May 20 2019

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New work new jersey

New work new jersey

by Joe Thompson

If you came to this page from an outside link, you may want to see the Picture of the Month and visit my main page.

  • Hoboken, New Jersey

The need to connect the low-lying lands of central Hoboken with residential areas atop the Pallisades was an excellent application of cable traction.

Newark, New Jersey

Busy Newark, close to New York City, was a good place to demonstrate an experimental technology.

Binghamton, New York

The need to link Binghamton with a hilltop sanatarium called for a cable railway.

Brooklyn, New York (Brooklyn was a separate city until 1898)

Brooklyn was home to the most successful cable railway in the East, and one of the least.

New York City, New York

America’s biggest city had some of its most heavily-used lines.

North Hudson County Railway

opened: 25-Jan-1886. By viaduct from Delaware, Lackawanna & Western ferry to Palisade Avenue.

extended: 1890 to Hudson Courthouse in Jersey City.

powerhouse: at upper terminal

grip: Endres bottom grip

cars: double-end, double-truck

notes: Rapid transit operations were rare in the cable railway industry. Only the Hoboken elevated and the Glasgow District Subway were successful.

The steep Palisades split the land along the west bank of the Hudson River, across from New York City. The industrial part of Hoboken, low meadowland along the river, had an important ferry connection. Above Hoboken was Jersey City Heights, a residential area. Early attempts to reach the residential area used steam and horse power along indirect routes. According to the 20-Feb-1886 edition of Scientific American (available at Rail-Road Extra), it took a car pulled by four horses twenty minutes to go one mile from the ferry to the top of the hill.

Access to the top of the Palisades improved in 1873, when the North Hudson County Railway built a 400 foot long funicular to haul horse cars 100 feet up the face of the hill. The entire trip from the ferry to the top of the hill took ten minutes. The incline portion took one minute. Counterbalanced funiculars are, by their nature, limited in the amount of traffic they can handle, so the North Hudson County Railway looked for a better solution.

The company chose to build an elevated railroad, with cable traction. This shortened the trip to from the ferry to the top of the hill to five minutes.

The iron towers of the elevated structure sat on bluestone and brick piers, which were supported by clusters of wooden piles. Deep piles were necessary to reach bedrock through the soft meadow land.

from Notes.

From The Street Railway Journal, July, 1885. Volume I, Number 9.

Hoboken. — The large steel cable, intended to operate the cars on the North Hudson County Railway Company’s elevated road between the Hoboken Ferry and the brow of the hill, arrived yesterday [June 10th]. It was made by Roebling & Son, is 12,000 feet in length, and exclusive of the wooden drum upon which it is coiled, weighs twentyfour tons. It is said to be the longest cable ever inade. — New York Tribune.

The Endres bottom grip was heavy and powerful, with three foot jaws. Behind and before each grip were a pair of claws, which could be lowered to pick up the cable. This unusual feature probably damaged the cable. The company used the thickest cable in the industry, 1 1/2″.

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, August, 1885. Volume I, Number 10.

The Hoboken Cable Road will be running, engineer Endris (should be “Endres” — JT) says, by Aug. 5th.

The cars carried a grip on each truck. The grip was operated by a vertical wheel on the platform. The same wheel operated both the grip and the wheel brakes, depending on the setting of a lever next to the wheel.

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, March, 1886. Volume II, Number 5.

Messrs. Poole & Hunt, who, as noted in our last issue, put in the cable machinery plant of the New York Tenth Avenue line, also designed and built the machinery for the Chicago Cable Railway, the Kansas City Cable Railway, and the North Hudson Railway Co., of Hoboken, N. J., the last of which is an elevated structure. They have recently perfected some improved grips, track brakes and rope lifts for the Hoboken road that it is thought will overcome many of the difficulties that have often made trouble on the New York & Brooklyn bridge. Boston, Mass.

Approaching the ferry terminal, cars dropped the cable and coasted into the station, switching from the the down-bound track to the up-bound. The single track in the station was flanked by wide platforms. Arriving passengers used the front door to exit onto one platform; at the same time, departing passengers entered the rear door of the car from the other platform. According to Scientific American, a car could load and unload in one minute. Already on the right track, the gripman could pick up the rope and depart.

The line was electrified in 1892, and the viaduct carried trolley cars until 1949. It was dismantled in 1950.

The North Hudson County Railway had another elevated structure to connect the Weehawken ferry terminal with the Pallisades and the Guttenburg racetrack. Three large elevators carried passengers from the ferry terminal up to the viaduct. Blue noses shut down the racktrack. The company abandoned the elevators and the viaduct and replaced them with a snaking trolley line up the Pallisades. Read about the viaduct being demolished in 1900:

  • “End of a Big Viaduct” (New York Tribune, Monday, March 5, 1900)

John H Bonn, born in 1829 in Norden, East Friesland in what is now Germany, was a firm promoter of Hoboken. He founded the transit companies that merged to become the North Hudson County Railway in 1859. He remained president of the company through the cable era. Read about his life and work in “History of Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey” by William H Shaw, available at Accessible Archives Full-Text Databases.

I miss Al Mankoff’s site (, which had many interesting articles, including chapters from his book Trolley Treasures on Hoboken transit.

Hoboken’s Elevated Road.

From The Street Railway Journal, April, 1885. Volume I, Number 4.

Hoboken is to have an elevated railway; trestles are up, tracks laid, paint on, etc. Everything substantial. North Hudson C. R. R. has the franchise.

