REFLECTIONS ON A STREET CAR – Dick Hefton
Most of you people who still believe computers are here to stay would probably bet the farm you’d never see another street car rolling down an Oklahoma City thoroughfare after they disappeared over 50 years ago. That is assuming you ever knew this city once had a network of trolleys above the ground that the subways in NYC, WDC and London would beg for.
Oh, for four or five decades ending in the late 1940s you could literally go anyplace across or up and down this city by street car where nickels and tokens were interchangeable, including transfers. And all tracks converged at a central station on Grand Avenue (now called Sheridan) which backed up to Kerr’s Department store facing Main. At least that’s the way I recall it. Most of my experience centered on the Classen route running from then-Belle Isle lake down to Main where it turned at the Fred Jones Ford factory, then into the core of the business district.
More than transportation, street cars were a social institution as well as sports and entertainment for the youth of the day. Young kids on warm summer nights enjoyed taking a backward ride – windows open; older boys arriving at their corner stops were entertained by slipping back of the car pulling down the antenna power connection, killing all lights and power. The conductor, usually uttering unintelligible epithets, had to step off the car – circle to reset the antennae to get the boxy passenger fuselage back on its way.
There was little need for an automobile, what with the city covered in those halcyon days of the street car- not that there were any practical options especially once the Big War got underway. Folks, however, didn’t appreciate how clean was the air they breathed nor how deprived they were for a lack of two and three car garages so proliferate today.
And in the street car era, long in advance of what we came to know as Metropolitan OKC the “Interurban” was not a slick chain of local watering holes, it was the trolley system serving Norman and El Reno with heavy duty engine driven speedsters not found on the local models. The El Reno car traversed the north Classen route where it turned west, between 40th and 41st Streets and began a high -speed express run to El Reno.
OU students kept the cars regularly for commuting and pleasure until service was discontinued in 1947. They boarded cars for “The City” at the INTERURBAN STATION on Norman’s Main Street parallel to the Santa Fe tracks. Riding the rails, so to speak, ended and the station was converted to a bus terminal competing with technology until even the bus gave way to the automobile nuisance as it tended to do for decades before a popular hangout resurrected the iconic name.
OKCitians are rightly excited for the rebirth of that loveable old servant dressed in its 21st Century attire and salute our MAPS planners for the rebirth. And those aging trolley lovers who still don’t bow to technological correctness can claim vindication!
For all those benefits ignored, with the war’s end and the push to answer years of pent up demand – in came the auto, in force – out went the justification for what we now call Advanced Public Transportation!