(The PCC Arrives in Detroit as Politics Modernizes Detroit's Rail Fleet)
After the successful launching of the street railway industry's new standard-designed PCC streetcar in 1936,
production of these modern transit vehicles would reach nearly
5,000 units, as transit properties across North
America placed orders for thousands of these new streamlined cars.

Detroit, however, would become one of the last cities to purchase these cars—primarily because of the campaign
begun in 1936 by
DSR general manager Fred A. Nolan to convert the Detroit railway operation to all buses by 1953.  
Nolan had succeeded in reducing the DSR's railway fleet from 1,600 cars in 1934 to 908 cars by 1943, and also
reduced the hours streetcars operated on numerous lines.  But restrictions imposed by the
U. S. Office of Defense
Transportation (ODT)
during WW-II would require the usage of streetcars in place of buses wherever possible to
conserve gasoline and rubber, resulting in the temporary restoration of full-time streetcar service on the city's rail lines
in 1942.

Meanwhile, the issue of
PCC usage in Detroit wasn't over yet.  Plans were being studied in early 1945 to develop a
complex expressway and subway system in Detroit—which would also include the use of multiple-unit
PCC cars
operating as trains along the median strips of many of the newly proposed expressways.  But in the end, only the
freeways were ever built.

But the possibility of retaining some of the railway operation in Detroit would improve with the departure of
Fred Nolan
to Chicago, who had accepted the position of general manager of the
Chicago Surface Lines in April 1943.  Toward
the end of the war, public pressure began mounting for the
DSR to modernize the streetcars that operated along its
major routes.  Proponents for a retained and modernized streetcar system—led by Councilman
Eugene Van
—were finally able to persuade the new DSR management to purchase a fleet of PCCs to replace the aging
Peter Witt style street-cars that were being used on the city's most heavily traveled route, Woodward Avenue.

In August, 1945, the DSR ordered two PCC cars from the St. Louis Car Company for revenue service testing.  The two
cars, numbered #1674 and #1675, were diverted from job order #1646 being built for the Pittsburgh Railways
.  The cars arrived in early October, still in their red and cream Pittsburgh livery, and were renumbered as
and #101.  They were immediately placed into service on Woodward Avenue.  These two "air-electric" cars (also
known as "air-cars") used a belt-driven air compressor to open the doors and operate the brakes.  They were 46' 4"
long and 8' 4" wide, and seated 54 passengers.  Car
#100 was equipped with a Westinghouse motor to operate its
electrical equipment, while car
#101 used a General Electric motor.  Evidently the DSR was greatly impressed with
these one-man cars, for later that same October an order for 78 new
PCC cars was placed with the St. Louis Car
, under job order #1661.

The first of the
DSR's new PCC cars began arriving in the spring of 1947, and continued to arrive at the rate of ten per
week.  The cars went into service on the heavy
Woodward line on Tuesday, May 20, 1947.  The new fleet arrived
sporting the new
DSR paint scheme of cream with red trimming—similar to the color scheme first introduced on the
GM diesel buses.  These 78 cars were obviously an improvement over the previous demonstrator cars, and
came equipped with all-electric equipment, including electric operation of the doors, and improved electrically
activated brakes on the motor shafts.  The cars were even equipped with back-up controllers, which were concealed
behind the seat cushions in the rear of the car.  These controls were used solely for carhouse and special reverse
moves on the street.

DSR's new fleet of PCC cars were 46' 5" long and 8' 4" wide, and seated 50 passengers.  The newly designed
cars were typical of the style of
PCCs built after World War-II, which featured a re-spacing of the window posts—
granting each seat an individual window.  Passenger windows could be raised with the use of crank handles, like
those used in automobiles.  Another feature included the addition of the smaller "standee" windows—which gave
more visibility for standing passengers.  These
PCCs also sported a new 30-degree slope in the windshield design,
which prevented interior light glare from reflecting back at the motorman at night.

These new "all-electric"
PCCs were numbered #102-140 and #142-180, with the first group of 39 numbered PCCs
equipped with General Electric built motors for the operation of the electrical equipment, and the last
39 with
Westinghouse built motors.  The original two air-electric demonstrator cars (which to date had still maintained their
original Pittsburgh colors) were repainted into the
DSR livery of cream and red trimming, with car #100 also being
renumbered as
#141.  This would allow the cars with similar built electric motors to be numbered consecutively.  With
the delivery of these new cars, 100%
PCC operation on the Woodward line was attained by August 10, 1947.