Structure all wrought iron, resting on heavy brick piers, built on piles driven ninety feet (in meadows 100 feet). At this point grade very heavy, the highest point ninety-seven feet from ground. Peculiar feature in construction of the iron trestle is the lattice work on every column, beam and girder. It is designed to run cars by traction cable similar to that on the Brooklyn Bridge. Traction plant built by Poole & Hunt, Baltimore; two 500-H.P. engines been built by Watts & Campbell, of Newark. Both ready for use. Building on Palisade Avenue, top of hill, 120 by 80, will contain engines and traction plant; upper part used as terminal depot.

Here the tracks, which are fourteen feet above surface, will pass over driving apparatus and machinery. Large boiler house been built, solid brick, adjoining depot; four steel boilers, 125-horse power each, put in. One end of boiler house occupied by chimney ten feet square at base and 100 feet high.

At Hoboken Ferry the depot is 170 by 40 feet; tower story a massive brick structure, carrying handsome frame superstructure for elevated station above. Ground floor will be used for offices and waiting rooms. Proposed to have three stations between ferry and hill and to run cars every minute. Pullman & Co. are building cars; not yet received. Company hopes to have road open for travel by June. Engineer Endrus (should be “Endres” — JT) is supervising work, and pushing it as fast as practicability will permit. Although road is not quite a mile and a quarter long, it is estimated to have cost over half a million.

It is said that as soon as road is in operation company will extend to Court House and Union Hill. Intention is to eventually run to Fort Lee, which will afford magnificent view of the Hudson from the Palisades.

from Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

North Hudson County Ry. Co. operates 12.75 miles of horse and 1 1/4 miles of elevated road, double-track, owns 620 horses and 116 cars and also 10 cable-cars. — John H. Bonn, Pres., F. J. Mallory, Sec., F. Michel, Treas., Nicholas Goelz, Supt.. — GENERAL OFFICE, Hoboken, N. J.

Essex Passenger Railway/Newark and Irvington Street Railway

line: Springfield Avenue/Market Street

opened: 06-Mar-1888. Springfield from 10th Avenue to Arlington Street. Market Street to the Pennsyvania Railroad depot.

powerhouse: Springfield Avenue and Bedford Street

grip: Rasmussen “chain pump” non-grip

notes: The United States Cable Railway Company persuaded two horse car operators in Newark, New Jersey, the Newark and Irvington Street Railway and the Essex Passenger Railway, to allow them to make an experimental installation of the Rasmussen non-grip system. This installation followed a brief test on the tracks of the Chicago West Division Railway. The track on Springfield belonged to the Newark and Irvington company and the track on Market to the Essex Company.

An experimental electric railway installation by Professor Leo Daft (no kidding) may have soured Newark on electric operation.

The United States Cable Railway Company promoted Charles W Rasmussen’s patents for a system which was intended to be inexpensive to install on existing horse car lines. Rasmussen’s system used small four-wheeled trucks which were attached to the cable at about 6 foot intervals. The trucks ran on rails formed into the sides of the small conduit. The driving sheave in the powerhouse had slots at suitable intervals for the trucks; this was simpler than the drivers and idlers with multiple wraps needed for regular cable traction. Curves were also simpler. The tracks in the conduit banked around the curves, allowing the trucks to ride around. The rolled iron conduit required an excavation only 8 inches deep. The company claimed it could be laid between the rails of a horse car line.

In Chicago, the non-grip mechanism was a large cog wheel attached under the floor of a horse car. The cog wheel passed through the slot of the conduit and the teeth of the wheel engaged buttons attached to the trucks. A goose neck on the car’s platform controlled a brake on the cog wheel. Loosening the brake would allow the wheel to rotate and the car to stop. Tightening the brake would stop the wheel and impart motion to the car.

The cog wheel had not worked well in Chicago, so the US Cable Company tried an arm with four claw-like prongs which were to grab the trucks. The Newark installation was not a success. According to one account, the claws could grip the trucks, but had trouble letting go. Crews had to jump off the cars, find a telephone, call the powerhouse, and ask them to stop the cable.

Other problems included the fact that normal stretching of the cable made the distance between the trucks vary so that the slots on the driving wheel had trouble engaging the trucks and the buttons. The cast iron trucks were brittle and frequently broke. Sometimes the trucks would get off the tracks in the conduit and get jammed.

The installation was eventually taken over by William Heckert, who replaced the claw with a link belt under the car. It didn’t work any better.

The Newark line was out of service by December, 1889. If the installation had worked, the next one would have been in Milwaukee.


From Street Railways: Their Construction, Operation and Maintenance, by CB Fairchild, 1892.

Another system, known as the “Chain Pump Cable” was constructed on an extensive scale in the city of Newark, N. J., but was never put into service. This system employed a wire rope of ordinary size, having a wire core. Attached to this rope, every six or eight inches were metal collars or buttons, about three inches in diameter, securely held in place by being pressed on in halves and the parts riveted together and babbited. This rope thus equipped was mounted in a shallow conduit close to the slot, and was carried upon small two wheel trucks, about ten feet apart, to the axle of which it was securely attached, so that the trucks travelled with the cable, small tracks for the wheels being provided in the bottom of the conduit. The truck wheels were about six inches in diameter, mounted loose on six inch axles. The rope was made to travel slightly to one side of the slot, bringing the side of the button directly under the opening. Power was transmitted to the car by means of a sprocket wheel hung under the car, the arms of which engaged with the buttons through the slot. The car was started by means of a band brake, in about the same manner as described for the ladder cable system. In place of the sprocket wheel a revolving metal belt was afterward substituted. This belt was provided with arms which were designed to engage with the axles of the travelling trucks, the object being to dispense with the buttons and depend only upon the trucks to impart motion to the car. In this system the cable was driven by means of a single horizontal pulley, having chambers or pockets in the face of the rim of sufficient depth to receive the buttons and trucks. Around this driving pulley the cable made but one wrap, being driven by the contact of the buttons against the shoulder of the chamber. The proper tension was maintained by means of a tension carriage placed in a vault at the end of the line, the pulley of which was provided with chambers the same as the driving sheave, and was also mounted upon its car in a horizontal position. The curve pulleys were also provided with pockets. An attempt was also made during this experiment to avoid the use of curve pulleys, by placing the tracks in the conduit in a perpendicular position on the side of the conduit, with spiral approaches, so that the trucks would lead the rope around the curve.

