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Uptown Archives - Edward Branley - The NOLA History Guy
New Orleans Public Belt – NOPB Roundhouse #TrainThursday

New Orleans Public Belt – NOPB Roundhouse #TrainThursday

The last remaining roundhouse in New Orleans stands on Tchoupitoulas Street.
NOTE: this post is an update of one from 2018.

nopb roundhouse

Unidentified man stands next to NOPB locomotive #22

NOPB Roundhouse on the riverfront

Franck Studios photo of a Baldwin 0-6-0 switcher. NOPB received the engine new in Jan. 1921. It bore construction number 54415 from Baldwin, and its NOPB road number was 22. The engine was retired May 1957. The photo shows the engine coming off the turntable and entering roundhouse stall 5.

NOPB operations

new orleans public belt 1941

New Orleans Public Belt 1941 – Baldwin 0-6-0 switcher at the Tchoupitoulas terminal (courtesy NOPB)

The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad is a “short line” railroad. It operates along the Mississippi River in Metro New Orleans. The city created NOPB in 1908. They fixed the issue of railroad congestion along the riverfront. The Class I railroad wanted their own tracks and terminals along the wharves and warehouses. So, the city created a Class III railroad, the NOPB, to connect them.

A state agency manages the NOPB. It is the Public Belt Railroad Commission. The commission also maintains the Huey P. Long Bridge, since it services both railroad and automobile traffic.

The following railroads travel over NOPB tracks:

  • BNSF Railway
  • CSX Transportation
  • Canadian National/Illinois Central
  • Kansas City Southern
  • Norfolk Southern
  • Union Pacific
  • Amtrak

Engine Terminal

nopb roundhouse

Google Earth image of the NOPB Tchoupitoulas terminal.

NOPB services its engines at the roundhouse on Tchoupitoulas. While turntable/roundhouse facilities were common prior to World War II, they became less common as diesel locomotives entered wider service. Diesel locomotives operate easily in either direction. Steam locomotives have a clear “front” and “back.” Turntables enabled the service facility to easily reverse the direction of the steam equipment. For diesels, crews just engaged the engines in reverse.
The image above is a Google Earth shot of the Tchoupitoulas facility today. Engines enter the facility from a siding track connected to the riverfront “main line.” The turntable directs equipment onto seven sidings. Depending on what’s required, an engine may simply park outside the roundhouse, or enter the stall. The tracks to the left of the circle appear to be a separate building for heavy maintenance tasks.

Dating the Photo

The photo was commissioned by the NOPB. So, it is part of the Franck Studios archive at the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC). HNOC dates the photo 29-October-1941, but there are dozens of photos with that date. It’s possible they were all processed by Franck Studios then. Therefore, it’s not clear just when the picture was taken. Since the engine was in service until 1957, it’s possible that the photo is indeed from 1941.

Mystery Man

We haven’t been able to identify the man in the white suite in the photo. Given that he’s dressed in a white suit, it’s more likely he is either a NOPB commissioner or a city or state official. We’ve contacted NOPB in the hopes they know who he is.

 

Podcast 41 – Krewe of Proteus

Podcast 41 – Krewe of Proteus

We’re talking about the Krewe of Proteus, a Lundi Gras tradition.

proteus

Mobilius in Mobili photo

Podcast 41 – Krewe of Proteus.

Happy Lundi Gras! The Krewe of Proteus first rolled the streets of New Orleans in 1882. While they’re not the oldest Carnival organization, they’re the oldest that still parades. Here’s the video of the history of Proteus:

Heere’s the PDF of the presentation.

The Krewe that came back

proteus

Of the three krewes that withdrew from parading in 1992 (Comus, Momus, and Proteus), the Krewe of Proteus returned to the streets in 2000. As we discuss in the pod, Proteus had stronger reasons to return to public view. While the other two krewes hold seniority, Proteus held visibility. Momus paraded on the Thursday before Mardi Gras. That spot now belongs to the Knights of Babylon. Babylon traditionally paraded on Wednesday, and moved up in the pecking order. Or did they? After all, Thursday night now belongs to the Krewe of Muses, one of the super-krewes.

Comus paraded on Mardi Gras night. When they began in 1857, the Mystick Krewe were the only parade in town. Over a century, however, other krewes out-shone the oldest organization. By the 1980s, the Comus parade was essentially glorified transportation to their ball. Worn out from a day of marching clubs, Zulu, Rex, and the truck floats, the majority of Uptown carnival-goers gave up before dusk.

proteus

The Comus ball, held for decades on one side of the Municipal Auditorium on Mardi Gras, is still the Big Deal in “society” circles. Even Rex defers to Comus by leaving his own ball and closing out the season with Comus. So, the members of the Mystick Krewe didn’t lose much sleep over not returning to parading. That’s ironic, of course, since they eventually did prevail in court over the city.

