As if Topeka’s developers of suburban properties were not vociferous enough in their songs of praise for the new “electrics,” it remained for a member of the fair sex to publish a book--a town booster volume--which she proudly admitted had been inspired by the Rapid Transit system. Mary E. Jackson, identified as an “authoress” in the city directory, wrote the following introduction to her “Topeka Pen and Camera Sketches,” Crane & Co., Topeka, 1890.

The idea of preparing this volume for the public was suggested by the many tourists and visitors to our city, met in the Rapid Transit cars as I daily went to Oakland and Potwin Place in the capacity of a music teacher. The various questions asked the passengers and conductors in regard to our city by those visiting here, who seemed desirous of obtaining so much more information than could be given them in a few moments’ ride, inspired the author to prepare a volume which would give strangers some idea of our city’s history, it’s population, and some of it’s views.

In the historical and biographical sketches the truth has been strictly adhered to, and records have been carefully traced for correct dates, etc. The miscellaneous poems and stories are written at random, but are all in some way connected with the early history of our state and city.

To Revs. Hayden and Knox, Maj. T. J. Anderson, and Messrs. F. G. Trestrail, N. D. McGinley and Lee Jones, I most sincerely desire to return thanks for their assistance in getting a complete roster of the officers of the various organizations in the city.

To the conductors and motorneers of the Rapid Transit Railway, are due the most heartfelt thanks of the author for the interest they have taken and the encouragement given this work.

The photographic views were furnished by Mr. W. F. Farrow, who took great pains in selecting them for this volume.

I have endeavored, in placing this book before the public, to give to strangers some knowledge of our “Golden City” and to present something of interest to our own citizens as well.

M. E. J.
Topeka, Kas., January, 1890

The opening paragraphs of Mary Jackson’s article about Topeka’s pride, the Rapid Transit system, are to be found in William Batin’s account of the steam era of the company, in this. What follows is Miss Jackson’s enthusiastic and colorful description of the Rapid Transit’s operation eight months after conversion from steam power to electrical.

Two of the most attractive additions to the city began to build up. All classes began to make homes in these suburbs, now that access was made easy by the “Rapid Transit.” Business men lift the dusty, crowded streets, and found that their homes were delightful. The working classes bought, turning the rent that they had been paying on a home of their own, and now many a poor man owns his home as a result of the enterprise of the “Rapid Transit” projectors. The road was a favorite from the beginning, and too much praise could not be bestowed on the company. The steam motors were used from September 1, 1887, to December 1, 1888.

The projectors, still looking for improvements, began to investigate the electric system, and in the latter part of the fall of 1888 the site for a large plant was selected and purchased, on the corner of Jefferson and Second streets. The building was erected and ready for the machinery March 15th, and thirty days later this, the largest electric plant in the world, was completed. During the time the building was going up, and the track was being remodeled, the steam motors were taken off and horse cars substituted. What a change! The long road seemed ten times longer than ever. The poor horses had to jog along through mud, snow and ice. Citizens now had to growl and scold that they were afraid they would never have any but horse cars, when one year before they growled and wanted horse cars. From late in the fall till the first of April they complained, and then they were well repaid for the time they had to wait. In April of 1889, the electric motors were put in, and now the citizens of Topeka and of the suburbs traversed by the “Electric Rapid Transit.” never grow tired of showing their visiting friends over this line, forgetting that it was ever the cause of complaint.

The number of passengers on Sundays can scarcely be accommodated with the cars now in use. During one day of the State fair, last fall, 33,000 passengers passed over the road. It is kept in the best of running order, and only two or three times have the passengers been delayed by the breaking of a wire. Mr. J. M. Patten, general manager and superintendent, is one of the most successful and energetic railroad men in the West. The men at the head are among the moral citizens, and they employ the best of men. The conductors in uniforms, are courteous and well behaved. Some have been teachers in our public schools, others are students from the different colleges, and many are farmers. There are at present some seventy men employed on the lines.

A transfer station has been built on Eighth and Jackson streets, and a neat waiting room has been erected at Potwin. These are heated in winter, so there may be no uncomfortable waiting in the cold for a car. Since the “Rapid Transit” took possession of Jackson street, some of the finest business houses in the city have been


erected along this thoroughfare, and others are in course of construction, thus drawing business to a street which had hitherto been considered too remote for retail business houses.

