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Biddeford & Saco #31 was the first car in the collection at Seashore Trolley Museum. A small group of fans got together in 1939 to "save" this car, a 12bench open car built in 1900 by J.G. Brill Co. Photo by Dave Cremins.
  (Click on the photo for a larger image)

Third Avenue Railway car #631. One man, lightweight car built in 1939 by the Third Avenue Railway. Now in service at Seashore Trolley Museum. Photo by Dave Cremins.
(Click on the photo for a larger image)


The Trolley Cars

Evolution of the Trolley - Article 7

The early years saw a lot of the horse cars converted to electric cars and the first of the cars, designed as electric cars, followed somewhat the same ideas. Whether open car or closed car, the end platforms were usually open and the motorman occupied the same position as the drivers of the horse cars did. As the years past, the design of the cars was constantly changing to meet the needs of the times.

Certainly the most common of the car designs was the "closed car" and as the time passed this type car was seen in many variations. A favorite in areas of milder climate, and in the summer months in other areas, was the "open car". The "breezers", as they were often called, were especially enjoyable on those hot summer nights before air conditioning. Cars using a combination of the two were know as the "semi-open" and the "California Car". These were more popular in areas where the climate didn't change drastically between winter and summer but were rather popular because you could go inside on inclement days and ride in the open portion on the good days.

In the earlier days of the trolley the cars were generally riding on a single truck but as the cars grew larger and larger the double-trucked cars appeared. Also as time went on and cars grew is size the companies with a large fleet of cars soon found that keeping two fleets of cars, open cars for the summer and closed cars for the winter, was quite expensive. Several new designs solved this problem. One, a "convertible" car where the side panels of the cars could be removed for use as an open car o r reinstalled for use as a closed car or where the side panels could be slid out of the way into pockets in the roof and the floor. And there was the "semi-convertible" car where the upper portion of the side panels could be slid out of the way, storing a portion of the panel above or below, while leaving the lower portion in place. Another big advantage with the use of the semi-convertible cars, to the companies, was that boarding and leaving the car could be controlled a lot better than on the open cars, reducing liabilities from falls and the tactics of fare evasion, that was always a problem.

Eventually the open cars faded from existence. There were a few other car types that were tried but were not widely used, the double deck car and the articulated car. While double deck cars were popular in other parts of the world they never became so in the U.S. For a time Boston was using an articulated car that was rebuilt from two single truck car, adding a small entrance section between them. Dub bed "two rooms and a bath", these cars were successful enough that they went of to do the same thing using larger double trucked cars. The list grows even longer if you want to consider the many special purpose cars such as "U.S.mail cars", "hearses", "sightseeing cars", "parlor cars", and "combination cars" for hauling passengers and express freight and more. Trailer cars were also popular with many street railways.

As mentioned before, the closed cars and the semi-convertibles became the most common type of car. Prior to the turn of the century, most cars were constructed of wood but the new larger double-trucked cars were beginning to appear made from steel. Boarding times and collecting fares was becoming a problem and resulted in several new car designs. The center entrance car very much improved boarding times, typically boarding at a lower, center entrance allowing the car to get underway while you paid your fare and stepped up into the seating area of the car. The P.A.Y.E. (Pay As You Enter) Car, the Nearside Car and the Peter Witt Car were other attempts at improving efficiency.

In most cases these cars all required the use of a two-man crew, the motorman and the conductor. Just prior to the First World War, as competition from automobiles, busses, jitneys and the like ate away at the profits of operating the railway efforts were made to cut costs. Most significant of these was the introduction of the Birney "Safety Car", a lightweight, single truck car that could be operated by one man, serving as both motorman and conductor. These cars became quite popular with the companies and by 1920 were being made in double-trucked versions as well. While the Birney's helped save the car lines, they had already reached their peak and were heading towards a decline.

Copyright 1999 Dave Cremins, Delphi Railroading Forum

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