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car. The passengers and crew were forced outside,
lined up along the track, and relieved of better than
S1000 in cash and valuables.

What was probably the most lucrative heist of the
traction era took place on Pennsylvania's Laurel Line
interurban in 1923. Bearing 870,126 among them,
the paymaster of the West End Colliery of Mocana-
qua, an assistant paymaster, and two armed guards
boarded a morning limited at Scranton. Taking the
group by surprise, five roughly dressed armed ban-
dits opened fire within the car near Moosic station,
successfully relieved the men of the payroll, and
made good their escape from the interurban. During
the melee one passenger was killed, and the motor-
man and two other passengers wounded. Eventually
the entire band was apprehended and brought to

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Ttfo Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville cars suffered embarrassment after unsuccessfully contesting track
space in the Gloversville (N. Y.) yard. William R. Gordon Collection.


Weather sometimes got the best of the electric cars.
Floodwater stranded an International Railway Ni-
agara Falls interurhan at Tonairanda, N. Y., in 1918.
William R. Gordon Collection, from Stephen D.

Sometimes individuals of a larcenous bent ap-
plied more subtle methods against the traction com-
panies. In 1930 a crew engaged in an ek-ctrolysis
survey on the lines of the Milwaukee Electric was
sent out to take ground current flow readings dur-
ing the early morning hours when no cars were
operating. The men were puzzled to find that large
amounts of current were flowing through the rails
despite the absence of interurban cars. Investiga-
tion revealed that a Cudahy garage owner had rigged
a bare copper wire across a street above the trolley
wire. At night, when no one was looking, the wire
was lowered onto the trolley wires and free elec-
tricity was drawn for battery charging and other

Trespassers on private right of way were found
to be a problem by many interurbans. In 1910 one
line tried the experiment of providing its motor-
men with circular letters of warning which could
be thrown to trespassers. No one, it was discovered,
took much notice of the circulars, and the practice
was discontinued.

Collapse of the bridge over the Miami River at Day-
ton, O., under a two-car freight train in 1932 was
the last straw for the bankrupt Dayton & Troy Elec-
tric Railway. With no money in the till to repair the
damage, the company abandoned its entire line a week
after the mishap. O. F. Lee Collection.

A trainload of steel proved too heavy for the

Sacramento Northern s long Lisbon trestle in

1951, and the structure went down like a row

of dominoes. Getting the train out proved

to be a major task. Fred H. Matthews Jr.

Obstreperous passengers sometimes made life dif-
ficult for the interurban trainmen. Consider this
accident report filed by a conductor on the Grays
Harbor Railway & Light Company (Washington) in
1914: "A man at Hoquiam came on the car at 7 p.m.
He spit and expectorated all over the car and when
I asked him to quit he swore strong at me. Then he
vomited all over a seat and on the floor. 1 told him
to clean it up or I would have him arrested. He
started to clean it up, and then he went to the door,
jumped from the car, and ran down E Street to the
river and jumped in. I stopped the car, ran after the
man, jumped in the river, dragged him out, and had
him arrested for spitting on the floor of the car."

Another interurban rescue, under more heroic
circumstances, brought Lake Shore Electric motor-
man William Lang national recognition in the
form of a Carnegie Medal and an I.C.C. medal ap-
proved by President Roosevelt. Rounding a curve
at 55 miles per hour Lang spotted a child playing
on the tracks and slammed on the brakes of his
Toledo limited car. Realizing that the wheels were
sliding and the car could not be stopped in time,
Lang climbed out on the car fender and snatched
2-year-old Lelia Smith to safety.

Life was seldom dull for the men who ran the
cars. 1



r* "*""

The electric-powered rotary plow that kept the
line clear on the Oneonta & Mohawk Valley, in up-
state New York's snow belt, obviously had its work
cut out for it. In addition to snow removal prob-
lems, winter weather provided a jew difficulties

peculiar to interurban operation. Sleet frequently
disrupted current collection from both third-rail
and overhead, and the trolley wire sometimes
snapped under the contraction caused by extreme
cold. Stephen D. Maguire Collection.