The plant of the Topeka Rapid Transit Electric Railway Company is the largest of it’s kind in the world. It is located on Second street, between Jefferson and Madison streets. The building, 100 x 75 feet, faces south on Second street, and the largest smoke stack in the capital city towers above it. The building is a two-story brick, trimmed with stone, and is a solid structure, the designer taking especial pains to make it in every respect in keeping with the splendid plant which it contains.

The idea which suggests itself most forcibly to the visitor when first entering the building, and remains uppermost in his mind after a close scrutiny of the plant throughout, is the massiveness of the machinery and it’s solidity and ponderousness. Two mammoth engines, one of 300 and one of 600 horse power, each with a twenty -foot drive wheel, the former with a thirty-inch belt rim, and the latter forty inches, are attached to the line of shafting connecting with the nine dynamos of the opposite side of the room. The average speed of the machinery is eighty revolutions per minute for the drive wheels, 300 for the pulleys on the main shafting, and 900 for the dynamos. The main shafting, upon which the seven dynamo pulleys rest, is the largest in any similar institution in the country, being a thirteen-inch bar of hammered iron. A set of loose pulleys beside the dynamo pulleys rest on a sleeve around the main shaft but not upon it, flat places in the bearings being thus avoided and the main shaft being relieved of a dead weight at 65,000 pounds, and the friction incident to such a weight. This is a new feature which has interested and commended itself to practical machinists everywhere. The bearings are all of phosphor bronze and the shafting of hammered iron, which is superior in all respects to steel. A generator can be instantly stopped by throwing it’s belt upon these loose pulleys. The generators of the dynamos rest upon foundations independent of each other and of the building alike. The foundations are constructed in a most substantial manner, of concrete, upon a hard brick foundation which sets ten feet in the ground.

The fire room is between the engine rooms and is isolated from them by double brick walls, which adds to the safety of the plant in the matter of fire and otherwise. The boiler plant consists of five seventy-two inch steel boilers, arranged in one battery, set in masonry. Their economical capacity is 800 horse power. The boilers were manufactured by Joseph Bromich, of this city, and are not to be surpassed in make by the manufactures of any other boiler-making establish ment in the country. The feed-water is taken from driven wells, sixty-five feet deep, and pumped into an exhaust heater containing sixteen crescent-shaped pans. As the water drops from pan to pan the exhaust steam comes into contact with the water sixteen times, and all impurities that can be removed with a temperature 200 degrees Fahrenheit are entirely removed. A pump, arranged for handling boiling water, takes the water and delivers it into a super-heater twenty-six feet long, which is supplied with live steam direct from the boilers. The super heater is also filled with conical-shaped pans, and as the temperature is raised to 319 degrees, all impurities such as lime, magnesia, iron, etc., lodge upon the bottoms of these pans. By this system the water is put into the boilers practically free from all those impurities and damaging foreign substances which are so destructive to boilers in this section. The water, when leaving the super-heaters, does so by gravity, and the pipes are so arranged that any number can be run in series or can be fed independently. As exhaust steam enters the first heater, an arrangement is provided by which the oil which is used in lubricating in the cylinders is separated and runs out of a separate drip, while the steam keeps on and heats the water as described.

The boiler room is paved, and a track for an iron hand car is laid upon it, so that coal can be unloaded into the hand car at the door from coal cars on the railroad side track just without the door, hauled to the furnace door and shoveled in, with but a single handling of the coal. This is an important item in the economy of the plant. But it is not the most important of the improvements and inno-` vations in the line of economy. The most important is an automatic oiling system, by which every bearing of the intricate machinery of the whole plant will be mechanically oiled, the oil recovered and re-used over and over again. The oil tank is in the second story; into this the oil is pumped by a force pump from barrels below. It is thence distributed by gravity to the countless bearings. The drip is run into a bag filter, passes on to a filter tank, whence it is forced by a pump up to the tank from which it glided on it’s soothing mission only a short time before, and makes the same circuit again. It is estimated that the oil can thus be used as much as ten times, with practically no loss in volume. The saving is quite an item. Furthermore, with no loss of oil, the quantity used in lubricating need not be stinted, and instead of putting in a few drops now and then, a steady stream of oil will be kept running into the bearings.

