THE THIRD CHANCE WAS THE CHARM
by John Engleman
In a rare photo on one of its last days of service in 1955, BTC 7014 prepares to pull in to Belvedere Carhouse from a trip on the #15 line. This is a harbinger of things to come. Read on.
On January 31, 1936, Baltimore became the second city in the World to order the revolutionary new PCC car. On that date, The Baltimore Transit Company, a charter member of The Electric Railways Presidents' Conference Committee (ERPCC), placed order number 1601 with The St. Louis Car Company for 27 of this brand new type streetcar. BTC was leading the way, second only to Brooklyn, New York, with this order for PCC cars, to be numbered 7001 thru 7027. Although BTC was second to place an order, it missed being second to actually place a PCC in service. The honor of first to run a PCC in revenue service went to Pittsburgh Railways Company who placed their car number 100 (a single sample car ordered two months behind the BTC cars) into service just days before Brooklyn. Thus Baltimore became the third city to actually place a PCC in revenue service. All 27 cars were assigned to Belvedere Car House and were used on the number 25 and 31 lines. The #25 ran from Belvedere Loop to Camden Station via Mt. Washington, Falls Road, and Hampden, and the #31 ran the opposite way from Belvedere Loop, going to Redwood and South Streets via Walbrook Jct., North Avenue, and Eutaw Street. On Sundays the number 31 didn't go downtown, but instead replaced the #13 cars across North Avenue and the St. Louis PCCs went to both Wolfe & Aliceanna Streets and North & Milton.
7023 – Baltimore’s first PCC car. Even though BTC’s PCC car numbers started at 7001, car 7023 became the first to run in Baltimore. Here car 7023 poses for a publicity photo on Roland Avenue in Roland Park. Strangely, the St. Louis cars never ran there in regular service.
The St. Louis cars were the first to be delivered in the striking livery of Alexander Blue and Cream with an orange belt rail and gray roof. There were two variations of this paint scheme as cars were repainted from time to time. No St. Louis cars were ever painted into the BTC version of the National City Lines' colors of yellow, green and gray, but all did receive the standard latter day BTC yellow and gray beginning in 1949.
In 1949, the St. Louis cars started receiving the familiar yellow and gray paint scheme. Car 7009 is heading outbound towards Liberty Heights Avenue and West Arlington on the #32 line at Park Avenue and Saratoga Street in 1954.
Two years after the St. Louis Car Co. PCCs entered service, the BTC ordered more PCCs, but this time they would come from The Pullman-Standard Car Mfg. Co. in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was also decided to number all PCC cars according to the type of controls with which they were equipped. Thus the five Westinghouse control equipped cars were renumbered from 7023 thru 7027 to 7301 thru 7305 in 1938. BTC reserved the 7000, 7100, and 7200 numbers for the General Electric control equipped cars, and the 7300, 7400, 7500, and 7600 numbers for the Westinghouse cars. The St. Louis cars, now numbered 7001 thru 7022 and 7301 thru 7305, lived and served their entire lives working out of Belvedere Car House. After the #25 line was converted to buses the St. Louis cars began to see service on the #32 to Woodlawn and West Arlington, and after the #31 was combined with the #19 they ran out Harford Road to Parkville as well. When the #32 was converted to bus in 1955, the St. Louies started to become surplus equipment, but while car shuffling and retirements were taking place a few found their way onto the #15 line out Belair Road, as that line, which was now combined with the #4, and was also working out of Belvedere Car House. The 27 St. Louis cars were never assigned to any other lines although they did occasionally manage to find their way into strange locations. BSM member, and ex-BTC operator Carvey Davis fondly remembers a few that had somehow found their way to Edmondson Car House, and he would scheme to get one any chance he could, even running them on interline trippers to Sparrows Point. (No photographs have EVER been seen though showing the St. Louis cars anywhere but on their normally assigned Belvedere runs.) In 1956, the #19 line was converted to buses, and the days of the St. Louis PCCs were at an end. As the oldest cars still on the roster they were no longer needed, and became a part of one of the largest single purges of streetcars. They were all sold for scrap to Boston Metals (along with the Brilliner) in 1956, and their final resting place was in a junkyard in Curtis Bay.
The original 7303 met a very sad and untimely end at Boston Metals in 1956.
