Monday, March 14, 2011

14 March 1957 “Our Towns and Public Transportation”

It seems that every time I innocently find an interesting topic, such as the beginning of the strip mall, I find myself going down an unexpected path. With the continued information I kept finding on the dismantling of tram and public trains I realized they were electric trains. I then found out that even California, where cars are so important, once had an electric tram public transportation system.

tramspileThis photo from last year for me (1956) shows  an increasing pile of Pacific Electric Railway streetcars stacked at a junkyard on Terminal Island.

horsetram In the 19th century train lines were set and cities and towns had public trams powered by horses, as seen here in New Hampshire. As electricity became more prevalent, these systems were made over to electric trams and trains.

“At one time, nearly every city in the U.S. with population over 10,000 had at least one streetcar company and nearly all of which were privately owned and were later dismantled. Bradford Snell estimates that in 1920 90% of all trips were by rail using 1,200 separate electric street and interurban railways with 44,000 miles of track, 300,000 employees, 15 billion annual passengers, and $1 billion in income.”

What is interesting here is that at this time the street cars and even the electricity supplied to them were small business owned by locals in a community. One was getting the lines and the power from local businessmen they would see in their community. This allowed easy and inexpensive transportation for the poor and working middle classes as well as jobs and money directly to THAT town or community.

apsloane In 1922 the then head of General Motors (GM), Alfred P. Sloane, established a unit in the GM corporation to ‘replace America’s electric trams and trains with buses, trucks, and cars made by them’.

In 1926 John D. Hertz (yes eventually Hertz rent a car) formed the “The Omnibus Corporation”. This company owned the Chicago Motor Coach Company and the Fifth Avenue Coach Company in New York. “Hertz was made a board member of GM the next year when GM acquired a controlling share of the Yellow Coach Manufacturing Company, a very successful bus and coach manufacturer which Hertz had founded in 1923.”

Now I started to see all these movements of a few people intentionally setting themselves up to take away the local business of electric tram systems.

In 1941, Pacific City Lines attempted a hostile takeover of the Key System which operated electric trains and streetcars in Oakland, California. This was not public knowledge until 1955!

1946 E. Jay Quimby put out a message to let people know what was happening to their affordable locally controlled public transport by the owners of the National City Lines (GM, Firestone and Phillips Petroleum). It read:

 TO: The Mayors; The City Manager; The City Transit Engineer; The members of The Committee on Mass-Transportation and The Tax-Payers and The Riding Citizens of Your Community." It began, "This is an urgent warning to each and every one of you that there is a careful, deliberately planned campaign to swindle you out of your most important and valuable public utilities–your Electric Railway System"

I had no idea that prior to all our highways we just take for granted (which were installed in the 1950’s) that an entire country of public transportation was available even in smaller towns. And that that same transportation was small business owned and maintained by that community as well as being allowed to have local small business control the electric power as well!

By the end of the 1940’s and into the 1950’s these few corporations that had been allowed to literally strip the towns and cities of their own business finally were brought up on monopoly charges.

In 1949, Firestone Tire, Standard oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, General Motors and Mack Trucks were convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to local transit companies controlled by National City Lines and other companies; they were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the ownership of these companies. The verdicts were upheld on appeal in 1951. The corporations involved were fined only $5000. In addition, the jury convicted H.C. Grossman, who was then treasurer of General Motors. Grossman had played a key role in the motorization campaigns and had served as a director of PCL when that company undertook the dismantlement of the $100 million Pacific Electric system. The court fined Grossman the magnanimous sum of $1 [Yes only one dollar!].

According to Bradford Snell, GM's own testimony had shown that by the mid-1950s, GM and its agents had canvassed more than 1,000 electric railways and had motorized 90 percent, more than 900 systems. The struggling Pacific Electric Railway was purchased by Metropolitan Coach Lines in 1953. Jesse Haugh, who ran Metropolitan Coach Lines, had also bought San Diego Electric Railway though a separate company in 1948 and was a former executive of Pacific City Lines. The remaining streetcars converted to buses in the next two years.

The remains of the Pacific Electric Railway and of the Los Angeles Railway were taken into public ownership in 1958 and continued to replace streetcars with buses.

I have to say, this again was an innocent enough discovery at first. And really, one of the reasons I did not post yesterday, was because I spend the day really discussing this with hubby. I just couldn’t believe that we , now here in 2011 facing increasing gas prices and oil debates that are tearing the country apart as well as controlling the jobs and purse strings of entire states, took away our easy electric transportation.

