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built trucks of their own design,
which were often applied under the
cars of other builders as well as their
own; the Baldwin Locomotive Works
and the American Locomotive Com-
pany both built widely used motor
trucks; and a number of independent
truck builders, prominent among
them Peckham, Standard, McGuire,
and Taylor, also built extensively
used designs.

The wheelbase of interurban trucks
usually varied between 6 and 7 feet.
A longer \vheelbase provided a
smoother ride in high-speed opera-
tion, but the necessity for operation
around sharp curves set a limit on the
practical maximum wheelbase. Iron
wheels and axles were often used on
the earlier cars but steel soon became
standard for this purpose. A wheel
around 36 inches in diameter was
ordinarily employed, although some
roads used wheels as large as 39
inches for high-speed operation.
Wheel flanges were usually smaller
than M.C.B. standards because of the
restricted flanges and specialwork
prevalent on the street railways used
for city entrances. The smaller flanges
were more prone to chipping or
breaking, and provided a smaller
margin of safety against derailment
at high speed. Because of the limita-



tions of trolley curvature, the six-
wheel "Pullman" type of passenger
car truck was impractical for inter-
urban service, and only a few cars
were ever attempted with this tvpe.

One of the most radical departures
in interurban truck design was the
modified arch bar cantilever (A.B.C.)
truck developed in 1923 by the Cin-
cinnati Car Company for use on its
lightweight interurbans and street-
cars. The equalizer bar of conven-
tional practice was eliminated and
the load was carried directly from the
truck frame to the axles through coil
springs. Various types of "snubbers"
were used which counteracted the
tendency of coil spring suspension to
set up a dangerous rhythmic undu-
lation (in some Cincinnati experi-
ments test cars actually left the rails
from this cause). Further refined in
subsequent years, the Cincinnati
A.B.C. truck was extremely success-
ful in providing a smooth ride at
high speeds. Much smaller and light-
er than the usual M.C.B. trucks, the
A.B.C. used wheels only 28 inches in
diameter, and required the develop-
ment of very compact motors.

Many early interurban cars em-
ployed only two motors, placing
one on each truck or both on a
single truck, but the requirement for



ample power to drive heavy cars at
high speed soon made the four-motor
car the most common type. Motors
were either "inside" or "outside"
hung, depending upon whether they
were placed between or outside the
axles, and were connected to the axles
by gear drives. The inside-hung ar-
rangement, which was almost univer-
sal on trucks designed for interurban
service, required a longer wheelbase,
which was needed for smooth opera-
tion at speed anyway. Motors nor-
mally varied from about 75 to 100
horsepower in large interurban car
applications, but on occasion motors
developing as much as 200 horse-
power each were used for exception-
ally large and fast cars.


Conventional air brake systems
were almost always used by inter-

urban roads. At first, when single
car operation was common, "straight
air" systems, in which air was admit-
ted to or exhausted from the brake
cylinder directly by the motorman's
valve, were used. Train operation re-
quired the use of "automatic" brake
systems, with the brake cylinders
directly controlled by a "triple valve"
in each car, which in turn was con-
trolled by varying the pressure in the
brake pipe with the motorman's
valve. An electric motor-driven com-
pressor under each car provided the
necessary air supply.

At least one interurban system, the
West Penn Railways, made wide use
of cars which had no air brakes at all,
but used instead a magnetic track
brake. This consisted of an electro-
magnetic brake shoe suspended be-
tween the wheels from springs
mounted on the truck frame. To
apply brakes the electromagnet was
energized, which drew the brake shoe
down against the rail. When air
braking systems alone were found in-
adequate for the extremely high-
speed cars developed by several lines
in 1929-1930, they were supple-
mented by magnetic track brakes.