It was at this time that the Baltimore streetcar fans had their first chance to save a St. Louis PCC. BSM founder George Nixon personally told me that Baltimore Transit had asked him if he wanted both a St. Louis car and the Brilliner to include in the collection of historic cars (which now make up the bulk of our collection) then owned by The Maryland Historical Society. Alas, George had nowhere to put them and reluctantly told the BTC, "No". By 1957, 26 of the 27 cars had been burned and cut up. Remarkably, one car, number 7018 remained basically intact until the early '80s as part of a locker room "complex" at Boston Metals. The other parts of this "complex" were four Peter Witt cars (two Brills and two Cincinnati Car Co. cars).
Car 7018 in its role as a locker room at Boston Metals scrapyard in 1980. Note the four Peter Witts behind it.
It was at this time that we had our second chance to save a St. Louis PCC. This time, the BSM leadership just plain said no, claiming that the car was too far gone and too modified to be saved. In reality, although it needed some major work, many people thought it was indeed savable. We already had one PCC (7407) and the leadership just felt we didn't NEED another one. Shortly thereafter, 7018 was scrapped along with the four Peter Witts, and our opportunity to ever get a St. Louis PCC was gone. Or was it?
Six months after Baltimore Transit placed its order for 27 St. Louis Car Company PCCs, The San Diego Electric Railway placed an order for 25 very nearly identical cars. The San Diego cars were to be numbered 501 thru 525 and would use the same Westinghouse control system as BTC 7023 thru 7027. The builders' plant in Baden, Missouri (a northern suburb of St. Louis) was suddenly becoming very busy building PCC cars.
Builder’s photo of San Diego Electric Railway #503 taken in late 1936, at the St. Louis Car company’s plant in Baden, Missouri. This car would later be sold to El Paso as number 1503.
In the intervening six months both Chicago and Pittsburgh had also placed orders for large numbers of PCCs. It is very conceivable that the production lines at St. Louis Car were working on both the Baltimore and San Diego cars at the same time, possibly side by side. Both cities had their entire orders in service by early 1937.
San Diego had a very “different” type of paint scheme. Here car 503 models its San Diego look. Notice the caboose-type marker lamp on the front and the raised trolley pole stand. Both were necessary as the cars ran on tracks also used by a railroad.
The San Diego Electric Railway was one of the first streetcar properties to be purchased by National City Lines, and on April 24, 1949, all San Diego streetcars, including the PCCs, were abandoned in favor of buses. San Diego had the dubious honor of being the first city with PCCs to abandon all streetcar service. The dry and mild climate in San Diego had been kind to the cars though over their twelve year lifespan and 17 were sold to another NCL property, the El Paso City Lines, in El Paso, Texas in 1950, with three more arriving in 1952.
El Paso car #1503 is seen here loading passengers on Avenida
16 de Septembre Street in downtown Juarez, Mexico just across
the street from Juarez’s main railroad station in 1961. The car
is painted in the standard NCL scheme, which is the same as
our Ford bus, 1298.
Southbound from El Paso, Car 1503 waits its turn just prior to the border crossing at the doorstep of Mexico. The car has been painted in the new NCL colors. Baltimore Transit also used this scheme on buses, but never on streetcars.
By this time there was only one line left running in El Paso, the 3.2 mile International loop line that crossed the border into the city of Juarez, Mexico on two International bridges. The PCCs replaced 1927 built conventional cars on this line and were an immediate success. In El Paso the cars were given the numbers 1500 thru 1519. The cars continued to provide excellent and continuous service between the two cities until the US Government decided to rebuild the two International bridges and Gateways in 1966, as the border was being adjusted. After a period of inactivity during which completely new bridges on new alignments were built (with track and wire), the PCCs resumed their duties in 1968. This was short-lived however as disputes throughout the late '60s and early '70s over various issues between the US and Mexican Governments (and El Paso City Lines and the City of Juarez) erupted. The cars were just too successful as hordes used them daily to travel into the US, and the Mexican merchants began complaining loudly that it was easier for the local populace to shop in El Paso than it was in Juarez. And then El Paso City Lines decided to fire the Mexican toll collectors at the bridges and open them up to free passage. This outraged the Mexican government and a PCC was promptly seized and impounded in Juarez causing a lengthy suspension of service.