Where they traversed city streets, interurban and street railways usually took

care of snow removal with electrically powered rotary sweepers. The McGuire-

Cummings standard four-wheel sweeper was common anywhere snow fell.

and its big rattan brushes sent up a barrage of ice chips that had the hardiest

of pedestrians ducking for cover. This sweeper cleared track in Winnipeg

after a Manitoba blizzard in 1949. Stan F. Styles.

The Philadelphia & West Chester's rotary No. 1, shown on the West Chester line
around 1907, didn't have quite such arduous duties as the O&MV's plow, and
the company's successor, Philadelphia Suburban, manages to get along very
well without it. These plows had rotary blades at both ends, a practice more
common on electric than on steam railroads. Stephen D. Maguire Collection.


Trolley Freight




The Inland Empire System, whose electric lines centered about Spo-
kane, Wash., was typical of the western interurbans on which carload
freight traffic was a major revenue source from their very begin-
ning. These Baldwin-W estinghouse box-cab locomotives were on the
company's Moscow (Ida.) line, which was electrified with a 25-cycle,
6600-volt single-phase system. Wheat was the principal commodity
carried on Inland Empire freights. LeRoy O. King Jr. Collection.


Trolley Freight

IN a few cases the interurban railways were former
steam-powered short lines, already doing a sub-
stantial freight business, and in many still develop-
ing areas of the West, where only limited steam
railroad service was available, electric lines were
often built to serve as both passenger and freight
carriers. Indeed, many of the Western interurbans
were built as feeder lines to the large steam rail-
roads, or were later acquired by them for that pur-
pose. But the majority of interurban roads were
conceived principally as passenger carriers, and
generally little attention was given in their design
and construction to the requirements of freight train

Even those lines originally built exclusively for
passenger transportation soon found that light
freight and express traffic could be a profitable side-
line. The very nature of interurban service, with
cars operating on fast, frequent schedules, made it
possible to provide a service far superior to that of
the steam railroads. Such traffic as newspapers, milk
and cream, fruit, produce, and small merchandise
shipments could be loaded aboard the baggage com-
partments of the regular cars, and even lines with-
out cars so arranged found they could develop
worth-while extra revenues by transporting small
parcel shipments on the front platform with the
motorman at nominal charges of 25 cents or 50 cents
per parcel.

Once the possibilities of the trolley freight busi-
ness became apparent, interurbans began to inten-
sively promote its development. Even before World
War I, when a few lines were starting to lose
passengers to automobiles, interurbans began to re-
gard freight traffic as a good area to recover the lost

The handling of perishables between farm and
market, with their requirement for fast service, was
a particularly lucrative traffic. To help develop such
business the New England Investment & Securities

Company, a New Haven Railroad subsidiary which
controlled a group of electric lines in central Mas-
sachusetts, sponsored in 1910 a four-car "Trolley
Farming Special," which toured 300 miles of trolley
line in the Springfield-Worcester area with agricul-
tural and forestry exhibits. In 1915 Fort Wayne &
Northern Indiana operated a similar two-car agri-
cultural exhibit and lecture train over electric lines
in Indiana. The Portland Railway, Light & Power
Company organized an agricultural department to
furnish farmers with information on the growing
of feed for hog and cattle raising, and the Bangor
Railway & Electric Company operated a 40-acre
demonstration farm — staffed with a University of
Maine agriculturalist — to promote better farming
practices in its territory. In 1914 the Lehigh Valley
Transit Company and the Philadelphia & Western
Railway joined in establishing a "farmers' market"
at 69th and Market streets in Philadelphia for the
sale of produce brought in on the electric cars.

Efforts to develop interurban freight traffic were
confronted with numerous difficulties. The physical
limitations of steep grades, light construction, and
sharp curves often precluded the operation of stand-
ard freight equipment, and made necessary the con-
struction of special cars which were noninterchange-
able with steam railroads. In some areas trolley lines
were built to nonstandard track gauges, effectively
preventing interline freight traffic development.
Pennsylvania electric lines, for example, were gen-
erally built to a 5-foot 2 1 /i-inch "Pennsylvania
broad gauge."

Often severe restrictions on freight operation
through city streets proved a handicap. Many cities
restricted the length and frequency of freight trains,
and some confined freight operation to nighttime
hours only. Such objections were not without
reason. Long, lumbering trolley freight trains could
be an infernal nuisance in traffic-congested streets,
and there were valid objections on grounds of safety.


