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on the sills. As cars became too long and heavy to
be supported by the wood sills alone, steel truss rods
and queen posts were added under the car. Large

turnbuckles made it possible to restore the car to
level after it began to sag with the strains of age and
service. Some master mechanics even preferred to
send a car away from a visit to the shops with a
slight arch to its back.

The clerestory "railroad" roof of steam road prac-
tice, which provided good ventilation, was widely
favored by interurban lines, although some roads
later adopted a high arch roof when satisfactory
ventilators were developed. The necessity for opera-
tion of interurban trains around sharp curves re-
quired the adoption of long radius couplings and
rounded ends, which resulted in a far more pleasing
appearance than the flat ends of steam road cars.
The almost universal use of "Gothic" arched
windows, fitted with what was variously described
as "art" or "cathedral" leaded glass upper panels,
gave a dash of elegance to any interurban. So
highly regarded was the arch window, in fact, that
even later, when some interurbans adopted rectangu-
lar, clear glass upper panels — which furnished bet-
ter interior illumination — a fake arch top, visible
only from the outside, was installed above the upper
panel in place of the usual letter board. This varia-
tion was known as the "Washington" sash after it
was first used on an order of cars for the Washington
Railway & Electric Company.

The durable, dark "Pullman green" finish of
steam railroad practice was favored by many inter-
urban roads, but many others felt that the extra cost
of less serviceable but brighter colors was good ad-
vertising. Lighter colors also afforded better visi-
bility of approaching electric cars. A variety of red,
orange, yellow, blue, and green hues were com-
monly used, and many lines were widely known by
the distinctive colors of their equipment. Interur-
ban cars were usually assigned numbers, and most


The zenith of wooden interurban car architecture was represented by the equipment delivered in 1911
by the Cincinnati Car Company for the Stone & Webster Engineering Corporation's Galveston-Houston
Electric Railway. This car is seen in the blue and white "bluebird" colors worn during the '20's, when
the Galveston Flyer won honors as America's fastest interurban. George Krambles Collection.

lines gave names only to their more elegant parlor,
sleeping, and dining cars. There were occasional
exceptions. A few lines named their cars after on-
line communities or famous local personages. Port-
land's East Side Railway gave its cars girls' names
such as Ava, Helen, and Flora; and Maine's Portland-
Lewiston Interurban named all its cars after flowers.
Interurban car interiors were usually divided into
a smoking section and a nonsmoking compartment,
sometimes referred to as the "ladies' parlor"; and
most of them had a baggage and express compart-
ment, often fitted with folding wooden seats or camp
stools for overflow crowds. The carbuilders lavished
their greatest efforts on fanciful decorative effects
for the car interiors. Fine woods of every descrip-
tion were employed. Ash, cherry, quartered oak,
California redwood, basswood, maple, and birch
were all popular. Mahoganies were imported from
Tobago, Mexico, the African Gold Coast, and South
and Central America; and teakwood came from
India, China, and the Philippines. When excep-
tional beauty and richness of finish were desired,
vermilion — a heavy, hard-to-work wood of the
mahogany family — was used. For particularly
handsome effects the dark woods were often inlaid
with white holly; and complex color schemes, artis-
tic moldings, and intricate carvings were provided.

Plush upholstery was commonly employed in the
main compartment, and the more elegant cars were
fitted with heavy draperies and thick carpeting.
More durable and easily cleaned materials, such as
leather or cane upholstery and linoleum flooring,
were favored for the smoking compartments, where
the rougher element customarily rode. Interurbans
usually had lavatories, and such other extras as
water coolers, mirrors, and electric fans. Match
scratchers and polished brass spittoons were pro-
vided for the smoker clientele, and heavy ornamental
bronze was liberally used for luggage racks, light
fixtures, hardware, and other trimmings.

With the arrival of balmy summer weather some
interurbans rolled out their special open cars. Wide-
ly used in New England and California, the open car
enjoyed a more limited popularity on interurban
lines elsewhere in the U.S. The most common type
of open car was fitted with benches running the full
width of the car and continuous running boards,
so that it could be boarded at any point. Conductors
had to negotiate the running boards to collect fares.
Waterproof awnings were lowered in case of rain.

