detroit United Railway's parlor car Genesee ran to Toledo in the 1920's. O. F. Lee Collection.




Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:

First printing, 1961. Second printing, 1961. Third printing, 1965. Fourth printing, 1968.

© 1961, by William D. Middleton. All rights reserved. This book may not
be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission from the pub-
lisher, except in the case of brief quotations used in reviews. Published by
Kalmbach Publishing Co., Milwaukee 3, Wisconsin. Printed in U.S.A.


To Dorothy,
who was courted with the occasional assistance of the
North Shore Line, and who has traveled a good many
interurban miles since then with remarkable forbearance.

1* OR the great assistance of many individuals in
the preparation of this volume the author extends
his most sincere appreciation. The magnificent selec-
tion of pictorial material within its covers would
have been impossible without the generosity of
dozens of photographers and collectors, whose con-
tributions are individually credited at the end of
each caption. Much of the historical material,
which would otherwise have been all but unobtain-
able, was drawn from the painstaking publications
of the numerous railroad enthusiast groups. Of par-
ticular help were those of the Electric Railroaders'
Association, the Electric Railway Historical Society,
the Central Electric Railfans' Association, Interur-
bans, and individual chapters of the National Rail-
way Historical Society. For their kind help in locat-
ing scarce material, suggestions and advice of every
description, and assistance in compiling the listings
contained in the appendix, special thanks are due
J. D. Alrich of the General Electric Company, John
Baxter, Morris Cafky, E. Harper Charlton, William
J. Clouser, H. T. Crittenden, O. R. Cummings,
Everett L. DeGolyer Jr., Frank P. Donovan Jr., Hall
E. Downey of General Railway Signal Company,
Donald Duke, Charles Goethe, William R. Gordon,
Ross B. Grenard Jr., Herbert H. Harwood Jr., LeRoy
O. King Sr., LeRoy O. King Jr., Randolph L. Kulp,
Edward S. Miller, Louis C. Mueller, Foster M. Palm-
er, Frank B. Putnam of the Security First National
Bank, Los Angeles, Robert J. Sandusky, Martin
Schmitt of the University of Oregon Library, Robert
A. Selle, Donald K. Slick, John Stern, Paul String-
ham, Stan F. Styles, Elmer G. Sulzer, Ira L. Swett,
Francis B. Tosh, James W. Walker Jr., Robert S.
Wilson, and Jeffrey K. Winslow. Particular thanks
go to Freeman H. Hubbard, editor of Railroad
Magazine, for making available valuable material
in the magazine's files, and to Stephen D. Maguire,
editor of Railroad Magazine's Electric Lines De-
partment, whose extensive personal collection was
made available to the author and who furnished
many excellent suggestions. Special thanks are also
due Bill Krueger and John Hogan of Campus
Camera Inc., Madison, Wis., for their careful proc-
essing of many of the photographs appearing in
this volume, and to Bert Misek for his equally skill-
ful handling of negatives from the George Krambles

The Coming of the Interurban
The Interurban Era
The Interurban Car
Roadside and Rural

The New England Trolley
Through Eastern Hills and Valleys
The Middle Atlantic States -
Trolley Sparks in Dixieland

The South Atlantic States
The Interurban's Midwest Empire

The North Central States
The McKinley Lines

Illinois Traction System
Insull's Interurbans

The Great Chicago Systems -
Way Down South

The South Central States
To Far and Lonely Places
The Mountain States
In the Far West

The Pacific States
Red Cars in the Southland

Pacific Electric Railway
Maple Leaf Traction

Canada's Interurbans
Traction in the Tropics
Wrecks and Other Mishaps
Trolley Freight -
Exit the Interurban
Interurban and Rural Railways in the

United States, Canada, and Mexico
Principal Interurban Carbuilders -
Principal Types of Rolling Stock,

Important Components, and Accessories
Electrification and Current Collection
Electric Railway Museums in the

United States and Canada


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IN the long history of transportation development
in North America the interurban era is little more
than a recent incident. In business terms the elec-
tric interurbans must be considered a notable failure,
and even in terms of public utility their span of
useful service was exceedingly brief. Few of them
operated much more than two decades before their
role of local passenger carrier and light freight haul-
er had largely been usurped by rubber-tired trans-
port. Yet there was a time when they seemed to hold
unlimited promise for the future, and a good num-
ber of persons considered the age of universal elec-
tric transportation to be just around the corner.