To control the flow of current to
the traction motors on the earliest
interurban cars, a "direct controller"
was used, which passed the entire cur-
rent through the motorman's control-
ler. This type had several disadvan-
tages. The electrical equipment re-
quired to control the heavy currents
drawn by the powerful motors of


large interurban cars made the con-
troller extremely bulky, and the
presence of high-voltage, high-amper-
age currents on the platform pre-
sented a potential hazard to crew and
passengers. Also, the direct controller
was adaptable to single car operation

The invention of multiple-unit con-
trol — which was essentially a re-
mote-control system — by Frank J.
Sprague in 1898 eliminated the short-
comings of the direct-control system.
The remote-control system employed
only a small master controller at the
motorman's position and a .low-volt-
age, low-amperage control circuit
that actuated, by means of magnet-



ic or pneumatic switches, the main
controller which was located under
the car. When operation of more
than one car in a train was desired,
the control circuits of the separate
cars were simply connected by jump-
ers and the main controller of each
car was then operated simultaneously
with others in the train by the master
controller in the lead car.


Pilots and Fenders: Huge pro-
jecting timber pilots were often em-
ployed on the early cars, but when
operation in trains was contemplated,
pilots of more restrained size, re-
cessed under the front of the car to
permit coupling, became necessary.
After the earliest years, steel and iron
were almost always used for pilots.
For winter operations in areas of
heavy snows, pilots were sometimes
covered with sheet metal to act as
plows, or were sometimes replaced
entirely by snowplows.

City ordinances in many areas, par-
ticularly in California, required elec-
tric lines to provide their cars with
special fenders, which looked not un-
like a large bed spring, designed to
scoop up wayward pedestrians before
they were run over by the cars.

Anti-Climbers: The projecting
steel corrugations of this device,
which was installed at each end of
interurban cars, were supposed to in-
terlock in the unfortunate event of a
collision with another car, and pre-
vent the floor of one car from riding
over that of the other with a devastat-
ing telescoping effect.

Couplers: Interurban lines most
often employed automatic couplings
similar to those which were by then
in general use on steam railroads.
However, the short shank and limited
swing of the standard steam road
coupler made it impossible to use on
the sharp curves of interurban lines,
and special long-radius couplings
were developed. Some lines devel-
oped special fully automatic cou-
plings which made all of the neces-
sary air, electrical, and control con-
nections automatically.

Headlights: Oil lamps were used
on the earliest interurbans, but were



soon replaced by massive electric arc
headlights. One problem encoun-
tered with electric headlights was
their failure whenever the power sup-
ply was interrupted, often at a critical
moment. Some roads solved this prob-
lem by the use of a storage battery on
the car. Another difficulty was the
insistence by cities and towns that the
bright arc headlights be dimmed.
This was sometimes accomplished by
means of a curtain device, which the
motorman could pull over the head-
light with a string, but most lines
adopted combination arc and incan-
descent headlights and turned off the
arc light when passing through cities
or towns. Later, incandescent head-
lights were used almost exclusively.
The "Golden Glow" headlight, which
employed a special colored reflec-
tor that extracted from the head-
light beam blue and violet rays,
thought to have a blinding effect, was
a patented type that was widely used.

Whistles, Horns, and Bells:
Interurbans usually had an air-oper-
ated horn or whistle which acted as
a warning device. For operation
through city streets some sort of air-
or foot-operated bell or gong was
provided for the same purpose.

Destination Signs: Interurban
cars operating over fixed routes some-
times had the names of their destina-
tion cities painted directly on the ves-
tibule dash, but more often destina-
tions were shown by metal or wooden
signs hung on the front or sides of
the cars, and sometimes illuminated
at night by lights. Later on, an illum-
inated roller destination sign became
the most common practice.




SANDERS: To prevent slipping on
wet rail, most interurbans were
equipped with some sort of sanders.
A supply of sand, stored in a dry,
well-protected box or container, was
fed onto the rail by gravity or air
pressure and was directed under the
wheels by pipes.

Heating Systems: Interurban cars
were heated with either electrical re-
sistance heaters or coal-fired hot
water heaters, and a few cars had
both types. The hot water heaters
were more economical to operate,
but took up more space and were not
as clean as electric heat. An impor-
tant advantage of a hot water system
was the fact that a car could still be
heated without a power supply.