from Milwaukee, Wis.

From The Street Railway Journal, October, 1893. Volume IX, Number 10.

In seeking a franchise for this system, the new company proposed to operate by the Rasmussen cable system, or “Chain Pump Cable System,” as it was called, in which the rope was provided with buttons every few inches, which were intended to engage with the sprocket wheel on the car, but the project of operating by cable was abandoned after the failure of this system in Newark, N. J., where five miles of line were equipped, but never operated.

from Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

Essex Pass. Ry. operates 31 miles of road, owns 702 horses and 128 cars. — S. S. Battin, Pres., F. T. Kirk, Sec. & Treas., H. F. Totten, Supt.. — GENERAL OFFICE, 786 Broad St., Newark, N. J.

Newark and Irvington RR. Co. operates 3.5 miles of road, owns 132 horses and 20 cars. — S. S. Battin, Pres., W. L. Mulford, Sec., H. F. Totten, Supt.. — GENERAL OFFICE, 786 Broad St., Newark, N. J.

Electric traction survives until the present in Newark because of the Newark City Subway, built in the bed of the Morris Canal. Subway service started on 18-Nov-1929. Various streetcar lines fed into the subway to reach downtown. As surface lines were abandoned, all-subway service survived, using former Twin Cities Rapid Transit PCC cars beginning in 1952. The last day of PCC service was 24-Aug-2001. The official last revenue car was number 6, but because of heavy crowds, number 14 carried the last paying passengers. Number 14 went to San Francisco on loan, arriving on 13-Feb-2002. Kinki Sharyo LRVs now serve the subway. Muni purchased 11 of the PCCs in 2004 and tried to put them in service right away to relieve crowding on the F line, but found that the well-used cars needed work. After thorough refurbishment, the cars went into service in 2011-2012.

Washington Street & State Asylum Railroad

opened: 06-Nov-1885. Grounds of State Asylum.

grip: Fairchild dual cable non-grip

cars: double truck, single end

notes: Binghamton lies at the junction of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, on the “Southern Tier” of New York State. Binghamton has never been an industrial center — the town was nicknamed “Parlor City” in the 1870’s because of the lack of anything to do but sit in one’s parlor — but the East Side of Binghamton is home to the Binghamton Psychiatric Center.

Doctor J Edward Turner founded the Binghamton Inebriate Asylum in 1854. Doctor Turner was a pioneer in treating alchoholism as a medical condition rather than a sin. In 1858, Doctor Turner and his associates hired architect Isaac Perry to build a castellated Gothic hospital building on the 200 acre site. Construction finished in 1866. Now called the Perry Building, it is closed and in deteriorating condition. In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the structure to its list of “America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places”.

In 1879 the Inebriate Asylum became part of the state’s system of mental hospitals. Over the years the Binghamton facility evolved through different names and different missions into the current Binghamton Psychiatric Center. The Center now provides outpatient services and vocational training.

People wanting to visit the facility in the 19th Century could ride a horsecar of the Washington Street and State Asylum Railroad from the riverside or the train station in Binghamton to the Asylum grounds, but then faced a stiff climb to the main building at a 250 foot elevation. The horsecars could not handle the ascent through the grounds of the Asylum, so the company looked for another mode of traction.

from Notes.

From The Street Railway Journal, May, 1885. Volume I, Number 7.

The Washington St. & State Asylum, R.R. Co. (Binghamton, N. Y.), will extend its line to the Insane Asylum, a distance of 1 miles, using cable power.

They allowed CB Fairchild, “a teacher in one of the New York public schools”, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, and later publisher of the Street Railway Journal, to install a test version of his non-grip twin cable system on the grounds of the asylum in November, 1885.

A Cable Road Without Grips.

From The Street Railway Journal, March, 1886. Volume II, Number 5.

A new system of cable railway is being tried at Binghamton, New York, which is of especial interest, because it dispenses altogether with the grip. Two cables are used, one driven in the ordinary manner by a stationary engine, the second, and smaller, cable taking motion from the first. This second cable is led continuously over a loose drum or pulley fixed under the car. While the drum is free to revolve, the cable simply imparts motion to it and the car does not move, but by the application of a brake stopping the motion of the drum, the car is carried forward with the cable.

The Fairchild system used a pair of cables. A heavy endless cable, much like a normal street railway cable, ran along the line on sheaves, and was driven by a stationary engine in a powerhouse. The sheaves turned by the heavy cable shared axles with sheaves which drove a lighter cable. The lighter cable passed over pulleys up into a car and turned a drum. Through a clutch, the drum turned driving gears which could move the car forward at the speed of the cable, forward at twice the speed of the cable, or backwards at half the speed of the cable. The ability to control speeds was an innovation. A major benefit of the system was the lack of wear on the heavier cable.