To many adult Americans, now as much slave
as they are master of their automobiles, the inter-
urban railways linger among pleasant memories of
an unhurried, less sophisticated time in the recent

past. My father still recalls the arrival of the first
"Crandic" interurbans in Iowa City during his un-
dergraduate years at the University of Iowa. My
mother, raised in Framingham, Mass., remembers
with pleasure frequent girlhood excursions to Bos-
ton on the fast cars of the Boston & Worcester "Trol-
ley Air Line" ( the closed cars made her queasy, but
the big open trolleys were wonderful ) . And when
Great-Aunt Viola joined the family in Maine for
the summer, she invariably arrived from Boston
aboard the Shore Line trolley. One of my own
earliest memories is of the big red interurbans of
the Clinton, Davenport & Muscatine, which raced
along the west bank of the Mississippi past my
uncle's home in Le Claire with what seemed, to a
small boy's eyes, blinding speed.

In attempting to record something of the color-

ful era of the interurbans I have been confronted
with the problem of deciding just what was an in-
terurban, for the intercity electric railway existed
in almost infinite gradations between what were lit-
tle more than long streetcar lines and systems that
were virtually identical to electrified steam trunk
lines. E. D. Durand, while he was Director of the
Census, defined an interurban as "a railway having
less than half its track within municipal limits."
Many electric railway enthusiasts have limited the
term interurban to systems meeting rigid standards
of high-speed, intercity operation over private
right of way, and some refuse to grant interurban
status unless the company transported mail and ex-
press on the cars. One railroad fan considered a
line an interurban only if the cars had railroad
roofs and lavatories. None of these definitions have

been adhered to slavishly here, and the occasional
appearance within this volume of electric rail-
ways meeting none of these criteria represents no
more than personal preference. It is hoped that
these lapses will be excused by those with more rigid

Wherever possible I have chosen illustrative ma-
terial that is previously unpublished or has been
but little seen, but where completeness of coverage
has occasionally required the use of illustrations
that have been widely published in other works on
the subject, they have been used without hesitation.

William D. Middleton

Gblciik, Turkey
August I960


The Coming of the Interurban

Splendid in its newness, this Union Traction Company in-
terurban sped through rural Indiana on a Fort Wayne
Limited schedule. General Railway Signal Company.



>*> *t



The Coming of the Interurban

A. HISSING SOUND from the copper wire draped
overhead, the urgent clatter of whirling steel wheels
on rail joints, and a wailing air horn that com-
manded respect and attention signaled its coming.
Shoving a massive arc headlight and a wooden cow-
catcher of imposing dimensions before it, the in-
terurban came racing across the countryside, faster,
it seemed, than anything else of man's invention.
Trackside vegetation bent aside suddenly at its
passing; there was the brief odor of ozone and hot
grease from the spinning traction motors; and pas-
sengers, reclining in plush-upholstered ease within,
looked down idly from the Gothic windows of their
varnished vehicle. And then it was gone, leaving
behind only a dust cloud and a gently swaying
trolley wire.

The interurban was an American transportation
phenomenon. Evolved from the urban streetcar, the
interurban appeared shortly before the dawn of the
20th century, grew to a vast network of over 18,000
miles in two decades of exuberant growth, and then
all but vanished after barely three decades of use-
fulness. But within its brief life span the interurban
bridged the gap between a horse and buggy nation
and a modern America that rides on rubber over
endless lanes of concrete and asphalt. It changed
the ways of rural life forever, and frequently set a
pattern for metropolitan growth that continues even