Proteus, on the other hand, had the most prominent position of the three. Even before “Lundi Gras” was an event in itself, they embraced the anticipation and excitement of the evening, leading into the big day.

Riding the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar by Donabeth Jones

Riding the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar by Donabeth Jones

Artist Donabeth Jones captured a common New Orleans scene #watercolorwednesday.

Donastreetcar watercolor by Donabeth Jones

Donabeth Jones – Riding the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar

Watercolor by artist Donabeth Jones. The painting presents a family on the streetcar. Here’s the record in the LDL:

 Interior view of a streetcar showing a woman holding a baby and a girl sitting on a seat. Behind them is a man dressed in blue shirt, pants and baseball cap. The woman wears a pink dress, yellow hat and earrings and gray shoes. The small boy in her arms is dressed in yellow; the young girl wears a blue dress, pink hair ribbon, white anklets and white Mary Jane shoes.

While Jones painted this watercolor in 1997, the well-dressed mother and daughter harken back to earlier times. Perhaps this family rode the streetcar to church. Folks shopped casually in 1997. Canal Street declined as a shopping destination by the 1980s.

The streetcar

The St. Charles Streetcar line switched to the 1923-vintage arch roof streetcars towards the end of the 1920s. Under New Orleans Railway & Light (NORwy&Lt), the 400-series arch roofs ran on this line. So, both were designed by Perley A. Thomas. Thomas designed the arch roofs for Southern Car Company. He started his own company to fill a second order for arch roofs in 1923. New Orleans Public Service, Incorporate (NOPSI) operated the transit system at that time. So, they continued using the design.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) continues operation of the arch roofs to this day. Additionally, NORTA maintains the streetcars to the specifications of their National Historic Landmark designation. Mom, daughter, and baby sit on one of the wooden bench seats. The back of the seat is hinged. So, when the streetcar changes from outbound to inbound, riders can flip the sit to sit forward. The young man behind them sits on a bench seat mounted into the side of the streetcar. Those seats are right behind the operator. He would be expected to give up that seat close to the door for a rider with special needs.

Christmas Tide – Rex 1914 #watercolorwednesday

Christmas Tide – Rex 1914 #watercolorwednesday

“Christmas Tide” was a float in the 1914 Rex Parade.

christmas tide

Rex presents Christmas Tide

The theme for the 1914 edition of the Rex parade was, “The Drama of the Year.” It’s no surprise that the krewe featured Christmas as part of that drama. This is a design sketch for the “Christmas Tide” float. The float features a Celtic Cross formed by light emanating from the Star of Bethlehem. A choir of angels surrounds the cross as a shepherd and his flock look up in wonder.

From the Tulane library record: Watercolor on paper, 16.5 x 20 inches, Rex float designs, Carnival Collection, Manuscripts Collection 900, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Elaborate themes, exciting floats

The School of Design regularly presents beautiful parades. After all, the King of Carnival requires an appropriate escort when he takes to the streets of Uptown. While a modern parade offering a calendar/holiday theme might use “pool floats” on the cheap, Rex doesn’t play that. Their “drama” included floats like this one, “Lament of the Winter Winds,” and “Court of King Winter.” Artists hired by the krewe begin with pencil sketches of the floats. The Captain and his officers finalize the parade’s order. The sketches become watercolor paintings. The float builders turn those paintings into three-dimensional reality.

Actual photos

While this is #watercolorwednesday, I neverhteless wanted to find an actual photo of this float. I’ve yet to find one. There’s an auction site that offered a copy of the newspaper “broadsheet” published that year. I’m not a customer of that site, so all I can see is a thumbnail.

Happy Holidays!

I hope you had a wonderful Festival of Lights! May your Yule this week be everything you wish, and Christmas next week be happy and peaceful. May Mr. Bingle smile on you and bring you joy.

Streetcar Parade Changes 1950

Streetcar Parade Changes 1950

Streetcar parade changes happened to keep the streets clear.

NOPSI ad regarding transit service during mardi gras 1950

Streetcar parade changes

Ad in the Times-Picayune, 20-February-1950, outlining the “Changes in Streetcar and Bus Routes during Carnival Parades” for Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras that year.

In order to clear the streets along the routes of Carnival parades, certain temporary changes in streetcar and bus routes, principally in the Canal Street area, will be necessary. The dates and hours during which the changes will be in effect, as well as the points in the Canal Street area at which passengers may board and alight, are shown below. Service on the St. Charles-Tulane Belt lines will be interrupted during the parades along part of St. Charles Avenue as outlined below.

The timing of the changes: Lundi Gras, 6:30pm to about 9:30pm. The only parade of the evening was the Krewe of Proteus. It moved pretty quickly down the route, since they wanted to get their ball started on time at 9pm, at the Municipal Auditorium.

