Vernon Smith turned NORTA 29 into “The Littlest Streetcar”

Vernon Smith turned NORTA 29 into “The Littlest Streetcar”

Vernon Smith gives NORTA 29 a personality!

Vernon Smith

I had the privilege of attending a book event last Friday, at St. Francis Xavier Parish, on Metairie Road. There were over twenty authors there. I knew many of the authors. I also enjoyed meeting some new folks, like Mr. Vernon Smith.

NORTA 29

vernon smith

NORTA 29, the last Ford, Bacon, and Davis streetcar. (Edward Branley photo)

Vernon sat behind a poster-sized illustration of “the sand car”, also known as NORTA 29. The sand car is the last remaining Ford, Bacon, and Davis streetcar. The FB&Ds date back to 1894. Ford, Bacon and Davis were engineers. They won a contract to advise several streetcar operators in New Orleans. Electric streetcars rolled the streets, beginning in 1893. The transit companies used mule-drawn cars for decades. Electric streetcars meant they had to install overhead wires along their routes. The engineers offered consulting services.

After working on track plans, interchanges, etc., FB&D learned a lot about streetcars. They designed a streetcar for the New Orleans systems. Several companies liked the design. So, they ordered these streetcars in 1894. They first appeared on the St. Charles Avenue line. Then they rolled on Canal Street. From there, the companies put them on the backatown routes.

The Littlest Streetcar

By the 1910s, the operators needed streetcars larger than the FB&Ds. They replaced the single-truck, smaller streetcars with double-truck cars from Brill and American Car Company. New Orleans Railway and Light Company ordered the first arch roof double-trucks in 1915. The 800- and 900-series arch roofs came to New Orleans in 1923.

The transit companies kept many of the FB&D streetcars for years. They ran well. Their smaller sized enabled them to run on routes with smaller ridership. The single-trucks were forty years old by the 1930s. NOPSI retired most of them. They kept a couple FB&Ds for special uses. NOPSI refitted #29 to drop sand on the rails on wet/icy days. NORTA 29 continues this job to this day. It is indeed the littlest streetcar in the NORTA fleet.

The book

Mr. Smith’s book is a wonderfully-illustrated childrens’ book. It’s available in hardcover, librarians take note!

The Littlest Streetcar

ISBN: 9781455621897
ISBN-10: 1455621897
Publisher: Pel
Publication Date: February 1st, 2017
Pages: 32
Language: English
Recommended Reading Level

Minimum Age: 4
Maximum Age: 7
Minimum Grade Level: P
Maximum Grade Level: 2

Arabella Station Serviced the Uptown Lines #StreetcarMonday

Arabella Station Serviced the Uptown Lines #StreetcarMonday

Arabella Station on Magazine Street is now the Whole Foods Uptown location

Arabella Station

Magazine and Joseph Streets, looking west, towards Arabella Street, 1948. (Franck Studios photo)

Arabella Station

The big barn at Magazine and Arabella Streets serviced streetcars until 1948. NOPSI needed a bus facility uptown. So, they operated Arabella as a bus barn.

The top photo is from 19-February-1948. So, NOPSI discontinued streetcars on the Magazine on 11-February-1948. Buses replaced streetcars that month. Trackless trolleys took over that July. NOPSI did not demolish the infrastructure around the station right away. This was different than on Canal Street. So, NOPSI needed the overhead wiring on Magazine. The neighborhood supported the changes. The company continued streetcars on Canal and St. Charles. Both have neutral grounds. Therefore, they supported streetcars better.

History

arabella station

The end of the Magazine Street line, 1883. Robinson’s Atlas. (Courtesy Orleans Parish Notarial Archives)

The Crescent City Railroad Company built Arabella Station in the 1880s. They operated the barn at Octavia and Magazine. CCRRCo acquired the barn from the Magazine Streetcar Company. The company outgrew that barn. So, they moved down a couple of blocks, to Arabella. Crescent City Railroad merged into the New Orleans Traction Company. That company merged into New Orleans Railway and Light. Eventually, transit re-organized into New Orleans Public Service Company, Inc.

Arabella Station

Outside streetcar storage behind Arabella Station, 1920. (E. Harper Charlton photo)

Under NOPSI, Arabella Station housed streetcars for the Uptown lines operating from St. Charles to the river. So, Carrollton Station serviced the St. Charles line and the “uptown backatown” lines. In this photo from 1920,

Layout

Arabella Station

Track plan for the Arabella Barn, 1920s. (NOPSI image)

While Carrollton Station’s layout is, enter from the rear, exit to the front, Arabella Station used Magazine Street for both entrance and exit. The barn occupied the block from Magazine to Constance Street. The block between Constance and Patton Streets was the outside trackage you see in the 1920 photo.

Arabella Station

Arabella Station, 1920. (NOPSI photo)

In and out on Magazine Street made sense. The streets were tight. Therefore, going around the barn was tough. These 1920 photos show the hustle-bustle of streetcar operations uptown.

Arabella Station as Supermarket

Arabella station

Whole Foods Market, Arabella Station.