Although a new modernized fleet of cars now operated along Woodward Avenue, the DSR management still continued
to move toward rail abandonment by: continuing to eliminate streetcar lines; purchasing more fleets of buses;
building a new garage solely for bus usage; and converting its
Coolidge Terminal into a bus facility.  In late 1946, DSR
general manager
Richard A. Sullivan announced to the press that no additional PCC cars would be purchased by the
.  In 1947, he also announced that the DSR plans to discontinue all rail operations by 1957.  It was also under
Sullivan that the
DSR had presented its own Rapid Transit study, which advocated only high-speed buses as the
"superior type of rapid transit," and more economically feasible than subways or rail rapid transit lines along the

Sullivan's position, however, was in opposition with that of councilman, now mayoral candidate,
Eugene Van Antwerp,
a rail advocate who, while campaigning for mayor in 1947, endorsed a council-supported rail proposal.  Van Antwerp
vowed that if he were elected mayor, he would fire Sullivan and hire a new general manager who would modernize the
system.  In the fall election of 1947,
Eugene I. Van Antwerp was elected as Mayor—taking office on January 6, 1948.  
On February 3, 1948, Sullivan resigned as the general manager.  In April 1948, Van Antwerp appointed a newly
elected councilman,
Leo J. Nowicki, as the new DSR general manager.  Leo Nowicki would go on to become the
longest reigning general manager in the history of the department, serving from April 15, 1948 through January 2,
1962.  Ironically, it would be Nowicki himself who would later become a major player in the conversion of the
DSR over
to an "all-bus" operation.

As mayor, Van Antwerp continued to press for the retainment and modernization of streetcars along the
DSR's busiest
rail lines.  In early 1949, there was talk of purchasing 120 multiple-unit
PCCs (two or more cars coupled together as
trains) for operation along Woodward Avenue and other major lines.  However, the quoted costs forced the
DSR to
have to alter its plans, and the total was amended down to 106, slightly larger, single-unit cars.  On April 29, 1949, the

Common Council
unanimously approved $2.7 million for the purchase of an additional 106 PCC cars to modernize the
remaining rail lines.  These cars would also be built by the
St. Louis Car Company, under job order #1673.  This fleet
would become the last new streetcars purchased for Detroit.

The new fleet of
PCCs began arriving in late August at a rate of ten cars per week through October.  They were
#181-286, with the electrical equipment split evenly between General Electric and Westinghouse.  These
cars were slightly longer and wider than the previous order, at 49' 5" long and 8' 8" wide.  They were among the largest
PCC cars ever built, sporting one additional passenger window on each side, while seating four additional
passengers.  Although these cars were larger that the others, they lacked some of those features that came with the
previous fleet, including the use of lift-operated passenger windows instead of cranks, and the new cars did not come
equipped with back-up controllers.

The majority of these larger cars were placed into service on the
Woodward line beginning on November 11, 1949.  
This now allowed the
DSR to transfer the 80 older PCCs to the Jefferson and Gratiot lines, and then later to the
line.  Aside from a few Peter Witt style cars being assigned to trippers during peak-hours, all four lines
were equipped with 100%
PCC operation by January 15, 1950.
© 2011 – (PV 04-16-11)
Information for the above article was compiled from numerous on-line sources relating to the history of the PCC streetcar, and from
various articles written by Jack E. Schramm on Detroit's Street Railways, including "Detroit's DSR. Part 3" (Motor Coach Age - May-June
1993), and "DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS Vol II: City Lines 1922-1956" (Bulletin 120 - Central Electric Railfans' Association), and from
numerous Detroit Free Press and Detroit News articles.
In 1947, a fleet of 78 PCC cars arrived in Detroit.  Although an additional fleet of cars
would arrive two years later, the PCC would experience a rather short service life in
Detroit.  In the above photo, series car #102 is looping along the Detroit River.
(Photo source: Dave's Electric Railroads — Bill Volkmer collection)