|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 (see Pt.1),
production of these modern transit vehicles would reach nearly 5,000 units,las 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 operation to all buses by 1953. Nolan
had succeeded in reducing the DSR's rail fleet from 1,600 cars in 1934 to 908 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 use of streetcars in place of buses wherever possible to help 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 that also included the use of multiple-unit PCC cars operating as
trains along the median strips of many of the 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 of Fred Nolan
to Chicago, who had accepted the position of general manager of the Chicago Surface Lines in April, 1943. Toward
the end of the war, 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 new DSR management to purchase a fleet of PCCs to replace the aging
obsolete Peter Witt style cars that were being used on the city's most heavily traveled route, the Woodward line.
|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 Co. for revenue service testing. The two PCC
cars, numbered #1674 and #1675, were diverted from job order #1646 being built for the Pittsburgh Railways Co.
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. 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 had a General Electric motor. The DSR was evidently impressed by these one-man cars,
for later that October an order for 78 new PCC cars was placed with the St. Louis Car Co. 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.
cars with similar built electric motors to be numbered consecutively. With the delivery 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, the DSR management still continued
to move toward rail abandonment by 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 I. 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 Van Antwerp was elected as mayor — taking office on
Jan. 6, 1948. On Feb. 3, 1948, Sullivan resigned as general manager. In April 1948, Van Antwerp appointed a newly
elected councilman, Leo J. Nowicki, as the new DSR general manager. Leo Nowicki would go on to become the
longest reigning general manager in the history of the department, serving from April 15, 1948 through Jan. 2, 1962.
Ironically, it would be Nowicki himself who would later become a major player in the conversion of the DSR over to an
As mayor, Van Antwerp continued to press for the retainment and modernization of streetcars along the DSR's busiest
rail lines. 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. 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 Co. 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 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 Nov. 11, 1949. This now
allowed the DSR to transfer the 80 older PCC cars 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 Jan. 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.
|For Comments & Suggestions Please Contact Site Owner at: email@example.com
© 2007 (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 04-22-07)
The first of the new PCC cars began arriving in the spring of
1947, and continued to arrive at the rate of ten per week. 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. The
cars were even equipped with back-up controllers, which were
concealed behind the rear seat cushions and 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. 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.
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
ATTENTION VISITORS: Certain operating systems, particularly on Mac PCs, may distort the layout of this web-page. Adjusting the default font size
will also affect how this page displays. A printer-friendly (primarily text-only) version (right) is available for those experiencing page layout issues.
|Click-on Printer Icon to view Printer Friendly Version
|The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.