The practical electric railway was not the in-
vention of one man, or even of a few men. The
period of experimentation that ultimately led to
electric transportation began about 1830. In 1834
Thomas Davenport, a Brandon (Vt. ) blacksmith,
built over a hundred model electric railway motor
cars which operated by battery power. Eight years
later a man named Davidson constructed for the
Edinburgh-Glasgow Railway a 7-ton electric car
which attained a speed of 4 miles per hour with
power from an iron-zinc sulphuric acid battery. In
1851 Prof. Charles G. Page, with $30,000 appro-
priated by Congress, constructed a battery-powered
locomotive that reached speeds as high as 19 miles

per hour between Washington and nearby Bladens-
burg, Md. The contraption was far from practical,
however, and some called it the "electromagnetic

The development of the dynamo, or generator,
after 1860 and the discovery that a dynamo could
drive a motor proved to be the key to the practical
electric railway. Moses G. Farmer operated one of
the first cars with a motor and dynamo in 1867, and
the subsequent experimentation of such men as Leo
Daft and Charles Van Depoele, as well as many
others, brought America to the threshold of the age
of electric traction by the late 1880's. The construc-
tion of the first really successful electric railway at
Richmond in 1887 by a young Naval Academy
graduate, Frank Julian Sprague, was followed by
wholesale electrification of America's animal- and
cable-powered street railways.

The interurban, a logical development from the
electric street railway, soon followed. What was
perhaps the first interurban — although it eventually
became no more than a long streetcar line — began
operating between the Twin Cities of Minneapolis
and St. Paul in 1891 and soon forced severe curtail-
ment of passenger service on the competing steam
railroads. What is most frequently regarded as the
first true interurban, the 15-mile East Side Railway,
began operating between Portland and Oregon City
in February 1893. Another of the earliest interur-
bans, the 20-mile Sandusky, Milan & Norwalk in
Ohio, began operation later the same year.

A principal obstacle to the development of long
interurban lines was the impracticality of transmit-
ting over long distances the low-voltage direct cur-
rent used for electric car operation. The introduc-
tion in 1896 of distribution systems which employed
high-voltage alternating-current transmission lines
and substations which converted the power to the
necessary low- voltage direct current solved this
particular problem, and during the last few years
of the 19th century the great interurban railway
boom began to gather momentum. The perfection
of a multiple-unit control system by Sprague in


Operating over what is generally regarded as the first true interurban line, this big Oregon Water Power &
Railroad Company car, with two open trailers in tow, paused at Golf Junction on the Portland-Oregon
City line early in the century. Stephen D. Maguire Collection.

1898 which permitted the operation of a train of
electric cars under the control of a single motorman
in the lead car was another important aid to the
development of interurban lines.

The origin of the term "interurban" (from the
Latin for "between cities" ) is usually credited to
Charles L. Henry, an Indiana state senator and later
a U.S. congressman, who is said to have developed
the word to describe the intercity electric railways
he was then planning after seeing the "intramural"
electric railway at the 1893 Chicago World's Colum-
bian Exposition. Henry, sometimes called the
"father of the interurban," was a pioneer in Indiana
interurban development and completed the state's
first 11-mile line in 1897, which he later built into
the 400-mile Union Traction Company, serving
much of central Indiana.

The interurbans seemed to fill a travel void for
much of America. Aside from what slow, infrequent,
and grimy local passenger service might be avail-

able from the steam railroads, rural America was
pretty well restricted to whatever lay within horse
and buggy range. The interurbans were bright and
clean, stopped almost anywhere, and ran far more
frequently than the steam trains, for one car made
a train. Once in town the cars usually operated
through the streets and went right downtown. They
were almost always cheaper than steam trains, too.
Small-towners and farm folk alike swarmed
aboard the new electric cars to spend a day in the
city, shopping or just seeing the sights. Equally im-
portant, the fast package and light freight service
opened up new markets for farmers and made big
city merchandise quickly available to the local shop-
keeper. The commercial traveler, or "drummer,"
took to the interurbans with enthusiasm for they
carried him to the heart of the business district,
often right to his hotel tloor, and the frequent
schedules made it possible to cover more cities and
towns in a day than he could on the steam trains.


Among the earliest interurbans was the Sandusky, Mi-
lan & Norwalk, which opened in 1893. This photo-
graph was taken in Norwalk, O., in 1900. JOHN A.
Rehor Collection.