The entire plant is lighted by incandescent lamps, the current for which is taken from the main circuit. The electric cars are lighted by the same means, there being five incandescent lamps to


each. The rolling equipment of the company consists of forty-three of the latest improved combined electric motor and passenger cars and fifteen tow cars. The motors were manufactured by the St. Louis Car Works. They are pronounced by General Manager Patten as fine as any used in Boston, where the rivalry among the five electric railways in the matter of expensive and luxuriously furnished rolling stock is very great. The cars are intended to seat twenty-two passengers, but can accommodate three times that number without great inconvenience. There is a non-conducting floor between the passengers and the two dynamos beneath the car, and a lighting arrester, which guarantees safety during thunder storms. The car is controlled by the motorneer by means of a crank, by which he can reverse the motor and regulate the speed from a scarcely perceptible movement to a maximum speed of twenty miles an hour.

There are two distinct features or department of the electrical railway plant, the mechanical and the electrical. The former has been described at length, and the latter we will attempt to describe so that the general reader unacquainted with technical electricity may understand the general principles upon which the plant is operated. The first thing is the generation of a current, and for this purpose there are in the plant of the Topeka Electric Rapid Transit Railway Company nine dynamos, of the Thomson-Houston make, of eighty horse power each, giving a potential of 500 volts each. From these generators, the conducting wires run to the switch board, on the north side of the building. There are four wires passing from each dynamo or generator to the switch board. The wires are of okonite, and the larger three, including insulation, are seven-eights of an inch in diameter, the forth and smaller one being but three-eights of an inch in diameter. The wires pass under the floor to the switch board. In fact, all of the wires about the plant are under the floors or between walls, being entirely out of sight. The switch board is a contrivance where all the currents center and fed into the lines, where it is taken by the motors which propel the cars. The switch board is so arranged that any one or all of the dynamos may be used to supply the line with electricity, independently or together. At the lower part of the switch board is a row of nine instruments called rheostats, or gauges, which regulate and control the potential (or the electric pressure) of the plant. Above this row is a row of cutout switches, by which the current for each individual generator is switched on or off the main line. There is one of these for each dynamo. Still above these upon the switch board are the ampere meters, which register the amount of current generated by each machine, or dynamo. The last item in the switch board is a cutout switch for the field of the dynamo, which is connected with incandescent lamps for destroying the spark of the switch.

The switch board is sixteen feet long by nine feet high. It is constructed of a light-colored hard wood, nicely painted and finished, and, as the apparatus is principally of brass and mahogany, the whole is quite attractive, and also apparently complicated to the unskilled.

The motors take the current from the overhead conductor by means of an arm of iron, hinged at the top of the car and controlled by a spring in such a way that the trolley wheel that rolls along under the wire is kept in continuous contact with the wire, allowing for all deviations in height from the ground. The current passes from this arm direct to the lightning arrester, which is an arrangement preventing any danger to passengers from lightning during thunder storms. The lightning arrester is a positive and absolute protection from this danger. The current then passes to the controlling switches, which are operated by means of handles from the platform of the car, by the motorneer, through the motors, where the current is changed to mechanical energy, this energy being communicated to the driving wheels by means of spur gearing. From the motors the negative current returns through the rails and by means of wires under ground, back to the generator. At each joint where a break occurs in the rails, copper wires have been riveted in to insure a continuous track for the current.

The station and the motors are lighted by electricity generated from the same generators furnishing the power for propelling the motors and cars.

A. H. Hayward, one of the best electricians of the country, superintended the construction of the electrical apparatus for this plant, and others erected by the Thomson-Houston Company at Los Angles, Cal.; Syracuse, N. Y.; Washington, D. C. ; Cambridge, Mass., and elsewhere.

The upper story of the main plant will remain unoccupied for the present. It was designed with a view to putting additional dynamos and machinery into it when the growth of the business demands it. The floors are very compactly built, and two brick walls will be built up near the center from the ground to support the second floor. The roof is a truss roof, leaving the large second floor without a pillar or obstruction of any sort.

The electric railway has worked perfectly through severe storms the past winter, and has clearly proven that snow and dice are no hindrance to the successful operation of the road.

Mr. Williams is the company’s electrician, and Mr. F. N. Brigham is chief engineer assisted by James Howe.





