William D. Middleton.

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many carbuilders were convinced that the compres-
sion introduced into the steel frame when the truss
rods were tightened actually served to weaken a car
rather than to strengthen it, as its users supposed.

By 1915, all-steel interurban car construction was
almost universal. The greater safety of steel equip-
ment in the event of accidents was an improvement
of major importance, and the lines which adopted
the new cars were quick to exploit the publicity ad-
vantages. In 1915 one line, the Toledo, Fostoria &
Findlay Railway, went so far as to insist that the
builders use round-head, rather than countersunk,
rivets wherever possible in its new steel cars, in
order to clearly advertise to the public that the cars
were not made of wood.

The use of steel was lavish in the first years of
metal car construction. Some of the first steel cars,
built for the Union Traction Company of Indiana in
1913, weighed almost 43 tons; and some of the
heaviest cars ever built, which were turned out in
1914 for the Michigan Railway, weighed over 65
tons. Within a few years, as the builders became
more familiar with the new materials, excess weight
was eliminated, and cars of comparable size were
being built which weighed less than 30 tons.

Soon after World War I, when the automobile
first began to make serious inroads upon interurban
passenger revenues, many lines started to search for
means of effecting substantial operating economies.
Some of their most rewarding efforts were in the
direction of lightweight car construction. Stronger
alloys, lightweight metals, and better design were
all used in an effort to reduce carbody weight, which
in turn permitted the use of smaller trucks and
motors with corresponding economies in power con-
sumption. Ten lightweight cars built by the G. C.
Kuhlman Car Company in 1922 for the Western
Ohio Railway, for example, weighed only half as


An otherwise conventional interurban of the Syracuse Northern Traction Company was distinguished
by the experimental application of roller bearings. Several other interurbans, as early as 1910,
made similar applications, far in advance of the adoption of roller bearings by steam railroads.
Robert O. Waters Collection, from William R. Gordon.

A close-up shows one type of fully automatic
coupling, in interurban service on the Balti-
more & Annapolis. William D. Middleton.

much and consumed only half as much power as
the cars they replaced, yet were capable of speeds as
high as 50 miles per hour.

A number of builders produced satisfactory light-
weight cars, but the most notable of the lightweights
was the distinctive curved-side design developed by
the Cincinnati Car Company. An important struc-
tural innovation gave the cars their unusual "fish-
belly" appearance. A reverse curve, introduced into
the alloy steel side plates, provided a girder strength
much greater than that afforded by a flat plate of the
same weight. Vertical stiffeners, cut to the curve of
the side plates, maintained the side contour. The
roof was built as a unit and was supported by two
pairs of vertical posts which rested directly on the
body bolsters. The window posts, which were
structural members in ordinary -car construction,
were simply inserts between the side plate and the
letter board in the Cincinnati design. A special low-
floor arch bar cantilever truck was developed for the
car. Aluminum was liberally used for interior fit-
tings to further conserve weight.

The first Cincinnati curved-side cars, a group of
10 built in 1922 for interurban service on the Ken-
tucky Traction tk Terminal Company, were nothing
less than a revolutionary improvement. Weighing
barely 25,000 pounds in working order, the lightest


Interurban car architecture of the heavy steel car period tended to straightforward, functional design,
and rarely were the results more pleasing than in the case of this Indiana Service Corporation combine,
one of five constructed by the St. Louis Car Company in 1926. Wilbourne B. Cox Collection.

cars of their size and capacity ever turned out by
Cincinnati, they weighed less than a third as much
as the wooden cars they replaced, and the company's
interurban power load was reduced by half. Four
25-horsepower motors gave them a free running
speed of 36 miles per hour — almost 10 miles per
hour slower than the cars they replaced — but im-
proved acceleration and deceleration characteristics
made it possible to maintain the same schedules.
The reduced power costs, in addition to the econo-
mies of one-man operation, enabled the line to re-
duce its fares. So spectacular was the success of the
new cars that within two months a parallel bus op-
eration had been forced out of business.

