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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trolley Car’s Wild Dash

The Chester Bridge in 1899. Trolley car crossing. (From East Liverpool Historical Society)

While recently viewing the 1972 film What’s Up Doc? with Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, I was reminded of my trips to San Francisco and cable car rides on the steep hills of the city. The picture ends with a wild street chase up and down San Francisco’s hilly terrain. This led me to wonder if the trolleys that ran to Rock Springs Park and traversed Chester, WV, and East Liverpool Ohio ever had to navigate such steep grades. With a little research I got my answer – A BIG “YES”.

The Chester trolley line would have been relatively flat, coming off the Chester Bridge on 1st Street then left on Virginia Avenue, right on 3rd, left on Carolina and onto the turnaround near Taylor Road and the Upper End. I imagined that East Liverpool’s route may have been more treacherous. In fact, J. E. McDonald built the bridge and created Chester, once the “South Side” of ELO, as an alternative to the hilly pottery town . My assumption about navigating the hills being dangerous was found to be correct upon discovering the story below. It recounts a trolley car’s deadly dash down a 25-foot embankment on the west end of town, and was featured in the New York Times on December 9, 1906.
Cable cars like those in San Francisco are built for hills. The driver turns a wheel or pulls a lever, in newer models, and grips the cable in a slot beneath the street and the car is pulled up the hill while clutching the moving cable driven by a powerhouse on the hilltop. Let go and hit the brakes to stop. Grab the cable and go again or let gravity pull you forward on the down grade. Electric streetcars, on the other hand, rely on overhead electric cables or a third rail beneath the car to supply electricity to a motor.
Cable Car diagram:
1. Emergency Brake Lever
2. Track Brake Lever
3. Wheel Brake lever
4. Grip Lever
5. Emergency Brake
6. Adjusting Lever
7. Grip
8. Bell
9. Rear Wheel Brake Lever
10. Track Brake
11. Wheel Brake
12. Cable

San Francisco Powerhouse showing cables in and out. (Illustrations from Cable Car Museum - 1201 Mason Street - San Francisco © 2004 - 2011 Friends of the Cable Car Museum)

Although the early electric trolleys were small, and not very powerful, they were still a lot faster than the horse cars they replaced.

When, in 1932, The Steubenville, East Liverpool & Beaver Valley Traction Company wanted to go to one operator per car in order to “offset a decrease in revenue”, The Trades and Labor Council listed the dangers of operating one-man interurban cars:

1. The cars are not equipped with the so-called “dead-man” control.
2. The line traverses hilly country where landslides are frequent.
3. Heavy fogs are frequently encountered.
4. There are many steep grades on the line.
5. Operators must give information to passengers and, on one-man cars, would be required to issue fare receipts and make change

The East Liverpool & Wellsville Street Railway began operations in 1892 serving the City of East Liverpool. In 1897 the railroad system was renamed the East Liverpool Railway and again in 1905 as the East Liverpool Traction & Light Company. This interurban operated for about ten years before changing hands again as the Steubenville, East Liverpool & Beaver Valley Traction Company, which it remained until 1939 when operations were discontinued in favor of buses.


Lifari said...

Enjoyed this post, Joseph, and your interesting blog!

For a different view of how steep the Jethrow Hollow Trestle was in its first section, see my blog post at:


Emily Dentzel said...

Hi, I'm trying to track down the blogger/author who has written on the Rock Springs Park carousel. I'm a West Coast Dentzel and would like to get into the proverbial clue shack as to who is buying and selling Dentzel carousels these days. Thanks in advance for any help. Best, Chris Dentzel

Emily Dentzel said...

Sorry, My post is from me, Chris, not Emily my daughter. Thanks, Chris