This street railway business is greatly simplified, with buses that don’t have tracks to follow, believes Joseph C. Seymour, 1418 Kansas Avenue, conductor on the mule-drawn Topeka [City] Railway Company, fifty-one years ago. (as of 1935 – Ed.)
Mr. Seymour, a six-footer, who celebrated his seventy-fourth birthday this month, retired from the street railway business in 1922. “I came to Topeka in the fall of 1884,” he reminisced. “Jesse Shaw was superintendent of the City Railway then, with it’s mule-drawn cars. I struck him for a job. He told me to come around Monday. I did, and he put me to work as a conductor on the cars running from Gordon Street in North Topeka to Tenth and Kansas, and south to Fourteenth Street, as close to the fair grounds as the cars went. The fair was going on then. They [City Railway] didn't’t use conductors except during the fair week rush.
“The mules could draw those open cars about ten miles per hour--the same cars that are used for trailers during Free Fair Week now.”
“I remember one time we were going along in front of the old Copeland Hotel at Ninth and Kansas, when one of our mules fell down. The car ran half way over it before we could stop.”
“We climbed out and pushed the car back off of the mule so it could get up. It was hurt but we continued to drive it for three round trips until the mules were changed. I figured that it was about the end of my service, but it wasn't. Guess they figured it wasn't our fault.”
“Those trailers were made by the Pullman Company, and they still ride smoother than the electrics did.”
Mr. Seymour said that the regular fare then was five cents, but during fair week and after 10 o’clock the fare was a dime.
His next street railway work was in 1887, with the steam dummy trains of the Topeka Rapid Transit Company. Those eleven-ton locomotives, he remembers, could tear along at thirty miles an hour, but didn’t keep a schedule averaging more than 15 miles an hour when they hauled their heavy cars, loaded with passengers.
Mr. Seymour was the third conductor employed by that company. He stayed with the company until fall. In the spring of 1889 he returned to the payroll of the horse-drawn car line. E. H. Littlefield had succeeded Mr. Shaw as superintendent. (The company was then owned by the Boston Syndicate.--Ed.)
“With horses we could go twenty miles an hour,” he remembers. (Average speed must have been less than ten miles an hour if passengers could have safely stepped on or off cars while in motion, as reported by Joab Mulvane in the article that follows.) “We could go from the Santa Fe station to Washburn College within a minute of the time it took the electrics to go from the Rock Island station [First and Kansas Ave.] to Washburn.”
“One day in 1883 when I was conductor ‘on the house-car line], we were running from the fair grounds to North Topeka. The rails were wet and slippery with leaves. At Fifth Street heading north, we reached the top of the hill and slowly the car began to slide.”
“We didn’t have any sand, and the brakes wouldn’t hold. The driver pulled the team out to one side, unhitched them quickly, and let the car run free all the way down the hill to the Rock Island depot,
with me riding it. That was kind of scary, I’ll admit, but no one got hurt.”
On New Year’s eve, 1892, it rained, thundered, and lightning flashed. During the night the rain turned to snow.
“It snowed chunks,” Mr. Seymour remembered. “When the cars started out in the morning they were pulled by four horses instead of two. There wasn’t any pavement where Douthitt [Fifteenth] Street hits Kansas Avenue--just the tracks and mud. And when our car jumped the track, there it sank, clear to it’s bed in mud. There was a job to straighten out.”
One of Mr. Seymour’s most pleasant memories if of L. E. Meyer, manager of the street railways when, in 1903, they had been consolidated and equipped with new cars purchased by the McKinley Syndicate, the new owners.
“Mr. Meyers loaded the company’s employees into the cars one night, after midnight when we were all off duty, and took all of us out to Vinewood Park where we celebrated the new equipment. Voluntarily, that night, he raised our salaries. It was a big day for the street railway.”
“Mr. Meyers built the present car barns for the company. I tell you right now, L. E. Meyers was the best street railway man Topeka ever had. He gave the crew clubrooms and recreation rooms they never had before. He was a hummer--the best business man, I think, I’ve ever known.”
Mr. Seymour makes one exception to that statement. And that’s when he talks about A. W. “Cap” Freeman, present (1935) street railway superintendent here.
“There”, says Mr. Seymour, “is a square shooter. Mr. Freeman treats the company right; he treats the employees right; he treats the public right. He’s a wonderful man.”
(Interview of Joseph C. Seymour by Frank Tiffany for the TOPEKA STATE JOURNAL, October 30, 1935. We are pleased to print excerpts from the article, with thanks to the JOURNAL for having preserved these recollections of an all-around street-car conductor. Joseph C. Seymour’s career as a streetcar conductor started with horse cars, followed by service aboard steam dummy trains and finally trolley cars.)
Pages 37 & 38
Steam Dummy Freight
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