On Carnival Day,

Canal Street will be cleared of Traffic all day Mardi Gras from 9:45 a. m. until the night parade clears the street about 9:30 p. m. Passengers should board and alight at the points shown, below between those hours.

The parades on Mardi Gras were Rex during the day and Comus at night. Zulu had a less-formal route at this time, so it didn’t figure into the transit calculus.

Loading and unloading

The Canal line looping back at Crozat isn’t all that different from what happens now. The buses, being more flexible, essentially stop short of their usual turnarounds on Canal Street, on both the uptown and downtown sides of Canal.

The Belt

NOPSI 434 on the St. Charles Belt, 1947 (courtesy George Friedman)

“In the interest of safety, the St. Charles and Tulane Belt lines will not operate along the parade route while the Carnival parades are on St. Charles Avenue.” The turn-back points for the streetcars are different than recent years. For Proteus on Lundi Gras, the streetcars ran all the way down to Washington Avenue. That’s because Proteus went up Jackson to St. Charles. It turned left on St. Charles, but only for four blocks, to stop in front of Garden District homes, then looped to head to Canal Street. At this time, Rex left their den on Claiborne Avenue, and turned left on Claiborne, going to Louisiana. They then turned right on Louisiana, and turning left again onto St. Charles. Their route later expanded to Napoleon. So, now, Rex turns right out of the den, then left onto Napoleon, then left onto St. Charles. So, now the turn-back point is further up, at Napoleon.

Since the St. Charles and Tulane lines ran in Belt service, with one circling in one direction and the other in the opposite direction, there was a second turn-back point. This was at Elk Place and Canal. So, during parades, the lines ran point-to-point, from St. Charles and Louisiana, up St. Charles, turning on S. Carrollton, then Tulane, going to Canal and Elk. The Tulane line ran the opposite direction.

A year later, in 1951, NOPSI discontinued Belt service. The Tulane line transitioned to trackless trolleys, while St. Charles remained streetcars.

Have a safe and happy Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras!

 

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows

NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night.

NORTA 922, a vintage arch roof streetcar, serves as transportation for the Phunny Phorty Phellows on Twelfth Night, 2023.

NORTA 922 and the Phunny Phorty Phellows, Twelfth Night, 2023. Kerri Becker photo.

Seeing NORTA 922 carrying the Phunny Phorty Phellows is a treat.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) announce the arrival of the Carnival season. While there are other organizations parading on Twelfth Night, PPP are the senior members of the cohort. We’ve written a bit about PPP here, but the star of this post isn’t the krewe. It’s the streetcar! NORTA 922 is one of the remaining vintage 1923-24 arch roof streetcars designed by Perley A. Thomas. They dominated the New Orleans transit landscape from their debut to the conversion of the Canal Street line to buses in 1964. There are 35 remaining 900-series cars.

A streetcar numbered 922

While any of the “green streetcars” is more than capable of transporting PPP on their run, NORTA 922 adds a bit of flair to the proceedings. It’s the streetcar from the streetcar movie. The film adaptation of Tennesee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire required a streetcar. The rail department of New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) chose car 922 to be the streetcar. The movie opens with it, and the rest is, well, less history and more legend.

Imposter, Desired

So, NORTA 922 was a movie star. By the 1970s, however, an imposter took credit for 922’s starring role! NOPSI 453, a wood-frame Brill streetcar, received the appelation, “Streetcar Named Desire.” This streetcar functioned for decades as the “training car.” NOPSI installed it at their facility on Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue. They rigged the operator’s console with the same equipment as the 900-series. New-hire motormen (and the “motorettes” during WWII) trained on 453. It was set up to rock and bump. Senior motormen taught the new folks.

As streetcar service in New Orleans dwindled, so did the training needs. NOPSI 453 stood idle. The story of how this streetcar became identified with the movie is fascinating. I invite you to go read this article by Earl W. Hampton, Jr. and H. George Friedman, Jr., for details and lots of photos.

922 back at work

In the meantime, NOPSI 922 went back to work on the St. Charles line. It’s done its duty well, coming up on a century of service. One of those duties is charter rides, like the PPP. On Twelfth Night, the news folks and photographers head to Carrollton Station to see off the year’s designated driver. They file their stories and go home, as the streetcar rolls the krewe down S. Carrollton Avenue, turning onto St. Charles Avenue. They announce the start of Carnival along St. Charles. When the streetcar reaches Tivoli Circle, the streetcar circles around. It becomes an outbound car, returning to the barn.

Streetcar identification

On a side note, streetcar 922 started live as NOPSI 922, and was designated as such from when it first rolled out of the barn. In 1983, NOPSI transferred its transit division to a new entity. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority assumed control of the city’s transit routes and assets. So, those 35 green streetcars switched to the new notation.

Happy Carnival!