KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
"Wonderful Old Lawrence" by Elfriede Fischer Rowe





Street Cars


     IF YOU ASK OLD-TIMERS here what they remember about Lawrence street cars, you will get many and various answers. Some remember when they hid in Marvin Grove and waited for the motorman to start up the winding hill from the Mississippi Street shelter. There was a sharp turn before the climb past Bailey Hall and not much of a chance to get a run for the top. The boys would dart out just as the motorman would get all set for the climb, then they would unhook the trolley. This was considered great sport for some of the teenagers.

     Some would stand on a corner and wait for the motorman to start up after discharging a passenger, then would grab the brass bar on the back step and swing up on the step and get a free ride. Another prank came when a bunch of students would be riding in the car and start rocking it into dangerous angles. Many a boy would be riding along on his bicycle when the street car would appear. He would wait for it to pass, then peddle furiously and catch hold of the brass bar in back and sail along, feet off the pedals, pulled by the "trolley".

     Many remember the hot summer nights before the days of air- conditioning. You could take the "KU Loop" ride in the open summer cars and for 5 cents would get cooled off, for a little while at least. If you felt real rich, you would go around twice. There was always a breeze on the Hill and when the car left the Robinson Gymnasium switchover and headed south, you coasted along with what seemed like wild abandon.

     Those open summer cars were completely open. You boarded them by a long step the length of the car. The seats were wooden benches with the backs on hinges. There was a conductor, besides a motorman, and he would walk along this long platform-step to collect the fares. If a storm would blow up, canvas-like curtains were lowered to the floor and fastened. It kept out the rain, but it would get pretty muggy inside. If you were riding a summer car on the Indiana or New Jersey Street line, when you got to the end of the line, the motorman would take out the brass handle used to turn on the power, and carry it to the back end. That would then be the front. Then he would reverse the trolley and flip over the backs of the wooden seats and again face the front.

     Others remember the rides to Woodland Park in East Lawrence. County fairs were held there, besides organization picnics and celebrations. There were horse races and baseball games to see, besides many buildings that housed the kind of displays offered at county fairs. There was a dance pavilion and for 5 cents a dance, old and young got real live music.

     The street car didn't come quite to the park, so visitors walked a dusty road the rest of the way. Just west of the park


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was the "Haskell Pasture" where the big-name circuses performed. After going over to the Union Pacific station to watch the circus train come in, you took the street car and went to the Haskell pasture to watch them put up the big tents. This Haskell Pasture was near where the Haskell family lived.

     Many remember how accommodating the motormen were in those days. If it was raining, and he passed your house, he would let you off near your front door. Or, if you watched for him from the front porch, you'd run out in front and he would let you on. One of our neighbors living in the middle of the block on Indiana Street went regularly once a week to practice for the church choir. The motorman would stop for her in front of her house, and when she returned, she got off at her front door.

     One student was courting a girl living near the end of the Massachusetts Street line. On the nights the young man was calling, he took the street car. When the motorman was on the last run, as he approached the turnaround, he would clang his bell lustily to give the young man time to say goodbye. His girl would flash the lights on the front porch and that was the signal for the motorman to wait for him. Another student was dating a girl on Mississippi Street. In the summer, they would sit on the front porch in the swing. When it was time for the last run, they would watch for the car to appear and the young man would then make a dash to catch it.

     Students patronized the street cars, especially on stormy days. You could stand on the sidewalk at the Round Corner Drug Store and look south to see if the KU car was coming. You could always spot a campus car, for on the front there were two large, white, wooden letters, "KU". The Phi Gams lived on the corner of Louisiana and 8th in those days. They would come streaming out of their back door, coats flying, to catch the westbound car at Indiana. The switch was there and the motorman had to get out with his iron bar to change the switch from the Indiana Street turn. On wet, cold, snowy days, the windows would be so steamed up, you couldn't see out. But you always knew when you reached the Mississippi Street shelter -- that was the first KU exodus. Sometimes you had to stand in the aisle, the car would be so crowded. Someone sitting down would hold your books for you.