FARE REGISTERS: Some interurbans
employed a fare register, which the
conductor could operate from any
point in the car, to ring up fares as
they were collected, but most relied
on the same type of cash fare receipt
used by steam railroads to account
for fares received. When one-man
car operation became common dur-
ing the '20's the time-consuming
handling of fare collections by the
motorman often slowed up opera-
tion, and elaborate registers were de-
veloped that automatically computed
the fare and printed a receipt. 1


"^L-^^^gSjA^, ,^3ag&


Electrification and Current Collection


Direct Current: Low-voltage,
direct-current motors, which were
simple and rugged in construction,
and possessed superior control and
performance characteristics under the
varying demands of electric railway
service, were by far the most widely
used type on both street and inter-
urban railways. Because higher volt-
ages presented greater hazards to the
public and were generally frowned
upon for street railway service, direct
current systems of 550 to 600 volts
became virtually universal for urban
electric railways, and since interur-
bans frequently used the streetcar
tracks to enter cities and were often
operated by the same companies,
600-volt electrification became the
most common type for interurban
railways as well.

Low-voltage direct current did
have some disadvantages in interur-
ban operation, however. Since a larg-
er current is required to transmit a
given amount of energy at a lower
voltage, transmission of 600-volt cur-
rent over any distance resulted in
either excessive voltage drop and
power loss, or extremely heavy trans-

mission line requirements. Conse-
quently, the spacing of substations,
which converted the high-voltage
alternating currents used for efficient
long distance transmission to the low-
voltage direct current fed to the trol-
ley wire, could rarely exceed 10 to 12
miles. Even then, under severe oper-
ating conditions the actual voltage
available to an interurban car some-
times dropped to as little as 250 volts,
and often less than 50 per cent of the
power generated was actually deliv-
ered to the car.

Higher voltage direct current sys-
tems of 1200 to 1500 volts were also
common, and since the current re-
quired for a given amount of power
decreased in inverse ratio to the volt-
age, transmission losses were reduced
and substation spacing could be sub-
stantially increased. When operation
over 600-volt streetcar lines was
necessary, the high-voltage cars either
were operated at half speed or used
relatively simple changeover devices.
Occasionally even higher voltages of
2400 to 3000 were used on interurban
systems, and on at least one occasion
an experimental direct current elec-
trification at 5000 volts was made.

Basic substation equipment con-
sisted of transformers to reduce the
voltage of the alternating current
from the transmission lines, and
either motor-generator sets or syn-
chronous or "rotary" converters to
convert alternating to direct current.
A motor-generator was nothing more
than an alternating current motor
driving a direct current generator,
while the rotary converter performed
an identical function but incorpo-
rated both motor and generator into
a single unit. In later years mercury
arc rectifiers were developed which
did the same job more efficiently.
Occasionally banks of storage bat-
teries were included in substations to
provide for peak loads which ex-
ceeded the capacity of the conversion
equipment, or to act as an emergency
power source in case of power failure.
Many interurban systems also em-
ployed portable substations, which
incorporated all of the necessary
equipment into a box car that could
be moved about the system to lake
care of seasonal or other peak load

In earlier years of the interurban
era, substation equipment was such
that it required an operator in
continuous attendance, but later
reliable controls were developed
which permitted automatic operation.


Alternating Current: The use
of high-voltage, single-phase alter-
nating currents for electric railways,
which largely eliminated the need for
frequent substation installations and
the problems of voltage drop and
power loss inherent in low-voltage
direct-current systems, presented, in
theory at least, a much more satis-
factory system of electrification, and
enjoyed a brief period of popularity
shortly after the turn of the century
when a number of interurbans were
thus electrified, usually with either
6600- or 1 3,000-volt systems. Alter-
nating current motors were less sat-
isfactory in performance or efficiency,
and the necessary heavy transformers
and complicated control systems
added greatly to the weight of rolling
stock. Many lines found the equip-
ment more difficult and costly to
maintain as well. The complexity of
A. C. equipment was further increased
when operation into cities over 600-
volt D. C. systems was necessary. The
single phase A. C. motors normally
used could also be operated on direct
current, but separate control and cur-
rent collection systems were required.
Such were the practical disadvantages
that in later years many of the A. C.
interurbans were converted to D. C.
operation, usually at great expense
and necessitating extremely intricate
construction schedules to avoid in-
terruptions to service. When the
Pittsburgh & Butler Street Railway,
for example, converted from alter-
nating current to 1 200-volt D. C. op-
eration in 1914 it was able to realize
a 15 per cent saving in power costs,
and reduce the weight of each of its
motor cars by 6 tons through elimina-
tion of the bulky A. C. equipment.