Even our own area, Cape Cod, had a rail system (though it was not electric) that ran from Boston to every town on the Cape. In the late 1970’s these tracks were all pulled up and replaced with the “Cape Cod Rail Trail” literally a place to ride our bikes. It is used very little compared to the ability of the small towns that dot our little island having easy and cheap access to the other towns for shopping and to jobs off cape without the expense of the car or gas!

Again I find my innocent little sojourn into time travel; a trip that was to be of petticoats and funny jello salads, uncovering more and more lies told to we, the real people OF this country, by the few who had the most money.

When I consider the jobs and growing industry that could have been made by the electric power being a ‘small local business’ as well as affordable public transport (no worries of high gas prices or car insurance or repair or traffic jams!) It infuriates me.

I have also got to the point where if one wishes to debate this side or that, I simply don’t see it. There are no real sides as this point. We simply have been duped and both sides of the political aisle are the same. Some argue over the import of the oil business in their state and if that business left the state they would be without jobs. Well, why did we allow one industry to SO control one entire state that its decisions or whims of government could put an entire group of people in or out of the poor house? We have no LOCAL buisinss, industry or transportation. How have we got here in only 60 years!

Now, when I see and read things daily from my time (1957) I just see how ever closer we are approaching the modern 21st century world and how easily we let it all slip away. Really, sometimes, I begin to wonder what we can do. I wonder if the scales HAVE tipped to far and the hope of ‘voting with our dollars’ or ‘voting in the right person’ is simply a false hope set about to keep us ignorant to the reality of our country.

Look at the economic collapse and the eventual bail out of large private Banks with Public money, while the low end workers of those same companies lost all their 401K and savings for retirement? And, this is not a Democrat or Republican thing, it is merely that we have, over the past 60 years, simply let a few larger business grow to monopolies that joined together and literally altered and controlled all the states in our Union.

It is rather upsetting, to say the least. One may call me crazy or an conspiracy theorist, except I am simply state actual facts that are easily accessed in history books, legal documents and online.

I don’t want this to be a negative. I was rather excited to hear about our various local towns and villages. And I was happy to see some of you had lovely towns and good things to say. I think maybe we can focus on what is right in those towns and think about how we could copy that in our own. But, have we gone too far? Do you think there are answers or do you even think there are problems?

Let’s discuss this and maybe I will be cheered up with your words of encouragement or even your calling me a silly ninny. I wish the facts weren’t true and that we were more in control of our own country from the small towns up, but I feel more and more a puppet of my own country.

Who wants to cheer me up?


  1. It is sad that we dismantled these public transportation systems. But, private cars are more convenient -- you come and go as you wish, without having to rely on somebody else's time schedule, such as waiting for a bus. We are an impatient people.

    I'm told that a generation ago, even our little town where I live (which used to be much bigger, yes) would get a shuttle bus to take the kids to a swimming pool in another town 30 miles away, at least once a week.

    What saddened me, here in my part of the country, was watching the railroads, which had been allowed to get into a state of disrepair, be torn up a few years ago.

    Sorry, this isn't cheerful.

    I enjoyed your thoughts. I'm with you.

  2. Wow very informative. It's so sad that technology produces such change. I long for the past. I'm having a giveaway to celebrate Spring. It ends this Friday, so check it out if you haven't already entered! Kori xoxo

  3. Mary-Of course a mix of private cars and public transportation would have happened naturally and could have EVEN (shudder to imagine) cars could have been of local make and production. The idea of branding and one overall item a FORD a pair of LEVI'S seems normal, but we could have easily have allowed local towns/cities to make and produce their own version of cars/fuel/power. Yet, we stood back and just accepted the BIG GUYS. We're told that the American Spirit is about freedom of business, yet we have almost NO real business freedom against the few large businesses now. Sad, indeed.
    Kori-Wow, you really like giveaways!

  4. We've been duped over several things in this country, as you've been discovering with our food system. Just add this to the pile.

  5. Betsy-I know! What an ever increasing pile. What worries me is I find many people today are more concerned about blame or deciding 'what side they are on' when really we need to start looking forward and DOING something to make it better. If and when things do go south, much like our economy in 08, who do you think will be okay and be safe and who do you think will be left to fend for themselves? It doesn't matter what side you are on, if you are poor/middle class, you shall be left out in the dark, maybe quite literally!

  6. 50s Gal, you are an extraordinary researcher. Thanks again for a fascinating and informative post.
    You replied to my comment on your last post inquiring if I might want to reveal the name of my town in case you expand on your strip mall and hometown shopping theme.
    I'm hesitant to do that, however I can take photos and feature them on my blog and even answer questions you might have if that appeals to you in the future.
    We live in a pretty little town and I am happy to show it off..........Denise

  7. Here is a great show I just watched on TV. It is all about the history of the streetcars here in the Portland, OR area. It is really an interesting 25 minutes that elaborates on exactly what you are talking about in this blog. I rely heavily on the excellent public transportation system here in Beaverton and Portland and am SO glad we have it! You can watch online.