Pennsylvania's Hersbey Transit
Company was representative of the
majority of electric lines which de-
rived nonpassenger revenues from
the box-motor carriage of express
and small freight shipments. Trans-
portation of milk to the plant of
parent Hersbey Chocolate Company
was a major traffic for the Hersbey
line. From Stephen D. Maguire.

Usually unable to engage in freight
interchange with steam railroads, the
interurbans of the Ohio-Indiana-Michi-
gan network turned to development
of their own interchange operation, em-
ploying equipment designed to ne-
gotiate restrictive interurhan curves.
These electric freight trailers were lined
up at the Northern Ohio Traction &
Light Company's Akron freighthouse
in 1926. George Krambles Collection.

The trailers hauled by this Fort
Wayne, Van Wert & Lima box
motor were constructed to stand-
ards established by the Central
Electric Railway Association
to permit their use in the in-
terline freight operation of the
Midwestern interurbans. The
Fort Wayne-Lima line was one
of three connecting routes be-
tween the Ohio and Indiana
systems. O. F. Lee Collection.

In addition to the usual prob-
lems which made freight inter-
change with steam lines dif-
ficult, the broad-gauge track of
many Pennsylvania interurbans
prevented them from handling
steam road cars. The West Penn
Railways and the connecting
Pittsburgh Railways managed
to develop their own modest
I.e. I interchange business with
these "Consolidated Electric
Freight" box motors.
Charles A. Brown Collection.

This was convincingly demonstrated in 1927 by the
Detroit, Jackson & Chicago Railway at Ann Arbor,
Mich., when four cars of sheet steel got away from
a trolley freight crew on the West Huron Street hill.
Failing to make the curve at Main Street, the
runaway cars demolished the Farmers & Merchants
Bank, doing $50,000 worth of damage.

The City of Detroit required that freight cars be
similar in appearance to passenger cars, and re-
stricted operation of the freight cars to single units
only, not less than 2 hours apart in each direction.
A gondola car built for coal and ash service on
the Philadelphia & Easton Electric Railway in 1910
had to be disguised with a roof and gaily striped
side curtains before city officials would permit it to
be moved through the streets. In 1932 Milwaukee
residents, complaining that the passage of heavy
Milwaukee Electric freight trains was damaging
their homes, obtained a court order requiring the

company to limit freight space to not more than a
quarter of the total area of the car.

But in many regions the greatest obstacle to the
development of widespread interurban freight traf-
fic was the refusal of steam railroads to have any-
thing at all to do with the electric lines. The inter-
vention of the courts, state public utilities commis-
sions, or the Interstate Commerce Commission was
not infrequently required to compel steam railroads
to interchange carload freight traffic with inter-
urbans, and in more than one case a steam road
fought its case to the U. S. Supreme Court before
accepting such a ruling. The steam railroad op-
position to the new electric lines sometimes reached
ridiculous extremes, as in the case of the Youngs-
town & Southern, an Ohio interurban, which was
forced to power its freight trains with steam before
the steam road members of the Central Freight Asso-
ciation would agree to interchange traffic with it.


Despite the broad-gauge handicap, Philadelphia &
West Chester Traction Company was able to do
a brisk business in I.e. I. freight and milk. A box

motor unloaded milk for Philadelphia about 1923
at the company's 63rd and Market freight station.
Philadelphia Suburban Transportation.

In addition to a carload freight business the Salt Lake & Utah offered a "Red Arrow Fast Freight" service
for express and small freight shipments. Free pickup and delivery were provided for I.e. I. shipments.
Unfortunately, this type of business, which constituted the majority of interurban freight traffic,
proved just as vulnerable to highway competition as passenger traffic had. Fred Fellow Collection.

This scene on the Illinois Terminal at Bloomington, III., illustrates
the difficulty encountered in handling freight around the streetcar
curves found on interurban lines. Henry J. McCord.

Illinois Terminal developed a special double-jointed coupling for company-owned box cars in order

to make the curves on its line through Bloomington. Other interurbans used radial couplers,

or employed slotted coupler knuckles and intermediate drawbars. Henry J. McCord.