Even at an early stage of development interurban
cars were capable of rather high speeds, often in

excess of 60 miles per hour, but over-all running
times were usually anything but rapid. Lightly and
cheaply built lines, which precluded sustained high
speeds, and the almost universal operation through
the streets of cities and towns, made high average
speeds impossible. As late as 1906 three Ohio in-
terurbans were claiming the "fastest electric service
in the world" with limited trains which each av-
eraged only about 32 miles per hour. The deficiency
in speed was unimportant in the short haul passen-
ger business, for the steam trains were even slower;
but as the interurbans essayed the long haul trade,
speed became a matter of great concern.

In 1904 the John Stephenson Company, of Eliza-
beth, N. J., exhibited a 12-wheeled interurban car,
designed for extremely high-speed operation, at the

To provide increased seating capacity in a single unit, a few lines came up with articulated interur-
bans. The Milwaukee Electric Lines created eight of them in its Cold Spring shops in 1929 from
conventional steel cars acquired from the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Company. The re-
sulting "duplex" units seated 84 passengers. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.


A less successful interurban experiment was this
bizarre device applied to the front end of a Buffa-
lo & Lake Erie Traction car which ivas designed
to utilize beat from the headlight to defrost the
front windows. Stephen D. Maguire Collection.

The powerful heavy steel cars received by the
North Shore Line during the '20's, combined with
track and power improvements, enabled the company
to gain world honors for its high-speed schedules.
A Chicago-bound train of '20's-vintage equip-
ment, photographed during the mid-'50's in mod-
ern Silverliner dress, upheld the tradition as its
motorman notched the controller all the way around
to maintain a start-to-stop Racine-Kenosha timing of
10 miles in 10 minutes. William D. Middleton.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. The
car, it was claimed, could attain speeds as high as
120 miles per hour, but there is no evidence that it
was ever operated at speeds even approaching this
figure. Stephenson, however, did produce some re-
markable high-speed cars at an early date. In 1903
a Stephenson-built car on the Aurora, Elgin &
Chicago Railway managed to cover the 35 miles be-
tween Aurora and Chicago in 34 minutes 39 seconds
despite the loss of over 6 minutes in stops, and nu-
merous speed reductions for steam railroads, trolley
lines, and street and highway crossings.

In 1903 the officials of the Louisiana Purchase
Exposition organized the Electric Railway Test
Commission to conduct a series of tests to develop a
carbody design that would reduce wind resistance
at high speeds. A long series of tests was carried
out by the Commission in 1905 on the Union Trac-
tion Company near Noblesville, Ind., with the
Louisiana, a special dynamometer car which con-
sisted of a 32-foot carbody arranged to roll freely
on rails secured to a special motorized flat car so
that the carbody's resistance could be measured in-
dependent of that for the entire car. Vestibule
sections of different shapes were suspended inde-
pendent of the carbody, with a dynamometer to
measure the resistance of each. Over 200 test runs
were made at speeds up to 70 miles per hour with
parabolic, wedge, standard, and flat vestibule ends.

The Louisiana test results indicated that a para-





bolic-shaped front end reduced wind resistance at
high speeds below that of the conventional rounded
profile, and a variety of interurban known as the
"windsplitter" car subsequently appeared on several
lines in Indiana, Ohio, and New York. Although the
streamlined front end gave a dramatic appearance
to the cars, no significant operating economies were
realized, and streamlining was soon discarded for
another quarter century.

Interurban lines showed renewed interest in high-
speed operation in the face of the increasing auto-
mobile competition during the post-World War I
period. The first speed-up efforts took the form of
heavy steel cars, equipped with powerful motors,
which were capable of extremely high sustained
speeds. The most notable results along these lines
were achieved by the three major Chicago area inter-
urbans controlled by Samuel Insull, which not only
operated handsome new steel cars but, even more
important, spent millions in reconstructing track
and power facilities to enable the lines to fully ex-
ploit the potential capacity of the new cars. Top
speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour were reached
regularly, and station-to-station averages as high as

This builder's close-up shows the "drum" connector employed to connect the
carbodies of the articulated interurbans delivered to the Washington, Baltimore &
Annapolis by J. G. Brill in 1927. William D. Middleton Collection.

Most successful of the lightweight cars produced during the '20's was the Cincinnati Car
Company's curved-side design, which was produced in such numbers for both interurban and street
railway service that it became known as the Cincinnati "rubber stamp" car. This trim parlor car
was delivered to the Indianapolis & Southeastern Railroad in 1929, only three years before the
company went out of business. The car itself, however, operated for another 14 years on lines
in Tennessee and Georgia. George Krambles Collection.