The open car was a delight to ride on a hot sum-
mer night; nevertheless, it had its disadvantages.
Women found it almost impossible to climb aboard
the standard single-step open car after the hobble


The impressive dimensions of the WB&A's Niles "Electric Pullmans" are evident in
a broadside study. The big cars regularly clocked 66-mile-per-hour average speeds
once they got out of town. LeRoy O. King Collection.

skirt became fashionable. J. G. Brill, a leading car-
builder, came up with the Narragansett car, a
patented two-step design, as an answer to this prob-
lem. Boarding and alighting accidents were al-
together too frequent on open cars, and the prospect
of a passenger inadvertently "joining the birds'* in
high-speed interurban operation probably kept more
than one traction official awake nights. Some lines
solved the problem by providing standard center
aisles and vestibules, and screening in the lower
part of the sides.

On the West Coast, where weather was subject
to year-around vagaries, the "combination," or
"semi-open," type of car was often adopted, pre-
sumably in an effort to please everyone. One end

of the car was constructed as an ordinary closed car,
while the other was an open section. Usually, it was
found, everyone wanted to ride in the same end,
depending upon the weather. An earlier variation of
the combination type was the California car, which
had a closed center section and an open section at
each end.

Traction companies found the provision of a
duplicate set of equipment for summer operation
a costly proposition. An early effort to develop
a type of car adaptable to year-around operation was
the "convertible" car (or "nonhibernating" car,
as one builder described it), which could be trans-
formed from a closed to an open car by the use of
removable side panels. More widely used was the

This Northern Ohio Traction & Light Company interurban was constructed with the "Washington"
sash, an arrangement which employed clear glass upper sash for improved interior illumination but
retained the class of "Gothic" window design with dummy art glass arches in place of the customary
letter board. O. F. Lee Collection.



" '.,■-

Glistening in fresh varnish,
a line-up of brand-new
interurbans all ready for de-
livery to the Peoria Railway
Terminal Company was
photographed outside
the Paris (III.) plant of
builder McGuire-Cum-
mings. Charles Goethe

The distinctive architecture of the interurban car had not yet been evolved when J. G. Brill delivered this
deck roof car for service on the Washington, Alexandria & Mt. Vernon Railway's new line to Alexandria
in 1896. Nevertheless, the car was equipped with such interurban features as train doors for passage between
cars, a lavatory, and a water cooler. It was capable of hauling one or two trailers at speeds up to 45 miles
per hour. This carload of dour individuals, probably Brill factory workers, simulated passengers for an ad-
vertisement that appeared in the February 1H')6 Street Railway Journal. LeRoy O. King Collection.

"semi-convertible" car, which had window sash that
disappeared into either wall or roof pockets for
summer operation, while the side panels remained
fixed in place. The J. G. Brill Company, which de-
veloped its patented roof pocket semi-convertible
system in 1899, pointed out in some early hard-sell
advertising that the wall pockets used by other
builders often became rubbish receptacles and were
a dangerous breeding place for germs; one instance

was detailed in which a carelessly discarded cigar
had started a fire in a wall pocket.

The interurbans' strength was their ability to
furnish an economical short-haul passenger service,
a fact which was reflected in the durably furnished
coaches that predominated in electric line equip-
ment rosters. But as the interurbans began to edge
into the long-distance luxury travel field in the
years following the turn of the century, more


lavishly furnished equipment was frequently seen.
Carpeted parlor cars fitted with cushioned wicker
lounge chairs were often provided for the long-
distance limited runs, and in the Midwest and West
the open observation platform, complete with brass
railing, scalloped awning, and a drumhead sign
bearing the road's emblem or train name, frequently
appeared on the premier interurban schedules, in
the manner of the best steam railroad limited trains
of the time.

An early example of the ornate parlor cars often
maintained for charter service was the pretentiously
titled "drawing room car" that was available in 1906
to transport the elite over the 25-mile Augusta-
Aiken Railway & Electric Company in Georgia.
The car's interior was fitted with handsome rugs,

Typical of the summer cars operated hi

great numbers by street railways and in-

terurbans was this 1-t-bencb open car

built by Jackson & Sharp in 1900 for the

Philadelphia & West Chester Traction

Company. Philadelphia Suburban

Transportation Company.

