Friday, July 5, 2013

More on Trolleys...

I thought I had posted more here before -- the People's Tramway, the trolley line from Plainfield to Putnam, fascinated me when I learned more about it last year.

It was actually part of a larger system generally owned or controlled by the New Haven railroad. Call me cynical, I can't figure out how much was business optimism overtaken by technology (people loved the flexibility of schedule of cars and trucks by 1920)...and how much of this was schemes to divert money into insider's pockets -- have the New Haven or outside investors buy stock that financed the construction, with plenty of profits for those who owned the construction companies and/or would have titles like Vice President in all the little trolley lines.

Another trolley line connected Plainfield to Norwich, while the separately incorporated Thompson Tramway connected Putnam to Webster, where the Webster & Dudley would transit that town before handing off travelers to the Worcester Consolidated system for travels from Oxford north. My understanding of this is at least from Plainfield to Webster it was treated as a single system (no transfers), and perhaps as far south as Norwich. You would transfer to Webster.

In turn these Eastern Connecticut systems would become part of the Shoreline Electric Railway, which was part of the Connecticut Company, which was part of the New Haven Railroad...maybe the wikipedia entry would help to show how clear as mud all these relationships were: Connecticut Company

The trolley barn and worker's housing was located at present day Route 101 & Maple Street; the trolley barn is no longer there (it stood on the northeast corner of the intersection), but the little houses across the street for the workers still exist. Alexander's Lake was developed by the trolley company as a park to generate recreational traffic for the trolley line.

There was also a transfer station in Elmville (where Colt's Plastics is today at Dog Hill & Route 12) between this system and the Providence & Danielson Railway.

The Providence & Danielson Railway opened in 1901, and its coffin nail was the construction of the Scituate Reservoir which in 1920 flooded a large portion of their tracks. It ran from Olneyville in Providence out along present day Route 6A and 6 to North Scituate, crossing the Pawtuxet river to run down it's west bank to the Ponganset river, thence up its east bank to Rockland. This served numerous mill villages in Scituate -- all flooded by the reservoir.

Rockland was the location of the powerhouse and trolley barns. Crossing the Ponganset, it proceeded to Foster Center, then roughly up present day Route 94 to East Killingly Road to Bear Hill Road where it crossed into Connecticut. It then followed Valley Road down to Dog Hill to Elmville terminating by Route 12. This path is approximate -- I know some sections it ran within the road right of way, others were new ROW constructed for it.

(From The Investigation of the Affairs of the Rhode Island Company)

The opening of the P&D caused the closing of the last stage coach route in Rhode Island (and I would take a good guess Connecticut and Massachusetts). It's amazing to think of stage coaches still operating in Eastern Connecticut in 1901!

The following five photos come from The Rhode Island Railroads Google Site:

Powerhouse & Trolley barn in Rockland, RI -- one of the villages now under water.

Trolleys also carried freight...

Even flatbeds!

Rails being built adjacent, but not in, the highway.

One bit of freight was milk -- the "milk car" could carry 900 milk cans, leaving Elmville at 6am and stopping at intersections along the way to pickup cans left by farmers, arriving in Olneyville at 9:40am. A major advantage of the electric trolleys over steam railroads was their ability to quickly accelerate (and brake), making frequent stops much more practical. In addition to milk, seasonal products like huckleberries and ice were hauled into Providence, while cotton bales were brought to the mills and finished goods back to the port. More on the freight uses, including how only less-then-car-load cargos could be carried between Elmville & East Killingly due to the lack of power (the voltage having dropped at the far end of the system from Rockland) and steep grade can be found here.

Assuming these were typical 10 gallon milk cans, that's 9,000 gallons of milk -- that's a bit more than a standard 8,000 gallon tractor trailer bulk milk tanker today!

By 1910 about 3,500 passengers a day were being carried between the various stops on the line, with freight being about 1/3rd of their revenue (the rest being passengers).