Arabella Station became a Whole Foods Market in 2002. You can still see some of the old tracks in the back parking lot. Compare this Google street view with the 1948 version!

 

 

 

Streetcar accidents – NOPSI 888 back at Carrollton Station

Streetcar accidents – NOPSI 888 back at Carrollton Station

Streetcar accidents happen when automobile drivers don’t look

streetcar accidents

NOPSI 888 at Carrollton Station, after a traffic accident.

Streetcar accidents

Just this week, a garbage truck turned in front of NORTA 900, on Canal Street. Streetcar accidents happen once or twice a year.

1947 accident

Today’s photo shows NOPSI 888 with one end bashed in. The photo was shot on 13-May-1947. An automobile hit the streetcar earlier that day. Several lines still operated streetcars in 1947. The photographer notes the date, but not the circumstances of the accident.

Streetcar accidents began when automobiles took to the streets. In my book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, I’ve got a photo of a Ford Model T, right after it encountered a streetcar. The accident occurred in front of Warren Easton High School, in 1914. The automobile lost.

Handling accidents

Streetcar-versus-automobile accidents present challenges for all concerned. Damage to the vehicles generates repair expenses. The transit operator (in this case, NOPSI) has to deal with claims from riders. Those claims often lead to lawsuits. While the transit operator is usually not at fault, the company has the deeper pockets. Drivers carry insurance, but often not enough to settle injuries for 10+ transit riders.

NOPSI’s lawyers retained a photographer. Charles Franck Studios had the job for years. They sent out a photographer to accident scenes. NOPSI towed the wrecked streetcars back to Carrollton Station. The photographer documented the damage. Those photos ended up as evidence in lawsuits.

NOPSI 888

This streetcar is part of the 800-series. They looked almost identical to the 900s currently running on the St. Charles Line. These streetcars used mechanical doors, not unlike a school bus door. The 900s have automatic doors.

NOPSI retained 35 of the 900-series when the Canal line ended streetcar service in 1964. With only a couple of exceptions, they destroyed the 800s.

Streetcar repair

Carrollton Station served as the main maintenance and repair facility for streetcars. NORTA’s Rail Department operates out of Carrollton Station today. While the Arabella and Canal Barns housed streetcars, they came to Carrollton for big repairs.

Accident photos

This Franck Studios photo is part of the HNOC collection. Since NOPSI received city subsidies for transit operations, the photo is in the public domain.

Trackless Trolleys on the Magazine Street Line – #StreetcarMonday

Trackless Trolleys on the Magazine Street Line – #StreetcarMonday

Trackless Trolleys, also known as “trolley buses”

trackless trolleys

NOPSI trackless trolley on the Magazine line at Audubon Park, 1941 (Franck Studios photo)

Trackless Trolleys

Electric buses, “trackless trolleys”, operated on several New Orleans transit lines over the years. In the 1920s, NORwy&Lt/NOPSI experimented with the buses. By 1930, trackless trolleys operated on major lines in the system.

Magazine Street

Magazine Street, like St. Charles Avenue, runs the length of what we usually call “Uptown”. While St. Charles Avenue presents elegant mansions, Magazine Street borders the two sides of “the tracks”. You know, when someone says, “she’s from the other side of the tracks”. So, in New Orleans, that could easily mean Magazine street. While the neighborhoods between Magazine and St. Charles contain more elegant houses, the other side was, well, the other side. The area between Magazine and the river holds docks, wharves, warehouses, and small shotgun houses.

The combination creates a dense area. Neighborhoods grew, usually as plantations fronting the river were subdivided and sold off by their owners. As each plantation became a residential neighborhood, open-air markets, shops, schools and churches appeared.

Uptown Transit

trackless trolleys

1883 Robinson Atlas of New Orleans, showing the corner of Magazine and Toledano.

These new neighborhoods required connections to the Central Business District (CBD). The New Orleans City Railroad Company established the Magazine Street line on June 8, 1861. Streetcars on the Magazine line ran from the Clay Statue (St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street), down Canal, turning right on Magazine. The mule-drawn “bobtail” streetcars traveled outbound on Magazine to Toledano.

At Toledano, NOCRR operated a car barn and stables. Streetcars turned around by going through the car barn. They then returned the same route. The company expanded the line in 1883, running Magazine all the way to Audubon Park. NOCRR electrified the line in 1895.

NOCRR operated single-truck streetcars on Magazine after electrification. They replaced the single-trucks initially with Brill double-trucks, then “Palace” cars. NOPSI phased out the “Palace cars” with arch roofs, until 1930.

Trolley buses

NOPSI converted the Magazine line to trackless trolley service on November 30, 1930. Therefore, trolley buses meant NOPSI only needed one employee per bus, the driver. The city required two-man operation of streetcars. So, NOPSI cut labor costs dramatically when a line converted from streetcars to buses, even electric ones.

NOPSI converted Magazine from electric buses to diesel ones in 1964.

