1892-Electrification of the HSR: From Horses to Horsepower
At the end of 1891, the Hamilton Street Railway operated 45 horsecars and 160 horses on 5 different routes:
Replica of 1892 HSR schedule
At the start of 1892, the management of the Hamilton Street Railway made an announcement: They wished to negotiate a new franchise with the City of Hamilton, nearly two years before the expiry date of the existing agreement on Dec 22, 1893.
Hamilton Spectator, Thursday January 14, 1892
THE STREET RAILWAY-The by-law authorising the construction of the Hamilton street railway, passed on the 22nd of December, 1873, provides that at the end of twenty years the city may assume ownership, after giving six months notice of its intention to do so. If it shall take over the road it must pay a value to be determined by arbitration; and said value to depend upon the cost of the property and the revenue derived from it. The time at which the city may take over the railway is yet two years distant; but the company announces, in the letter printed below, that it desires at once to make a new arrangement. This arrangement, it will be seen, is not a surrender of the road to the city, but a renewal of its franchise for a term of years, on condition that the company shall pay to the city a fixed mileage rental and a percentage of the company’s earnings. That proposal is reasonable or unreasonable, just or unjust, one which should be accepted or one that should be refused, according to the sum which the company is prepared to pay. What that sum should be we are not prepared to consider intelligently at present. The reason which moves the company to ask for an extension of its franchise is that its managers desire to put in an electric plant; and naturally, they do not desire to move in the matter unless they have some assurance that they will have control of the property for more than two years. It is proper to remember, also, that another company asks power to construct electric railways in the city. The proposal is now before the people for consideration. All good citizens will desire that the company will be treated fairly, but manifestly it will be the duty of the City council to see that the public interest is carefully guarded. The following is the letter:
TO THE EDITOR: The proprietors of the Hamilton street railway company have observed with much interest the rapid progress of electricity as a motive power for street railway purposes, as instanced by the fact that in the United States, in 1888 there were only twenty roads, eighty miles and ninety cars, operated by electricity, whereas, three years later, namely, in September last, the number has been increased to 412 roads, 8,009 miles, and 6,732 electric cars. Realizing that the time is rapidly approaching when the public will demand a change from the present slow transit by horse cars and that it would be greatly to the interests of the city, particularly of the outlying portions, and furthermore, necessary in order to keep Hamilton abreast of the times, in the matter of quick transit, this company has decided to apply to the City council very shortly, for an extension of the present franchise, on the understanding that electric cars will be promptly introduced, and the city receive forthwith a certain mileage rental for the tracks as well as a portion of the earnings. Yours truly, HAMILTON STREET RAILWAY COMPANY.
A New Rival
The 'other company asks power to construct electric railways' referred to was the Hamilton, Grimsby, & Beamsville Electric Railway (HG&B), which had been recently formed and was negotiating with the City for access to Hamilton. However, it was announced on January 18 that a group of Hamilton businessmen had formed the Hamilton Electric Street Railway Company, in order to bid for the franchise for running public transit in Hamilton. This company was closely aligned with the Hamilton Electric Light Company (most of the HESR’s board of directors were also members of the HEL’s board of directors).
The HSR made a formal offer to the City’s railway committee on January 25. In exchange for modifications to the existing HSR bylaw such as allowing for electrification and for an expiry date extension to Dec 22, 1913, the HSR was prepared to make several promises, which included:
The City’s railway committee commissioned a sub-committee to inspect the books of the HSR and to research electrification, in order to determine the benefits and costs to the City. In a final report delivered on March 6, several recommendations were made, both financial and technical. The HSR’s offered mileage payments were accepted by the report, but there were changes made to the payment plan for gross fare receipts. The City requested 6% for receipts of less than $125,000 to a maximum of 8% for receipts of $200,000 or more. As well, the existing streetcar network was to be double tracked, and two new lines built within two years:
The HSR accepted the proposed new bylaw. The HESR made a counteroffer, offering more money than the HSR’s offer:
However, the HESR would not start operations and construction until the expiration of the existing franchise with the HSR in 2 years. The City’s railway committee felt that even with the larger payments, the two year delay in electrification was too long, and so the HESR’s offer was rejected. The report of the sub-committee was accepted and the existing HSR bylaw was amended based on the report.
The new bylaw passed first and second reading of City council on March 14th, but the HESR had one last option. On March 15 a court injunction was filed halting the passage of the bylaw by eight days. The purpose of this injunction was to buy time for the HESR to convince members of city council to vote against the bill at third reading. On March 22 lawyers for both the City and the HESR met in high court in Toronto to argue the injunction. After 3 days of arguements, the injunction was overturned by Chief Justice Galt in Toronto on the morning of Saturday March 26th, and the bylaw was given final reading and passed in Hamilton that afternoon.
