DETROIT PCC SERIES: 1 2 3 4 5
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|THE P.C.C. ERA IN DETROIT – Part 5
(The Ending of an Era in Detroit and The México City Sale)
|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)
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 both Ken Schramm and the Stanley Sycko Collection. The excerpt from
the November, 1956 edition of the Electric Railroaders' Association's "ERA Headlights" (page 2), was sent to the author by Dennis M. Linsky of Brooklyn, NY,
while *the above Philadelphia PTC–NCL information was sent in by Michael T. Greene of Philadelphia, PA.
Virtual Motor City Collection photos #2931 and 2931_4 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 03-30-09)
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|On Sunday, April 8, 1956 — the last day of streetcar operation — Detroiters would bid their final farewell to their streetcars
as car #285 leads a 24-car procession of PCCs south along Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. During this DSR sponsored
final excursion nearly 2,000 passengers jumped on board the cars for that last trip. The photo above looks north along
Woodward Avenue, just south of Midland Street, from atop the Detroit Terminal Railroad overpass. As the parade proceeds
south, two of the new replacement GM diesel buses can be seen traveling north along Woodward.
(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #2931 — see disclaimer below)
|During the final two weeks of streetcar operations in Detroit, railfans chartered cars for four excursions on the
city's soon departing PCC fleet. On Sunday, March 25, 1956, the Michigan Railroad Club chartered five cars for its
last fantrip over the Woodward line and the just abandoned Gratiot line. In the above photo, the five-car caravan is
south along Woodward Avenue, between Larned and Jefferson, across from the new City-County Building. Absent
from this photo is the Marshall Fredericks' "Spirit of Detroit" monument statue, which didn't arrive until 1958.
(Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University photo #2931_4 — see disclaimer below)
Streetcar operation on the Gratiot line came to an end early Sunday morning, March 25, 1956, at 4:30 A.M., when the
last car finished its run and pulled–in to the Woodward Carhouse, ending an era of Gratiot streetcar operation dating
back to September 12, 1863. This now left the Woodward line (the department's highest patronized and profit-making
route) as the last street railway service operating in Detroit. But with only two weeks of rail operation remaining, many
Detroiters took time out to say their final good-byes to their streetcars.l A number of the cars were chartered by private
clubs, railfans, and even a suburban elementary school. l Newspaper polls taken at that time revealed that the public was
opposed to the switch to buses by more than three to one. But that day which would change the face of Detroit transit
for many decades to come had now arrived.
On Sunday, April 8, 1956, the last regularly scheduled streetcar operated its final run in Detroit. At 4:15A.M., PCC car
#233 left the Fairgrounds Loop for its last southbound "through" trip to Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. On board
this final trip were twenty railfans, the DSR Superintendent of Transportation James Bostick, and ironically, none other
than DSR General Manager Leo J. Nowicki, the mastermind behind the conversion from PCC cars to GM diesels.
At 5:00 A.M., car #233 made its last northbound trip and arrived at the Fairgrounds Loop at 5:45 A.M. It completed its
final run when operator Paul Payne, badge #351, pulled PCC #233 into the Woodward Carhouse at 5:56 A.M.,
ending streetcar operation on the Woodward line, which dated back to August 27, 1863. l The era of a once large and
vibrant street railway operation in the city of Detroit had just about come to a close. Consequently, with the elimination
of its streetcars, the city of Detroit then replaced Cleveland, Ohio as the largest U.S. city with an all-bus operation.
THE END OF AN ERA:
After the conversion of the city's Jefferson line to diesel buses on February 7, 1954, followed by the Michigan line on
September 7, 1955, only two lines remained of what was once a large street railway operation in the city of Detroit. But
by the fall of 1955, it was becoming more evident that the PCC operation along the Gratiot line was in jeopardy as well,
as construction along the new Edsel B. Ford Expressway was progressing eastward toward Gratiot Avenue.l With the
DSR now looking to sell most, if not all, of the city's streetcar fleet, the Detroit Street Railway Commission had been
reluctant to contribute the $70,000l needed to support streetcar operation over the new Gratiot Avenue bridge across
the expressway.l With rail service unable to cross the new expressway, PCC operation along the Gratiot line would also
have to cease operations within a matter of months.
