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?

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