Late in the year 1888, Topeka learned that it was to have the first trolley car system in Kansas. The term Trolley” had not yet come into common usage. The local press referred to the new system as the “Electric Railway,” and for years that followed, Topekans rode on the “electrics.” Oddly enough, the term “motor” had been applied to the steam dummy engines that were to be replaced after eighteen months of service.
The DAILY CAPITAL, October 9, 1888, reported that the electric system was now assured inasmuch as the city council had given it’s approval:
Mr. J. B. Bartholomew [secretary-treasurer] of the Rapid Transit Railway informed the CAPITAL yesterday that their company had completed arrangements to put the electric system on their line and take off the steam motors. The contract has been closed, and work will begin in a few days on the new plant.
“The company has for a year or more been investigating the various systems of street railways with a view of securing the best in the land,” said Mr. Bartholomew. “We have inspected the workings of everything that is made for propelling street cars, and we are satisfied beyond any doubt that the electric system is the best system in use at the present time. It has been thoroughly tested and it has been proven that it can give quicker service than any other power. Our steam motors have been quite satisfactory but they cannot give the quick service that the increasing travel of our road demands. We will have a 600-horse power central plant, and will operate fifty cars. This will be the longest street railway in America. We hope to have a portion of the system in operation by January 1.” (Note: The system was not in full operation until April 9, 1889.--Ed.
The city council last evening granted the Rapid Transit company the right to operate their line by the electric system instead of steam motors . . . .
President Whitney of Boston Street railways, in an address before the city council, stated that the Richmond, Virginia Electrical railway is carrying people of Richmond as they never have been carried before, and to the entire satisfaction of everybody. (President Henry M. Whitney, West End Railroad, Boston, referring to Richmond (Va.) Union Passenger Ry. Co., the nations’s first successful trolley system, started Feb. 2, 1888.) It is operated by a system of overhead wires which is decidedly unobjectionable, the cars ascend grades of nine per cent at the rate of six miles per hour, and are under the most perfect control.
In another CAPITAL column of the same date, in which the city council’s business was reported, a representative of the Rapid Transit company explained that the proposed “overhead system is operated by an electrical wire eighteen to twenty-two feet above the track, high enough to clear a load of hay or any ordinary wagon load, but not high enough for a moving house. The company guarantees the system to be perfectly safe, and there is no danger to human life . . . . “
Six months later, when Topeka’s wonderful new electric railway was about to go into full operation, a demonstration was given for state, county and city officials together with representatives of other local railways and the press. The CAPITAL COMMON WEALTH reported the trip and the new power plant in a two-column story that indicates the city’s pride and enthusiasm for the ‘earth’s greatest” street railway:
From TOPEKA CAPITAL COMMONWEALTH, April 3, 1889.
TOPEKA’S WONDERFUL ELECTRIC
The Trial Trip Proves A Grand Success – Geared Lightning More Docile Than The Horse Or Mule – A Great Event In The History Of The City.
For months past the public has been informed almost daily through the newspapers that the Rapid Transit Railway company was making preparations to substitute the steam motor for electric, horse and mule power, the date of the transformation being at first definitely fixed at January 15, but changed in almost every report thereafter to suit the circumstances. It was a big undertaking, and through the weather throughout the winter was suspicious and a large force of men was at all times employed, yet to wire twenty miles of track for the electric motors was no easy matter.
While all possible haste was used in the work, every detail was closely watched and there was no slighting of any permitted. Not only was it to be the biggest plant in the world, but it was determined that it should be the best, and the model for the rest of the universe to build by. It had already become famed thousands of miles from home and since the date of completion began to draw near, hundreds have come from every part of the union, the remote east and the far west, to inspect the tracks and power plant and witness the trial trip which should be the final test of the system.
THE TRIAL TRIP
Yesterday morning it was announced that the time was at hand for the motors to show their good qualities.
Neat invitations printed on card board were received by state, county and city officials, prominent professional, real estate and business men and representatives of the press, requesting them to assemble at 8 p.m. at the east front of the state house, where cars would be in waiting and all would be given a ride over the greatest electric street railway system on earth. The weather was highly favorable to the company managers and so charming as to secure the attendance of nearly everyone who had been favored with a bid.
At 8 o’clock sharp, the first of the motors appeared coming down Jackson street from the Rapid Transit station on Twelfth Street, followed at short intervals by three others. The four motors drew up in line in front of the capitol and were quickly filled. There were about 100 guests in all, including the managers and chief officials of the Topeka City Street railway, the East Side Circle railway and the West Side Circle road. The four motor cars were well filled without crowding and in the presence of an immense and admiring throng on the streets, on the capitol steps, and at the windows of the Santa Fe building the gongs rang the signal for the start. The cars moved off like a charm and from an almost imperceptible motion at starting glided down the smooth track at a speed of eight mileS an hour so gracefully and easily that the passengers involuntarily applauded, and the crowd responded. All along the line, crowds lined the streets and as one or two polling places passed they were very large. No circus parade could have attracted more attention. Hats and handkerchief were waived as the cars sped along and here and there cheers greeted the unusual sight. It was a great day for Topeka. True, the day of enslavement to the old fashioned, old fogy, slow- going mule car had long passed away and given place [in history] to the horse car and the steam motor, but now for the first time something had come which was a novel relief. Everybody rejoiced to see the cars move, for rapid transit for Topeka means a new era of increased prosperity, means happy people and comfortable homes, means the growth of the city--means a Topeka with one hundred thousand people within a few years.