  8. I want one of those electric rail cars in my house!!! I've got a great idea for them and i think it would rock! I wish I could travel back in time to get one! :(

  9. When I lived in the city I took the bus and sometimes the train everywhere. I didn't think about it. Keeping a car in the city was so expensive and not worth it to me. Very few people I knew has their own car. We figured we spent less monthly on the occasional cab ride than we ever would on a month's worth of gas and parking fees. Yes it took longer to get places (1 hour to work which was less than 5 miles away) but it was just a part of my day.

    Someone posted in the comments that we are impatient people. True. But are we impatient by nature or have we become so after years of having our own cars? When I took public transportation I had to plan my outings. I had to be organized and make sure I had cash and bus tokens. Now I live in the suburbs (which is great) and I can be somewhat slack. I can run late and catch up by taking a shortcut. I can have zero cash on me and run all the errands I need using a credit card. Yes my car is more sanitary than taking the bus but I've never run into an old friend in my car. My car keeps me from the community.

    Another side effect of public transportation disappearing is the job of store delivery person is all but gone. If you were dependent on taking the bus everywhere you'd occasionally need a pharmacy and a grocery store that delivers. I know some people who buy groceries on line and the food/household items are sent via Fed Ex. So we have corporate delivery people but not the local store keeper's son. Makes for a different community feel doesn't it?

    Very insightful. Thank you for sharing this. Really makes me think.


  10. you made us time travel to those era of tramps,old way of transportation.surely these days we need cars and Car insurance,etc.those were hassle free days of life

  11. sarah-that is so true. When we lived in the city, though we did have a car to get to and from the Cape, for the most part it remained unused and we relied on our legs/public transport and definitely had many more of those "OH, how are you" running into people moments than we have in our more sheltered life.
    I also think about the jobs and stability of the local business/jobs/economy that was part of the town city with the public transportation. When a big outside source comes in and suddenly a whole town or even state relies on them, then their lives are dependent on them and they often don't care and will up and leave. As we saw in my post about the steel towns in the midwest who changed over their entire econmy/jobs to one business and when the steel mills left everyone was wondering, 'what do we do?'. If towns could and would have more of their life from the community think how much more stable jobs and economy would be.
    I don't want to be a downer, but I can't help but feel more and more concerned the more I learn about how things were beginning to change in the 1950's and how those changes have lead to where we are now. We as a nation are really dependent on only a few big business and if they suddenly leave or change their way of doing, we are all in trouble. The world 'getting smaller' and becoming 'Global' is really the opposite of what is GOOD for the local and smaller communities. Well, even big cities such as NYC to could be really horribly affected if and when things were to change drastically.
    I wish we could find solutions, but is it to late? I don't know? I am not sure what even to do at this point, which makes me feel all the more helpless. It can be such a scary place, but I am determined to 'find my way' out of all of it and try to make some form of a better world at least for my small sphere.

  12. 50's Gal, I feel the same way about our "world getting smaller." Just look at how the earthquake in Japan is effecting the world economy already. But the only thing we can do is try the best we can. I'm encouraged by all those who have taken their food supply back in their own hands by growing produce and raising fowl. (Pat on the back for you!).

    And the up side of our "smaller world" is that in a sense we're here for each other. Every where I've been in the past few days people are raising money for the Red Cross to send to Japan. My oldest daughter even said some boys in
    her class stood outside of a Starbucks this weekend and raised $700 in a few hours. Not the way you'd expect 7th grade boys to voluntarily spend their free time. She said they just wanted to do it. No prodding from their parents. What great kids!

    So there's a positive thought for the day. Yes there are s lot of things wrong with our world but we must be getting some things right too.


  13. Oh its even worse than that. At a public display at one of my local libraries of some local historical documents I found an ad for an ELECTRIC CAR from 1911!!! 1911!!! They would come to your house and install a generator where you could charge your car in your garage in 1911! If corporations had spent money on R&D we could have been driving good electric cars with chargers on every block instead of gas stations that pollute our environment. We had technology for electric cars 100 years ago and we didnt take advantage of it AHHHH