     If the rails were icy, sand was released through a pipe that the motorman operated with his foot. Unfortunately the sand pipe was built for straight track only. So on the curve going in back of Bailey, the sander didn't do any good. When the snow fall was heavy, plows were put on the cars and the men would work all night to clear the tracks for service the next day.

     Lawrence had a street railway system as far back as 1871. At that time it was horse drawn. Later the "family horse" was replaced by a team of small mules. The rails ran the length of the business district on Massachusetts Street. (That was probably


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as far south as the Masonic Temple). Then it ran north across the bridge to the Kansas Pacific depot -- later Union Pacific. During the early 80's, the rails were extended south on Tennessee as far as 17th Street.

     In the fall of 1909, "modern" street car service was put into use for downtown Lawrence. Electric power was used. For some months, cars ran only as far as McCook Field. Then April 9, 1910, the first street car load consisting of newspaper people officials, etc., made its first trip to the top of Mount Oread. The "loop" was completed later.

     Sometimes the cars carried a motorman and a conductor. Students were given jobs at 17 1/2 cents an hour. Some who worked the 7 to 11 shift got to study on the job. Some had summer jobs, too.

     The famous, handsome, Tommy Johnson, KU football quarterback, was the motorman on the Indiana Street line. He was the idol of all teenagers. Patronage on that line was heavy when Tommy was in charge.

     Apparently, all of the students didn't get along too well with some of the motormen. A report in the Journal-World in 1910 told about two prominent students hopping a street car three times and refusing to pay their fare. The motorman complained to the local police and they were put in jail for "refusing to pay their fare and being impudent in general." They were kept in jail over night and were "released the next day by giving their real names." There are other former students who remember the motorman who let them ride even if they had discovered after boarding the car, that they didn't have the fare. They would simply pay him double the next time.

     In the days of "Night Shirt" parades, all street cars were put in the car barn by 8 p.m., to avoid possible mischievous pranks. The shell of the car barn, by the way, is still standing. It is occupied by McCrory-Otasco at 1818 Massachusetts Street.

     There were three routes for service. The main line started from 24th and Massachusetts (about two blocks south of Breezedale) and went north on Massachusetts to 7th, then east to the Santa Fe station, south on New Jersey to 13th, and east on 13th to Haskell Avenue. It turned north on Haskell to near Woodland Park. When Woodland Park was abandoned sometime in the early 1920's the line ran out 13th Street east to Prairie. Three cars ran on the main line.

     The KU run started at 8th and Massachusetts, west to Mississippi, south on Mississippi to McCook Field. There was "open track" from McCook to the top of the Hill. A double track switch was located near old Robinson Gymnasium and the cars returned the same route until the loop was completed. Then the south bound car ran on "open track" to 17th and Louisiana, going past the James E. Dykes house to Tennessee, then north on Tennessee


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to 11th, east on 11th to Massachusetts, and north on Massachusetts to 8th. Two cars ran on this line. Service to KU was every 15 minutes.

     The Indiana run started on 8th and Massachusetts, west to Indiana, north on Indiana to 4th. Then back the same way.

     In 1916, the Kaw Valley Interurban to Kansas City came into use. A contract was signed to use their tracks across the bridge to 2nd and Locust. The original bridge that accommodated the horse-drawn street cars had been destroyed by the 1903 flood. The new street car route then went east on Locust to 8th and Locust and returned the same way. You could transfer to any of the routes on your five cent original fare.

     Shelter houses were put up at McCook Field; the Massachusetts Street turnaround; and 13th and Prairie. The McCook Field shelter was the most pretentious and the largest.

     The street cars were very noisy. When the car turned on Indiana, the rails shrieked shrilly. It was the same on the Mississippi Street turn. Once in a while the rails would be greased, but not often enough for the residents. One can also remember the clanging of the bell, stomped with gusto by the motorman to get the right of way. Things went along like this until 1933. Then those reading the Graduate Magazine of November, 1933, read these words: "The Kansas Electric Power Company this fall discontinued its use of street cars and replaced them with busses." End of a colorful era.


Printed in Journal-World Dec. 18, 1968



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