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Experiencing a Ride on the Cleveland Streetcars
by John Lund
March 13, 2021
On entering you had to be nimble on your feet to find a seat; sometimes the car would start with a jerk and leave you in a lurch. If you were a standee, you’d better hang on. In heavy traffic the car could stop on a dime.
The sounds of the cars have stayed with me since I was fourteen years old. On starting up, the motors would whine and then cut off as the operator let the car coast. In fact, the car seemed to coast from one stop to the next, as all you heard was the clickity clack of the wheels. (And these streetcars were loud. You could hear them two blocks away.) After the car came to a stop at the next traffic island, the brake’s air pump would kick in. Its rotating sound soon quit, you heard the click of operator’s handle, and once again the big car whined into motion.
Going outbound from E. 118th St. the articulated car would pass over a weak place in the railbed. If you were seated in the rear car, you saw the front car sway to the right, then correct itself as the rear car followed in the same manner. It was fun to stand in the articulation joint.
I took the Euclid car to the Windermere Station, the depot where they kept the streetcars, across the street from Kirk Junior High School. After school I would watch as they backed the cars into waiting lines, turned switch points and set the trolley pole wheel from one overhead cable to another, sometimes with a brilliant flash of electricity. One winter day I saw a snow sweeper in action.
About 1946 I witnessed the removal of the streetcar tracks from E. 115th to E 118th St. on Wade Park Avenue. They used a jackhammer to loosen the pavement, then loaded the rail onto a flatbed railcar. The jackhammer was energized by a cord to the overhead. It was loud. You could hear it all over the neighborhood.
That same year, 1946, I had a ride on a quiet new PCC car. Our third-grade class boarded a SPECIAL on Superior Avenue to a performance at a local radio station.
My streetcar memories had much to do with the sounds, the noise and the racket. Those were fond memories. You can still hear them at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.