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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE NEW ZEALAND FOREST, c. 1950

Capital Traction: 1932

Capital Traction: 1932

Washington, D.C., circa 1932. "Capital Traction Company trolley in car barn." 8x10 safety negative, National Photo Company Collection. View full size.

 

Odd sized wheels.

This car uses the 39-E type wheelset. It was very wide popularity, and was a standard of New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Chicago, and dozens of other cities throughout the U.S. With this version being one of the earliest examples of the "maximum Traction" truck. Unlike most trucks where the bolster is centered between the axles, to increase tractive effort, the bolster on this type of truck is offset toward the driving wheel side. (The larger wheel) Unfortunately, this also made the truck prone to derailing on the smaller "pony" wheel end. By 1930, the 39-E had fallen out of favor in the US. However a variant of this with the pony and driving wheels reversed, did continue use in the UK and Australia.

Capital Transit M Street Shops

That photograph was taken in the Capital Traction M Street Shops, at 3222 M Street NW in Georgetown, DC. A photograph looking in the other direction is on page 289 of "100 Years of Capital Traction" by LeRoy O. King.

As Olde Buck notes, Car 679 is a Jewett, painted a solid dark apple green with silver pinstriping. With only two motors, they were noted for slow acceleration.

The car behind the door is one of the cars numbered from 26-85. Cars 26-45 were bought from J. G. Brill in 1918. Cars 46-85 were bought from Kuhlman in 1919. They were rebuilt in 1928 with leather seats, faster motors, and painted light grey with a green stripe on the upper half of the lower side panels. One car of this series (number 27) belongs to the National Capital Trolley Museum, who are presently restoring it to this appearance.

This information would put this photograph sometime between 1928 and 1933, when Capital Transit and Washington Railway and Electric merged to form Capital Transit. I'd figure the earlier end of that range, since that car in the background looks so fresh.

The M Street Shops remained in service until 1962 and the end of streetcar service in Washington DC. The site is now The Shoppes at Georgetown Park.

Boys Own stuff

There's more detail here for young lads than you'll get in a Meccano set. I notice Dr Who has just left, judging by the plasma warp through the image.

Ad Copy

I wonder what the ad partially visible in the penultimate window from the right says.

Vintage Streetcars

San Francisco has an active electric Muni system and operates a fleet of vintage cars mostly on the Embarcadero route as tourist attractions. New Orleans has fairly classic cars running on the St Charles line. The Orange Empire Trolley museum in So Cal runs cars on the weekend. Google will no doubt turn up much more detail regarding these and others.

A wealth of detail

There was something rather splendid, and elegant, in the use of the clerestory type of roof in railway and street-car vehicles. It was common here in England up until the 1930s, but then, sadly, became history.

Modern tram-type and railway vehicles are undoubtedly extremely clever, but utterly soulless when compared to the beautiful designs of the vehicles from yesteryear.

As with all photographs on this site, there is a wealth of detail here. I was intrigued to see that the figure 7 in the "17" painted on the side of the pit (and almost directly beneath the 'CTO' symbol on the side of the vehicle) is in precisely the same font style as the figure 7's in the numbers 679 on the side of the vehicle. The Company obviously valued conformity to common standards!

I know that the old San Francisco cable cars are still operating, but are there any electric cars like 679 in the picture being operated, even if "just" in a museum?

Dave in England

Pay-within Car

Washington Post, Jul 4, 1910.

District Railway Commission Hears Many Complaints, and Acts on Others.

A defense of the pay-as-you-enter cars was made in a communication received from Amherst W. Barber, of the general land office, who declared that the cars in question have done more to protect women passengers from rough crowds and smoke on the back platforms of the old-style cars than anything else.

Mr. Eddy reported to the commission that a new style pay-within car has been put in operation on the Fourteenth street line of the Capital Traction Company as an experiment. The car is similar to the pay-within cars which have been in operation on the Chevy Chase line for several months, but differs from these in that the entrance and exit doors are of the folding instead of the sliding type, and are operated manually instead of pneumatically. The door and folding step mechanism are so constructed that the doors can be opened and closed with little effort on the part of the motorman or conductor.