Meanwhile, by the end of 1954, the entire Detroit PCC fleet had been advertised for sale to a number of PCC operators,
but no buyers were found. The MUNI system in San Francisco showed an interest, but turned down the offer because
of that city's current financial problems, while the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) of Toronto, Canada expressed
no interest. In late 1954, officials from the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) were interested in the city's
first 78 standard-size "all-electric" cars purchased in 1947.l However, negotiations were abruptly terminated on March 2,
1955, when Douglas Pratt, a National Cities Lines official, became president of the PTC, and terminated talks with the
DSR. The Philadelphia company had come under the control of National City Lines, which decided that the PTC go in
a more bus-oriented direction.*
Of the remaining two rail lines, Gratiot would be the first to undergo the conversion to buses, effective March 25, 1956,
while the conversion of the Woodward line would take place two weeks later. Unfortunately, however, PCC operation
on the Gratiot line would deteriorate tremendously during the last few days and weeks of operation, as the DSR shops
concentrated on preparing the cars for delivery to México City. There were reports of frequent breakdowns, shortages
of cars that required buses to fill some runs, and cars remaining out on the line without pulling into the yard, forcing the
motormen to make unscheduled reliefs on the street in order to maintain some levels of service.
Still determined to find a buyer for its surplus cars,
the DSR sent requests for bids on its entire fleet of
cars to transit properties outside of North America,
including a number of South American properties.
By May of 1955, only two cities, Alexandria, Egypt
and México City, Mexico, expressed any interest,
each making purchase offers for the Detroit PCCs.
Shortly thereafter, intense negotiations were under
way for the possible early sale of all Detroit street-
cars to Mexico City. With the imminent sale of the
cars now an almost certainty, the Street Railway
Commission, on September 12, 1955, approved
a recommendation to liquidate the entire streetcar
operation in Detroit during the Spring of 1956.
After the Mexico City sale was finalized, orders were
placed for 150 GM diesel buses — eighty of which
to carry out the conversion of the Gratiot and
Woodward rail operations. General Motors had
promised the city that it could deliver ten coaches
per day beginning in mid-March.
|Car #237, the last car in the procession, carried the
banner... "The JOURNEY'S END." While a smaller sign
posted just above the banner read... "ADIOS"
(Richard F. Glaze photo, source: Detroit's Street Railways Vol II)
Later, on the afternoon of April 8, 1956, the DSR sponsored a
special "End of the Line" grand parade and final excursion along
Woodward Avenue. The parade, accompanied by police escort,
was led by the Highland Park High School band and consisted of
vintage police and fire vehicles, turn-of-the-century automobiles,
and last in the procession, a parade of 24 PCCs carrying almost
The last streetcar in the parade, and the last to operate over the
streets of Detroit, was car #237, which carried members of the
Michigan Railroad Club. At around 5:30 P.M., operator Rufus
Echols, badge #4192, pulled car #237 into the Woodward
Carhouse. The era of nearly ninety-three years of street railway
service in Detroit had now "officially" come to an end.
As sad as it was for this chapter in Detroit Transit History to come to an close, I'm sure many Detroiters had even more
tears to shed over the disturbing circumstances which transpired regarding what seemed like a fire-sale of Detroit's PCC
cars to México City, Mexico.
|(top photo) PCC cars line-up at the Woodward Carhouse in Highland |
Park as passengers climb aboard for a 24-car final farewell trip.
(bottom photo) The lead car, #285, displays a banner which reads.....