 

Grunewald Hotel and Double-Truck Streetcar, 1911 #streetcarMonday

Grunewald Hotel and Double-Truck Streetcar, 1911 #streetcarMonday

Grunewald Hotel would become the Roosevelt Hotel

Grunewald Hotel

Grunewald Hotel. J. H. Coquville, 1911

Grunewald Hotel

“One of the most up-to-date and finest hotels in the U.S.” is the caption on this 1911 postcard of the Grunewald Hotel. The hotel occupies the corner of Canal and Baronne Streets. While it does not occupy the full block fronting Canal Street, the hotel stretches from Baronne Street to Roosevelt Way (O’Keefe Avenue) behind the storefronts.

Louis Grunewald built the hotel in 1892, on the site of the Grunewald Music Hall. The music venue burned down. He opened the hotel in time for Carnival in 1893. Grunewald later expanded the hotel with six-story annex. The annex opened in 1908. About that time, Louis turned control of the hotel over to his son, Theodore.

The Cave

Grunewald Hotel

“The Cave” night club at the Grunewald Hotel. (Detroit Publishing Company)

The expansion of the Grunewald Hotel included a night club called “The Cave.” The Cave was decorated as, well, a cave, with stalactites, stalagmites, running water, and vines. The night club regularly booked “Dixieland” bands. We now refer to that style of jazz as “Traditional.” After the the Vaccaros bought the hotel (1923), they closed The Cave. They re-opened the night club in 1935. They named the new club, “The Blue Room”, and featured big-band music.

Streetcars in 1911

Double-truck streetcars replaced the single-truck Ford, Bacon, and Davis streetcars in the 1910s. New Orleans Railway and Light, Co., purchased double-trucks from Brill and Barney and Smith. In 1915, NORwy&Lt purchased a new style double-truck from Southern Car Company. They bought arch roof streetcars from Southern Car Company. These become the original 400-series. They ran mostly on the St. Charles/Tulane belts. Perley A. Thomas designed the arch roofs for Southern. He used the design to start his own streetcar manufacturing company, in High Point, North Carolina.

Barney and Smith

grunewald hotel

Barney and Smith streetcar. (NOPSI drawing via Hennick and Charlton)

Postcards at the turn of the 20th Century were often colorized photographs. This is the case here. Artists usually painted over power lines in the photographs. The streetcar passing in front of the Grunewald in this postcard has a single trolley pole on the roof. Assuming the artist didn’t paint out a second one, this means the streetcar was likely made by Barney and Smith. These streetcars operated on Canal Street and on the Spanish Fort line. The electrified version of the Spanish Fort excursion line opened in 1911.

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Buried streetcar tracks are fun but not all that rare

Buried streetcar tracks are fun but not all that rare

Buried streetcar tracks are all over New Orleans

buried streetcar tracks

Work crews on Bourbon Street discover old streetcar ties.

Buried Streetcar Tracks

The city, on its RoadWorkNOLA page on Facebook, posted a neat find–ties from streetcar tracks under the existing concrete of Bourbon Street. Streetcars operated on Rue Bourbon in the Quarter from 1902 to 1948.

Carondelet and Desire lines

buried streetcar tracks

NOPSI transit map 1922, showing Desire going out on Bourbon and returning on Royal

The Carondelet streetcar line opened for business in 1866. The line crossed Canal Street in 1902, traveling down Bourbon, out to the Ninth Ward. Streetcars returned downtown via Royal Street. In 1919, streetcars on the Carondelet line changed signs when they traveled all the way to Desire Street. By 1920, New Orleans Railway and Light Company split the Carondelet line. The original route from 1866 returned. The Desire line opened for business on October 17, 1920. Desire serviced the French Quarter. Streetcars ran outbound on Bourbon and inbound on Royal.

Equipment on Desire

buried streetcar tracks

NOPSI 830, operating on Desire in 1947. The company cut this streetcar in half in 1964.

While Carondelet used mule-drawn streetcars on the original route, electric cars ran on the line when it crossed Canal. Electric streetcars replaced mule-drawn cars in New Orleans by 1900. So, the Carondelet extension to the Ninth Ward operated electrics. Desire continued with those streetcars.

Ford, Bacon and Davis single truck streetcars operated on Carondelet in 1902, Therefore, the Desire extension used the same single-truck cars. The line switched to double-truck streetcars in 1924. The arch roof 800s and 900s phased out the older double-trucks in the second half of the 1920s.

The Desire line switched to buses in 1948.

Tearing up the tracks

Buried streetcar tracks

NOPSI bus 1932 running on the Desire-Florida bus line in the late 1940s.

The War Department refused requests from NOPSI to convert many of the streetcar lines to buses. during WWII. So, those ties found by the work crew are likely from then. After the war, the federal government approved bus conversions.

NOPSI and the city did not rush ripping up streetcar tracks in the 1940s and 1950s. NOPSI riders approved the switches in this period. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that preservationists took notice of streetcars. NOPSI planned to convert the Canal line in 1958. They implemented the plan in 1964. The company cut down the overhead catenary lines on Canal Street within hours of the switch in May, 1964. The city ripped up the tracks over the next two months.

This was quite the exception to previous conversions. So, a lot of streetcar tracks still exist. Digging a bit deeper reveals others. It isn’t rare, but it’s fun to see.