Direct Suspension: Overhead
wire distribution systems were
used by the majority of interur-
ban systems. The most common type
was the "direct suspension" system
consisting of a single hard drawn
copper wire supported at intervals
of 80 to 125 feet from either metal
brackets or insulated span wires sus-
pended between poles on opposite
sides of the track. Originally soldered
"ears" were used to attach the wire
to its supports but later a grooved
wire was developed to which a
mechanical clamping ear could be
attached. Parallel feeder wires were
used to feed current to the trolley
wire. On single track lines, double
overhead wires, spaced about 6 inches
apart, were occasionally employed,
one for traffic in each direction, which
eliminated the need for overhead
switches or frogs at turnouts and re-
placed some of the feeder copper

Catenary: The sag between sup-
ports and the varying flexibility of
direct suspension sometimes caused
dewirement of the trolley wheel or
shoe, and for high-speed operation
catenary systems were often used, in
which the trolley wire was hung from
a "messenger" wire by hangers of
varying length. The spacing of sup-
ports was usually increased to inter-
vals of about 1 50 feet with catenary
systems. A few lines used catenary
spans of as much as 300 feet. The
more uniformly level catenary system
was especially desirable when panto-
graph collection was employed.

Overhead Supports: Wood poles
were usually used to support over-
head construction, but some of the
more elaborate installations employed
substantial steel structures. When the
supporting structure was also used
to carry high tension transmission
lines for a parent power company, as
was sometimes the case, the resulting
installation was impressive indeed.
Within cities more ornamental metal
poles were often used.

Third Rail: For heavy-duty, high-
speed interurbans third-rail systems
were often used. A steel power rail
was used, usually mounted about 6
inches above and 20 inches out from
the running rail and supported on in-
sulators placed on the ends of extra
long ties spaced every 6th to 10th tie.

Third-rail systems had the advan-
tage of a greater conductivity than
was possible with a trolley wire, and
could be more easily made level and
true. However, because of the danger
to human life, they could be used
only on private right of way and most
third-rail interurbans had to install
alternate overhead wires where opera-
tion in city streets or in populated
areas was involved. Still other dis-
advantages were the necessity for gaps
in the third rail at road crossings and
switches and the extreme vulnerabil-
ity of the bare rail to sleet, which
stuck to the rail like varnish and had
to be removed with special scrapers
or brine. The use of a protected
third rail, which employed a metal or
wood cover, helped eliminate the
sleeting problem and reduced the
potential hazard to life. Third-rail
lines still required a pole line to sup-
port feeders, and were usually more
costly to install than an overhead

Third rails were normally used
only for low-voltage D. C. systems,
but at least one line, the Michigan
Railway, had a 2400-volt third-rail
system, later cut to 1200 volts, on its
high-speed Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids
and Battle Creek-Allegan lines. Ex-
tremely elaborate protective measures
were required, however, to insure the
safety of the public.

Underground Conduit: A varia-
tion of third-rail current collection
was the underground system, consist-
ing of power rails mounted in a con-
duit beneath the track, which elimi-
nated the unsightly overhead con-
struction. The system was extremely
costly and resulted in intricate spe-
cialwork at switches and crossings.
It was used in the U. S. only by street
railways in Washington, D. C, and
New York City, and the several in-
terurban lines that entered Washing-
ton were the only ones that ever
used it.

