(to be continued in Part 5, "The End of an Era in Detroit -- The Mexico City Sale".... (coming later!))
DETROIT PCC SERIES: 1 2 3 4 5
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|THE P.C.C. ERA IN DETROIT – Part 4
(The Battle for Flexibility and Safety versus Fixed Rail)
|For additional information and photos on the streetcar era in Detroit see the publication "Images of Rail - DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS"
authored by Kenneth Schramm (Arcadia Publishing)
|(Thomas C. Van Degrift photo, from Central Electric Railfans' Association, Bulletin #120)
|The above August 1956 photo shows GM demonstrator coach #3200
while being tested by Fifth Avenue Coach Lines of NYC. Before it was
converted into this "air-suspension" model TDH-5105 (serial EXP-305)
--with air-conditioning added in 1956--it was originally built in 1950 as
GM demo TDH-5103 (serial #0001). It was during its original days as
a model TDH-5103 when it was tested by the DSR during August 1951.
(NYC Subway Web News Photo)
By the end of 1950, a fleet of 186 PCC streetcars were operating on the streets of Detroit, providing service for the city's
last remaining rail lines: WOODWARD, JEFFERSON and MICHIGAN-GRATIOT. Although the DSR was now operating
with a fleet of the most modern, streamlined, high performance streetcars of that day, a series of events would take place
which would begin to change the transit picture in Detroit for many decades to come.
In 1950, GM Truck & Coach introduced its 40-foot
long, 102-inch wide, 51-passenger, "large capacity,"
diesel-powered transit coach, the model TDH-5103.
Prior to its introduction, most transit coaches of that
day were gasoline-powered, and seated less than 45
passengers. GM would promote these new "king-size"
transit coaches as the alternative to the PCC car.
In July 1950, the Engineering Division of General
Motors developed demonstrator coach TDH-5103
(serial #0001). This GM demo would later arrive in
Detroit for testing with the DSR on August 13, 1951.
The GMC demonstrator (numbered as coach #300)
was tested by the DSR for 3,929 miles, and then re-
turned to General Motors on August 31, 1951.
After viewing the GM demonstrator, Leo J. Nowicki,
then DSR General Manager, was obviously impressed
with these coaches. Nowicki became convinced that
GM diesels should sooner or later replace everything on the property. Earlier that year he had commissioned GM Truck &
Coach to conduct a study to determine how many large GM buses would be needed to handle the DSR's major routes.
The ensuing GM Report would have a major impact on the future of Detroit transportation. It was released in 1951 by the
Transportation Survey Department of the General Motors Corporation, Truck and Coach Division.
The GM Report recommended that prime consideration be given for the acquisition of 148 high capacity (51-passenger)
GM diesel buses for the conversion of five streetcar lines: Trumbull, Mack, Clairmount, Oakland, and Mt. Elliott. It also
recommended the purchase of an additional 250 of these 51-passenger buses to replace the existing 650 "small-size" bus
fleet. Little did Detroiters realize then, but the eventual transit domination by General Motors was right around the corner.
Another event which would help play a contributing role in the change of the city's transit picture was the two month long
transit strike against the DSR by the operating employees of Division 26, of the Amalgamated Association of Street,
Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America. This strike—from April 21 thru June 19, 1951— helped to
set the stage for the conversion of five of the six remaining Peter Witt car lines. After being forced back to work under the
Hutchinson Act, many streetcar crews returned from the strike to discover that their lines had been converted to buses
and their jobs had been eliminated. The ongoing post–WWII sharp ridership decline–made even worse by the two month
strike–also made enough coaches available to replace streetcars on the same five lines later suggested in the GM Report.
Following the end of the 59-day transit strike, the DSR discontinued streetcar service on five rail lines. Between June 19th
and November 11th, the Mt. Elliott, Oakland, Trumbull, Clairmount, and Mack lines were converted to buses. With
only the Baker, and the PCC lines left operating, the Jefferson Carhouse (Jefferson and St. Jean) closed on September
5, 1951. This resulted in the Jefferson PCCs being transferred to the Gratiot Carhouse (Gratiot and Harper), with the
cars now having to deadhead along the rails of the now abandoned Clairmount line to access Jefferson Avenue.