"THE LAST STREET CARS OPERATING IN DETROIT... WELCOME NEW
(photo source: photo #1 – DSR Files, photo #2 – Stephen M. Scalzo collection)
|This "New Service" flyer was issued by the DSR to |
announce the upcoming conversion of the Gratiot
and Woodward lines over to new GM diesel buses.
(click-on above photo to view larger image)
(photo source: Detroit's Street Railways Vol II CERA Bulletin 120)
THE MÉXICO CITY SALE:
By late 1955, an agreement had been reached between Detroit and Mexico City officials on the purchase of 183 of the
DSR's "all-electric" PCC cars. l Initially, Mexico City had offered Detroit $1,098,000 total, or $6,000 apiece, for each
car. But while the DSR and the Common Council continued to argue over the abandonment of rail service, the Kansas
City Public Service Co. influenced the bidding process by also offering its PCCs for sale to Mexico City. Consequently,
Mexico City lowered its Detroit offer to only $699,000, or $4,000 for the first 150 cars and $3,000 for the remaining
33 cars, after a Kansas City lower offer forced the bidding down. l Even though the book value for the cars was around
$22,000 each, DSR management felt that they were fortunate to even sell the cars at all, since PCC service had been
declining greatly in recent years, and there was little interest for the cars coming from other U.S. cities.
On October 12, 1955, with Mayor Albert E. Cobo present, the Street Railway Commission accepted Mexico City's
lower offer after the DSR agreed on an additional requirement to increase its service on the Michigan andl Woodward
lines by 25%. That December, DSR officials announced that a final agreement had been signed between the DSR and
Méxcio City's Servicio de Transportes Eléctricos del Distrito Federal (STE) for the purchase of the 183 available
"all-electric" PCCs from Detroit's fleet of 186 cars. The original two demonstrator "air-electric" cars, delivered in 1945,
were rejected, while car #150 had been wrecked in a collision and was later scrapped.
|Almost immediately after the sale of Detroit's PCCs to Mexico had been finalized, work began at the Woodward Carhouse
and the Highland Park Shops to refurbish and repaint the cars for delivery to the Electric Transport Service of Mexico (STE).
In left photo, repainted PCC cars can be seen lined-up at the Woodward Carhouse prior to their delivery to México City.
In right photo, rejected "air-electric" cars #101 and #141 (ex-100) are seen being cut-up and scrapped in May of 1956.
(Photo source: Dave's Electric Railroads — Stephen M. Scalzo collection photos)
In addition to the purchase price, Mexico City also agreed to pay an additional $400 per car for painting, $350 for new
upholstery on 77 cars and $50 per car for loading them on railroad flatcars for shipping. Perhaps the most troublesome
part of the agreement for Detroit, and most advantageous to Mexico City, proved to be the part of the contract which
required the DSR to perform a complete and thorough restoration of each car. While each car underwent a 72–point
inspection by a Mexico City inspector, some of the cars that failed the inspection would require more than just touch-up
work. The end result of this intense inspection resulted in each car looking like a brand new car before it left Detroit.
This thorough inspection and additional rebuilding escalated labor costs far beyond estimates. City Auditor David Addy
would inform the Common Council that, "The DSR has spent more money renovating 69 cars than it will be
reimbursed by Mexico City for work on all 183 cars." Because of the higher than expected renovation costs, it
was concluded that the DSR ended up absorbing approximately $500 per car.
Basically, in his zeal to eliminate all rail service from Detroit, General Manager Nowicki's proposal for rail abandonment had
expected to realize great savings for the DSR in both the reduction of operating costs, and by avoiding considerable
track rehabilitation expenses. His plan was based on long-term cost avoidances, but failed to consider the up-front costs
involved in a one-shot sale of all the cars. It was concluded that after all total costs involved, including depreciation loses,
escalated labor costs, pole removal, the cost of new buses, etc.., the DSR experienced a paper loss with this conversion
and sale of about $3.4 million.