Records of the installation are scarce, but it was not a success. I can see several potential problems. I’m not sure how well the heavier cable could have driven the lighter one. The Brooklyn Eagle also reported that: “The road is made to show every possible condition of a street car line. There is single track, double track, level road, different grades and every conceivable turn and curve with the cable running above and below the surface.” I don’t see how the lighter cable could have risen out of the slot of a conduit and back down safely in actual street running. Two lines could not have crossed each other. The Brooklyn Eagle also reported that: “The track is laid in a loop or circle of sixty feet radius at either terminus of the road so that the car can make the circle and continue on the return trip without stopping”. The line could not have ended in anything but loops. It would be impossible, I think, to have a switch, and it would be very difficult to take a car out of service.

Despite the optimistic reports in a newspaper story (“Improvement On Cable Roads/A New System in Successful Operation at Binghamton”, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15-November-1885), the cable system did not last long. It may never have functioned properly. I won’t make the obvious comment about building a system like that on the grounds of an insane asylum. It may have been replaced by a funicular. The Center is now served by Broome County buses.


From Street Railways: Their Construction, Operation and Maintenance, by CB Fairchild, 1892.

The third modification, known as the “Twin Cable System,” was tried on a short experimental line in the city of Binghamton, N. Y., and was operated successfully for about two years, the grades on the line being over twelve per cent. By this method two cables are operated side by side, one being a rope of ordinary size, and the other a small rope only one-half inch or less in diameter. The large rope was driven in the ordinary manner, and the small or secondary rope received its motion and power by means of its frictional contact with the same curve and carrying pulleys upon which the main cable travelled. The terminals of the line were necessarily constructed with a loop. Power was transmitted to the car by means of the small rope which was led up through the slot over a loose pulley mounted under the car. Two thin guide pulleys were provided which revolved with one edge through the slot and so protected the cable from chafing against the side of the slot, and also conducted it back to its place in the conduit. The car was started and stopped by means of a band brake on the middle pulley, thus avoiding the wear due to the grip in the ordinary systems. Only a shallow conduit was required.

This system has been further improved by introducing a train of differential gear with friction clutches between the cable pulley and the car axles, by means of which the car can be run twice as fast as the cable, or be run at half speed in the opposite direction. In practice the car is designed to have varying speeds in both directions. It is run at cable speed or double speed, and half speed backwards, at the will of the driver.

from Street Railway News.

From The Street Railway Journal, August, 1888. Volume IV, Number 8.

I don’t know Binghamton geography, but I assume this was a funicular in another location, not the one that replaced the line on the grounds of the asylum.

The Washington Street & State Asylum Railway Company has put in about half a mile of cable on the Ross Park end of the road on the tail rope system, and is running one car, which connects with the electric car at the bridge. It was found that the electric motors were too slow on these grades of six and eight per cent. A 12 H. P. engine furnishes the power, and the rope, one half inch in diameter, is wound up on a drum or windlass, made of wood and about six feet in diameter. The car travels down the grade by gravity and hauls out the rope.

Ivan Furlanis reports that the Sassi-Superga line, near Turin, Italy, was built as a cable-driven cog railway which used a system somewhat resembling Fairchild’s. A cable ran along the side of the track and passed into and out of the “grip” cars by pulleys. Through a gear train, the pulleys drove the four cog wheels that propelled the train. There was also a reverse gear. Trains of one to three cars were hauled on the electric interurban line from Turin to Sassi. They were then coupled ahead of the “grip” or Locomotore car and pushed up the hill to Superga. The grip car did not carry passengers. The Sassi-Superga line opened on 27-Apr-1884. On 24-Oct-1934 it was closed and replaced by an electrically driven rack tramway. It was considerably more successful than the Fairchild system. Thanks to Ivan for the details.

Italian Cable Railway.

From Popular Mechanics, December, 1909.

On a mountain cable railway in Northern Italy the ordinary cables are supplemented by a “locomotore,” the wheels of which are geared to grooved pulleys. The effect of the cable working on the pulleys on a tangent forms the tractive force, and this, it is said, admits of the employment of a cable not much more than half the size of those required under the ordinary system of cable operation. The grooved pulleys are the large wheels attached to the side of the locomotive shown in the illustration.

The method of working the system is as follows: At the top of the railway, which is 3,400 yd. long and contains gradients of 15 per cent, are placed two vertical power-driven pulleys around which the continuous cable is wound, imparting to the latter the motive power. The cable is then passed over a horizontal drum, then down over the track to the lower end of the railway, over another drum, and then back again to the top of the incline over small grooved pulleys placed along the center of the track. On the way it is wound around the vertical pulleys of the locomotive, to which it imparts motion.

The cable experiment was not the Washington Street & State Asylum Railroad’s only pioneering effort. An 1887 list of electric railways in Manufacturer and Builder magazine notes: “Binghamton, N. Y — Washington Street & State Asylum Electric Railroad; over-head conductor, five and a half miles; Van Depoele system”. Charles J. Van Depoele built several pre-Sprague electric systems.

from Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

Washington Street and State Asylum R.R. Co. operates 3.5 miles of road, 23 horses and 12 cars. Leased to George W. Stow, and operated by him in connection with the Park Avenue R.R., which he also leases. Directors, George Whitney, R. H. Meagley, F. W. Whitney, Geo. F. Lyon, Warren N. Bennett, Ira J. Meagley, Edward K. Clark, R. Hooper, Isaiah S. Mathews, Allen Perkins, William R. Osborn, Erastus Ross, Frederick E. Ross, Binghamton, N. Y. — Robert H. Meagley, Pres., Geo. Whitney, Vice Pres., Frederick E. Ross, Treas., I. J. Meagley, Sec., Henry C. Merrick, Eng., Wm. Whitney, Supt. — GENERAL OFFICE, 216 Front St., Binghamton, N. Y.