With the bylaw passed, the HSR got to work immediately. Westinghouse was contracted to supply electric motors for 30 cars, and three electric dynamos to generate electricity for the system. Three 360 hp stationary steam engines to run the dynamos were ordered from Goldie & McCullough in Galt. Fifteen new streetcars were ordered from J.M. Jones of Troy, NY, and 30 electric trucks were ordered from Brill to go with the Westinghouse motors to fit out the new streetcars and for the conversion of horsecars into electric streetcars. New heavier rails were ordered from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 300 wooden poles for the overhead wire were supplied by C. J. Sealey, cut near Lake Medad north of Waterdown.
It was originally thought that the first electric streetcars would be operational by May 24th, and the entire system would be converted by June 1st. Unfortunately, a series of delays and accidents interrupted the scheduled work. The HSR’s 2nd fatal accident in its history happened on March 31, when Joseph Collins was run over by HSR #1 at the corner of James and Macualay. (A coroner’s inquest divided the blame between the deceased and the driver, Fred Bishop). A derrick collapsed at the powerhouse on April 19, injuring John Godden and John Hayes. On April 24 a fire destroyed 50 wooden poles in a storage yard at Robert & Elgin. The ordered rails got lost en route, before finally arriving on April 28, a week late [Author's note: no explanation was ever given for the delay, but it seems likely that the 19 flatcars full of rails were mistakenly shipped to Hamilton, Ohio]. In Galt on May 18, one of the stationary steam engines being delivered from the factory to the Grand Trunk Railway for shipment to Hamilton had a near disaster when one of the wheels on the transporting wagon broke through the deck of the Main St bridge over the Grand River. The cumulative effect of all of these incidents along with a very wet spring was to delay the start of electric operations over a month.
Land for a new powerhouse to generate electricity for the HSR was purchased at the corner of James & Guise on March 29, and construction contracts for the new powerhouse were awarded on April 12. By April 16 60 men were at work on the foundation, which was completed by April 21. As work on the building progressed, the electrical generating equipment began to arrive. Two boilers arrived on May 7, The first dynamo arrived on May 19, and two stationary steam engines arrived the next day. By the end of May all of the generating equipment had arrived, and the roof was going up.
As part of the bylaw passed, all single track had to be replaced with double track, and iron poles must be placed instead of wooden ones along King between Bay and Mary, and along James between Cannon and Hunter. Starting at Burlington (now Sanford) on April 15, crews moved east along King St installing wooden poles. Iron poles were installed starting at James & Mary on April 26 and on King between Hughson & Mary on April 27.
Double tracking began on Herkimer at Queen on May 1. Work progressed along Herkimer reaching Bay by May 9 and up James to King by May 17. Double tracking started on Barton at Wentworth on May 5, and would be finished by May 30.
Track replacement on James street, just south of Gore Park, May 1892. (Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives, used with permission)
The motors and trucks had begun arriving on May 10, and crews were busy in the car barns converting 5 of the open horsecars and 10 of the closed horsecars into electric streetcars. The new streetcars began arriving on June 20.
On June 19, the fires were lit in the newly completed powerhouse, heating the water in the boilers, starting one of the steam engines which turned a dynamo for the first system power test. All work was completed on James, Stuart, and on King St E, and so at 5 p.m. on Wednesday June 29, the electric cars began to run.
Hamilton Spectator, Thursday June 30, 1892
THE FRISKY TROLLEY-It Works Well, But Moves Too Fast Occasionally-At five o'clock yesterday afternoon several trolley cars made their appearance on King and James streets and everybody gazed in admiration at the 'Electricity Cars' as they dashed along. They did not frighten horses as much as had been feared, and, strange to say, the usually placid street car horse evinced more objection to them than any others, probably because the trolleys don't belong to the horse car union. As the trolleys passed another car the horses would do their best to run into the curb. A country horse driven by a woman and a small boy took fright on King street west and made a break away, but was captured before it had run a block. The ordinary driving horse seemed to be frightened principally at the rapid motion of the car and the racket of the gong more than anything else. Especially during the evening the cars were driven much too fast in the centre of the city.
During the evening thousands of people lined James and King steet east, watching the trolleys in motion, and a large crowd was assembled at the corner of King and James street. Every trolley car was filled to the steps with people, principally young men and boys enjoying their first ride. The motor men seemed to appreciate the fact that they formed the centre of attention, and the cars were dashed along at rather a dangerous speed, with gongs ringing like a fire engine. Many of the cars came up to the Gore at a rate of ten miles an hour or faster, and the fact that no accidents happened was principally due to the fact that everybody was watching for them. One of the trolleys caught up to and pitched into the rear of a horse car, creating a momentary panic among the passengers, but no damage resulted.