After having completely restored and repainted each car with its new cream with green trim paint scheme, the fleet was
renumbered #2102-2140, 2142-2149, and #2151-2286 (with the prefix-number "2" added before the original car
number). The last of the sold PCC cars left Detroit for México City, Mexico on Thursday, July 19, 1956.
The following account of the last Detroit PCC being sent away to México City—taken from the November, 1956 edition
of ERA Headlights—was sent in by Dennis M. Linsky, a transit enthusiast from Brooklyn, N.Y.
It was July 19, 1956, when railfans and DSR officials gathered at the Highland Park shops to witness the parting
of Detroit's last PCC car which was bound for Mexico City. Loaded on a Pennsylvania Railroad flatcar was STE
2185 (ex-DSR 185). While newspaper and railfan pictures were taken, at 11:00 A.M., Detroit Terminal Railroad
diesel locomotive 115 made the final pickup of a streetcar from the shops. The same day, all remaining trolley
wire in the abandoned Woodward Car House was removed. All car house trackage has been sold for scrap at
$17,000. It was also disclosed that the DSR hope to realize about $100,000 from the sale of spare PCC parts to
Mexico City's STE which included 4 spare Clark B-2 trucks for the 1949-model PCCs.
The ex-Detroit PCCs would continue to operate in México City until the last of that city's tram operation was temporally
shut down in 1984. Sadly, what was left of the remaining former Detroit PCCs came to a tragic end when the cars were
destroyed during a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck México City on September 19, 1985. The fleet was undergo-
ing restoration when the carbarn at Tetepilco Yards (the STE main shop) collapsed, crushing the cars. The earthquake
had put an end to nearly thirty-eight years of service from those cars, the first nine of which were in Detroit.
|PCC car #2232 (ex-#232) along with other PCC cars, can be seen in this July, 1956 photo sporting their
new cream and green livery after being loaded on a railroad flatcar and ready for shipment to México City.
(Photo source: Dave's Electric Railroads — Stephen M. Scalzo collection photo)
|FORMER DETROIT P.C.C. CARS AT WORK IN MÉXICO CITY, MEXICO|
|Car #2175 (ex-DSR #175) photographed In México City in 1962, still
sporting its cream and green livery. The STE installed left–side doors
on all its PCCs to allow access from center platforms on some routes.
(Joe Testagrose Collection Photo)
|Although the former Detroit PCCs would maintain their STE numbers
(#2102-2286), the cars would undergo a redesigned paint scheme by
the early 1970s. Ex-DSR #189 is seen here in 1973 with a new livery.
(Joe Testagrose Collection Photo)
|During the mid-1970s, a number of STE cars began sporting a
completely redesigned paint scheme. Car #2222 (ex-DSR #222) was
photographed in 1973 sporting its newly designed livery.
(Photo source: world.nycsubway.org – Joe Testagrose Collection Photo)
|By the early-1970's the México City STE had refurbished the interior
of its PCC cars, including car #2282 (ex-Detroit #282) as seen in the
above photo taken in April of 1971.
(Photo source: world.nycsubway.org – Joe Testagrose Collection Photo)
|The last remaining ex-Detroit PCCs were being refurbished when the
carbarn at the Tetepilco Yard literally crushed the PCC fleet during the
magnitude 8.1 México City earthquake of 1985.
(photo source: unknown photo collection)
|The aftermath of the destruction rendered by the 1985 México City
earthquake on car #2231 is pictured above. Some salvageable parts
from the PCC fleet were later used to build 17 new rail cars.
(photo source: unknown photo collection)
|The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
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|The above photo, taken on Sept 26, 1955, shows PCC car #269 as it
boards passengers along Monroe Street (at Campus Martius) in
downtown Detroit during the last months of rail service on the Gratiot
route. GM diesel coach #1247 can be seen passing the car's left. In
just six months, new GM diesels will take-over operation of the line.
(Photo courtesy of the Jim Husing Photo Collection)