|THE P.C.C. ERA IN DETROIT – Part 5
(The Ending of an Era in Detroit and The México City Sale)
THE END OF AN ERA:
After the conversion of the city's Jefferson line to diesel buses on Feb. 7, 1954, followed by the Michigan line on Sept.
7, 1955, only two lines remained of what was once a large street railway operation in the city of Detroit. But by the fall
of 1955, it was becoming more evident that the PCC operation along the Gratiot line was in jeopardy as well, as
construction along the new Edsel B. Ford Expressway was progressing eastward toward Gratiot Avenue. With the
DSR now looking to sell most, if not all, of the city's street railway fleet, the Detroit Street Railway Commission was
reluctant to contribute the $70,000 needed to support streetcar operation over the new Gratiot Avenue bridge across
the expressway. With rail service unable to cross the new expressway, PCC operation along the Gratiot line would
also have to cease operations within a matter of months.
Meanwhile, by the end of 1954, the entire Detroit PCC fleet had been advertised for sale to a number of PCC
operators, but no buyers were found. The MUNI system in San Francisco showed an interest, but turned down the
offer because of that city's current financial problems, while the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) of Toronto,
Canada expressed no interest. In late 1954, officials from the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) were
interested in the city's first 78 standard-size "all-electric" cars purchased in 1947. However, negotiations were abruptly
terminated on March 2, 1955, when Douglas Pratt, a National Cities Lines official, became president of the PTC and
terminated talks with the DSR. The Philadelphia company had come under the control of National City Lines, which
decided that the PTC go in a more bus-oriented direction.*
Still determined to find a buyer for its surplus cars, the DSR sent requests for bids on its entire fleet of cars to transit
properties outside of North America, including a number of South American properties. By May of 1955, only two cities,
Alexandria, Egypt and México City, Mexico, expressed any interest, each making purchase offers for the Detroit PCCs.
Shortly thereafter, intense negotiations were under way for the possible early sale of all Detroit streetcars to Mexico
City. With the imminent sale of the cars now an almost certainty, the Street Railway Commission, on Sept. 12, 1955,
approved a recommendation to liquidate the entire streetcar operation in Detroit during the spring of 1956.
After the Mexico City sale was finalized, orders were placed for 150 GM diesel buses, eighty of which to carry out the
conversion of the Gratiot and Woodward operations. General Motors had promised the city that it could deliver ten
coaches per day beginning in mid-March.
Of the remaining two lines, Gratiot would be the first to undergo the conversion to buses, effective March 25, 1956,
while the conversion of the Woodward line would take place two weeks later. Unfortunately, the PCC operation on the
Gratiot line would deteriorate tremendously during the last few days and weeks of operation, as the DSR shops
concentrated on preparing the PCC cars for delivery to México City. There were reports of frequent breakdowns,
shortages of cars that required buses to fill some runs, and cars remaining out on the line without pulling into the
yard, forcing the motormen to make unscheduled reliefs on the street in order to maintain some levels of service.
Streetcar operation on the Gratiot line came to an end early Sunday morning, March 25, 1956, at 4:30 a.m., when the
last car finished its run and pulled-in to the Woodward Carhouse, ending an era of Gratiot streetcar operation dating
back to Sept. 12, 1863. This now left the Woodward line (the DSR's highest patronized and profit-making route) as the
last street railway service operating in Detroit.
With only two weeks of rail operation remaining, many Detroiters took time out to say their final good-byes to their
streetcars. A number of the cars were chartered by private clubs, railfans, and even a suburban elementary school.
Newspaper polls taken at that time revealed that the public was opposed to the switch to buses by more than three to
one. But that day which would change the face of Detroit transit for many decades to come had now arrived.
On Sunday, April 8, 1956, the last regularly scheduled streetcar operated its final run in Detroit. At 4:15 a.m., PCC car
#223 left the Fairgrounds Loop for its last southbound "through" trip to Jefferson and Woodward Avenues. On board
this final trip were twenty railfans; the DSR Superintendent of Transportation James Bostick; and none other than DSR
General Manager Leo J. Nowicki, the mastermind behind the conversion from PCC cars to GM diesels.
At 5 a.m., car #223 made its last northbound trip and arrived at the Fairgrounds Loop at 5:45 a.m. It completed its final
run when operator Paul Payne, badge #351, pulled PCC #223 into the Woodward Carhouse at 5:56 a.m., ending
streetcar operation on the Woodward line, which dated back to Aug. 27, 1863. The era of a once large and vibrant
street railway operation in the city of Detroit had just come to a close. Consequently, with the elimination of its
streetcars, the city of Detroit replaced Cleveland, Ohio as the largest U.S. city with an all-bus operation.
Later, on the afternoon of April 8, 1956, the DSR sponsored a special "End of the Line" grand parade and final
excursion along Woodward Avenue. The parade (see WSU-VMC photo) — accompanied by police escort — was led
by the Highland Park High School band, and consisted of vintage police and fire vehicles, and other turn-of-the-century
automobiles. Last in the parade was a procession of 24 PCC cars carrying almost 2,000 passengers. The parade
would follow the route of the Woodward streetcar line.
The last streetcar in the parade, and the last to operate over the streets of Detroit, was car #237, which carried
members of the Michigan Railroad Club. Around 5:30 p.m., operator Rufus Echols, badge #4192, pulled PCC car
#237 into the Woodward Carhouse. The era of nearly ninety-three years of street railway service in Detroit had
"officially" come to an end.
