Riding city's trolley car not like going coach

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

This story is about the passing of Fort Wayne's golden age: an era dominated by the clanging thunder of the electric trolley.

It isn't obvious from the photo, but the end of the trolley car era was almost at hand when it was snapped around 1945. The large trolley to the left is an honest-to-goodness trolley car, which rode along on rails imbedded in the pavement. To its right, headed north on Calhoun Street, is the contraption which forced the old rail-bound trollies out of business: the so-called ``trolley coach,'' which was just like today's rubber-wheeled buses, except that it was dependent for power on the electric lines which ran overhead.

Fort Wayne's trolley car system can be traced all the way back to 1872, when the first horse-drawn cars were pressed into service. Electric cars began operation in 1892, and the trolley's golden age began in 1920, when the Indiana Service Corp. was incorporated. A period of rapid system improvement followed, with work continuing into 1932. The Great Depression hit the trolley system hard, though. By 1940, the newest Fort Wayne streetcars were 15 years old and the city's tracks were deteriorating. As a result, the ISC decided to purchase 28 new rubber-tired trolley coaches. The decision began the long, slow demise of the once-proud trolley car system.

The new coaches were faster, more manueverable and were readily accepted by customers. Forty more coaches were ordered in 1942, and during the war both trolley car and coach operated side by side. The combination assured Fort Wayne a ready supply of public transportation when many other cities were suffering because of a lack of equipment.

On Sept. 9, 1945, not a single trolley car operated. The old rail-bound trollies were used sparingly until June 27, 1947, when the last trolley run was made. After that, the remaining trolley tracks in town were either ripped up or paved over.

The electrified trolley coaches, however, enjoyed only a brief reign. They were phased out by June, 1960, and replaced with motor-driven buses.

Unfortunately, none of the old trolley cars were saved, and the bottom picture shows them rusting away in a storage yard. One of the coaches, however, was donated to the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society. It, in turn, has been donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

--April 10, 1982

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