There 1906 Winter Schedule:
From a history of Foster.
That's 11 trolleys a day from Providence to Danielson.
Clayville, the furthest west stop in Scituate, picked up several more runs -- including to Providence as late as 10:25PM and from Providence at 11:15PM.
Only in recent years has commuter rail between Worcester and Boston become once again this frequent and covering so much of the day.

P&D tracks through Rockland, RI. Source

And People's Tramway tracks in Dayville, CT. Source

Can you imagine the confusion today of having trolleys running in either direction...and as the two pictures show not consistently in the middle, left, or right of the road...on the single tracks mixing with traffic today! It may be a good thing that the rapid growth of autos and trucks after WWI undermined trolley economics.

Another conflict with modern world is the wires -- an educated guess would be 600 volts for the trolleys. This would conflict with todays "communication zone;" telephone, cable, and fire alarm wires would need to be above the 600 volt uninsulated wires the trolley receive their power from. This would create a lot more safety conflicts for workers as well as the general public.

I also shudder to think that today, with our mature forests, how much damage would be done in wind storms. In 1900 Connecticut and Rhode Island were generally much more open country.


Residents of Providence and Danielson, R. I., mourn the loss of the Providence & Danielson Railway, authorized recently to be scrapped. The thing these people feared has come upon them. Despite all that the road did for them, these people have suffered the line to decay and die. The funeral oration as delivered by the Danielson Transcript showed ingratitude, the marble-hearted fiend, at its worst. That paper said:
The road is dead. Its life has been a beneficient one. It served a previously isolated country. It turned a worthless wilderness into greenbacks. It doubled and trebled real estate values. It brought the farmer nearer to the city markets, and gave the merchant a quick freight. It gave an impetus to village growth and improvement. The city and country folks came and went and knew each other better. There was greater homogeneity.
Educational privileges were enhanced and multiplied. The city newspaper came out daily where before it was unknown. Scores of bright Rhode Island boys and girls came up to our Killingly High School, or further down the line attended the city schools.
Healthful and pleasant recreation and enjoyment were promoted. Picnics, Old Home Days, fairs, etc., multiplied along the line, and an ever helpful and courteous management catered to the pleasure of its patrons.
The road was always popular with summer tourists, who were seeking a day's outing and were delighted by the transition from the lowlands, the smoke and the smells of the city to the fresh breezes of the western highlands. During its brief life of less than twenty years it transported more than 20,000,000 people.
With unfeigned sorrow and many regrets we see our old friend handed over to the merciless undertaker of the junk heap. The hand of local progress has moved backward along the dial even beyond the time of the stage coach days of genial John Richards and William Stone. Providence is again a distant city.
—Electric Railway Journal

And one final note, circling back to my continued uncertainty as to how "up and up" the trolleys were...after the system was placed in receivership and just before it would be forced to close by the construction of the Scituate Reservoir, Theodore Francis Green, the namesake of T.F. Green Airport, would become Vice President. Legitimate job? Or a way for the railroad corporations to funnel some money "legitimately" to a politician?


Unknown said...

Thank you! I have been fascinated by the Providence & Danielson Railroad ever since I was a boy in Foster in the 1960's, and lived in this house:

The rails were long gone, but the shed was my workshop, and I still have a door from it stenciled 'Fare Limit'. We would find spikes when digging holes to plant shrubs along the fence, and there was the one-rotting-beam remnants of a bridge over a stream that we dared each other to crawl across.

Bob Vennerbeck -

Bruceclouette said...

I had one very minor comment about the Providence & Danielson's milk business: the 900 cans of milk per day does not necessarily translate to 9000 gallons. MIlk cans came in a couple of different sizes, and a 1903 photo of a P&D express car (before the acquisition of its dedicated milk car) shows what appear to be 10-quart (2 1/2 gallon) cans. But that's still a lot of milk! (1350 gallons).