Designed to please everyone in the variable California climate, semi-open cars similar to this one ranged
by the hundreds over the rails of Pacific Electric and other California interurbans. Later on, the
open section on these PE cars was enclosed up to the belt rail and eventually was closed entirely.
Visible in the photograph is the pneumatic trolley base favored by PE over the usual spring base.
Ira Swett — Magna Collection.

An interior view of a more severely
furnished Youngstown & Southern Rail-
way Niles combine clearly shows such
typical electric car appurtenances as the
conductor's fare register and the coal-
fired stove that fed hot water to the
heating system. O. F. Lee Collection.

Interior appointments of this car, built by Brill in
1907 for the West Shore Railroad's Vtica-Syracuse
electrification, were typical of the early interurbans.
The walkover seats were upholstered in figured
plush, and the interior was finished in inlaid mahog-
any. The carbuilder's fanciful decorative touch was
evident in the embellishments applied to the full
Empire ceiling and the elaborate baggage racks.
Industrial Photo Service.


Built by Brill in 1907 for the Inland Empire System,
this early parlor car was ostentatious in the extreme,
with its plush-upholstered wicker arm chairs and
heavy, patterned carpeting. The full Empire ceil-
ing was tinted Nile green, and vermilion wood was
used for the interior finish. Windows employed
the patented Brill semi-convertible system, which
permitted the sash to be raised into pockets between
the roof and ceiling for summer operation.
LeRoy O. King Jr. Collection.

During the late '20's the Milwaukee Elec-
tee's Cold Spring shops manufactured two
of these articulated coach-diner units, which
operated three times daily in a through
service from Kenosha to Watertoivn via
Milwaukee. Modestly priced table d'hote
and a la carte meals were prepared in an all-
electric kitchen. After suffering heavy
losses, the company rebuilt the diners into
straight coaches a few years later. George
Krambles Collection.

In later years parlor car interiors became more
restrained in their decoration, if no less luxurious.
Milwaukee Northern car 99 was rebuilt by com-
pany shops in 1923 from a former funeral car for a
new high-speed, extra-fare Milwaukee-Sheboygan
service. George Krambles Collection.

Samuel lnsull's rebuilding of the South Shore line
during the '20's included such Pullman-built luxury
equipment as diners and parlor-observation cars for
limited name train service. In its interior furnishings
this solarium-observation car was indistinguishable
from the finest contemporary steam railroad equip-
ment. George Krambles Collection.

plush-cushioned parlor chairs, and silk draperies, all
done in harmonious shades of blue. The interior
finish was of richly carved and inlaid mahogany,
and the ceiling was tinted a delicate robin's egg
blue. The Lewiston, Augusta & Waterville Street
Railway, in Maine, offered the special parlor-
observation car Merrymeeting to charter parties at
a cost of $7 an hour. The car seated 35 in plush-
upholstered wicker chairs, had an observation plat-
form at each end, and was equipped with a re-

frigerator and an electric outline lighting system.

In 1930 the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern
converted a former business car for charter opera-
tion. Requiring a minimum of 25 full fares, the big
car came equipped with a complete galley and
pantry, linen and tableware, a library nook, and
observation compartments at each end with circular
glass windows reaching almost to the floor; and a
uniformed porter was included in the crew.

Often buffet or dining car service was offered on


1 I T




If "J. .<

the longer interurban limited runs. All three of the
major interurbans radiating from Chicago offered
dining service, and the inauguration of through
service to the Loop by the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago
in 1905 was marked with a lavish dining car lunch-
eon for distinguished guests of the company's
officials. The group boarded the car at the Loop
elevated terminal and was served an elaborate eight-
course meal while they toured the system. Com-
mented Street Railway Journal: "Had it been served
in the evening at a downtown restaurant, followed
by after dinner speaking, it would have been called
a banquet." Dining car service was considered par-

ticularly advantageous by the AE&C since it per-
mitted Chicago businessmen to leave their desks at
noon or 1 p.m. and lunch on the way to the Wheaton
golf clubs.