Brooklyn Cable Company

line: Park Avenue

opened: 06-Mar-1887. Park Avenue from Grand to Broadway.

powerhouse: Grand Avenue and Park Avenue

grip: Johnson ladder cable non-grip

notes: The Atlantic Avenue Railroad, a horse car operator, allowed the Brooklyn Cable Company to set up an experimental installation of the Tom L Johnson ladder cable system on its Park Avenue tracks. Had the experiment been successful, the cable line would have run from the Fulton Ferry to cemeteries in central Brooklyn.

from The American Railroad-Journal, March, 1884

from Tramway Notes.

WILLIAM RICHARDSON, president of the Atlantic avenue Railroad Company, is about to apply to the Brooklyn Common Council for permission to operate the horse cars of his road, at the Adams street hill, by means of a cable.


From Street Railways: Their Construction, Operation and Maintenance, by CB Fairchild, 1892.

So far we have confined our description to the standard cable systems which use a vise or roller grip for transmitting power to the car. Other systems, however, have been devised and deserve a brief description. One of these, known as the “Ladder Cable System,” was operated for some time in the city of Brooklyn, N. Y., but afterwards abandoned. The distinctive feature of this system was in the construction of the cable and in the car connection. The hauling cable was made of two wire ropes, each about three-fourths of an inch in diameter, and composed of six large wires one-fourth of an inch in diameter without a hemp core. These ropes were placed side by side, about an inch apart, and connected together every six or eight inches by steel or bronze clips, forming a ladder. This cable was mounted to run on split pulleys in a shallow conduit directly under the slot.

Underneath the car a sprocket wheel was hung, having suitable teeth, which, when lowered through the slot, engaged with the clips of the cable, and caused the wheel to revolve. To start the car a band brake was applied to the sprocket wheel, which checked its motion and caused the car to move with the cable. At the terminals and cable crossings the sprocket wheel could be readily lifted from the slot. The cable was driven in the ordinary manner, by solid drums having grooves or channels wide enough to receive the flat side of the cable.

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, August, 1885. Volume I, Number 10.

Thomas L. Johnson, President of the Cleveland St. Railway Co., and inventor of the new cable system, has examined the plant of the Brooklyn City Railroad Co. with a view to the use of his system on its road. He will prepare a minute estimate of the expense of putting his system on Fulton street from the Ferry to East New York. The estimate will cover every item pertaining to the road from the cost of laying conduits and establishing the driving plants with their big boilers and giant engines to the wear and tear on the grip, so that the exact cost of building and maintenance may be ascertained beyond question. No system yet shown Mr. Hazzard and his associates has appeared to possess so many advantages as this of Mr. Johnson.

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, August, 1885. Volume I, Number 10.

The new cable road on Atlantic avenue, Brooklyn, N. Y., has been commenced.

Read about the lease arrangement which allowed the promoters to use the facilities of the Atlantic Avenue Railroad:

The Johnson ladder cable system was developed by Milton A Wheaton, but was promoted by Cleveland politician and traction magnate Tom L Johnson. Like other non-grip and shallow conduit systems, it was intended to allow quick, cheap conversion of horse car lines to cable. It used not one but two thin cables, running in parallel and connected by metal “rungs” every 6 inches. I have trouble picturing how the dual cable could have gone around a curve. In the original plan, the transit car’s grip would be a prong which would reach down and grab a rung. Later, the developers attempted to use a large cog wheel. Unequal stretching of the two cables must have caused problems. The system had been tested briefly in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Read a Brooklyn Eagle article about the early tests:
“A GOOD START”. This article mentions that the ladder cable system was installed on a small portion of the line. Horses hauled the cars over the rest of the line the Fulton Ferry. “With the grip arrangement (the cars) weigh much more than those on other roads and ordinary car horses could not move them. President Johnson has been compelled to select special horses, and as a result he has one hundred of the finest ever seen in the city.” A later article, “HORSES DYING”, describes the effect of this work on the animals.

Despite the claims of articles like “EXTENDING THE CABLE ROAD”, the ladder cable system did not work and the entire line reverted to horse power.

Before the company gave up on cable traction, it was faced with some of the typical problems faced by cable traction companies. “WERE THEY BROUGHT FROM CHICAGO?”, describes horses losing their shoes by catching them in the slots. “A CABLE CAR ACCIDENT” describes a pedestrian who was injured when his foot got caught in the slot. “THE FIRST VICTIM” describes the sad death of a three year old who fell beneath the wheels of a car. “THE CABLE ROAD CASUALTY/Nobody to Blame for the Death of Seth Low Fisher” describes the results of the inquest. The jury’s verdict: “We, the undersigned, do find that Seth Low Fisher came to his death by being accidentally run over by car 23 of the Park avenue Cable Railroad. We also find that no blame attaches to the brakeman and conductor of said car.” “ITS FIRST SMASH/A Mishap on the Park Avenue Cable Road” says “The cable road on Park avenue yesterday encountered its first serious mishap since it was put in operation, four months ago.” Apparently the death of Seth Low Fisher was not a “mishap.”

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, April, 1887. Volume III, Number 6.