Horsecars were pulled off of the Green route (Stuart St, James St & King St E) that afternoon, and off of the James St North and King St West route on the afternoon of the 30th. They were pulled off the James, Herkimer and Barton route on July 1, but put back on for a few more days as it was discovered that additional feeder cables were required for the ends of the electric system furthest from the powerhouse, otherwise not enough electricity would be available for the streetcars. On July 6, the second dynamo was started up, and test cars ran on Herkimer and on Barton, with full electric service beginning on Monday July 11.
Work on York Street had been delayed due to sewer construction, and so poles weren’t installed until June 20. On July 6, double tracking began on York St. By July 15, tracks were complete as far as Dundurn, with a single horsecar as a shuttle service to the cemetery gates. A crossover was installed so that on Market Day only a single track would be used, so as to not interfere with the Hamilton Farmer's market. Full electric service was ready by July 19.
The HSR did not plan to get rid of all horsecars and horses immediately. As part of a negotiated settlement with the Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville, the HSR had agreed to abandon the East Hamilton branch when the HG&B began service. As this would not happen for a year or more, and with the HSR unwilling to invest in a line that would shortly be abandoned, horsecar service would remain on the East Hamilton branch. As well, at one point the HSR considered using the horsecars to run a service along Hamilton Beach, from the dock next to the canal down the strip. This idea was never implemented.
One of the side effects of electrification was the loss of Sunday service. The HSR had run a limited Sunday service for churchgoers ever since October 1874. This was no longer feasible with electric streetcars, because of the relative high cost of keeping the power on for only a few streetcars. The HSR agreed to keep a few horsecars running for Sunday service, but only for a few months. The bylaw had stated that all horsecar conversions must be complete within 6 months of the signing, and the HSR did not want the Sunday service to be held up as an example of non-compliance. Sunday service ended on September 25.
With the electric streetcars running by mid-July, the HSR made plans for the sale of 140 now surplus horses. Two auctions were held, one on July 21 and one on August 4. Several horses were purchased by the Niagara Falls (ON) street railway, and by Mr. Clapp of Brockville. The average auction price was $60.
HSR 41 at Gore park in August 1892. This is one of the earliest photos of an electric streetcar in Hamilton, taken as part of Hamilton: the Birmingham of Canada, an avertising pamphlet about the City of Hamilton for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (Photo courtesy of the Toronto Public Library, Digital Collections)
While the bylaw stated that all existing single track must be doubled, there was no mention made to the tracks that were already doubled, on James St North and on King St. These tracks were not replaced during the reconstruction work done in May and June, but the obvious difference in the smoothness of the ride between the different ages of track, and the increased weight of the new streetcars lead to the HSR deciding to replace the rest of the track in the system. Track replacement on York St began on September 6, but replacement on James and King originally set for the fall was postponed until 1893.
In addition to the new infrastructure, there were other changes to the HSR itself. For the first time, motormen and conductors were issued uniforms; blue suits with silver trim. Also, a new set of rules and regulations was created for the employees of the HSR.
On September 3, a group of employees of the HSR met at the Foresters Hall to discuss the formation of a sick benefit fund, and to discuss with the HSR about rearranging the work schedule. At the time, the regulations allowed for 15 hrs work per day for 2 days, with 4 hrs on the third day, and the employees were hoping for a more balanced schedule. A deputation of seven men, lead by George Sharpe, was elected on September 5 by 51 out of the 80 HSR employees to speak with HSR management the next day.
On September 6, five employees were fired without explanation, including 3 of the 7 representatives. That evening another meeting was held where the decision was made that unless the employees were reinstated a strike would be called. Next morning, the HSR management refused to rehire the employees or to have a meeting, although they did allow the members to speak individually to managers.
As a result, at shortly before 12:30 on September 7, employees of the HSR walked off the job. Streetcars in service were stopped next to city hall, where around 40 motormen and conductors left their posts. Members of management were able to convince 20 of the strikers to return to duty, and so a limited service was running by that afternoon. Several new employees were hired to fill in the gaps
On Thursday September 8, HSR management started a new balanced work schedule, as the employees had requested, but refused to allow strikers back to work or to rehire those fired. In turn, the strikers refused to return to work unless the fired workers did as well. All streetcars were removed from service after 7 p.m, for fear of violence from strikers, though none was reported.
That night a group of strikers spoke to Hamilton Mayor Peter Blaicher, asking him to speak to the HSR on their behalf. On Friday September 9, Mayor Blaicher spoke with representatives of the HSR, to whom he made two proposals: that the 5 fired employees be given a month’s pay as severance, and that the 20 strikers be allowed to return to work. The HSR agreed to the first, but to the second said that they would only take back the strikers on an as needed basis, as it would not betray the new hires or the workers who had not gone on strike. 4 of the 5 fired workers agreed to the proposal, and by September 10 the strike was over, with most of the 20 strikers having being called back to work. However, the strikers lost all seniority, and so when service reductions happened in October, the strikers were the first to be let go.