Indiana lawyer, state senator, and U. S. congressman Charles L. Henry
was credited with originating and popularizing the word "interurban" and
became known as the "father of the interurban." The first section of his
Union Traction Company, opened in 1898, was Indiana's first interurban.
Until his death in 1927 Henry remained an indefatigable advocate of in-
terurban railways. Harris & Ewing, from Indiana Historical Society.



Motorized construction equipment was still in the future even during the last years of interurban de-
velopment, when the Salt Lake & Utah constructed its line into Payson, Utah, on the eve of World
War I. Fred Fellow Collection.

A Milwaukee Northern Railway track gang pushed north into the village of ( edai burg. Wis..
in the winter of 1906-1907. The Milwaukee Northern builders. Comstock. Haigh c II 'alker
Company beat Milwaukee Electric' s John I. Beggs to the routes north of Milwaukee. A planned
Fond du Lac branch, which would have left the Shebo\gan line here, was never built.
David A. Strassman Collection.


Payson, Utah, devoted itself to hilarity in 1916 upon completion of the Salt Lake & Utah in-
terurban into town from Salt Lake City. Shortly after arrival of a special train bringing 300
guests from Salt Lake, SL&U President W . C. Orem and other dignitaries addressed the crowd
from a flag-bedecked flat car, and Gladys Orem, daughter of President Orem, and Payson carni-
val queen Mrs. George Done drove a golden spike. A parade of 200 automobiles and a two-
day carnival followed. FRED FELLOW COLLECTION.

A 1906 Street Railway Journal editorial observed
the "marked improvement" in the appearance of
properties along an interurban. "These great ar-
teries of commerce are stimulating and benefiting to
those sections of the country through which they
pass," concluded the Journal.

John R. Graham, president of the Bangor Rail-
way & Electric Company, orating on electric rail-
ways and the farmer at a 1914 convention, noted that
"social conditions on the farm have been greatly
improved as a result of the electric railway" since
the advantages of the city were easily available. The
problem of keeping the young people down on the
farm was solved, he declared.

There was, indeed, much truth in these pompous
statements, for the fast, frequent, and inexpensive
electric transportation did stimulate local trade,
and helped to break down the 19th century pro-
vincialism of many small towns by opening up the
world around them.

Frequently the interurban had equally significant
effects on American urban centers. Just as streetcar
lines set the pattern for growth within the city, the
interurban lines that radiated from the cities often
established the direction of suburban growth. In the

older Eastern cities the pattern was already defined
by the steam railroad commuting lines, and the in-
terurbans did little more than supplement it; but in
the newer cities of the Midwest and West, popula-
tion frequently followed the electric cars. Probably
no urban area's growth was more greatly influenced
by interurban development than that of Los Angeles
and the Southern California communities around it,
which fused from separate small towns into one
great metropolitan area, largely along the lines of
the 1000-mile Pacific Electric Railway.

Indianapolis was America's greatest traction cen-
ter, and interurbans extended in a dozen directions
from the city, making it a great commercial center
for all of Indiana. During the first decade after the
turn of the century the city's population growth of
38 per cent was largely attributed to the interurban.
Comparing during the same period the 19 per cent
growth of St. Louis, less well-endowed with interur-
bans, the St. Louis Republic observed rather petu-
lantly, "A city without great wealth, without large
industry, without a university, without navigable
water, without coal, without natural beauty of site
has grown because it made it easy for its neighbors
for 100 miles around to drop in before dinner, per


trolley car, and leaving after an early supper, to
get home by bedtime."

Rooted in real need, the electric railway boom
was nurtured to phenomenal growth by its enthusi-
astic advocates. By 1917 over 18,000 miles of interur-
ban lines and nearly 10,000 cars were being operated
in virtually every state of the Union. The network
reached its fullest growth in the five central states
of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin
where better than 40 per cent of the nation's inter-
urban mileage was concentrated. Indiana and Ohio
in particular had virtually complete systems.

