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  1. #1

    Default Detroit Citizen's Railway: Memories and Ideas

    A friend and I were recently discussing the Detroit Citizen's Railway of the recent past: the narrow-gauge line which ran from Grand Circus Plaza down to Cobo on Washington (un)Blvd. with a later extension along Jefferson to the Renaissance Center. This was an interesting little operation - by no means a form of transit, but an interesting phenomenon here in the "City which put America on wheels." It struck me while we were talking that this little line operated - much of the time without people realizing it - for 27 years! But just as I say that, most people I knew at least knew there was a historic little trolley operating within downtown Detroit.

    What started as a neat little way to save and operate a few vintage trolleys for the bi-centennial was then integrated into the "unboulevarding" of Washington Blvd, and was later extended to the east to two other destinations: Hart Plaza and the RenCen. The line began operation around 1976 and continued until 2003, when the juice was shut off for good. Not long after, the cars were removed and the carbarn demolished, and the track and wire torn out in preparation for the reboulevarding of Washington Blvd.

    Just a few years before the end of the line, Detroit contracted with Historic Railway Restoration Inc. of Seattle to completely restore three of the 100+ year old cars. These were in addition to a couple others the city had on an active roster plus at least one other car and a frame which were kept on hand and used for parts. What happened to these cars? What about the taxpayer money which went to pay for a grade A restoration (a real oddity in our city!). Word has it at least the three restored cars are still occupying the corner of a DDOT storage facility someplace, out of view.

    Here are some photos my friend took during their last year of service in 2003, including some photos of #14 on what is believed to be it's last run.












    Again, not my photos, but I'm glad to share them with members here. Additional photos and some history can be found here:
    http://www.railwaypreservation.com/v...ey/detroit.htm

    And some older photos of the line: http://www.davesrailpix.com/dsr/dsr.htm

    And a roster of all the cars which were owned by the Detroit Citizen's Railway:
    Car #1 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon, Portugal
    Car #2 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #3 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #4 Closed 1925 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #5 Closed 1925 Lisbon Lisbon
    Car #247 Open Air 1901 Philadelphia Lisbon
    Car #6 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #14 Open Air Double Decker 1904 Britain Burton-Trent, England
    Car #4-Nestle Closed 1895 Berlin Vevey, Switzerland

    I recall riding these a couple times with my family in the 1990s, mostly for the novelty of it, since I've always liked trains. I remember the view from the upper level of the the very rare double-decker #14 over Hart Plaza and Washington Blvd. was fantastic. #14 is perhaps the rarest of the cars Detroit had for this operation. It's story can be read here: http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk/?cat=84

    Historic Railway Restoration, who restored Detroit cars 3, 4 and 247, is very proud of the work they did on these Detroit cars, and still maintains photos of their restoration on their website: http://www.historicrailway.com/3.html

    While I was glad to see the money bars/fluorescent lights fiasco that had become Washington Blvd. go in 2004, I was sad to see the trolleys disappear and then all traces of their existence obliterated. Even Trolley Plaza changed its name a few years ago, the last named reminder of the carbarn that had sat out front for nearly 30 years.

    If DDOT really does have of these cars still in storage, and I would hope that they do considering some of them were rehabbed and saw little if any service after, where would you envision them running in the city today? Obviously, these would be used for a tourist purpose, not as a part of a real transit service, but their use could have a big impact and again be an icon of some small segment of the city. Where would you use them? I could see them running from the Renaissance Center along the riverfront to Stroh River Place. Or on Belle Isle from the Scott Fountain past the casino, over the canal and along Picnic Avenue and across Loiter Way over to the Conservatory and Aquarium, and maybe even over to The Dossin. How about somewhere else downtown, say the length of Brush between Comerica Park and Jefferson?

    I'm curious to know your memories about the old trolley route along Washington and Jefferson and what some ideas are you might have for their reuse, even if only imaginary.

  2. #2

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    The pictures are really great to see. I guess I never realized that these were historic cars. I always thought they were modern novelty cars, or something that would be built new for theme parks. I rode the trolley once or twice years ago, but I didn't think it served any purpose for most people. The route seemed to be more to shuttle people between the RenCen and Cobo during conventions, with a stretch that would take in the Federal Court House. I wonder if people who lived or worked downtown saw it in a different light.