After the car was released, tensions remained high and the line ran in fits and spurts, being out of service more often than not. Finally the PCCs were banned outright from Mexico. The City of El Paso took over the line, strung wire on a short turn stretch of trackage near the border and began running the cars on a very truncated loop entirely within the United States. This only lasted a couple years and finally in 1974 the City pulled the plug, so to speak. The cars languished both inside and outside their small carbarn until the next City Administration decided to get rid of them. Some of the cars were scrapped, some were leased to The Paso Del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society (a local group who has tried many times to resurrect a streetcar line - alas without results), and a few were sold off to private individuals. One of these individuals was Joe Skinner who owned a real estate business in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, a skiing resort town at the very top of the Sacramento Mountains, at an elevation of 8670 feet. Mr. Skinner had a small, one car-length section of track constructed and loaded his car, number 1503, onto that section and transported it intact up to Cloudcroft, where he opened the Joe Skinner Real Estate office. The car was professionally remodeled inside into an office while the outside received a pseudo El Paso paint job in that cities' final colors. (The cars had carried a number of different liveries while running in El Paso. The first was the standard National City Lines' yellow, green and white -- just like our Ford bus. This was replaced by all over mint green with a wide pea green stripe -- exactly like BTC buses at the end of Baltimore's streetcar era, which was in turn modified with a white roof -- again exactly like BTC's buses. Then some red striping was added, also replacing the pea green stripe, and finally a Mexican-inspired scheme of metallic green, and red, yellow, and white.) Car 1503 became a celebrity in Cloudcroft and was meticulously cared for. Finally Mr. Skinner decided to retire and sold the car to another real estate agent. The new agent never really did anything with the car and put it up for sale once again.
After faithfully serving its intended purpose, car 1503 was sold to a real estate agent and became his office in Cloudcroft, New Mexico where it sat for almost 25 years. This is how the car looked just a few short months ago.
Switch to present times, and now the story becomes really interesting. John Engleman had always been an instigator for PCC cars, and when he and Buster Hughes found Baltimore's St. Louis car number 7018 at the Boston Metals junkyard in the '70s, he immediately started agitating to get it. The "we don't need another PCC" faction won out, however the idea never really went away. John had been to El Paso twice to ride the streetcars there and was keenly aware of their similarity to the Baltimore cars. Sometime during 1999, he heard the rumor that the remaining El Paso cars might be up for sale, and in the summer of 2000 contacted the Paso del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society to see about buying one. The Society wanted to sell one, but the cars were actually still owned by the City of El Paso and they didn't want to sell one. The idea seemed dead until we learned of the car in Cloudcroft that was up for sale. Knowing that a lot of his ideas were considered "hair-brained" by some, John enlisted our new Curator, Mark Dawson, to lend an air of credibility to the project. Mark then contacted the real estate agents in Cloudcroft and began a long and drawn out series of negotiations. Dozens of phone calls, e-mails, and photos zoomed back and forth between Mark's home, the Museum, and Cloudcroft. The project was starting to actually look do-able. Mark even went so far as to obtain satellite photos of Cloudcroft and pinpoint the car. Then we heard the details of the "for sale" offering and almost dropped the idea. The car's owner wanted $60,000, and insisted that the car was inseparable from the land it sat on. He even claimed that the car enhanced the land's value. BSM was in no position to buy the land, and didn't want the land anyway. A stalemate ensued and for a number of months nothing much happened. Now John is not known as one who accepts the word, "No", very lightly, and one evening after a Board of Trustees meeting he blew up at Mark. Mark was on the receiving end of something he really didn't deserve, but in hindsight that night turned out to be the turning point. As a result of John's tirade one of BSM's newer members, Chris McNally, was drafted as the new negotiator with the people in Cloudcroft. A few words must be said about Chris here. Chris is a young defense trial lawyer who is extremely interested in BSM. He has an exceptional gift of gab and is one of the best doublespeak people you will ever hear. Shortly after Chris took over the negotiations new progress started to be made. Enter BSM's Administrative Vice-President Ed Amrhein who now started to get the entire Board and a lot of the working membership at least interested the project. But there was still the nagging problem of the land and way too much money. Ed suggested that the Museum might be willing to spend $10,000 to get the car, and with that "endorsement" we pressed on. All of a sudden the owner dropped his asking price to $45,000, but it was still tied to buying the land and was still way too high for us. A number of BSM members starting saying they would donate money towards the car, but we were still way too short, and the car's owner got an offer from someone else. We thought that was it, but the other offer had conditions attached to it, conditions that the owner wasn't too thrilled about. As numbers flew thru the air and we tried to find some way to make sense of and reduce the amount needed to buy the car, almost (but not quite) out of the blue stepped BSM member and ex-BTC streetcar operator Carvey Davis. Carvey loved the St. Louis cars and wanted one badly. Carvey made an absolutely unbelievably generous offer of a donation if we would use it to buy car 1503 from Cloudcroft. Telephone lines almost melted as Ed told our President, John O'Neill of the offer. It took almost a week for the effects of Carvey's offer to sink in, but at a spirited Board of Trustees meeting where Carvey formally presented his offer and John O'Neill shepherded it through, a vote was taken with only Dan Lawrence objecting, and the offer was graciously accepted with only the one "Nay" vote. The next day, Chris McNally (whom we now affectionately call "McLawyer") was on the phone and fax machine to Cloudcroft with our offer. After a few days of agonizing waiting, our offer was accepted. BSM would send one half of the asking price to the owner of a business next door to the streetcar. "Cowboy Bob", Bob Cook, the owner of Mountaintop Mercantile was in almost the same situation as we were. We wanted the streetcar but not the land and he wanted the land but not the streetcar.
