Jerkwater Trolley

By Beale Riddle

     As a ten-year old I spent two summers riding back and forth on the Walbrook-Lorraine jerkwater trolley. It started with a trip to visit a friend who then lived off Clifton Avenue a few blocks west of Walbrook Junction. I rode the route 13 streetcar to Walbrook and transferred to route 4 to Windsor Hills to reach my friends house. One day, my sister and I noticed an old, faded, rickety wooden streetcar that followed us down Clifton Avenue enroute to a place called Lorraine. A few days later, we waited for the Lorraine car and rode it to our friend's house. Then, my sister and I and a friend decided to try the rickety streetcar and it turned out to be quite an adventure.

     After passing Windsor Hills and meandering off into the woods on route 35 car we were fascinated with the way the leather straps swung wildly back and forth as the old streetcar creaked and groaned its way through the woods towards the mystical land of Lorraine. Then we decided it would be great fun to grab hold of the leather straps and swing back and forth with the rhythm of the streetcar, that is until the motorman decided he'd had enough of us. Being the children that we were, we ran out of nerve when the car approached the bridge (trestle) over Gwynns Falls. We asked the motorman to let us off before the trestle and decided to wait for a car returning to Walbrook.

     Fascinated by the Gwynns Falls trestle, we decided to try crossing it on foot. However, crossing the trestle with open ties and the river below turned into an exercise in fear to us as children and we quickly returned terror-stricken to the Windsor Hills side of the bridge on our hands and knees, hoping that a streetcar wouldn't come along and crumple us in the meantime. We made it safely to the other side. The scene in the woods there reminded us of Little Red Riding Hood's adventure. There we waited shivering in the early spring air and staring at the red signal light anxiously awaiting our safe ride to Walbrook and home.

     Although my sister and our friend never had the nerve to repeat our Walbrook-Lorraine adventure, I made the trip countless times over the next two years. One of the motormen was particularly friendly to me and let me stand at the front of the car next to the controller throughout the trip and help him change ends at Lorraine. This involved lowering and raising trolley poles and carrying the controller handles from one end to the other, while he carried the heavy farebox. I recently visited the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine and convinced the folks there to let me board and walk through one of these cars, 45 years later. The leather straps were still there.

     One of my greatest thrills was riding past the Dickeyville stop one morning and discovering an overhead line maintenance car parked on the siding there with several maintenance men milling around. The motorman told me they were fixing the wires and to stand back until we were past them.

     By this time the streetcar bug had bitten me. I rode every streetcar line that existed in Baltimore from 1953 on. I watched the signal lights at Windsor Hills and wondered how they changed when the route 35 streetcar passed. Carbarns where the streetcars were stored were fascinating places. Then I discovered the Sparrows Point line with what the motormen called block signals that kept the streetcars safely separated. I watched the motormen push the spring button on their consoles to cause track switches to operate. The St. Louis cars were fun because the right front seat let you see the motorman's view.

     I watched it all gradually fade away. Then I studied electrical engineering and became a specialist in high-speed railway signaling on rapid transit systems in Washington and Baltimore and in Argentina and Chile in South America. The Baltimore Streetcar Museum has done a beautiful job of saving a wonderful piece of history.

     Streetcars were fun, and Baltimore's Walbrook-Dickeyville-Lorraine line was my favorite.

     Beale Riddle can be reached at beale.riddle@go.ecitele.com

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