    I liked the project descriptions on the Historical Railway Repair website. It reminds me of the repair barn at Greenfield Village, where they work on old locomotives and cars.

  3. #3

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    Our union office was in the Book Tower Bldg until 1998, so I was near the trolley area quite a bit during the 1990s as an active union official. I remember seeing the trolley run only once or twice during that time. I remember it sitting in the station more often than running. As a kid, I remember it being reactivated for the Bicentennial & riding it in the late 70s while attending the Freedom Festival. This was of course only to take us to Hart Plaza & back from where we parked near Grand River. As an adult, I remember it passing me once while driving south on Washington Blvd near Fort St. Other than that, I never saw it running on a regular basis. As I remember the route, it would go from Washington & Grand River to Jefferson & Randolph.

  4. #4

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    The funny thing about it is, of course they closed it because it cost money to operate and nobody was using it, but they closed it at an unfortunate time.

    In 2003, when the historic streetcar ran for the last time, the Ren Cen (at one end of the line) was a forebidding place, and barely accessible from Jefferson Avenue, and nothing at all was going on along Washington. Now, eight years later, the Ren Cen has been redone to make it more street-friendly in front and back, and Washington is a very active place. I think the streetcar, were it running today, would serve much more of a purpose than it did in the 1990s and early 2000s. But it would cost a good bit of money to bring it back, and there is no great public clamor for it.

  5. #5

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    I had no idea that those ran until 2003! I thought thouse stopped in the 90's.
    Were thise different than the street cars?

  6. #6

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    They were, precisely, antique streetcars. I don't know the origins of the particular cars used in that service though.

    Oops, foolish me. If I looked at the first post on this thread then I would know the origins

  7. #7

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    I wonder why the city elected to undertake a complete restoration of three of the old trolleys when ridership had dropped precipitously and based on what I've read here and elsewhere, operation was irregular, especially during the winter months. I recall when I rode the trolleys back in the mid-1990s that they had two running that day. Of course I wanted to ride the double-decker #14, the other one running was red too and may have been #247. Somewhere I have some postcards I bought someplace which showed a couple of the trolleys running down by the end-of-track at the Mariner's Church. I wonder where those are.......

  8. #8

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    I realize this thread hasn't been touched in over a year, but I figure there's still time to add more to it!

    Firstly, here is one of the postcards I was referencing:

    I'm certain there was a second postcard of the trolleys as well, but I can't seem to find it online. I'll have to hunt around some more. This one shows 1901-built Lisbon open car 247 (left) and 1904-built number 14, the double-decker from Burton-Trent, England.

    I've recently learned that yes, in fact at least five of the Detroit Citizens Railway trolleys do remain intact on DDOT property, hidden away from view. I'm really glad to hear they weren't just sold off, or worse yet, scrapped. In my mind, it would still be cool to find a new route to put them to work on here in the D, one which perhaps would have more of a use and destinations than the old Grand Circus Park - Cobo - RenCen routing.

    Any ideas? More memories? Additional photos anyone has? These historic cars plied a few downtown streets for 27 years and are a rather unusual nod to the wheel-on-rail past, especially here in the motor city!

  9. #9

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    I rode these a lot back in the late '70s and early '80s, particularly after they were extended to Hart Plaza and the Ren Cen. It was a fun ride in the warm months.

    I figured they were gone once the city finally pulled the plug (after not really running the service at all for more than a decade), so I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that the beautiful cars still exist. Maybe there's hope yet, although no one has ever mentioned them, even in sort of blue sky planning.

    I always thought that these should somehow connect downtown to some place else in the city. Particularly to give tourists a good ride out of the center city to some place nice and interesting. For a long time I had a vision of them being incorporated in the city's east side parks plan and running out the riverfront, like maybe connecting the Riverwalk parks down Atwater, and perhaps running as far as the Belle Isle Bridge.

    Ahhhhh, pipe dreams...

    I'm surprised that no one here has yet mentioned the name of the person most responsible for this little side light in our history: Alex Pollock. Most of his dreams for our city were never realized, but this one was, for a while.

  10. #10

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    This is a picture of my Dad taken in 1977. He was a DDOT bus driver for 35 years. The last job he had before he retired was driving the trolley on Washington Blvd.

    Name:  dad.jpg
Views: 1717
Size:  33.3 KB
    Last edited by MidTownMs; October-03-12 at 08:38 AM.