The spectacular growth of the interurban's golden
years of expansion was not without its price. Sparked

by overzealous local boosters or glib promoters more
interested in fast money than in soundly conceived
electric railways, many a line hopefully went into
business with little more in outlook to sustain it
than local pride, and many more never even got
beyond the prospectus stage. In 1910 the financial
editor of World's Work estimated that 9 out of 10
projected electric railways were stillborn, and Brill
Magazine described the mortality of projected elec-
tric railways as "something frightful." Even in 1909,
one of the interurban's most prosperous years, 22
electric railway properties went into receivership.

Typically, the interurban was built largely with
local capital and was quickly and cheaply con-

A gay crowd at Santa Monica on April 1, 1896, attended the arrival of the first Pasadena & Pa-
cific interurban, which carried local officials and prominent citizens, and was followed shortly
by a car loaded with Minnesota tourists. The schools were dismissed at noon, guns were fired,
bands played, and Gen. Moses H. Sherman, one of the line's promoters, and Mayor Pratt
of Minneapolis were decorated with flowers. The usual refreshments and oratory fol-
lowed. Historical Collections, Security First National Bank, Los Angeles.


This hat-waving crowd of "Glendale Boosters" had just arrived aboard the first train into Pacific
Electric's new Subway Terminal at Los Angeles in 1925. Historical Collections, Security
First National Bank, Los Angeles.

Milwaukee Northern Railway's
big Niles cars reached Cedar
Grove, Wis., August 31, 1908,
and citizens found out what the
humming rotary converter in
the brick depot had brought to
their hamlet. That all were not
awed by the first-day speeches is
evidenced by the determined
contingent exiting left, no
doubt heading uptown to discuss
the event over steins of some
potent local lager. David A.
Strassman Collection.




Indianapolis was among North America's greatest traction centers, and after 1904 electric cars from
the 12 routes entering the city used the new Indianapolis I taction Terminal. The adjacent nine-storj
office building and the great traiushed cost over a million dollars. In 1 9/ 4. one of the Indiana interur-
bans' peak years, 7 million passengers passed through the terminal and a dail\ average of 520 passenger
cars and nearly 100 freight cars were accommodated. George Krambles Collection.


Occasionally interurban promoters,
too strapped for cash to string trolley
wire or to build power plants, went
into business with gasoline motor
cars as a temporary expedient until
they could round up the necessary
funds. One such line was the 21-mile
Woodstock & Sycamore Traction
Company in Illinois, which started
operation in 1911 with three of these
fearsome-looking knife-nosed McKeen
gasoline cars. Among the least suc-
cessful of interurban ventures, the
Woodstock & Sycamore was aban-
doned in 1918, before its owners
ever did get around to electrification.
Stephen D. Maguire Collection.

The roadside development often characteristic of
interurbans is illustrated here by the West Chester
line of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation
Company. The 1914 Jewett interurban shown was
funked a few months ajter this 1949 photograph
was made, but the line itself continued to operate
for another five years with streamlined equip-
ment. Charles A. Brown.

structed with expectations of immediate and sub-
stantial profits. Within cities the interurbans usually
followed the tracks already used by street railway-
systems, and intermediate towns were often traversed
in a similar manner. Once out of town the inter-
urban usually took to its own private right of way,
sometimes paralleling the rural roads and sometimes
striking off across the open countryside, but almost
always following the ups and downs of the natural
topography to avoid the expensive cuts and fills of
steam railroad practice. An extreme example was the
Syracuse & Suburban Railway, whose builders de-
cided to follow the existing highway for their 12-
mile line to Edward Falls. This decision resulted in
what Brill Magazine aptly termed an "arduous align-
ment and profile." Grades as steep as 1 1 per cent
were frequently encountered.

Interurban rail sections were light, and ballast, if
it was used at all, was skimpy. The trolley wire was

Los Angeles, too, was among the great traction
centers. Pacific Electric Railway's Henry F.. Hun-
tington constructed the magnificent .Wain Street
Terminal, Los Angeles' first "skyscraper," in 1904
to accommodate the interurbans of the rapidly
growing PE. Even at the time of this 1950 photo-
graph, the terminal was still the center of intense
interurban activity, WILLIAM D. MlDDLETON.


usually simply suspended from wooden poles. Oc-

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Online LibraryWilliam D. MiddletonThe interurban era → online text (page 1 of 23)