As sad as it was for this chapter in Detroit transit history to come to a close, many Detroiters had even more tears to
shed over the disturbing circumstances which transpired regarding what seemed like a fire-sale of Detroit's PCC
streetcars to México City, Mexico.
|(Photo source: Dave's Electric Railroads —Stephen M. Scalzo collection)
| THE MÉXICO CITY SALE:
By late 1955, an agreement had been reached between Detroit and Mexico City officials on the purchase of 183 of the
DSR's "all-electric" PCC cars. Initially, Mexico City had offered Detroit $1,098,000 total, or $6,000 apiece, for
each car. But while the DSR and the Common Council continued to argue over the abandonment of rail service, the
Kansas City Public Service Co. influenced the bidding process by also offering its PCCs for sale to Mexico City.
Consequently, Mexico City lowered its Detroit offer to only $699,000, or $4,000 for the first 150 cars and $3,000 for
the remaining 33, after a Kansas City lower offer forced the bidding down. Although the book value for the cars was
around $22,000 each, DSR management felt that they were fortunate to even sell the cars at all, since PCC service
had been declining greatly in recent years, and there was little interest for the cars coming from other U.S. cities.
On Oct. 12, 1955, with Mayor Albert E. Cobo present, the Street Railway Commission accepted Mexico City's
lower offer after the DSR agreed on an additional requirement to increase service on the Michigan and Woodward
lines by 25%. That December, DSR officials announced that a final agreement had been signed between the DSR
and Méxcio City's Servicio de Transportes Eléctricos del Distrito Federal (STE) for the purchase of the 183 available
"all-electric" PCCs from Detroit's fleet of 186 cars. The original two demonstrator "air-electric" cars, first delivered in
1945, were rejected, while car #150 had been wrecked in a collision and was later scrapped.
In addition to the purchase price, Mexico City also agreed to pay an additional $400 per car for painting, $350 for new
upholstery on 77 cars, and $50 per car for loading them on railroad flatcars for shipping. But perhaps the most
troublesome part of the agreement for Detroit, and most advantageous to Mexico City, proved to be the part of the
contract which required the DSR to perform a complete and thorough restoration of each car. While each car
underwent a 72-point inspection by a Mexico City inspector, some of the cars that failed the inspection would require
more than just touch-up work. The end result of this intense inspection resulted in each car looking like a brand new
car before it left Detroit.
This thorough inspection and additional rebuilding escalated labor costs far beyond estimates. City Auditor David
Addy would later inform the Common Council that, "The DSR has spent more money renovating 69 cars than it will be
reimbursed by Mexico City for work on all 183 cars." Because of the higher than expected renovation costs, it was
concluded that the DSR ended up absorbing approximately $500 per car.
Basically, in his zeal to eliminate all rail service from Detroit, DSR General Manager Leo J. Nowicki's proposal for rail
abandonment had expected to realize great savings for the DSR, in both the reduction of operating costs, and by
avoiding considerable track rehabilitation expenses. His plan was based on long-term cost avoidances, but failed to
consider the up-front costs involved in a one-shot sale of all the cars. It was concluded that after all total costs
involved, including depreciation loses, escalated labor costs, pole removal, the cost of new buses, etc.., the DSR
experienced a paper loss with this conversion and sale of about $3.4 million.
After having completely restored and repainted each car with its new cream with green trim paint scheme, the fleet
was renumbered #2102-2140, #2142-2149, and #2151-2286 (with the prefix-number "2" added before the original
car number). The last of the sold PCC cars left Detroit for México City, Mexico on Thursday, July 19, 1956.
The following account of the last Detroit PCC being sent away to México City — taken from the November, 1956 edition
of ERA Headlights — was sent in by Dennis M. Linsky, a transit enthusiast from Brooklyn, N.Y.
It was July 19, 1956, when railfans and DSR officials gathered at the Highland Park shops to witness the parting of Detroit's
last PCC car which was bound for Mexico City. Loaded on a Pennsylvania Railroad flatcar was STE 2185 (ex-DSR 185).
While newspaper and railfan pictures were taken, at 11:00 A.M., Detroit Terminal Railroad diesel locomotive 115 made the
final pickup of a streetcar from the shops. The same day, all remaining trolley wire in the abandoned Woodward Car House
was removed. All car house trackage has been sold for scrap at $17,000. It was also disclosed that the DSR hope to realize
about $100,000 from the sale of spare PCC parts to Mexico City's STE which included 4 spare Clark B-2 trucks for the
The ex-Detroit PCCs would continue to operate in México City until the last of that city's tram operation was shut down
temporally in 1984. Sadly, what was left of the remaining former Detroit PCCs came to a tragic end when the cars
were destroyed during a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that struck México City on Sept. 19, 1985. The PCCs were
undergoing restoration when the carbarn at Tetepilco Yards (the STE's main shop) collapsed, crushing the cars.
The earthquake had put an end to nearly 38 years of service from those cars, the first nine of which were in Detroit..
VISIT DETROIT PCC SERIES (TEXT VERSION): 1 2 3 4 5
Information for the above article was compiled from various articles written by Jack E. Schramm on the Detroit 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 newspaper articles
supplied by both Ken Schramm and the Stanley Sycko Collection. The excerpt from the November, 1956 edition of the Electric
Railroaders' Association's "ERA Headlights" (page 2), was sent to the author by Dennis M. Linsky of Brooklyn, NY, while *the above
Philadelphia PTC–NCL information was sent in by Michael T. Greene of Philadelphia, PA.
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