  11. #11

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    I remember your Dad driving that Trolley - he always had a smile and a wave.

  12. #12

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    Interesting memory at least involving the trolleys...back in the '84 World Series the city had set up a large screen in Hart Plaza where you could go down to watch the games. In what turned out to be the last game, a couple of us went down there to watch, but the city decided not to set it up that day for security reasons. So there's a ton of people milling around Hart Plaza just before game time looking for somewhere to watch the Tigers maybe clinch. Some guy pulls up on Jefferson right next to the trolley tracks in one of the popular custom vans of the day, bed in back, carpeted walls, fuzzy furry interior roof liner...the whole works. He opens the side door facing Hart Plaza and sets a 12" black and white TV on top of his van as a crowd starts gathering. Ended up being hundreds of people crowding the sidewalk and Hart Plaza straining to watch this little TV...we were standing on the trolley tracks and had to make way every time the trolley came through on it's way down to the RenCen and back. Clever entrepreneurs would run down to liquor stores, by as many 40 oz'ers they could pack in a cooler and sell them to the crowd at $5 a bottle! Near the end of the game, cars were just abandoned on Jefferson, the trolley obviously stopped running as all hell broke loose. A bar across the street down towards Brush set up speakers outside and tracked "Dancin' in the Streets" over and over! A great day to be downtown, though it did start getting a bit rough later on...

  13. #13

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by MidTownMs View Post
    This is a picture of my Dad taken in 1977. He was a DDOT bus driver for 35 years. The last job he had before he retired was driving the trolley on Washington Blvd.
    Nice picture! Like Zack, I remember your father well. He always seemed like a great guy, with a smile on his face, looking really happy to be driving the trolley and meeting people from all over.

    Now you've gone and gotten me all teary-eyed over my memory of that trolley and your dad, and thinking about my own grandfather who was a conductor on DSR streetcars for many years.

  14. #14

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by EastsideAl View Post
    Nice picture! Like Zack, I remember your father well. He always seemed like a great guy, with a smile on his face, looking really happy to be driving the trolley and meeting people from all over.

    Now you've gone and gotten me all teary-eyed over my memory of that trolley and your dad, and thinking about my own grandfather who was a conductor on DSR streetcars for many years.
    Thanks Eastside Al...My Dad loved being a bus driver especially driving the trolley. In the 50's when he drove the Warren Crosstown streetcar my brothers and I used to enjoy riding with him. I especially enjoyed listening to him call out all the stops and transfers. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 92. He enjoyed a long and happy retirement of over 30 years. He probably knew your grandfather.

  15. #15

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by MidTownMs View Post
    Thanks Eastside Al...My Dad loved being a bus driver especially driving the trolley. In the 50's when he drove the Warren Crosstown streetcar my brothers and I used to enjoy riding with him. I especially enjoyed listening to him call out all the stops and transfers. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 92. He enjoyed a long and happy retirement of over 30 years. He probably knew your grandfather.
    Did your father ever say what is was like driving the DSR in the 50s and 60s? Was the passengers more quiet or well behaved compared to the passengers on today DDOT busses? I remember riding the Gratoit with my mother when I was a boy in the early to middle 70s. The ride was much better then

  16. #16

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Rocko View Post
    A friend and I were recently discussing the Detroit Citizen's Railway of the recent past: the narrow-gauge line which ran from Grand Circus Plaza down to Cobo on Washington (un)Blvd. with a later extension along Jefferson to the Renaissance Center. This was an interesting little operation - by no means a form of transit, but an interesting phenomenon here in the "City which put America on wheels." It struck me while we were talking that this little line operated - much of the time without people realizing it - for 27 years! But just as I say that, most people I knew at least knew there was a historic little trolley operating within downtown Detroit.

    What started as a neat little way to save and operate a few vintage trolleys for the bi-centennial was then integrated into the "unboulevarding" of Washington Blvd, and was later extended to the east to two other destinations: Hart Plaza and the RenCen. The line began operation around 1976 and continued until 2003, when the juice was shut off for good. Not long after, the cars were removed and the carbarn demolished, and the track and wire torn out in preparation for the reboulevarding of Washington Blvd.

