There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sacramento's Streetcars on the bus

Finished reading "Images of Rail: Sacramento's Streetcars." This is the second of Sacramento writer William Burg's books that I've read while commuting to work.

The books are easy to read and full of photos that bring to life the history of Sacramento.

Talk about the "Good Old Days," look at the book cover photo. That's K Street around 1920. There are five -- count 'em, five -- streetcars on the four blocks between Seventh and Eleventh streets. Over on J Street, the No. 3 car started running 5:30 in the morning and kept running until midnight, and during weekdays the cars ran every five minutes. The idea of five-minute interval service is just too hard to imagine given the woeful state of Sacramento Regional Transit's service.

Of the two books, I enjoyed the streetcars more. And that's not just because I like streetcars. Burg's use of anecdotes from people who lived in the days of Sacramento's streetcar heyday are a lot of fun.

"Sacramento residents Al Balshor and Birdie Boyles both recalled taking the city street car to the New Year's Eve festivities on K Street in the 1930s, when streets were blocked to automobile and streetcar traffic between Fifth and Twelfth Streets. People promenaded through the closed streets, engaging in various forms of gaiety and revelry. Well after midnight, Sacramentans took the streetcar home."
After the discussion of the "Arizona Gang" in the Southside Park book, it was very easy to imagine the scamps tormenting streetcar operators.
"Jack Davis grew up near Line No. 1 and recalled a notorious prank involving the streetcar. By running up behind the car as it went by and grabbing the rope to the active trolley wire, one could yank the pole off the power line, stopping the car dead. This would naturally infuriate the motorman on the car!"
One of the most amazing photos for me didn't have anything to do with street cars. It was a photo of the outside of the Oak Park Theatre during a Saturday matinee showing of the Three Muskateers.

Look at all of those bikes!

I suppose The Sacramento Bee's reaction to the demise of the streetcars on Jan. 4, 1947, reflected the general feeling of the city:
"No longer will the motorman's clang of the warning bell, the shrill grinding of the metal wheels or the earth shaking gyrations of the lumbering cars assail your ears. Instead, the soft purr of Diesel motored passenger buses, their rubber tires caressing the asphalt in an inviting conspiracy of 'safety, comfort and convenience' will beckon quietly for your patronage."
The Bee's editorial concluded with an idea fans of the streetcars of old can all agree with:
"Maybe there is a great beyond to which all well behaved streetcars go when they pass on. And perhaps the old horse cars of yesteryear will be waiting with an understanding welcome in that Valhalla of public transportation's dilapidated souvenirs."

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