Current Return: Except on a
few street railways, which employed
a second overhead wire, and the
underground conduit systems, which
had a separate return rail, the running
rails were universally used to com-
plete the return circuit to the
powerhouse. This required careful
bonding between each length of rail,
usually by means of copper wire.
When bonding systems were not care-
fully maintained the current had a
habit of wandering off and following
other conductors, such as water pipes,
gas mains, and telephone cables, creat-
ing electrolytic corrosion and other
complicated problems. In one in-
stance, in 1930, on the Milwaukee
Electric's interurban line between Ra-
cine and Kenosha, where many rail
bonds were missing, it was found
that the return current was striking
off across a celery marsh for half a
mile to the North Shore Line's rails,
which it followed to Racine, then
jumped to the city car rails and fol-
lowed these to the Milwaukee Elec-
tric powerhouse.


In the early years of interurban
construction, the provision of a com-
pany-owned power generating plant
was the usual practice. In many cases
the interurban companies also sold
power to communities or individual
users, and the sale of power by inter-
urban companies was occasionally the
first form of rural electrification. The
first electric range installed in an
Ohio farm home, for example, was
powered by current purchased from
the Scioto Valley Traction Company.
Indeed, many interurbans were no
more than subsidiaries of large pow-
er companies, although Government
trustbusters were to frown upon this
practice in later years.

Because of the varying power de-
mands at different times of the day,
most interurbans found that genera-
tion of their own electricity was less
economical than purchase from pub-
lic utility companies, and most later
discontinued the operation of their
own plants in favor of purchased
power, i


Electric Railway Museums

in the United States and Canada



Seashore Electric Railway,
Kennebunkport, operated by the
New England Electric Railway His-
torical Society, was founded in 1939
and is the original, as well as the
largest, electric railway museum. The
museum collection includes 43 city
cars, 1 1 interurbans, and 26 freight or
work cars, and represents a nearly
complete selection of important car
types and builders throughout the
history of North American electric
traction. Among the outstanding in-
terurban cars preserved are light-
weight, high-speed cars from both
the Indiana Railroad and the Cincin-
nati & Lake Erie. Over a mile of track
is presently operated and construc-
tion of 3 additional miles is under

The museum is open daily from late
June through Labor Day, and on
week ends during the remainder of
the year. Cars are operated daily dur-
ing the summer.


Branford Electric Railway
Association Inc., Short Beach,
founded in 1945, operates one of the
most successful of all trolley museum
projects. The museum collection in-
cludes 28 city and suburban cars, 4
interurbans, and 15 freight or work
units, representing almost all impor-
tant car types and periods. Outstand-
ing among the interurban cars are a
former Connecticut Company parlor
car, still completely furnished, and a
Cincinnati & Lake Erie high-speed

A mile of track, part of the aban-
doned Connecticut Company Short
Beach line, is presently operated.
Service over another half mile of
track is suspended until reconstruc-
tion of a hurricane-damaged trestle.

The museum is open daily, and
cars are operated from 1 p.m. to 6
p.m. on Sundays from April through
November, and during the same
hours on Saturdays and holidays from
May 30 through Labor Day. Cars
may also be chartered by advance ar-

Connecticut Electric Railway
Association Inc., Warehouse Point,
founded in 1941, or its individual
members own 16 city cars, 1 interur-
ban, and 10 work or freight units.

Equipment is operated over a
mile of track laid on the roadbed of
the abandoned Rockville branch of
the Hartford & Springfield Street
Railway. In the future track will be
laid over 3 miles of right of way
owned by the group, and picnic fa-
cilities are planned at the site of
Piney Ridge Park, once operated by
the Hartford & Springfield.

Cars are operated Sunday and holi-
day afternoons from July through
October, with private charter opera-
tion by advance arrangement.



Rail City Museum Inc., Sandy
Creek, opened in 1955, is principally
a steam railroad museum, which also
owns 2 streetcars and 2 electric
work cars. In addition, 2 wood
interurban cars from Ontario lines,
owned by the Syracuse Chapter,
NRHS, are located at the museum.

Steam equipment only is operated.

The museum is open daily during
July and August, and on week ends
during June, September, and October.


Arden Short Line Electric
Railway, Washington, operated by
the Pittsburgh Electric Railway

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Online LibraryWilliam D. MiddletonThe interurban era → online text (page 21 of 23)