Brooklyn Cable R. R. Co. The line began making regular trips March 6. The power was supplied by a 250 H. P. engine at Grand and Park avenues. The route is from Broadway, E. D., through Park to Washington avenue, thence to Yanderbilt avenue and Fulton Ferry. The tracks of the De Kalb avenue line are used as far as Washington and Concord streets, thence they are continued to Navy street, and running into Park avenue extend to Broadway. At present the cable portion of the road begins at Grand avenue, though the cable traction will shortly be extended all the way to the ferry in one direction and a mile and a half along Central avenue to Evergreen Cemetery in the other. The company derive their rights from an eighty-nine year lease of a franchise secured from Deacon William Richardson. Its promoters and almost exclusive owners are Thomas L. Johnson, his brother, A. L. Johnson, of Cleveland, and A. J. du Pont. The most important difference between the Johnson system, in use by this company, and those commonly in use, is in the construction of the cable itself. This consists of two three-quarter inch cold wire ropes with a cotton core, laid side by side at a distance of an inch apart, and connected together at every six inches by steel bands, or lugs, and presenting somewhat the appearance of an elongated and extremely narrow rope ladder. It is by means of these lugs and not by any grip of the cable that the cars are propelled. They are the only portion of the cable visible through the iron slit, or slot, at the top of the conduit through which the cable travels. Underneath the center of the car is a wheel with twelve peculiarly shaped spokes, and when the car is ready to start this wheel is let down until its spokes are caught and turned by the lugs, and in this manner the propelling force for the vehicle is furnished. The rate of speed obtained at present is seven miles an hour, and will ultimately be increased to nine miles. The company will soon have enough cars to dispatch them under three minutes’ headway.

IT PULLS OFF HORSES’ SHOES/ An Effort to Have the Park Avenue Cable Pronounced a Nuisance discusses common complaints about cable traction: “The principal complaint against the cable is that the slot in which it is worked is just narrow enough to hold the cog of a horse’s shoe and wrench it from the foot. The cable men say if they make the slow wide boys will tie tin cans to the cable and thereby make a dangerous nuisance.” Attaching tin cans to the cable was a popular trick in San Francisco many years ago.

The Rope Broke talks about a breakage of the ladder cable, requiring horses to pull cars over the whole route.

DISSATISFACTION ON THE CABLE ROAD talks about how pioneering labor union the Knights of Labor fought unfair conditions on the road.

WON’T BE RASH/Mr. Richardson Will Examine the Facts talks about how Richardson got rooked by the cable people. It proves that the cable system was abandoned before 20-July-1887.

from Electricity, Steam, Cable, or Horse Power?

From Western Electrician, November 12, 1887.

“I have omitted stating that in Brooklyn there is on trial a new kind of cable. It is composed of two cables about three-fourths of an inch apart with short bars across about every eight to twelve inches like a rope ladder. Thus far the builders have attempted to run on straight lines only. The system is in an experimental state as yet. It will cost more than the Rasmussen system.

Tom L Johnson, a political follower of Henry George, invented a farebox for transit use in 1880. He founded the Johnson Farebox Company. He began to develop a registering fare box, which led, after his death, to the famous Type D. Johnson-type fareboxes and belt changers are still produced by Lynde-Ordway.

When Johnson was mayor of Cleveland from 1903 to 1910, Peter Witt was city clerk.

Read about the death of William Richardson:
“The Passing of Richardson”

from Poor’s Directory of Railway Officials, 1887

Atlantic Avenue R.R. Co. operates 7 miles of road, having an aggregate mileage of 33.08 miles, the main line of which is on Atlantic Avenue. Of the mileage owned, 9.75 miles, from Flatbush Avenue, Brookly, to Jamaica, L. I., is leased to the Long Island R.R. Co. I also owns 938 horses, 251 cars and 39 other vehicles. Directors, William Richardson, Frederick A. Schroeder, Newberry H. Frost, Wm. A. Read, James S. Suydam, Benjamin F. Tracy, Samuel W. Bowne, James H. Kirby, Henry Meyer, William F. Redmond, Augustus Storrs, John Q. Jenkins, W. J. Richardson, Brooklyn, N. Y. — Wm. Richardson, Pres., Wm. J. Richardson, Sec., N. H. Frost, Treas. — GENERAL OFFICE, Atlantic and Third Aves., Brooklyn, N. Y.

Nassau Cable Railway

Cable Railway Notes.

From The Street Railway Journal, May, 1885. Volume I, Number 7.

In Brooklyn, a cable railway company has been reorganized and a commission appointed. The Nassau Cable Railway Company is the company’s name. The commission reported that a cable road was not needed. This report has not yet been acted upon by the Court.

Brooklyn and Long Island Elevated Cable Railroad

from The American Railroad-Journal, March, 1884

from Tramway Notes.

A NEW plan of rapid transit in Brooklyn, is projected. The company having the project in hand is to be known as the Brooklyn and Long Island Cable Railway Company. The incorporators are Austin Corbin, William Richardson, J. Rogers Maxwell, Newberry H. Frost, Frederick A. Schroeder, Henry W. Maxwell, Charles Storrs, William B. Kendall and Samuel W. Bowne of Brooklyn, and Henry Graves, of Orange, New Jersey. The capital stock of the company is $1,000,000, with the privilege of increasing the same to $5,000,000. The new company is the result of a combination between the Long lsland Railroad and the Atlantic Avenue Railroad men. The proposed routes of the company will be a scheme of rapid transit meeting the needs of the city in an even and approximately perfect manner. Work on the new road will be begun just as soon as the consent of the mayor and common council can be obtained. William Richardson, president of the Atlantic Avenue Railroad Company, says that it will not be necessary for the company to have a commission appointed as under the act of 1875, because it intends to proceed under the cable act of 1866. If the mayor and aldermen grant consent, and no unforeseen legal dilliculties obstruct the progress, the company expects to have the entire road completed within a year. It is claimed that by means of the stationary engine and cable system a speed of thirty miles an hour, if necessary, can be attained on the proposed elevated road.

from Notes and Items.