Largely unable, because of physical restrictions
and steam road intransigence, to interchange freight
cars with steam railroads, Midwestern interurbans
developed their own standard trolley freight car
designs and operated an extensive interline freight
service over the interconnecting traction networks
of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. The traction freight
service was usually far superior to that of the steam

A freight terminal was built in conjunction
with Indianapolis' great Traction Terminal, and the
interurban people boasted that they could deliver
shipments within 75 miles of the city the same day
the goods were ordered. Following-day deliveries

were possible almost anywhere in Indiana and Ohio.

A number of electric lines in northern Indiana and
southern Michigan joined in through less-than-car-
load-lot traffic arrangements with Lake Michigan
steamship companies, a service that saved a day or
more for shipments destined beyond Chicago. Faster
electric service made it possible to get livestock to
market before the usual shrinkage in weight
occurred, and several of the Indiana lines developed
a profitable stock business employing special trol-
ley cattle cars. In 1922 some 8500 cars of livestock
were moved into Indianapolis by interurban.

Occasionally the Midwest interurbans joined in
the operation of fast through freight trains, similar


in concept to the lines' many through passenger
operations. Perhaps the first such service was the
Cannonball Express, inaugurated in 1914 as a
joint operation of five electric lines and the Wells
Fargo Express Company. The Express ran on a
fast limited schedule between Indianapolis and
Benton Harbor, Mich., where Chicago connections
were made with the Graham & Morton Steamship
Company. Such fast time freights as the overnight
Indianapolis-Detroit Aeroplane connected many of
the major cities of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

Trolley freight equipment was constructed in a
tremendous variety of types and sizes. For express
or light freight service the "box-motor" or "express-
motor" unit, more or less resembling a motorized
baggage car, was widely employed. Usually equipped
with more powerful motors than passenger cars,
and geared for pulling power rather than speed,
box motors were often capable of operating with
short trains of freight trailers. Some lines built
similar motors which were equipped as refrigerator
or cattle cars.

For heavier freight operation, particularly when
steam railroad cars were handled, small electric
locomotives, usually of the B-B double-truck ar-
rangement, were favored. Most were some variation
of the "steeple-cab" type, which derived its name
from the appearance suggested by low hoods at each
end sloping up toward a cab in the center. Noisy
equipment, such as blowers and compressors, was

The bane of freight operations on the Sacramento
Northern Railroad was the route over the Oak-
land hills, where grades up to 4 per cent were en-
countered. This southbound freight had success-
fully made the climb and was descending into
Oakland late one afternoon in 1951. Pusher engine
No. 652, a standard General Electric unit, had al-
ready dropped its pantograph. William D.



During the last years of the interurban era a lively
trade in used freight locomotives developed, and
some of the machines survived as many as three
abandonments of electric service. The 50-ton Charles

City Western No. 303, wheeling westward across
Iowa farmland to Marble Rock in 1955, had
originally operated on the Texas Electric Railway,
where it had been built. William D. Middleton.

Potomac Edison steeple-cab locomotive No. 10 was typical of the hundreds of double-truck units
operated by interurban railways. Most of them averaged 50 to 60 tons, but weights ranged from 30
to 100 tons. The 10, at Frederick, Md., was dwarfed by an ordinary box car. H. N. Proctor.


usually enclosed in the hoods, and the shortened cab
provided excellent visibility during switching oper-
ations. A less widely seen variation was the "box-
cab" locomotive, which had a cab extending the full
length of the locomotive, containing all of its elec-
trical and mechanical equipment.

A few of the larger interurban roads found that
the double-truck locomotive just wasn't big enough
for their requirements, and developed 16-wheel,
4-truck locomotives which employed articulated
frames to permit negotiation of tight interurban
curves. The biggest interurban locomotives of all
were three 24-wheel monsters acquired in 1949 by
the Chicago South Shore & South Bend. Originally
built for the U.S.S.R. but never delivered because of
strategic export restrictions, the GE machines
were among the most powerful single-cab electric
locomotives ever constructed, weighed better than
270 tons, and had an hourly rating of over 5500

In several notable respects interurban freight
operators pioneered important innovations in rail-
road freight equipment and service well ahead of
their steam railroad competitors. Locomotive stand-
ardization, for example, was common in the
traction industry years before the diesel motive
power revolution brought it to the steam roads.
While steam lines were still ordering custom-built
motive power, such manufacturers as Baldwin-
Westinghouse and General Electric were offering
standard lines of electric locomotives to electric
railways. And multiple-unit control made it pos-
sible for trolley roads to operate together any num-
ber of their standardized freight motors controlled
from a single unit, employing the same fundamental
"building block" principle now used with diesel
power to assemble a motive power combination suit-
able for trains of any size.

