Double-decker buses served the city once before


Back Story

Taking Note of History

September 17, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

They're baaaacccckkk!

After an absence of more than six decades, double-decker buses have returned to city streets.

This month, the Big Bus Co.,which operates double-decker buses in Philadelphia, London and Dubai, began service on a route connecting the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Maryland Zoo with the B&O Railroad Museum, Babe Ruth Museum and the Fells Point and Little Italy neighborhoods.

A double-decker bus made its first appearance in Baltimore in the fall of 1921, when United Railways borrowed several from New York City's Fifth Avenue Coach Co., for testing on the proposed Charles Street route.

"They created interest along the whole line," The Sun said of the buses, which carried 22 passengers inside and 29 on the upper deck.

Regular service began on July 1, 1922, with four double-deckers operating on the "A" line from Sun Square at Charles and Redwood streets, out Charles Street to University Parkway and 39th Street. The fare was a dime.

Regular trolley motormen and bus drivers wore the transit company's standard navy blue uniform. Operators on the double-deckers were attired in dark olive uniforms of a decidedly military cut and wore a visored military cap with a shiny brass badge. A fancy brass nameplate identifying the driver was mounted above the windshield.

"Spooners Desert Front Parlor For Top Seats On New Buses," said a headline in The Sun the next day. "Swains And Maidens Wait On Every Corner For `Upstairs' Perch - Free And Easy Chatter Marks Ride Uptown And Back."

A Sun reporter observed a conversation between Will and Alberta as they rode the double-decker for the first time.

"Watch out, Will, for the live wire overhead!" said Alberta, as she pointed to the overhead Charles Street trolley wire.

"Now, Alberta, I ain't afraid to touch you, and you're the livest wire I know," replied Will as he "placed his arm around the live wire's waist," reported The Sun.

"And at night, the spooners were out in force, " reported The Sun.

"Father and mother sat inside. Son and sweetheart sat on the deck, close - very close - together, unabashed by the glare of the white way lamps down town. And many young couples there were who when the terminus was reached, paid additional dimes and rode over the route again."

One who immortalized the double-deckers, in the short story Afternoon of an Author, was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who during the 1930s lived at the Cambridge Arms on North Charles Street, across from the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

"The bus was all he expected - only one other man on the roof and the green branches ticking against each window through whole blocks. They would probably have to trim those branches and it seemed a pity," wrote Fitzgerald in the article, published in Esquire in 1936.

"There was so much to look at - he tried to define the color of one line of houses and could only think of an old opera cloak of his mother's that was full of tints and yet was of no tint - a mere reflector of light. Somewhere church bells were playing `Venite Adoremus' and he wondered why, because Christmas was eight months off. He didn't like bells but it had been very moving when they played `Maryland, My Maryland' at the governor's funeral."

From his rooftop perch, Fitzgerald described the turf keepers working on Johns Hopkins' football field and traveling past "a pale Athenian railroad station brought to life by the blue shirted redcaps out front."

Waiting for the return bus, he wrote, "The bus was a long time coming but he didn't like taxis and he still hoped that something would occur to him on that upper-deck passing through the green leaves of the boulevard."

Other lines on which the buses operated were the "B" line that left the "A" line at Mount Royal Avenue and conveyed riders to the Madison Street entrance of Druid Hill Park. During World War II, the "D" line carried passengers from Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street to Windsor Avenue and Bentalou Street.

However, not everyone was enamored of the buses. There were those who complained the buses added to traffic congestion by stopping in the middle of the street, while others said they couldn't sit on their front steps because of the exhaust fumes.

It was World War II that finally brought the double-deckers to the end of the line. They gulped gas at a rate of 1 1/2 miles to the gallon, and in the interests of conserving gasoline and rubber tires, they were ordered withdrawn from service by the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation.

"Anyway, it hardly matters now because at midnight tomorrow all the old arguments pro and con about Charles Street's motorized mastodons will become dead issues. In fact, the Charles Street mastodons will become dead issues," The Evening Sun observed.

On Dec. 27, 1942, double-decker No. 1058, packed with transit fans who had come to mourn its passing, and driven by Charles Rogers, departed at 12:12 a.m. from its Sun Square terminus.

"Alas, there is neither an Above nor a Below for any of us now. We're all mere streetcar riders," said a Sun editorial. "The time has come to say to the Charles Street buses, Fare thee well, and, if forever, still forever fare thee well!"

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