From The Street Railway Journal, August, 1885. Volume I, Number 10.

J. R. Maxwell, president of the Brooklyn & Long Island Elevated Cable Railroad Company, says: — You can depend on it that if any people can make the cable road a thorough success we can and will. We are going to build a structure strong enough to bear a Pullman car, and that is about equal to a thirty-five ton locomotive.

Brooklyn Heights Railroad

line: Montague Street

opened: 20-Jul-1891. Montague Street from Court Street to the Wall Street Ferry landing.

powerhouse: State and Hicks. The cable reached Montague by a long blind conduit on Hicks. “The Montague street cable line, consisting of about one-half mile of track, operating from Wall Street ferry to City Hall in Brooklyn, is operated by the cable power house on State street, where a 225-horse-power tandem compound engine supplies the necessary power. The steep grade near the Wall Street ferry, together with the fact that cars coming down the grade, retaining grip on the cable, assist in pulling cars up the grade, make it desirable from a commercial point of view to continue the operation of this line as a cable road, rather than to substitute electric traction.” (Source: The New York Electrical Handbook, 1904).

grip: Gillham double-jaw side.

cars: Single truck double-end closed and open bench.

notes: The most successful street-running cable line in the East climbed a fairly steep hill on Montague Street in Brooklyn, connecting the Wall Street Ferry with the City (later Borough) Hall area. The promoters considered using a Bentley-Knight conduit electrification, but the limited power of early electric cars helped them decide to use cable propulsion.

Robert Gillham, who had built some of the most important lines in Kansas City, designed the installation. He used the same double-jaw side grip he had created for the Kansas City Cable Railway, but adapted it to work with a horizontal wheel rather than a lever. Wheel and track brakes operated off of one lever. In 1895, the company experimented with air brakes. The company initially used a locked-coil rope, which could not be spliced, only welded. They gave up after some time and switched to a conventional rope.


From The Electrical Review, 21-May-1898.

BROOKLYN, N. Y. — President Rossiter, of the Brooklyn Heights Railroad, says that the Montague Street cable road will not be changed to an underground electric road till next fall.

Property values forced the powerhouse to be located on another street. The line was tested on 15-Jul-1891 and opened on 20-Jul-1891. It was a great success, although Sunday and holiday service stopped in 1898. On 25-Sep-1909, it was converted to electricity. The heavy single-truck cars were suitable for conversion, and continued to run on the line. The Wall Street Ferry stopped running in 1912, but the line continued until 18-May-1924.

Read an 1891 Brooklyn Eagle article about the line being planned:
“TO RUN IN MAY/Cable Cars Will Traverse Montague Street”

Read an 1891 Brooklyn Eagle article about the line’s first cable being threaded:
“IN THE CONDUIT/Final Preperations for the Montague Street Line”


From The Electrical Review, 14-August-1909.

BROOKLYN, N. Y. — Permission has been received from the Public Service Commission to change the motive power to electricity on the Montague Street cable line, and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company will lose no time in remodeling the line. The decision was given on condition that the company submit plans for approval, and consent of property owners and local authorities be obtained.

The Brooklyn Heights Railroad was one of the precursors of the BMT.

from Brooklyn and Queens Boroughs Street Railroads.

From The World Almanac and Encyclopedia, 1899.

Notice. — Numbers following tbe names of the different routes Indicate the railroad company operating the line, viz.: (1) Brooklyn City R. R. Co. (leased by Brooklyn Heights R. R.); office, cor. Montague and Clinton Sts.

Montague Street Cable Line (1). — Runs from City Hall to Wall St. Ferry, through Montague St. Does not run Sundays. Transfers with all Brooklyn Heights Railroad lines.

West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway

opened: 01-Jul-1868. Greenwich Street from Cortlandt Street to Battery Place.

extended: ??-Apr-1870. Ninth Avenue to 30th Street.

powerhouse: see below

cars: double truck closed cars

terminals: ? Cars probably double-ended

notes: Charles T Harvey, a civil engineer, designed and built the West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway, the first elevated rapid transit line.

The single track ran above the street on a row of single columns, so the line was called the “one-legged railroad”. There were stations at the terminii and at Dey Street. The cables were powered by a series of stationary steam engines in vaults under the street. Fueling and tending the engines must have been labor intensive.

The line did not use a Hallidie-type grip. Harvey’s patent 66330 calls for small trucks which would run along a narrow set of rails, each truck carrying “a vertical spur or projection . that extends upward above the level of the top of the cable-guide. ” The “spur can engage or come against the cable-clutch or arm . of the car.” Different reports put the line’s operating speed between 10 and 15 mph.

