|THE P.C.C. ERA IN DETROIT – Part 2
(The PCC Arrives in Detroit, as Politics Modernizes Detroit's Rail Fleet)
|In the Spring of 1947, a fleet of 78 PCC cars arrived in Detroit. Although an additional fleet of cars would
arrive two years later, the PCC would experience a rather short service life in Detroit. In the above photo,
series car #102 is at the northeast end of the DSR's Michigan-Gratiot line, which looped at the old
Eastwood Amusement Park on Gratiot, just north of E. Eight Mile Road. (Joe Testagrose Collection photo)
After the successful launching of the street railway industry's new standard-designed PCC streetcar in 1936, production of
these modern transit vehicles would reach nearly 5,000 units,l as transit properties across North America placed orders for
thousands of these new streamlined cars.
Detroit, however, would become one of the last cities to purchase these cars—primarily because of the campaign begun in
1936 by DSR general manager Fred A. Nolan to convert the Detroit railway operation to all buses by 1953. Nolan had
succeeded in reducing the DSR's railway fleet from 1,600 cars in 1934 to 908 cars by 1943, and also reduced the hours
streetcars operated on numerous lines. But restrictions imposed by the U. S. Office of Defense Transportation (ODT)
during WW–II would require the usage of streetcars in place of buses wherever possible to conserve gasoline and rubber,
resulting in the temporary restoration of full-time streetcar service on the city's rail lines in 1942.
Meanwhile, the issue of PCC usage in Detroit wasn't over yet. Plans were being studied in early 1945 to develop a complex
expressway and subway system in Detroit-—which would also include the use of multiple-unit PCC cars operating as trains
along the median strips of many of the newly proposed expressways. But in the end, only the freeways were ever built.
But the possibility of retaining some of the railway operation in Detroit would improve with the departure ofl Fred Nolan to
Chicago, who had accepted the position of general manager of the Chicago Surface Lines in April 1943.l Toward the end
of the war,l public pressure began mounting for the DSR to modernize the streetcars that operated along its major routes.
Proponents for a retained and modernized streetcar system—led by Councilman Eugene Van Antwerp—were finally able
to persuade the newl DSR management to purchase a fleet of PCCs to replace the aging obsolete Peter Witt style street-
cars that were being used on the city's most heavily traveled route, Woodward Avenue.
|THE DSR'S FIRST P.C.C. STREETCARS|
Detroit's first PCCs were two demonstrator cars diverted from a
Pittsburgh Rwys order in 1945.
(top left) Car #101 at the Fairgrounds loop on the Woodward
line, still in its original Pittsburgh Railways colors.
(Howard Ziegel collection photo courtesy of S. Sycko)
(top right) Car #101 seen at the Gratiot-Eight Mile loop, but
now repainted into the DSR colors of cream and red trim.
(Bill Volkmer collection photo)
(left) Car #100 was repainted and renumbered as car #141,
as seen here at the Woodward Carhouse in Highland Park.
(Bill Volkmer collection photo)
THE PCC STREETCAR ARRIVES IN DETROIT:
In August, 1945, the DSR ordered two PCC cars from the St. Louis Car Company for revenue service testing. The two
PCC cars, numbered #1674 and #1675, were diverted from job order #1646 being built for the Pittsburgh Railways
Company. The cars arrived in early October, still in their red and cream Pittsburgh livery, and were renumbered as #100
and #101. They were immediately placed into service on Woodward Avenue. These two "air-electric" cars (also known as
"air-cars") used a belt-driven air compressor to open the doors and operate the brakes. l They were 46' 4" long and 8' 4"
wide, and seated 54 passengers. Car #100 was equipped with a Westinghouse motor to operate its electrical equipment,
while car #101 used a General Electric motor. Evidently the DSR was greatly impressed with these one-man cars, for later
that same October an order for 78 new PCC cars was placed with the St. Louis Car Company, under job order #1661.
|The 78 all-electric PCCs which arrived in 1947 were more
typical of the post-war style PCCs built after 1945, and were an
improvement over the two trial cars which arrived in 1945.
(Joe Testagrose photo)
|A view inside the interior of one of the DSR's fleet of PCC cars.
Although buses would later arrive that could also seat 50
passengers, the PCC cars were larger and could offer more
passenger room than the average transit bus.
of these new cars, 100% PCC operation on the Woodward line was attained by August 10, 1947.
CITY POLITICS; MORE RAIL LINES MODERNIZED:
Although a new modernized fleet of cars now operated along Woodward Avenue,l the DSR management still continued to
move toward rail abandonment by:l continuing to eliminate streetcar lines; purchasing more fleets of buses; building a new
garage solely for bus usage; and converting its Coolidge Terminal into a bus facility. In late 1946, DSR general manager
Richard A. Sullivan announced to the press that no additional PCC cars would be purchased by the DSR. In 1947, he
also announced that the DSR plans to discontinue all rail operations by 1957. It was also under Sullivan that the DSR had
presented its own Rapid Transit study, which advocated only high-speed buses as the "superior type of rapid transit," and
more economically feasible than subways or rail rapid transit lines along the expressways.