Mission Statement



Mark E. Jackson
(Pages 72-85)






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The New Rapid Transit “Electrics”

Above:, Rapid Tansit car at Oakland Grove terminal. Photos from Jackson’s “Topeka Pen and Camera Sketches” (1890.
Below: Crews of Rapid Transit “electrics” assembled at the station, 12th & Jackson, for a photo.



POWER PLANT OF TOPEKA RAPID TRANSIT, 414 East Second Street (between Madison and Jefferson). Built during the winter of 1888-89, this sturdy building is now the home of the Topeka Millwork Company. (click to enlarge)




Opinion Polls & Surveys






Above: Trolley parties to Oakland Grove on the Rapid Transit’s marvelous new “electrics” were a great treat for young and old alike. Above, Potwin school children impatiently pose for a photo before boarding the waiting trolley car, Photo, Ray Hilner.










Above: A group of costumed Negro children, with similarly costumed chaperones, pose near an Oakland-bound trolley car at Fourth & Jackson. In the background, the Throop Hotel. Photo from “Topeka Pen and Camera Sketches.”









Above: We know that the Pagoda of Potwin Place was completed during November, 1889, but the name of the prize-winning architect has eluded us. Years later the structure was doubled in size, the new part served as a branch postoffice--Station C.



Above: TRANSFER STATION for Rapid Transit “electrics” on the present site of the new Merchants National Bank building, 8th & Jackson. Built in 1889, the station was abandoned in 1893 after Topeka Railway had acquired the Rapid Transit Co., and built a new transfer station one block east, on Kansas Avenue. Photo, courtesy Harry C. Snyder.







Above: Rapid Transit open “electric” bound for Oakland Grove, passing intersection of 4th & Kansas Avenue. The Throop Hotel, in background, was completely destroyed by fire, April 25, 1950. Photo, Ray Hilner.





Above: The sign on the trolley car, “Thompson-Houston Electric Railway System,” could denote a financial interest by that company which installed the entire Topeka Rapid Transit system.




Above: OFF THE RAILS--Trouble shooters from the Rapid Transit car barns come to the aid of a derailed trolley car. The uniformed conductor, third from left, is Alvin J. Hughes, father of Lee J. Huges Ottawa, Kan., who furnished this photo. Date, approximately 1891.




















The Rapid Transit a Substantial Factor
In Topeka Growth.


The Daily Capital of last Sunday had the following good words about Topeka’s Rapid Transit (electric) railway:

“Topeka may justly claim the distinction of being the “Electric City” of the United States. She has the longest and best system of electric railway in the country, or in the world for that matter. The average citizen does not fully realize the value to Topeka of the Electric Rapid Transit railway, reaching as it does, nearly every section of the city and furnishing to the people a service unsurpassed, for speed and comfort, by any other city on the continent. The little palace electric cars speed over eighteen miles of splendid constructed track seventeen hours out of every twenty-four, carrying passengers from the remotest suburbs to and from the business center of Topeka.

“This company has invested in our city a vast sum of money, and where ever the electric lines have been extended property has advanced in price. The plant at Second and Jefferson is a model, while the rolling stock is the very best made. The company employs an army of men in various capacities, and the pay-rolls each month show a great expenditure of money to the merchants and laboring men of this city. the Rapid Transit is an institution which should be encouraged and patronized by the public. It’s fine equipment and splendid service entitles in to the good wished and substantial encouragement of our people.”

The following editorial is quoted from the
February 21st, 1890


There will be rejoicing in North Topeka when the Rapid Transit road extends it’s line to this side as is contemplated at an early day by the management of that company. The Rapid Transit is one of Topeka’s mammoth enterprises, and it’s managers are broad gauged, enterprising, pubic spirited citizens. They have had their line in operation for upwards of two years, and had there been a new bridge across the Kaw river, the road would have been in operation in North Topeka two years ago. Branch lines now extend to nearly all parts of the city, and it is the desire of the management of the road to build over to North Topeka, and the people generally here are anxious for them to come. The extension of the line over here, we believe, will add largely to the value of real estate on this side, and the business men and all interested, we doubt not, will see it in their interest to render the company all the encouragement possible to enable them to build to this side and give the 10,000 people of North Topeka the advantages furnished by their unsurpassed system of the electric railway travel.