Two of the finest interurban diners ever con-
structed were placed in service by the Interstate
Public Service Company in 1926 on its Indianapolis-
Louisville Dixie and Hoosier Flyers. Costing
S3 5,000 each, the cars were fitted out as combination
club, observation, and dining cars. Seats were up-
holstered in soft Spanish leather, and the interior
was trimmed in African mahogany. Portable tables
were provided for meal service, and an all-electric


The Holland Palace Car Company hoped to revolutionize
the long-distance interurban business with a com-
bination design that converted from parlor to sleep-
ing car through the use of rolling partitions. Only
two of them were ever built. Stephen D. Maguire
Collection (Above); George Krambles Col-
lection (Right).

Officers of the Everett-Moore syndicate, which controlled a number of interurbans in Ohio,
Michigan, and other /Midwestern states, rode over their Cleveland area holdings in regal
style aboard the private drawing room car Josephine, which included two observation
compartments, a stateroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a stenographer's office among its ac-
commodations. Only a few years after delivery by the J. G. Brill Company the Josephine
came to an untimely end in a spectacular fire. George Krambles Collection.

kitchen prepared food for a menu said to be almost
as extensive as that of a large hotel.

In 1903 a new company, the Holland Palace Car
Company, which hoped to occupy a position in the
electric railway industry comparable to that of the
Pullman Company in steam railroading, appeared
on the scene with a pair of ingenious combination
cars, the Theodore and the Francis, that converted
from parlor car by day to sleeping car at night
through the use of rolling partitions. First tried
on the 64-mile run between Columbus and Zanes-
ville, O., too short to make use of the sleeping car
feature, the two cars were later placed in overnight
service on the Illinois Traction System.

Although the Holland cars were considered un-
satisfactory, owing principally to excessive noise and
vibration from the power trucks, Illinois Traction's
sleeper service drew considerable interest, and in
1910 the company placed new sleepers of its own
design in service over the 172-mile St. Louis-Peoria
main line. The noise problem of the Holland cars
was eliminated by operating the new cars as trailers.

In a time before air conditioning, cinder-free

electric sleeper service offered distinct advantages
over steam railroad Pullmans, and Illinois Trac-
tion's new sleeping car accommodations were equal
or superior to those of Pullman cars in almost every
respect. Berths in the electric sleepers were fully
6 inches longer than in standard Pullmans, and the
cars featured windows for upper berth passengers,
an innovation that didn't appear on the steam rail-
roads until two decades later. A reading lamp and a
plush-lined, fireproof safety deposit box were in-
stalled in every berth. Porters on the cars served
hot coffee and rolls without charge in the morning.
Interurban sleeper travel was cheap, too. Uppers
and lowers cost only $1 and $1.25, respectively, and
porters were not allowed to accept tips. Later
Illinois Traction sleeping car innovations included
air conditioning and all-room sleepers.

Few other interurbans ever ventured into the
sleeping car business. The Oregon Electric Railway
operated sleepers between Portland and Eugene for
a few years, and the Interstate Public Service Com-
pany introduced an Indianapolis-Louisville service
in 1926 with a group of handsome steel cars. The


The Oregon Electric Railway employed a pair of these Barney & Smith sleepers, built
along conventional lines, in a Portland-Eugene service for several years before selling
them to the Pacific Great Eastern steam line in British Columbia, where they continued to
operate until recent years. Arthur D. Dubin Collection.


Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern line in Iowa, al-
though it never had sleepers of its own, once hauled
Pullman cars from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, where
they were attached to Chicago-bound trains of the
Chicago & North Western.

Occasionally the officials of some of the larger
traction systems operated handsome private cars,
which often rivaled the rolling stock of steam
road contemporaries in the luxury of their equip-
ment and furnishings. Probably the most magnifi-
cent interurban of the entire traction era was the
private car Alabama, which the St. Louis Car Com-
pany turned out in 1905 for Southern California
traction magnate Henry E. Huntington. Almost as
large as a Pullman car, the 63-foot Alabama weighed
103,000 pounds and was driven by four 200-horse-
power motors. The Alabama was the most power-
ful, and one of the fastest, interurbans ever built;
it was capable of speeds approaching 100 miles
per hour, and once covered the 20 miles between
Los Angeles and Long Beach in 15 minutes, an
average speed of 80 miles per hour. The big car
could be coupled into any steam train, and Hunting-
ton used it for trips throughout the U.S., as well
as over his own Pacific Electric system. The
Alabama's interior was finished in figured African
mahogany, with inlay work and carvings for decora-
tion, and the two staterooms were fitted with figured
Prima Vera silk shades. A dining room, with places
for 10, buffet, china closet, and a genuine fireplace,
was located at one end of the car, and an observation
compartment with a built-in jardiniere was installed
at the opposite end.

