The New Electric Railway
Journal – Winter 1993
Alvin Spivak and Fred Bennett
Tucked away in a corner of
Silicon Valley is a harkening hack to the past that nonetheless plays an
important role in the daily life of a modern city. Two persons with a sense of
the past’s relationship to the present and future take us on a tour of an
San Jose, California
abandoned its extensive city and suburban electric railway network in the 1930s. But recently it has again turned to the trolley to act
in three roles. First and perhaps most important is the modern, efficient and
well-patronized light rail cars by which San Jose entered a new transport era.
Second are the heritage trolleys that share trackage with the LRT downtown. Both have been written about at length in
The New Electric Railway Journal it is the third San Jose line that is the
subject of this essay.
Kelley Park trolley, a mile southeast of downtown, came into being as the result
of needs generated by the downtown heritage trolley project, with which it
remains closely allied. That operation required a trolley barn and test track
for the reconstruction and acceptance testing of cars.
Enter Kelley Park
It happened that the
city of San Jose was planning to build, in Kelley Park, a full-scale
reconstruction of its turn-of-the-century downtown. A trolley barn would be an
appropriate part of that proposal, as would an actual line running along the
main street. With those facilities in place, the park was a natural setting for
the heritage project-and an actual operating line.
the reconstructed downtown boasts an authentic operating heritage trolley line
in a near-perfect atmosphere. The as-yet-unpaved street is lined with buildings
that duplicate many structures of by-gone day—a fire house, hotel, bank, several
dwellings, and even a lovingly restored Chinese temple that graced the city
years ago. The old historic electric tower that was intended to light downtown
San Jose years ago is reproduced in half-scale as well.
Star of the Show
service in the park is provided on weekend afternoons by a beautifully
refurbished single-truck, turn-of-the-century design car. Car 168 came from
Porto, Portugal, where it was built in 1934 to a U.S. Brill circa-1900 design.
Ex-Porto 168 provides a lesson in living history for the many visitors to Kelley Park.
When brought to its new home after fifty years of service
overseas, the body was fully reworked by volunteers under the direction of
Master Car Builder Fred Bennett. The slatted ceiling was replaced with
beautifully decorated headlining following Brill designs of the period, and
braking resistors on the bonnet roofs were relocated under the floor. Seats
freshly upholstered in deep maroon were installed, and all interior woodwork was
stripped of old finish and restored with new varnish.
car 168 is a major attraction at Kelley Park. Although the ride is very short,
it provides old-timers with vivid memories of the days of their youth—as well as
a chance to point out to their grandchildren how the trolley pole is swung
around at the end of the line. Car operation is by two-man volunteer crews.
venerable Brill is equipped with two 65-horsepower motors, which might be
considered excessive for a single-truck unit. By contrast, standard Birney cars
had two 25-HP motors. However, the Porto units climbed steep hills and pulled
trailers, so the larger motors were a necessity. In Kelley Park, the controller
is never moved beyond full series, but ample speeds are maintained for the short
unique feature of the Porto car is the electric brake that is actuated by the
controller. Moving the handle to the “off” position and beyond brings this
device into play with a powerful-and abrupt deceleration. However, the dynamic
brake is used only as a standby, regular braking being by means of air brakes.
Track and Power
The track consists of
about 1000 feet of used rail acquired from the Western Pacific Rail-road. It
isn’t perfectly aligned, and there are low joints, the effects of which are
exaggerated by the long overhang of the single-truck car. Plans are in place for
an early extension that will about double the line length. Other, longer-term
projects will enable park patrons to access remote parking lots by trolley Power
for the line is provided by a static-state rectified station located at one end
of the line. Here, 480-volt AC power off the utility grid is converted to
600-volt DC and applied to the overhead wire.
Kelley Park operation is conducted in accordance with a detailed rulebook and
managed by Operations Supervisor Alvin Spivak. The service is provided on a
fare-free basis, with rides included in the price of park admission. There is
also a donation box on board the car, and money collected is used to provide
supplies for ongoing work in the trolley barn.
has tremendous appeal and is a major adjunct to the historical park. Youngsters
want to ride the trolley and some stay on board for much of an afternoon, while
their parents enjoy other park activities. The staff tries especially hard to
nurture children’s interest in trolleys and run special classes for them,
keeping in mind the many people that have risen in transit ranks around the
country through careers that were first sparked at a railroad or trolley museum.
Time between operating
days is spent checking car 168 out in the historic trolley barn. Body upgrading
is never fully complete, and programmed improvements and normal maintenance are
done during off hours. The Brill never had a thorough running-gear check-an
operation requiring full removal of the body from the truck.
now, arrival is eagerly awaited of a Russian car that has been promised to the
project. Once on site and refurbished, this new acquisition will allow 168 to be
sidelined long enough to enable the running-gear check to be performed. But
readying the Russian car is, in itself, no small task. The unit in question has
been used in work service and will have to be reconverted to passenger use.
Also, it is a single-ender and will have to be arranged for double-end
operation. Wheels will also have to be reset to fit San Jose’s standard gauge.
carbarn volunteer crew is poised for its next big challenge—refurbishing a Milan
Peter Witt car that has been undergoing steel repair and conversion to
double-end operation at the LRT barn in town. When that is completed, the car is
to be moved down to Kelley Park, where woodwork, doors, a pantograph and other
items will be installed. It is scheduled to go back to the LRT line late in the
year for regular service.
that were not enough to keep the crew busy; time must also be found to
reconstruct a century-old horsecar that once ran on the streets of San
Francisco. The horsecar lay in disuse and neglect for many years, and came to
Kelley Park with very little of its original wood intact. Today, after a great
deal of tender, loving care and rebuilding, it is beginning to resemble its old
self. With completion of end platforms and dashes, installation of a suitable
undercarriage, and procurement of a pair of cooperative horses, it will soon be
ready to join 168 on the Kelley Park track.
Authors Avin Spivak and Fred Bennett are long-time volunteers at Kelley Park