DuBois Trolley System
From 1891 through 1926, trolleys were used for transportation in the DuBois area. The DuBois Traction Company and the United Traction Street Railway Company provided trolley service to the city and to surrounding mining towns.
Because roads were not paved at that time, the trolley system made transportation possible to and from the city, making DuBois a main retail location. The city of DuBois at the time had a census figure of 12,500; trolley riders averaged 1200 to 2000 on Saturday and Sunday.
When the trolley system was introduced in DuBois, some residents feared that they would be electrocuted simply by stepping on the trolley tracks, and horses tried to bolt from the sight of the moving trolley cars. As usage increased, residents overcame their fears and horses became accustomed to competition on the roads.
A charter was granted to the DuBois Traction Company on April 14, 1890. The original two and one quarter mile line opened to the public October 17, 1891. There were three open-air cars used and a fourth added in 1894.
Construction of the DuBois trolley system was $22,745.10 in actual construction costs and real estate valued at $2,000. The average cost of a trolley car was $3,230.73.
The original traction company was financed by interests outside of town, among them prominent Kittanning and Ford City businessmen. The company was later purchased in part through the assistance of major city figures John E. DuBois, W.C. Pentz, and J.H. McEwan. A few years later, Major I. McCreight, Bruce McCreight, and Austin Blakeslee were associated with a trolley reorganization group
Traction Companies Expand Service
The DuBois Traction Company and the United Traction Street Railway Company provided trolley service to the city of DuBois in Clearfield County and to surrounding towns. The former company operated largely within the city limits with an extension to Falls Creek. The United Traction Street Railway, an independent but related company, extended the DuBois trolley line across the county line into Jefferson County to Sykesville, Big Run, and other mining towns. The two trolley companies operated a combined total of nineteen miles of track.
A switch at the corner of Long and Main diverted the trolley cars either to Sykesville and Big Run or to the Falls Creek branch. In 1892, the latter line was extended to Edgemont Park, an electric park amusement center operating for several decades with many attractions, including boat rides, merry-go-rounds and a gala midway. To the west, the company extended beyond Main Street and Dixon Avenue, with Sykesville and Big Run as terminuses.
In 1903, the first section beyond North Main Street was extended to the old Adrian Furnace following the reorganization and rebuilding of two sections of the older line and additional purchase of new equipment.
The trolleys ran from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9:30 to 9:30 on Sundays. The cost of a trip was five cents or one dollar for a booklet of twenty-four tickets. For mine employees, a book of thirty-six tickets cost one dollar.
Due to the weather, two types of trolley cars were used. During the summer the line used trolley cars open to the elements. In the winter months, the cars had windows that separated the patron from the winter weather. The summer cars had ‘running boards’ for customers to use as a step; more adventurous riders would stand on these running boards and wave to people as they passed by. These summer cars resembled the trolleys seen in the San Francisco area. Larger types of enclosed cars were used on the run between DuBois and Sykesville and on the Falls Creek branch.
Accidents and Hazards
As with any mechanical rail line, accidents were bound to happen. Trolley cars would collide with wagons and automobiles and sometimes even drunks or small children. The first serious accident occurred in April 1892 when a trolley collided with a B.R. & P train at the Long Street crossing. The train was able to reverse the engine so that it only clipped the back of the trolley as it was crossing the tracks.
The wooden bridge on Plank Road (later Liberty Boulevard) was the scene of two accidents in 1892. Both times, conductors leaning out of the trolley as it approached the bridge were knocked unconscious.
In 1903 a flat car that was used to haul slag for ballasting broke away from a construction site and coasted downhill until it collided with another trolley heading out from DuBois, injuring one passenger.
On May 21, 1908, a miner who was on his way to work the night shift at Eriton set a five pound can of black powder in the rear of the trolley car. The powder ignited and exploded, burning two passengers.
Winter snow caused delays. A blizzard in January 1910 caused a United Traction car to jump the tracks. A second car sent to rescue the trolley also derailed. A third car, this one from Falls Creek, was called to service but also derailed. The snow plow used for clearing the tracks was on the first derailed car, causing the line to be tied up for more than nine hours.
Trolley accidents weren’t the only problem. On February 11, 1912, a building housing a transformer and rectifier in Big Run caught fire and was destroyed in the process causing $2,000 worth of damage to one of the cars.
Decline of the Trolley System
In its heyday, more than one million passengers (per year) were using the trolley system annually. Rising costs and wage hikes increased the fares for passengers. A single ride now cost six cents.
The miners from Eriton declared a boycott of the Sykesville line, demanding that round trip fare be set at ten cents. A special run to Eriton, nicknamed the ‘Black Hand,’ was established to appease the miners. This run included trips to various DuBois drinking establishments as well as service for shift changes at the mines.
More financial losses were reported during the war years of 1917-1918. Equipment was falling apart, and money needed to continue the line was found through outside financiers. In addition, a bus line established between DuBois and Reynoldsville led to the decline of the line.
The Penn Public Company, an early version of Penelec, acquired stock and other assets of the trolley in 1923, gaining control of the power company on Liberty Boulevard. This occurred between 1923 and 1927 and followed a brief control of the area utilities by Associated Gas and Electric.
In 1926, the Pennsylvania State Highway Department began paving highways. The DuBois Traction Company and United Traction Company had to move some of their rail equipment to accommodate the construction.
In late 1926, the trolley companies sold their assets for less than $20,000. The last trolley car passed through the streets of DuBois on Christmas Eve of 1926. With the end of the trolley era came the beginning of the automobile era.
Gene M. Aravich