After relinquishing active control of his traction
empire, Huntington sold the Alabama to the Sacra-
mento Northern Railroad for service as a de luxe
parlor-buffet car. In 1931 a coffee percolator short-
circuited in the kitchen and the resulting conflagra-
tion burned the mighty Alabama to the rails.

The Elmlawn, acquired by the International Rail-
way Company in 1905 for the use of funeral parties
en route to cemeteries in Buffalo, Niagara Falls,
Lockport, and the Tonawandas, was typical of the
special funeral cars operated by several interurbans.
Suitably finished in a somber dark green, the
Elmlawn was fitted with heavy green draperies
which provided adequate privacy for the party, and
a special door and sliding shelf were installed for
the casket.

Frequently the interurban carbuilders pioneered
important innovations in railroad passenger rolling
stock. Several interurban lines, for example, were
experimenting with roller bearing journals as early
as 1911. The fully automatic coupling, which the
steam railroad industry has yet to adopt, was a
practical reality on an interurban line in 1914. The


interurbans were a decade ahead of the steam rail-
roads in lightweight car construction, and a wind-
tunnel-designed, aerodynamic interurban was in
daily operation in 1931, fully three years before the
first diesel-electric streamliner took to steam road
rails. But in the most fundamental advance of all
in the railroad passenger car during the first half of
the 20th century, the transition from wood to all-
steel construction, the interurban builders lagged
nearly 10 years behind the steam railroads. Even a
few street railways and subways had steel cars well
before they appeared on interurbans.

The switch to steel was a reluctant one, for most
of the carbuilders were ill equipped for metal car
fabrication. Faced with the necessity of acquiring
the expensive heavy machinery required to cut,
form, and fasten steel members, more than one
builder simply went out of business. Steel was
first used only in center sill members, then for side
plating which was fastened over wood framing
members in what was termed "semi-steel" or "com-
posite" construction. The full advantages of steel
construction were not realized until steel side plat-
ing was used in conjunction with steel framing mem-
bers in such a manner that the car sides acted as
girders and, along with the center sills, helped to
carry the car's weight. Even after cars were being
constructed entirely of steel the truss rods of wood
construction were sometimes retained, although

Directors of the C. D. Beebe syndicate, whose inter-
urban activities were centered around Syracuse, N. Y.,
traveled about their traction domain in the incompa-
rable private car 999, delivered by the G. C. Kuhlman
Car Company of Cleveland in 1910. A splendid set of
builder's views of its richly finished interior reveal
scenes of electric car luxury that was not intended for
the masses. Charles Goethe Collection (Below) ;
William D. Middleton Collection (Right).

- — ^s**-


iissrl Ut 1



C li

^4 few jear5 a//er Pacific Electric tycoon Henry E. Huntington relinquished control of his traction empire to
Southern Pacific, his celebrated private car Alabama was sold to the Sacramento Northern Railroad, where its
sumptuous furnishings became available to the general public in parlor-diner service on the Meteor and other
limited trains. It is seen here at Sacramento waiting to be attached to the San Francisco-bound Sacramento
Valley Limited. Like many wooden interurbans, the Alabama met its end by fire. David L. Joslyn Collection.







_ ... nm+

Before the automobile hearse became an acceptable
mode of transportation to the last resting place,
dignified funeral cars such as the Milwaukee
Electric's No. 1000 were a common sight on in-
terurban and street railway lines, and an on-line
cemetery was considered a definite asset.
State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

This special train, which operated over Pa-
cific Electric's Glendale line in 1914, marked
the first successful use of couplings which
automatically made car, air, and electrical con-
nections. Widely used on electric railways, the
innovation was still not adopted for general use
on steam railroads in 1961. William D. Mid-

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Online LibraryWilliam D. MiddletonThe interurban era → online text (page 4 of 23)