Return of a book on Baltimore streetcars

January 07, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

This book, originally published in 1973 as "Who Made All Our Streetcars Go?" was written by Baltimore streetcar historian Michael R. Farrell, who died in 1976. The book became the standard reference work on the long history of the city's streetcar heritage, which began with horsecars plodding the JTC streets in 1859 and ended in 1963.

This edition was freshened up and brought up to date with several new chapters dealing with the building of the subway and light rail line that were written by Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a railroad historian and retired Chessie System executive. Fifteen pages of color photos, many vintage views and a new chapter on the Baltimore Streetcar Museum round out this excellent work.

At its zenith, Baltimore and environs were stitched together with 425 miles of streetcar rail. The longest line, the No. 8, linked Towson with Catonsville and combined an urban landscape via a dizzying ride over the Guilford Avenue trestle, which Baltimoreans called the "Vidock," with the bucolic quiet of the Baltimore suburbs. Baltimoreans could hop a trolley to Gwynn Oak Park to ride the amusements, or ride the No. 26 to Bay Shore Park to catch the breezes on the Chesapeake Bay -- thus making the No. 26 the only streetcar line in the United States to go under a roller coaster. Workday car lines carried workers to the blast furnaces at Sparrows Point or provided transportation on little lines such as the No. 35, which connected Walbrook Junction, Dickeyville and Lorraine Cemetery to the rest of the world.

Baltimore also experimented with buses, and the well-remembered double-deckers that plied Charles Street gave

the city a rather European air until they were withdrawn from service. Brill trackless trolleys and diesel buses were attempts by United Railways -- and, later the Baltimore Transit Co., which rose out of the bankruptcy of the United Railways in 1935 -- to save money and draw new passengers. However, following the end of gas rationing and World War II, the automobile and road projects, plus downtown congestion, helped bring an end to the era of streetcars.

The end finally came on Nov. 2, 1963, at 6:34 a.m. Car No. 7407 rolled off the street and into the carbarn, closing out 104 years of streetcar service in Baltimore. Nearly 30 years later, though, streetcars reappeared on local streets when the new Hunt Valley/Glen Burnie light rail line opened last spring. Baltimore thus joined a national trend toward rebuilding streetcar lines that are euphemistically called "light rail lines."

This book is written with an eye toward pleasing not only the hard-core streetcar fan/scholar who craves technical data, but also the casual reader interested in the impact street railways had in metropolitan Baltimore.

Photographs tell us a great deal about ourselves, and this book ** is no exception. The authors have had the good sense to use as many pictures as possible, including wonderful pen-and-ink drawings, as well as in-house streetcar advertisements from the 1920s and 1930s. This is a book that belongs on any Baltimoreans' bookshelf -- as for streetcar fans, it goes without saying.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "The History of Baltimore Streetcars."

Author: Michael R. Farrell.

Publisher: Greenberg Publishing Co.

Length, price: 312 pages, $45.95.

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