70 miles per hour were not infrequently attained.

On other systems efforts were directed to the
development of a lightweight, high-speed car that
could operate smoothly over the typically light,
often rough interurban track, for many of the lines
could ill afford the costly overhaul of roadbed and
power systems required for satisfactory high-speed
operation of heavy equipment.

Late in 1929, Dr. Thomas Conway Jr. and associ-
ates formed the new Cincinnati & Lake Erie Rail-

road from three ailing Ohio traction properties and
immediately ordered from the Cincinnati Car Com-
pany 20 radical new high-speed cars designed to win
back a declining passenger traffic. The design of the
new cars was based upon extensive experimentation
begun by the Conway group early in 1929 and
carried out in conjunction with the Westinghouse
Electric & Manufacturing Company, the General
Electric Company, the J. G. Brill Company, the
Cincinnati Car Company, and the Westinghouse

A rakish parabolic front end gave the "windsplitter" cars evolved from the 1904 Louisiana tests a
formidable appearance, but the design proved to be no faster than conventional cars and few were built.
This steel windsplitter was one of two built by G. C. Kuhlman in 1912 for New York's Utica-Syracuse
third-rail line, where they were known as "Arrow Cars." It is seen here on Clinton Square in
Syracuse about to depart on a Utica local schedule. Industrial Photo Service.


Traction Brake Company. Based upon the test re-
sults, specifications were built up under the direc-
tion of W. L. Butler, C&LE executive vice-president,
for a low-level, lightweight car of steel and alumi-
num that would be capable of sustained speeds in
excess of 75 miles per hour.

Among the major problems faced by C&LE and
the manufacturers were the development of a satis-
factory low-level truck which would operate smooth-
ly at the extremely high speeds contemplated and
the design of motors that were capable of producing
the necessary power yet would meet the severe
clearance limits of the low-level trucks. Braking
presented another serious problem, and from the
test program it was determined that something in
addition to air braking was required.

The Cincinnati Car Company adapted some of
the low-level arch bar cantilever trucks used on its
lightweight interurbans and mounted them under a
car comparable to the type planned by C&LE for
experimental purposes. A design was evolved for
a satisfactory 28-inch-wheel, low-level truck, and
following prolonged negotiation both Westinghouse
and General Electric contracted to supply traction
motors which developed 100 horsepower yet were
compact enough to be mounted on the Cincinnati
truck. The braking problems were solved by de-
signing a magnetic track brake which came into play
only after the air brake application approached the
safe limits of wheel friction.

The new cars, which made liberal use of alumi-

num, went into service during 1930. Eminently
successful, they were capable of speeds in excess of
90 miles per hour. In the extensive publicity which
surrounded their introduction, one of the cars at-
tained a reputed speed of 97 miles per hour in a
race against an airplane staged near Dayton in July
1930 for the benefit of Pathe newsreel cameras. An-
other of the cars outdistanced a racing car by 15
lengths in a race held on the National Pike between
Springfield and Columbus. Soon after the high-
speeds went into regular service Electric Railway
Journal reported, "Certain of the de luxe trains over-
take and pass such steam trains as the Ohio State
Limited to the great amusement and gratification of
the interurbans' passengers."

The response to the new equipment was heart-
ening, and C&LE reported increased business at the
expense of private autos, buses, and steam trains.
Three weeks after the cars went into service the
Big Four Railroad was forced to discontinue its
Cincinnati-Columbus Senator.

A year later the newly formed Indiana Railroad
System acquired a fleet of 35 similar cars from Pull-
man and the American Car & Foundry Company.
Somewhat heavier, the Indiana cars had all-alumi-
num bodies and employed a more conventional type
of equalized cast steel truck. Unlike the C&LE cars,
they were equipped for multiple unit operation.