Neither of us had enough money for both. After a series of complicated negotiations we came to an agreement where he would buy the land and he streetcar together and then sell the streetcar to us. We were all happy with the deal. It just so happened that Chris Howell, our new Treasurer, and John Engleman had already made plans and had Southwest Airlines tickets to go see the car the week of September 22nd. September 24th just happened to be the day the deal was finalized. Chris signed all the papers and now all that remained was to find a way to move the car 2000 miles to the East.
As luck would have it, the AAI Corporation in Cockeysville is building new trackless trolleys for San Francisco, and they are being shipped to San Francisco by truck. The trucking company, Silk Road Transport, was contacted and they indicated they would be willing to move the car as a backhaul move to Baltimore. We had expected to be ready for the car after the first of next year and figured we might be able to actually get the car to Baltimore within about six to eight months. Lo and behold, Ed Amrhein got a call from Silk Road almost right away with a move date of October 14th. Ouch! How could we possibly get the car ready that quickly?
Just minutes after learning of the impending move date, Mark Dawson, John Engleman, Chris Howell, and Josh Lepman made reservations on Southwest Airlines to El Paso for October 12th. They really did not have any firm plans on what or how they were going to accomplish this,
but they knew they had to get the car ready to move on very short notice. Arriving in El Paso they rented a car and drove the 86 miles up the mountain to Cloudcroft. This was Chris and John's second trip so they knew the area and people well. Contact was made with Cowboy Bob and arrangements started almost at once towards getting the needed personnel and tools together for the herculean job that was about to unfold. The townspeople of Cloudcroft pitched in to an unprecedented degree and work started early on Sunday morning, the 13th of October. We hired welders, earthmovers, tow trucks, begged, borrowed, or temporarily stole tools, ladders, torches, and whatever else we thought we needed. The car had been welded to the rails so the first order of business was to get it free. Under the direction of Josh Lepman, the welders started cutting. Most of the old welds were so well done that the rails had to be cut below the wheels creating holes that the car sat in. Mark, John, Chris, and Josh worked themselves to a dirty, filthy frazzle in a cold, windy, 35 degree rain most of the day, but they got the car loose before retiring to hot showers and much needed sleep down the mountain in Alamogordo that evening. The next day was move day, and by the time they had gotten back up the mountain, Silk Road's truck was waiting. After a discussion of just exactly how the loading was going to be accomplished, a crushed stone and earthen ramp was built, temporary rails were extended to the car, cables were hooked up, and with the tow truck's winch pulling and a backhoe pushing, ex‑El Paso City Lines' PCC car 1503 turned its first wheel in over 25 years.
Turning its first wheels in nearly a quarter century, car 1503 is pulled grudgingly onto Silk Road’s special streetcar-hauler from its plinth on October 14, 2002.
The loading was not a pretty sight. Some of the welds on the wheels had refused to break loose and large gloms of steel rail were still welded to some wheels, causing the #1 and #3 axles to slide instead of turn when they wouldn't clear the brake rigging. Then there were the large holes in the track which acted as giant wheel chocks. The first thing to really go wrong was the breaking of a large steel guideway ring on the tow truck. After that was replaced a piece of the winch's gear clutch broke and the tow truck was useless. About this time the local County Deputy Sheriff arrived and started to panic fearing that the streetcar was going to fall off the truck trailer. He also claimed that the truck, "was blocking the Eastbound lanes of Highway 82 and causing a bottleneck", and called for reinforcements. (In reality we were blocking one lane of a five lane wide road and the bottleneck was a maximum of 5 cars, most of whom were simply slowing down to see what was going on.)