Electric streetcar service was not without its problems. Because the streetcars ran so quietly, each streetcar was equipped with a warning gong that could be rung by the driver. Unfortunately, the ringing of the gong tended to spook nearby horses, resulting in several reported cases of runaway horses.
Hamiltonians had a hard time adapting to the much greater speed of the new electric streetcars, which ran at 30 km/hr and could reach a top speed of nearly 50 km/hr. By comparison, the top speed of a horsecar was rarely over 10 km/hr, and the top speed of any horse drawn vehicle was around 15 km/hr. The low speed of the horsecars meant that many HSR passengers had gotten into a habit of stepping off a horsecar before it had come to a full stop. When this habit carried over to streetcars, it resulted in numerous cases of passengers suffering injury. As well, Hamiltonians crossing the street had trouble judging how fast oncoming streetcars were actually moving, resulting in many newspaper reports of near-fatal accidents from collisions.
The employees also took a while to adapt. The Hamilton Spectator noted that “You can tell an old horse car driver… Every time he twists the brake he shouts ‘Whoa’”. More serious was getting used to vehicles that could move without horses. Conductor Thomas Snider was badly hurt on October 8 at the Locke Street carhouse when he attached the trolley pole of a streetcar undergoing maintenance to the overhead wire. The streetcar surged at full speed in reverse, crushing him against the carhouse wall and impaling the streetcar coupler through his leg. He died of his injuries the next day.
Complaints by residents resulted in the formation of a special speed regulation committee by city hall on August 29, but was slow in getting started. By the beginning of September 1892, the numerous accidents, injuries and runaways prompted the Hamilton Times to call for a return to horsecar operation. The Hamilton Spectator took the opposing viewpoint, resulting in an ongoing argument in the editorials of both newspapers over the next few weeks.
The arguments came to an abrupt end when two fatal accidents occurred in a two week span: 15 yr old Thomas James was struck and killed at York St & Pearl on September 27; and 3 yr old Harry Andrews was run over on James St at Simcoe on October 13. By comparison, only two fatal accidents had happened during the 18 years of horsecar operations.
Coroner inquests after both accidents had ruled that the streetcar motormen were not at fault, but in the Andrews inquest the jury recommended that the HSR be limited to 6 mph (10 km/hr). The speed committee had been forced into action by the death of Thomas James, and started to receive statements and reports from residents, businesses, HSR management, and other street railways in Canada and the United States about the speed of streetcars. On October 27, the entire committee rode a chartered streetcar over most of the streetcar system, noting the travel times via stopwatches.
However, a final report was never issued by the speed committee. Citing the long delay between the formation of the committee and the start of meetings, and the recent deaths, city council moved to strip the committee of its role. On November 1, city council moved to impose the following speed restrictions on the HSR:
These restrictions were put into effect immediately, but still there were still accidents and collisions. Worst of all occurred on December 15, when Edward Passmore stepped out from behind a coal cart right into the path of an oncoming streetcar at James & Simcoe. Passmore suffered serious head injuries, and died on December 22nd.
Replica of 1893 HSR schedule
As the year came to a close, the HSR was organizing for the following year’s construction. The HSR wished to expand eastwards, along Barton St into Barton Township, to the new racetrack being constructed at Barton and Ottawa. At the time, Barton St was a privately owned road, so the HSR had to make arrangements with the toll company before proceeding. An application was made to City council to extend the Barton line east from Wentworth Ave to the city limits at Sherman. An application was made to the Barton Township council on October 31 to run eastwards from the city limits at Sherman Ave to Ottawa St, and to build a line from Barton St down Ottawa to the lakeshore. (At the time, this part of the lakeshore was undeveloped, and it was thought that a new pier would be constructed so that steamboats from Toronto could load and unload passengers for the racetrack.) It was planned to purchase 20 new open streetcars for service on this route.
The City gave permission with the modification of the bylaw on December 28nd. Barton Township gave permission to the HSR to build a double tracked line eastwards from the city limits at Sherman Ave to Ottawa St, with a single track east of that point, but only on the condition that the HSR build a track extension south on James St to the newly opened Hamilton and Barton Incline Railway. (At the time, Hamilton Mountain was still part of Barton Township). The HSR objected, and this issue would not be resolved until January 24, 1893. The HSR would agree to the conditions of Barton township, and both lines would be built in 1893.
Mills, John M. Cataract Traction: The Railways of HamiltonCanadian Traction Series Vol 2, Toronto, 1971