In 1930 the Conway group gained control of the
Philadelphia & Western Railway, which badly
needed new equipment to regain its competitive


Exhaustive testing pro-
duced the phenomenal
"Red Devil" lightweight,
high-speed car for the
Cincinnati & Lake Erie in
1930. Ten were built as
straight coaches, and 10
as coach-lounges, fitted
with swank furniture and
provided with "wrap-
around" windshield visi-
bility from the observa-
tion section. The 123 was
photographed at Moraine
Park. Both Photos:
Mayfield Photos Inc.


position with newly electrified suburban lines of the
Pennsylvania and Reading railroads. Co-ordination
of a broad research program and preparation
of detailed plans for the new cars was placed under
the direction of P&W Vice-Chairman W. L. Butler,
who had been largely responsible for development
of the C&LE high-speed car design. One of the
C&LE cars was shipped to P&W, where a testing
program conducted in collaboration with the J. G.
Brill Company produced an improved low-level
truck design.

An elaborate wind tunnel investigation was
carried out at the University of Michigan under the
direction of Prof. Felix W. Pawlowski to develop a
carbody design which would permit the attainment
of the desired high speeds with the lowest possible
power consumption. Some 30 types of models were
tested and Professor Pawlowski determined that a
streamlined car could be constructed which would
save 40 per cent or more of the energy required by
the conventional type of suburban car operated at
speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour.

The 10 Brill-built "Bullet" cars that were the
result of the P&W research program represented
the finest lightweight, high-speed interurban cars
ever constructed. Built almost entirely of aluminum,
the big 55-foot cars each had a total weight of barely
26 tons. Wind tunnel research had shown that even
such items as roof ventilators had an adverse effect
on power consumption, and the roofs of the Bullets
were unbroken by vents. Instead, ventilating air
was drawn in through louvers at front and back of

The Indiana Railroad's celebrated fleet of 35
high-speed cars delivered in 1931 was similar

to the design developed by Cincinnati & Lake
Erie. Pullman and ACE divided the million-
dollar order. Barney Neuberger Collection.

Wind tunnel research, along with experience
gained with the C&LE cars and the rest/Its of still
more testing, produced this "Bullet" design for
Philadelphia & Western in 1931. The sleek cars
not only looked, but were, capable of speeds of
over 90 miles per hour. WILLIAM D. Middleton.

the cars and exhausted through streamlined ducts.

The cars were designed for M.U. operation, and
completely automatic, self-centering couplers were
developed which made car, air, and electrical con-
nections. Four 100-horsepower GE motors were
mounted on the new Brill 89-E high-speed trucks.
Equipped with field taps, the cars were able to attain
speeds as high as 92 miles per hour, and in a test run
one of the cars covered the 13.5-mile P&W line from
Norristown to the 69th Street Terminal in Upper
Darby in just 11 minutes.

The high-speed car development represented vir-
tually the last major effort of the interurban car-
builders, soon to succumb to the combined effects
of depression and a rapidly failing traction industry.
Aside from a 1932 order for five cars of a modified
Bullet design, constructed by Brill for the Fonda,
Johnstown & Gloversville, none of the lightweight,
high-speed car designs was ever repeated.

With a few notable exceptions, interurban car
construction came to a virtual end during the early
years of the depression. In 1939 the bankrupt
Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee came back from
a paralyzing strike and near abandonment with an
order for two streamlined, air-conditioned trains
that represented an ingenious solution to an almost
impossible set of operating conditions. The North
Shore wanted a train that could run like the wind
and provide all the comforts of a steam road stream-
liner. Yet it had to operate through the narrow plat-
forms and around the hairpin turns of Chicago's El
and, like a streetcar, negotiate major thoroughfares
in Milwaukee. All this notwithstanding, builder
St. Louis Car Company managed to shoehorn a com-

plete streamliner into the Electroliners 156-foot,
fish-bellied length. Constructed of welded high-
tensile steel, each of the Electroliners consisted of
four articulated units, driven by eight 125-horse-
power motors and capable of speeds in the vicinity
of 85 miles per hour. Entirely successful, they rep-
resented the finest interurban equipment ever

Another Chicago interurban, the Chicago Aurora
& Elgin, purchased 10 new cars from the St. Louis
Car Company at the end of World War II. While
they featured a number of mechanical and electrical
improvements, they were little different in outward
appearance from the heavy steel cars of the post-
World War I era. The very last interurbans of all
were three streamlined trains delivered by St. Louis
Car to the Illinois Terminal Railroad during 1948-
1949. Clad in corrugated aluminum and trimmed in
blue, the three hoof-nosed trains featured air con-
ditioning, reclining seat coaches, parlor-observation
cars, and a la carte dining service.