In 1953, Leo Nowicki would aggressively begin a campaign to convert the entire system
over to GM diesel buses. His campaign would eventually include the elimination of the four
remaining streetcar lines left in Detroit. The first line on the list would be the Jefferson line,
which, according to Nowicki, was in need of approximately $1,647,500 worth of track re-
pairs and other related improvements. On the other hand, the conversion to diesel coach
operation would only require a capital expenditure of approximately $800,000—the initial
cost needed for purchasing forty 51-passenger coaches. An anticipated reduction in per
mile vehicle operating expenses associated with the Jefferson bus substitution would also
save the DSR an estimated $420,000 per year.
Nowicki also argued that fixed rail lacked the flexibility of coach operation, and that buses
would experience fewer interruptions, and could provide short-turn service when required.
He also brought home the fact that in the event of a Civil Defence emergency—which was
a real threat in those days–the flexibility offered by the use of "free wheeling" buses would
assist the department in performing more effectively in the event of a bombing attack.
In addition, Nowicki stated that thousands of daily streetcar passengers were subjected to
1954. The operation of the Jefferson bus line was transferred to the Gilbert Terminal. The 35 PCC cars that were used
for the Jefferson line were now used as spares, and for additional service on the three remaining lines. The last of the old
Peter Witt cars, which had been used as a standby fleet and for tripper usage, were immediately scrapped.
Later the same year, on September 8, 1954, the east-side Gratiot Carhouse was closed. With the closing of the Gratiot
Carouse, the PCC cars that were needed to service the Michigan-Gratiot line were then transferred to the Woodward
and Wyoming Carhouses. With only two carhouses now left in operation, a number of the Gratiot cars would now have
to deadhead along Woodward Avenue, from Highland Park to downtown, in order to access the Gratiot line.
Despite a major public relations attempt by the DSR, the conversion of its Jefferson line to diesel coaches still took place
amid the vigorous objections raised by those who still favored the retention of the city's last remaining rail lines. But with a
reported 22% increase in ridership being experienced on the Jefferson line during the months following the conversion,
DSR management considered the bus substitution to be a "great success." Unmoved by public opinion or opposition, the
DSR, led by general manager Nowicki, would now begin focusing on yet another streetcar line...
Based on similar arguments to those which were raised to justify the Jefferson conversion, the Detroit Street Railway
Commission cited $1,000,000 worth of repairs, while only $600,000 to supplant the streetcars with buses, as primary
reasons for approving the change-over of the Michigan line to buses. Conversion of the line's 24 streetcars to buses was
approved by the DSR Commission on March 28, 1955. The bus substitution plan, however, had to await the delivery of
thirty new coaches from General Motors, which weren't due to arrive until the summer. Shortly after the coaches were
delivered in August the DSR was able to convert the Michigan line over to buses. However, prior to this bus substitution,
the line's rail extension to the Ford Rouge auto plant had to be abandoned two weeks early, on Friday, August 26, 1955,
after the Ford Motor Company told the DSR to vacate the plant's Miller Road Yard by Thursday, September 1, to help
make way for a parking lot. On Wednesday, September 7, 1955, the Michigan portion of the Michigan-Gratiot line was
finally converted over to diesel bus operation.
|Detroit's first PCC line to undergo bus substitution was the Jefferson line—the city's first horse-drawn rail line
back in 1863. In this photo, car #181 can be seen at the Wayburn Loop, which is located just to the east of the city
limits, in the city of Grosse Pointe Park. The Wayburn Loop property was originally purchased by the former DUR
Company back on October 24, 1910, and still serves as the terminus for the Jefferson bus line to this day.
(Joe Testagrose collection photo)
On the very same day, the Wyoming Carhouse portion of the
Wyoming Terminal was also closed, and all the remaining cars
were transferred to the Woodward Carhouse in Highland Park.
With more PCCs now available than required to service the two
remaining lines—and with the entire fleet now located in Highland
Park–there was no place at the Woodward Carhouse to store
all of the extra equipment. Consequently, two temporary tracks
had to be laid at the Highland Park Shops–located just across
Second Avenue–to store the surplus cars.