Read contemporary articles from the Brooklyn Eagle about the on-and-off efforts to get the line to run:
Thursday, October 10, 1867 – “The experimental elevated railway on Greenwich street, New York, will soon be in operation.”
Saturday, October 19, 1867 – “. the work on the line in Greenwich street, which appeared to have been abandoned has been resumed. ”
Monday, October 21, 1867 – “The first mile of the elevated railway in Greenwich street, New York, will be completed in three weeks, or about a month. ”
Saturday, November 16, 1867 – “The result was not wholly satisfactory.”
Saturday, December 7, 1867 – workers discover a relic
Saturday, December 28, 1867 – “The elevated railroad in Greenwich street will soon be ready for another trial.”
Thursday, May 7, 1868 – “A practical test of the work has been again and again promised the last year or two and as often postponed.”
Friday, June 26, 1868 – “The time for a trial trip on the elevated street railway in Greenwich street is again fixed.”
Wednesday, July 1, 1868 – “The long deferred trial of the elevated road on Greenwich street was made the other day. ”
Tuesday, July 14, 1868 – “It is expected to be finished as far as Thirtieth street by September next”
Wednesday, August 25, 1868 – “. there seems to be no prospect of its ever being finished. ”
Wednesday, September 29, 1868 – “. regarded by the New York Common Council as a public nuisance. ”
Sunday, October 2, 1868 – “The general conclusion, hower, is that if the elevated railway is practicable, the delay in its construction is inexplicable. ”
Wednesday, December 8, 1868 – “. evidently a failure. ”
Wednesday, May 12, 1869 – “The road, from its origin, has been a mystery of management and a phenomenon of delay.”
Monday, July 26, 1869 – “The mysterious delay which attends this elevated enterprise. ”
Saturday, December 18, 1869 – “The Elevated Railway Purchased by Commodore Vanderbilt”
Friday, February 11, 1870 – “While the elevated railway on Greenwich street is making its way patiently and cautiously from the Battery to Courtlandt street. ”
Tuesday, May 17, 1870 – “Two experimental cars on the Elevated Railroad, in Greenwich street, New York . smashed through the track, and fell to the pavement. ”
Wednesday, May 18, 1870 – “The Elevated Railroad has met the fate of Humpty Dumpty. ”
Wednesday, June 15, 1870 – “. this dizzy and dangerous road . ”
Wednesday, July 16, 1872 – “. the tranmission of power by wire ropes, as illustrated in the elevated railway in Greenwich street, has proved a mediocre and insufficient method of propulsion. ”
Wednesday, July 26, 1872 – “. estimated the cost of several miles of double track, at $300,000 per mile. ”
Friday, April 4, 1873 – “So much to the disturbance, otherwise, of weak nerves belonging to frequenters of Greenwich street. ”
Sunday, September 7, 1884 – “The first elevated railroad charter was that of the (New York) West Side Elevated Patent Railway Company in 1868. ”
Sunday, February 26, 1899 – “The first cars run over the Greenwich street, New York, elevated railroad, were on July 3, 1869. “

An article from the New York Times reports successful testing and gives techinical details, along with lists of investors and officers of the company:
The Elevated Railway; Successful Trial Trips of the West Side Railroad in Greenwich-Street (New York Times, Tuesday, September 7, 1869)

The system broke down frequently and stopped running some time in 1870. A contemporary magazine article says “The Greenwich Elevated Railway, which at first was a total failure as long as several stationary engines were used, moving the cars by means of a wire rope, has become a decided success since the employment of small locomotives, each pulling two or three quite long cars.”

Another article describes the technology and its problems in more detail: “. the main trouble by which the first management lost considerable money, (and probably the cause of the breaking of the company financially,) were the costly experimental contrivances intended for the propulsion of the trains. They consisted in an endless wire rope of about a mile long, and of which one-half moved over pulleys between the rails, while the returning half moved through a small tunnel underground, along the base of the columns. This however was soon abandoned as utterly impracticable, and both portions of the rope were made to pass between the track, while at the end of each section it passed through one of the hollow columns underground in the celler (sic – JT) of one of the adjoining buildings, which had been hired to place the stationary engine in, the engineer of which started it at a given signal when a train approached his section. As there were several such stationary engines placed from distance to distance, each requiring attendants, the wastefulness of this plan is evident, and it is surprising that this was not seen at the outset, before this great expense was indulged in. Experience soon showed another very objectionable feature, namely, when a train passed from one section to another, the pull of the wire rope, when this moved faster than the train, often caused such a jerk at the moment it became attached, as to throw the passengers from their seats. We ourselves experienced this on a trial trip to which the editors of the various New York papers were invited, and as the seats are placed lengthwise, the whole editorial corps were thrown in a heap to the rear end of the car. However no one was injured.”

A magazine article about another proposed cable-driven system concluded “If this inventor were acquainted with the drawbacks connected with the system of drawing trains by endless ropes, and had seen how it has been gradually abandoned in every case where it was possible to apply the motive power in another way, he would not think of applying it in a case like this. Does he not know that this was the plan upon which the Greenwich street elevated railroad was first worked; that it was given a fair trial, and that after so many thousands of dollars had been spent in experimenting as to bankrupt the whole concern, it was finally abandoned as valueless for the purpose?” (“An Absurd Rapid Transit Plan”, [Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 11, Issue 5, May 1879)

The New York Elevated Railroad bought the property at auction and ran the line with steam locomotives. The Ninth Avenue Elevated eventually was triple-tracked and extended to 155th Street, near the Polo Grounds. After hosting a series of tests, the line was electrified in 1903. The New York Elevated leased its lines to the Interborough Rapd Transit in 1903. When the city took over the bankrupt IRT, the Ninth Avenue El closed on 12-Jun-1940.

Visit Joe Brennan’s site to read a web-published book about the Beach Pneumatic Subway and other contemporary developments in transit, including Harvey’s line. I learned many things from this item and saw many photos of Harvey’s line that I had not seen before.

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