    Just a few years before the end of the line, Detroit contracted with Historic Railway Restoration Inc. of Seattle to completely restore three of the 100+ year old cars. These were in addition to a couple others the city had on an active roster plus at least one other car and a frame which were kept on hand and used for parts. What happened to these cars? What about the taxpayer money which went to pay for a grade A restoration (a real oddity in our city!). Word has it at least the three restored cars are still occupying the corner of a DDOT storage facility someplace, out of view.

    Here are some photos my friend took during their last year of service in 2003, including some photos of #14 on what is believed to be it's last run.












    Again, not my photos, but I'm glad to share them with members here. Additional photos and some history can be found here:
    http://www.railwaypreservation.com/v...ey/detroit.htm

    And some older photos of the line: http://www.davesrailpix.com/dsr/dsr.htm

    And a roster of all the cars which were owned by the Detroit Citizen's Railway:
    Car #1 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon, Portugal
    Car #2 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #3 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #4 Closed 1925 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #5 Closed 1925 Lisbon Lisbon
    Car #247 Open Air 1901 Philadelphia Lisbon
    Car #6 Closed 1899 St. Louis Car Lisbon
    Car #14 Open Air Double Decker 1904 Britain Burton-Trent, England
    Car #4-Nestle Closed 1895 Berlin Vevey, Switzerland

    I recall riding these a couple times with my family in the 1990s, mostly for the novelty of it, since I've always liked trains. I remember the view from the upper level of the the very rare double-decker #14 over Hart Plaza and Washington Blvd. was fantastic. #14 is perhaps the rarest of the cars Detroit had for this operation. It's story can be read here: http://www.burton-on-trent.org.uk/?cat=84

    Historic Railway Restoration, who restored Detroit cars 3, 4 and 247, is very proud of the work they did on these Detroit cars, and still maintains photos of their restoration on their website: http://www.historicrailway.com/3.html

    While I was glad to see the money bars/fluorescent lights fiasco that had become Washington Blvd. go in 2004, I was sad to see the trolleys disappear and then all traces of their existence obliterated. Even Trolley Plaza changed its name a few years ago, the last named reminder of the carbarn that had sat out front for nearly 30 years.

    If DDOT really does have of these cars still in storage, and I would hope that they do considering some of them were rehabbed and saw little if any service after, where would you envision them running in the city today? Obviously, these would be used for a tourist purpose, not as a part of a real transit service, but their use could have a big impact and again be an icon of some small segment of the city. Where would you use them? I could see them running from the Renaissance Center along the riverfront to Stroh River Place. Or on Belle Isle from the Scott Fountain past the casino, over the canal and along Picnic Avenue and across Loiter Way over to the Conservatory and Aquarium, and maybe even over to The Dossin. How about somewhere else downtown, say the length of Brush between Comerica Park and Jefferson?

    I'm curious to know your memories about the old trolley route along Washington and Jefferson and what some ideas are you might have for their reuse, even if only imaginary.
    I think that these trolleys would do good on Belle Isle. It could go around the outer perimeter of the Island. The trolleys could do great in some shopping district such as The Avenue of Fashion or the Midtown area.

  17. #17

    Default

    [QUOTE=stasu1213;343773]Did your father ever say what is was like driving the DSR in the 50s and 60s? Was the passengers more quiet or well behaved compared to the passengers on today DDOT busses? I remember riding the Gratoit with my mother when I was a boy in the early to middle 70s. The ride was much better then[/QUOTE

    My father loved his job and his passengers loved him. He started driving for the DSR when he got out of the army in 1946 and worked for 35 years. That's the only job he ever had. I don't ever remember him talking about being afraid to go to work or my mother expressing concerned about his safety. I can only think of one incident when he used to drive the Mack bus on the afternoon shift just before he started driving the trolley. He told me that an elderly woman used to ride the bus every night at about 2 in the morning. He said she used to sit in the seat right behind him. This one particular night a man got on the bus and refused to pay his fare and asked my father what we was going to do about it. My father said that the woman reached around and laid a pistol in his lap. When the man saw it my father said he opened the doors and the man quietly got off the bus. Other than that I don't ever remember him complaining about the passengers. He had probably already retired before things on the busses became dangerous. I think the bus drivers were still carrying change machines when he retired. I have so many fond memories riding on the bus with my Dad. It was always a special treat.
    Last edited by MidTownMs; October-03-12 at 06:32 PM.

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