At the time of its construction by Northern Electric 's
Cbico (Calif.) shops in 1911, 82-ton No. 1010
was said to be the largest and heaviest interurban
locomotive in the West. All electrical equipment
teas carried beneath the floor and the elongated
body provided space for I.e. 1. freight. In 1930 NE-
successor Sacramento Northern rebuilt the big lo-
comotive along more conventional lines.
Western Pacific Railroad.

Pennsylvania's Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley
Railroad operated a pioneer locomotive in No. 401, '
seen here emerging from the Scranton tunnel in
1930. The 401 was built as an experimental combi-
nation passenger- freight locomotive by Baldwin-
W estinghouse in 1H95, and was acquired by the
Laurel Line in 1906. After 59 years of service, 401
was retired in 1953, when the company converted
to diesels. William D. Middleton.


Wooden-bodied 5 502, built in the
Piedmont & Northern Railway's
Greenville (S. C.) shops, hauled
new Buicks around 1916. This was
one of the first interurban loco-
motives of the four-truck, articu-
lated-frame pattern. Piedmont &
Northern Railway.

Evolution of the four-truck
wheel arrangement on P&N con-
tinued through 1941, when Gen-
eral Electric built the 118-ton
No. 5611. General Electric

Last in a long line of home-built Illinois Terminal electric motive power were five of these 16-wheeled

Class D locomotives upgraded by Decatur shops between 1940 and 1942. They weighed 108 tons

and were equipped with eight traction motors totaling 1800 horsepower.


The largest of all interurban locomotives were
three 5500-horsepower units which were
originally destined for Soviet Russia but which
went to work on the South Shore Line instead.
Still very much in use in 1965, they are broth-
ers to 12 units operated by the Milwaukee Road.
William D. Middleton.

A chore peculiar to trolley freight haulage

was the necessity of tending the trolley pole

during switching operations. This Potomac

Edison brakeman guided the pole during a

backup move. H. N. Proctor.

Multiple-unit control enabled interurbans to
assemble their freight locomotives into a
motive power combination suitable for trains
of varying tonnage. This "building block"
principle, which later contributed greatly to
the success of the diesel-electric revolution in
steam railroading, is illustrated by this train
about to depart from the North Shore Line's
Pettibone Yard at North Chicago, III.
William D. Middleton.

Municipal ordinances governing freight op-
eration in city streets sometimes resulted in
oddities such as this Illinois Traction box
motor, which was built to resemble a passenger
car in order to satisfy St. Louis authorities.
Stephen D. Maguire Collection.


The Bonner "rail wagon" equip-
ment operated by the hake Shore
Electric in 1930 employed an un-
usual flat car with inside-bearing
trucks which was rolled under
three 18- foot trailers. These were
then fixed to the car with lug
latches. The idea had some simi-
larity to the "Clejan" system
adopted by some steam railroads
in more recent years. George
Krambles Collection.

This unusual General Electric loco-
motive, operated on the Hutchin-
son & Northern in Kansas, was
equipped with a "frameless truck."
Axle bearings were placed in an
extra-heavy traction motor frame,
which was provided with lugs over
the bearings to receive the equalizer
bars. Fred Fellow.


An Insull interurban, the North Shore Line,
pioneered "piggyback" transportation of truck
trailers in its present-day form in 1926 when it
began hauling trailers, loaded with small freight
shipments, on flat cars between Chicago and Mil-
waukee. A few years later, in 1932, the North Shore
offered what was perhaps the first modern "common
carrier" piggyback service when it began transport-
ing trucks on flat cars for either trucking companies
or shippers themselves. And as early as 1930 an Ohio
interurban, the Lake Shore Electric Railway, was
moving trailers between Cleveland and Toledo on
Banner "rail wagon" cars which were similar to the

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Online LibraryWilliam D. MiddletonThe interurban era → online text (page 17 of 23)