Two different types of State Police showed up and brought the work to a standstill. Actually until they showed up there really were no insurmountable problems. Finally after much Police and townsfolk conferencing (including the Deputy Sheriff's wife reading him the riot act for causing all the problems), and with the repaired tow truck winch pulling and backhoe pushing, and with a large part of the town on hand either working with us or watching, the car was secured on the trailer.
The DOT Police then promptly banned the car from moving, and according to the local townspeople it was more due to "chest pounding" than any other reason. The car and truck stayed just on the outskirts of Cloudcroft for the next 24 hours while the proper permits were lined up and executed. As luck would have it, the move was scheduled to begin on Columbus Day and no State offices were open to get the permits, which could only be issued on the day of the move. More or less satisfied that they could do no more, Mark, John, Chris, and Josh drove back to El Paso where the next day they inspected the remnants of the line where 1503 ran, visited another car, 1510, in a restaurant's parking lot, and took a short trip over to Mexico before boarding another plane for the trip home.
So the third chance was the charm. The Baltimore Streetcar Museum and all Baltimore streetcar fans now have a St. Louis Car Co. PCC. The car is now sitting on our first piece of dual gauge trackage in front of the BSM Visitors' Center. It arrived at 11:00am on October 23rd, one hour ahead of schedule after a very roundabout trip from Cloudcroft as it twisted its way on the permit approved route thru New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Pennsylvania again, and finally Maryland. By a stroke of fate, its route to the Museum took it down Falls Road from Northern Parkway to Hampden on the #25 line, the stomping ground of BTC's original St. Louis Car Co. PCCs. It had been routed to Silk Road Transport's New York State base to transfer trucks as the truck onto which it was loaded in Cloudcroft could not be unloaded at BSM due to differences in loading and unloading facilities.
Speaking of unloading........that wasn't very pretty either. Although the car was indeed a pretty sight arriving, the unloading soon had many hearts in throats. As the truck's ramp was being raised the car broke loose from the winch holding it back and it started rolling down the ramp. The only problem was the ramp wasn't on the ground and the car ran right off the end of the ramp dropping straight to the ground. Luckily the ramp was only a little over a foot off the ground and the car just sort of buried its nose in the ground with only one axle actually falling. The ramp was adjusted and after a little pushing and shoving back onto the truck the unloading was accomplished. The car was completely on our rails at 1:00pm.
On October 23rd, car 1503 arrived at its new home…….our carbarn. It has just touched down with all eight wheels on our trackage at 1:00 PM.
By the time you are reading this the car should have already been repainted in BTC yellow and gray and numbered 7303 so if you didn't get to see 1503 as it arrived, sorry but you're out of luck. It has already been put to good use as part of The Phantom Trolley festivities and has been requested for at least two birthday party charters. We want you all to stop by and see it, to help work on it, and to help your Museum to pay for it.
As the Live Wire went to press with the Autumn issue, the car still sits outside, but its transformation to representative BTC 7303 has already begun. The roof is already gray, the front trolley catcher and sun visor have been removed and preparations are being made for minor body work and coat of yellow paint.
We are eagerly asking for donations of any size to help in replenishing the BSM treasury and to fund the restoration of this car. To that end we have made special arrangements with UpSide / DownUnder wherein any member or any friend that makes a $1000 donation to PCC 7303 will receive a beautiful Russian-made St. Petersburg Tram Collection O Gauge model streetcar, trackless trolley, or bus of your choice. To view the St. Petersburg line on the web, visit either "www.btco.net/models" or "www.sptc.spb.ru', or visit the Museum gift shop where some of these models are currently on sale. You will be receiving a donation request letter, but if you'd like to make your donation earlier just send it to The Baltimore Streetcar Museum; P.O. Box 4881; Baltimore, MD 21211, and mark it "7303". Donations of any size are welcome and are fully tax-deductible. If you are ordering a model, make sure you tell us what model you would like.
A gigantic "Thank You" goes out to the following people who actually turned this pipe dream into reality: Ed Amrhein, Carvey Davis, Mark Dawson, John Engleman, Chris Howell, Josh Lepman, Chris McNally, and John O'Neill.
Who’d thunk it? When this photo of 7303 was taken in Belvedere Carhouse in 1955, no one in their right mind would thought that 47 years later, “this car” would become a part of the Streetcar Museum’s collection. This is what the former El Paso car will look like.
(Baltimore News Post photo from the collection of Paul Sause)
(Reprinted with permission from the Baltimore Streetcar Museum's quarterly newsletter, The Live Wire. Copyright 2004, The Baltimore Streetcar Museum, Inc. All rights reserved.)
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