True Dave, but

I'll grant that most would call this a trolley car. And CT did run some cable lines, but the cable was long gone by the c.1932 time of photo.

The slot in DC track was for spaced contacts which were swept by a skate or plow attached to the bottom of the car. The skate was always in touch with at least two contacts. [I believe New York City had the same conduit system.]

Any former residents of DC region about 60 years of age will remember the "plow pits" located near the District line; here the pit man would remove the skate or plow from under an outbound car while the car's crew would raise the trolley pole for the ride into the suburbs. Inbound cars reversed this procedure.

All of this is to make the point that CT 679 is an electric, not cable car.

Dave, I've got to believe Harris and Ewing had some photos of Washington's plow pits!

[There's no question about this being an electric streetcar. - Dave]

Going Sideways.

I see the Capital Traction car shown on the transfer table collects it's its electric current from a shoe suspended between the rails in the centre of the track.

The rectangular checkered "manholes covers" allow maintenance of the current conductor under the pavement level.

This method eliminates all the above the surface of the street, trolley wires, support cables and poles, presenting a cleaner street view.

(Maybe Dave can find a photo of the current collection shoe hanging beneath a streetcar? I understand there were concrete pits in the streets where the shoes could be applied and removed at locations where streetcars so equipped could change from shoe operation to trolley pole and wire operation in suburbs.)

[See this post. - Dave]

The car shown has only two traction motors on the inner two axles.

The wheels on the outer two axles are of a smaller diameter than the inner wheels with the motors, and the journal boxes on the outer axles reflect this and are closer to the road surface.

Apparently some versions of this style of two-motor truck was more prone to derailment on curves than the standard streetcar truck with all the wheels the same diameter.

Some eight-wheel cars had only two motors for use in flat cities, many more cars had four motors, some cars had no motors at all and were trailers pulled by the motor car coupled ahead, with an electric jumper cable between the cars for the towed trailer's lights and so it's its Conductor could signal the Motorman in the front powered car.

The electric traction motor and it's its gearing to move the transfer table at right angles to the streetcar tracks on each side of it is visible to the right below the wooden walkway.

The controller for the table is to the left, and is similar to one found on a streetcar.

The power for the transfer table is picked up from power rails parallel to the table on the end similar to the "third rail" found in subways.

Transfer Table

The car is sitting on a transfer table. Transfer tables were used to switch cars using a much smaller space than a traditional yard with turnouts.

CTC 679

Back to the library:

Capital Traction 679 was part of a group built by Jewett in 1911, Nos. 621-700. Succeeding Capital Transit renumbered them 207-286.

These were part of the largest group of DC streetcars built by Jewett from 1910 to 1912. This series of cars was scrapped between 1945 and 1947.

Note this is NOT a "trolley car." There is no trolley on the roof. Many of this series never had a trolley pole; they ran off the conduit inside the slot between the running rails, indicating this car spent its career running in the DC inner-city.

The conduit system was mandated by Congress to eliminate unsightly wires along DC streets.

[Fascinating research! Generally speaking, a trolley car can be "any wheeled carriage running on a track." Over the years, Capital Traction operated both electric and cable-traction streetcars. Washington's only cable-car loop ran out of Capital traction's car barn in Georgetown. - Dave]

I wonder

If O. Roy Chalk had a framed copy of this picture somewhere in his offices when it was D.C. Transit? Neat picture, thanks, Dave for the posting.

I Should Have Known

When I saw this Shorpy photo, I became instantly curious as to the origins of the offbeat name, "Capital Traction." A little research revealed that the company and its name were the brainchild of our US Congress. Now it all makes perfect sense to me.

[There were hundreds of traction companies in the early part of the century, the traction coming from a moving cable under the street. A lot of them eventually adopted electric propulsion or switched to buses. - Dave]

 
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