Now confronted with a surplus of PCCs, and the eventual future
abandonment of its last two remaining rail lines, DSR officials were
extremely interested when the two cities of Alexandria, Egypt and
Mexico City, Mexico, expressed an interest in purchasing Detroit's
PCC cars. By mid-October, 1955, an agreement of sale to Mexico
City of 183 of Detroit's PCC cars had been reached. With the PCCs now on sale to Mexico City, and car refurbishing and
repainting immediately under way at the Woodward Carhouse, it would be just a matter of time before the DSR's once
large street railway operation, and the era of streetcars along the streets of Detroit, would come to an close.
|The web-site which takes a look back at the History of Public Transportation in and around the
City of Detroit.
|LEO J. NOWICKI
(former DSR General Manager)
In 1953 Nowicki began his campaign
to convert the entire DSR operation
over to GM diesel buses.
|The DSR argued that the use of center of the
road loading platforms or safety zones (like the
one pictured above), subjected passengers to
the constant dangers of vehicular traffic.
the hazards of vehicular traffic because of the center-of-street loading which is
required with the operation of streetcars. This exposure to street traffic would
be greatly reduced with the curb loading and unloading provided with the use
of buses or "trackless" trolley-coaches. It was also stated that the conversion
from streetcars to buses, and the subsequent removal of those unsafe street
loading zones, would also permit improvements in the speed and flow of traffic
by allowing for the development of left turn lanes and reversible center lanes.
But despite the considerable opposition the bus substitution plan created from
the public and the press, the conversion over to diesel coaches was approved
by the Street Railway Commission and the Common Council. After the arrival
of 75 new GM model TDH-5105 "air-suspension" coaches in January, 1954,
the Jefferson line was able to be converted to buses on Sunday, February 7,
|The arrival in August, 1955 of 30 GM diesel coaches (including
coach #1320 in photo), enabled the DSR to substitute buses for
streetcars on Michigan Avenue on September 7, 1955.
Information for the above article was compiled from various articles written by Jack E. Schramm on the Detroit 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 newspaper articles supplied by Ken Schramm, and from the Stanley Sycko Collection.
Virtual Motor City Collection photo #48414 used by permission of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
All rights, including those of further reproduction and/or publication, are reserved in full by the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University. Photographic
reproductions may be protected by U.S. copyright law (U.S. Title 17). The user is fully responsible for copyright infringement.
© 2007 (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 08-02-07)
|(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #48414 — used with permission)
|During the Annual Labor
Day Parade along
Woodward Ave., the DSR
would use shuttle buses
to continue downtown,
while Woodward PCCs
would short-turn at
Warren Avenue. In this
1954 photo, taken at the
intersection of Woodward
and Warren Avenues,
both PCC streetcars and
new General Motors
diesel buses can be seen
operating along-side each
other during the parade.
By 1954, the DSR would
have had 100 of these GM
diesels already in its bus
fleet. Within two years,
additional fleets of GM
diesel coaches would
have replaced these very
same PCC cars.
|Passenger safety was one of
the selling points used by
DSR management to justify
eliminating the last of the
city's railway fleet. This June,
1954 photo looks east along
Fort Street at Woodward
Ave., back when the former
10-story Hammond Building
(shadow only visible in photo)
occupied the south-west
corner of that intersection.
DSR buses, along with a PCC
car, can be seen loading or
unloading passengers. While
the PCC seen traveling
northbound along Woodward
must board its passengers
within the center of the
roadway, the motor buses
along Fort Street can offer
|The above two photos were taken on Tuesday, September 6, 1955, the last full day of streetcar operation on the Michigan |
portion of the Michigan-Gratiot line. Crowds of Detroiters can be seen boarding the westbound cars along Monroe street,
just east of Woodward Avenue, at Camps Martius. The following day, Wednesday, September 7, 1955, a fleet of GM diesel
buses, similar to coach #1207 passing along-side car #155 in left photo, will replace the PCCs on Michigan Avenue.
(Both photos courtesy of the Jim Husing Photo Collection)