  14. Sarah-thanks for the pep talk, you're right. How great that those kids are doing that! Good job! I love stories like that, thank you!
    hotpinksky35-I know, actually the first cars were all electric. The first and most fast electric car (could go 65 mph) was invented BEFORE the 1900's!
    We had electric cars and public transport mixed with animal transport before we even knew what to do with the oil we found.
    That is good as it means we can head back that way. But what I really think we need to do is instead of trying to find a way to replace oil for current infrastructure is think about changing the way we currently live. So that local is more important than gas or electric to travel things long distance won't be as important. But, not sure that would ever be possible.
    I know some European countries (which are smaller of course) are rethinking things. For example, I believe Sweden has made it their national law/rule that by 2020 they will be FREE from oil use and have been working towards alternative sources to make their country/electric/production work. So, it can be a realistic goal, but I think it most likely won't be an American goal until we are really in trouble and who knows when that day really is coming. I know instead of planning for it (even if it is 100 years away) isn't going to happen. We no longer are those people who plan and are responsible for our future by thinking ahead, planning and setting aside. We want to live NOW FAST and CHEAP and who cares about future generations. I wish that wasn't true and maybe someone can convince me that it isn't but every time I start reading old things and where we have come I sort of keep coming to these scary realizations.

  15. Yes, Sarah, I think we miss that community. And we are impatient because of the new technology and our now fast-paced life. 50's Gal, you conclusions are so true. Now we have no real business freedom against the big guys.

  16. My grandparents did not have a car and when my grandmother went into labor to deliver my mother, my grandfather borrowed an electric car from a co-worker to take Gramma to the hospital (Women's Lying in Hospital in Boston, now Brigham and Women's). This was in November 1915!

  17. What a great story, an electric trip to the lying in hospital in 1915! Well, that cheered me up, but then also made me a bit sad, were did all the electric transportation go? Well, actually I do know where it all went, but you know what I mean, rhetorically, 'where did it go?'

  18. Public transportation is terrible in Miami! I feel forced to drive everywhere, and I am NOT a driver by nature (because I'm bad!). I love to take the bus to work, and I get truly angry that I can't do that here.

  19. hotpinksky35, the public transportation system in Scandinavia and Europe is one of the things I miss most. I walked a lot, but also enjoyed the trams, buses and trains for longer distances.

  20. It is nice not to have to own a car, like in big cities or European cities. Cars are a big expense. And yes, where DID the electric transportation go?

  21. I think part of the reason public transportation has never caught on here outside of big cities, is the still very rural nature of our country. I live in what's considered a metropolitan area, but 15 minutes in any direction puts you in a national forest, cotton fields or sugar cane fields. Where I live it's still nothing out of the ordinary for towns to be 40-60 miles apart.

    In farm country, electric cars aren't practical right now. They're cost prohibitive for the average person, and can't haul a hill of beans. My dad's truck is a big 4 wheel drive GMC Sierra with a towing package. And we use it for that all the time. And we're not even farmers! I don't like small cars because of all the big trucks that are on the roads around here. It might have a 5-star crash rating, but it won't survive a collision with one normal sized pickup truck.

    Public transit works great in Europe and in larger cities because the population is so much more dense. Louisiana has 8 cities/metro areas with more than 100,000 residents. Three are in the northern part of the state, one in the middle (mine)and the rest are down south. Public transit isn't practical in most of them because they're built around the river or in the middle of a swamp. What little there is, is unsafe for a young white woman to get on. I would not ride the bus here! It's not safe.

    Then there's all the bridges to deal with over rivers, bayous, creeks and swamps. You can't go anywhere in this state without crossing at least 2 bridges. I have to cross two bridges to go to church. They're very expensive to build across the Mississippi. It's a mile wide down here!

    In Louisiana, we've never really had rail travel. For a very simple and obvious to us reason. We have so many waterways and swamps that building railroad tracks was cost prohibitive. We didn't get our first rail line in the whole state until nearly 1880! Prior to 1940, nearly all interstate travel from where I live and south, was done by water. It was easier, faster and cheaper than trying to build train tracks through a swamp and the Mississippi River flood zones.

    Even today, passenger rail doesn't really exist in any capacity. Even moving cargo by train is not that common. The major train tracks are in the northern part of the state. My little area of 120,000 people has one of the busiest ports in the whole South with military shipments in and out of Fort Polk, and agriculture. We ship by river down to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It's still cheaper and faster.

    New Orleans still has its street cars, as does Memphis, TN. The N.O. street cars are used all the time by residents, especially if you're going from the Garden District to Canal Street. Parking is a royal PITA on Canal.

  22. Actually in 1835 New Orleans, Louisiana, (which has the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) had electric trams.
    Electric trucks and vehicles did have actually MORE power than the internal combustion engine. WE also DID have a quickly growing train system that was meant to connect rural America, as then people couldn't just 'pop down to Walmart for something'. A very large percentage of our rail systems were removed, covered over and destroyed.

  23. Also their prohibitive cost today is because they were intentionally put aside for so long, and which I have found out was DUE to Rockefeller and Oil.


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