Sullivan's position, however, was in opposition with that of councilman, now mayoral candidate, Eugene Van Antwerp, a
rail advocate who, while campaigning for mayor in 1947, endorsed a council-supported rail proposal. Van Antwerp vowed
that if he were elected mayor, he would fire Sullivan and hire a new general manager who would modernize the system. In
the fall election of 1947, Eugene I. Van Antwerp was elected as Mayor—taking office on January 6, 1948. On February
3, 1948, Sullivan resigned as the general manager. In April 1948, Van Antwerp appointed a newly elected councilman, Leo
J. Nowicki, as the new DSR general manager. l Leo Nowicki would go on to become the longest reigning general manager
in the history of the department, serving from April 15, 1948 thru January 2, 1962. l Ironically, it would be Nowicki himself
who would later become a major player in the conversion of the DSR over to an "all-bus" operation.
As mayor,l Van Antwerp continued to press for the retainment and modernization of streetcars along the DSR's busiest rail
lines. l In early 1949, there was talk of purchasing 120 multiple-unit PCCs (two or more cars coupled together as trains) for
operation along Woodward Avenue and other major lines. l However, the quoted costs forced the DSR to have to alter its
plans, and the total was amended down to 106, slightly larger, single-unit cars. On April 29, 1949, the Common Council
unanimously approved $2.7 million for the purchase of an additional 106 PCC carsl to modernize the remaining rail lines.
These cars would also be built by the St. Louis Car Company, under job order #1673. l This fleet would become the last
new streetcars purchased for Detroit.
|One of the first of the 106-car fleet of new PCCs to arrive in Detroit was car #181, which arrived in late August 1949.
Much ado was made over the new cars. Car #181 appeared in the 1949 Labor Day Parade, and was also on display
downtown at Campus Martius during the week of September 12, 1949—National Transit Progress Week. The new
car is seen here at the Woodward Carhouse in Highland Park. (photo courtesy of the S. Sycko collection)
The new fleet of PCCs began arriving in late August at a rate of ten cars per week through October. They were numbered
#181-286, with the electrical equipment split evenly between General Electric and Westinghouse.l These cars were slightly
longer and wider than the previous order, at 49' 5" long and 8' 8" wide. They were among the largest single-unit PCC cars
ever built, sporting one additional passenger window on each side, while seating four additional passengers.l Although these
cars were larger that the others, they lacked some of those features that came with the previous fleet, including the use of
lift-operated passenger windows instead of cranks, and the new cars did not come equipped with back-up controllers.
The majority of these larger cars were placed into service on the Woodward line beginning on November 11, 1949. This
now allowed the DSR to transfer the 80 older PCCs to the Jefferson and Gratiot lines, and then later to the Michigan
line. Aside from a few Peter Witt style cars being assigned to trippers during peak-hours, all four lines were equipped with
100% PCC operation by January 15, 1950.
|D.S.R. PCC cars #125 (left) and #259 (right) represent two of the three style of PCC cars which operated in Detroit. To|
the casual observer the exteriors appeared similar, but there were differences. Cars from the 1949 order (right) were
slightly longer and wider than cars from the 1947 order (left). One noticeable difference though was the winged styled
headlight ornament found on the 1949 built cars. (Joe Testagrose Collection photos)
(to be continued in Part 3, "The PCC Service Years in Detroit")
DETROIT PCC SERIES: 1 2 3 4 5
Information for the above article was compiled from numerous on-line sources relating to the history of the PCC streetcar, and from various articles written by Jack E.
Schramm on Detroit's Street Railways, including "Detroit's DSR. Part 3" (Motor Coach Age - May-June 1993), and "DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS Vol II: City Lines
1922-1956" (Bulletin 120 - Central Electric Railfans' Association), and from numerous Detroit Free Press and Detroit News articles.
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The first of the DSR's new PCC cars began arriving in the spring
of 1947, and continued to arrive at the rate of ten per week.l The
cars went into service on the heavy Woodward line on Tuesday,
May 20, 1947. The new fleet arrived sporting the new DSR paint
scheme of cream with red trimming—–similar to the color scheme
first introduced on the 1945 GM diesel buses. These 78 cars were
obviously an improvement over the previous demonstrator cars,
and came equipped with all–electric equipment, including electric
operation of the doors, and improved electrically activated brakes
on the motor shafts. l The cars were even equipped with back-up
controllers,l which were concealed behind the seat cushions in the
rear of the car.ll These controls were used solely for carhouse and
special reverse moves on the street.
The DSR's new fleet of PCC cars were 46' 5" long and 8' 4" wide,
and seated 50 passengers. l The newly designed cars were typical
of the style of PCCs built after World War–II, which featured a
re-spacing of the window posts – granting each seat an individual
window. Passenger windows could be raised with the use of crank
handles, like those used in automobiles. l Another feature included
the addition of the smaller "standee" windows – which gave more
visibility for standing passengers. These PCCs also sported a new
30-degree slope in the windshield design, which prevented interior
light glare from reflecting back at the motorman at night.
These new "all-electric" PCCs were numbered #102-140 and
#142-180, with the first group of 39 numbered PCCs equipped
with General Electric built motors for the operation of the electrical
equipment, and the last 39 with Westinghouse built motors. The
original two air–electric demonstrator cars (which to date had still
maintained their original Pittsburgh colors) were repainted into the
DSR livery of cream and red trimming, with car #100 also being
renumbered as #141. This would allow the cars with similar built
electric motors to be numbered consecutively. l With the delivery
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