Modifications of the streamlined PCC ( Presidents'
Conference Committee) streetcar developed in the
mid-'30's were used by several interurban systems.
Pacific Electric, Illinois Terminal, and Philadelphia
Suburban employed double-end, multiple-unit PCC-
type cars in suburban services, and the Pittsburgh
Railways used PCC cars on its long Washington and
Charleroi interurban routes.

Quite often during the interurbans' declining
years, equipment improvement took the form of re-
building and modernization of elderly rolling stock,
with sometimes questionable results. Metal plating
was often applied over the wood sheathing of an-

Articulated carbodies permitted the North Shore's Electroliner streamliners to snake around the abrupt
curvature of Chicago's elevated and Milwaukee street railway tracks, and a "fish-belly" side enabled them
to squeeze between narrow elevated platforms. One of them whipped along north of Racine, Wis.,
at close to its 85-mile-per-hour top speed on the way to Chicago. William D. Middleton.


9 a:

The very last interurbans of all were three of these streamlined trams for the Illinois Terminal Railroad's
St. Louis-Decatur and St. Louis-Peoria services. One is shown arriving at IT's subway in St. Louis.
Their accommodations included reclining seat coaches, dining service, and parlor-observation sections, and
all of these were comparable in every way to those of the finest postwar steam road streamliners.
Stephen D. Maguire Collection (Left); William D. Middleton (Right).

tiquated cars in an effort to deceive the public, but
this provided no added protection when wooden
equipment was involved in collisions. Arched win-
dows and stained glass became anachronisms as
America entered the age of streamlining, and the
sheet metal that was used to conceal them from view
usually destroyed the graceful lines and pleasing
balance of the carbuilders' architecture of an earlier
time. Garish color schemes with such fanciful
effects as wings, swirls, and stripes were often em-
ployed in an effort to lend an air of speed and
modernity. The North Shore Line went so far as
to tediously decorate some of its equipment with
aluminum paint and shadow markings in an effort

to convince passengers that its 1920-vintage steel cars
were really corrugated stainless-steel streamliners.
More to the point, many interurbans concentrated
on mechanical improvements and interior renova-
tion of equipment, and a few even added air con-
ditioning. The South Shore Line, which began
chopping some of its solid Pullman-built interur-
bans in two and splicing in an extra mid-section to
gain extra seating capacity during World War II,
carried the process still further on many cars to add
new foam rubber seating, picture windows, and
air conditioning, and managed to produce interur-
bans that rivaled the best contemporary steam road
coaches in passenger comforts. 1



Roadside and Rural


The New England Trolley

Southbound from Kaugatuck to New Haven, a Connecticut
Company trolley crossed a trestle at Beacon Falls in 1936. Wil-
bur Sherwood, from Jeffrey K. Winslow Collection.


Roadside and Rural

The New England Trolley

A shady road with a grassy track;

A car that follows free;
A summer's scene at early morn;

A nickel for a fee.

— Clinton W. Lucas.

iNlOWHERE was simple joy riding by trolley more
popular than on the intensively developed intercity
electric network of New England. Almost all of the
scores of lines were built to standards more appro-
priate for street railways, and the true high-speed
interurban of Midwestern practice was a rarity. In-
stead, the New England electrics wandered leisurely
along on lightly constructed trackage that followed
rural roads, or sailed over hill and dale. Because
speeds were usually low and frequent changes of
cars were required, few used the trolleys for serious
long-distance journeys, but the very nature of such
relaxed and unhurried travel encouraged the de-
velopment of the trolley vacation and the Sunday
outing by electric car. So intensive was electric line
development in such states as Connecticut and Mas-
sachusetts that several alternate routes were usually
available between principal points; between New
Haven and Boston, for example, venturesome trol-
ley tourists could choose from four major routes,
with numerous minor variations. Many of the lines
operated amusement parks, and there were large
numbers of summer theaters, hotels, resorts, and

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Online LibraryWilliam D. MiddletonThe interurban era → online text (page 5 of 23)