SPEEDING THROUGH THE SUBURBS
There was not a single hitch to mar the pleasure of the trip or the perfect success of the trip. The cars kept close together and climbed the Fourth street grade as easily as they ran along level ground. In turning the short curves by the Santa Fe shops, there was a noticeable absence of the violent jerking characteristic of the old steam motor. Although the streets and avenues were filled with teams everywhere the procession went, it was noted that few horses appeared to be frightened, while not a single runaway was observed.
There was a general expression of admiration as Oakland was neared and the excursionists caught sight of the vast amount of improvement going on there. There must be now at this terminus of the Rapid Transit system--a town of not less than 1,500 people, and on it’s blocks, houses springing up like magic. One man is building ten in a row, and on the opposite side of the street, another is erecting twenty handsome dwellings, now nearly complete. It is said there are at least 300 new homes in Oakland which have been completed since last fall, and scores of others are just being begun. And this activity in building--the very existence of the little city itself--is the natural outgrowth of the Rapid Transit enterprise inaugurated two years ago.
A stop of a few minutes was made at the entrance of Oakland park for cider and cigars, and, circling about the belt, the cars took the back track. At the switches an occasional horse car would be encountered, and a comparison made with the motors. It was the old story of before and after.
“The poor horses will soon be relieved,” said one passenger.
“Yes, and thank Heaven the people of Topeka will, too”, said another one.
“There is room for several good rapid transit companies.” said a third one, “and the City Street Railway Company will soon follow suit. What a grand thing electricity would be on the avenue.”
Nearly a full column of description of the new power plant has been deleted inasmuch as it is covered in Mary Jackson’s story on following pages.
HOW THE CARS ARE RUN.
How does the car move? This is an interested question. The outgoing current in the overhead wire is transmitted to the motors in the car, and thence also through the rail back to the generator whence it came. This circuit is uninterrupted or the car stops. That is, if the connection be not broken, sufficient force is constantly transmitted to drive the car. On the roof of the car is an upright bar, perhaps an inch and a half square and two feet and a half high. At the top of this upright is fastened the upright and the arm are connected, they resemble the old fashioned well sweep. The upper end of the arm bears a deeply grooved wheel, which fits the half-inch copper wire overhead, and from the nature of it’s work is called a "traveler." This traveler seldom leaves the wire, but whenever it does, it is replaced immediately by pulling it down by a cord and slowly releasing it upward. At the lower end of the arm is a set of springs for the purpose of pressing the traveler upward and against the overhead wire just evenly
enough to make it run smoothly. For instance, though the overhead wire is intended to be at a uniform height above the car, suppose it is higher; the springs raise the traveler end of the arm upward as far as it is necessary to follow the wire. Suppose it sags; then the traveler end of the arm is depressed and the springs at the lower end of the arm extended. Thus uniform pressure and sure connection by the grooved traveler against the overhead wire are always secured.
The current comes from the wire and through the traveler, arm and upright to the ceiling of the cab. From the bottom of the upright the current is conveyed to the motors by a copper wire inside a flexible rubber tubing.
The motors used in the cars are of ten-horse power each, but they are capable of doing three or four times this amount of work. Either motor is alone sufficient to run the car, so that if one of them accidentally gets out of order or is lifted from the rails, the other one along propels the car alone. The brushes used are of carbon and will stand years of wear.
The machine is extremely simple and can be taken apart in a few minutes. All parts are accessible, so that it is easy to keep everything in good trim. Every motor is so proportioned that it can only take it’s part of the current, and thus not interfere with the other motors in the circuit, and at the same time it is unable to take more current from the source than it needs.
THE PRINCIPLE IN FEW WORDS
The whole principle of this thing, in a nutshell, is based on the discovery that motion of any kind can be converted into electricity, and that electricity in a precisely similar way can be converted into motion. Down at the power station, all that is done is to convert the motion of the steam engine into electricity. Then the electricity goes over the wire, and when it gets to the car, the car just reverses the operation and takes the electricity and converts into motion. And another valuable thing about it is that a car uses up only so much electricity as it actually needs; that is, if it needs one or two horse power on a level, it takes that much, and the rest is on hand for other cars; or if it requires a dozen or fifteen horse power on a heavy grade or curve, it takes the quantity needed as in the other instance.
After a thorough examination of the power house and it’s wonderful machinery, the party re-entered the cars and again started. The run was made west on Second Street to Jackson and from there to Washburn college. The same excitement was caused in College Hill, Dennis and Martin’s additions that was observed in Oakland and in the city. It seemed as if the cars ran even better out there than in the northeast part of the city. Quinton Heights was next visited and then the home trip was made via Clay street and Eighth. It was just 6 o’clock when the four cars landed their occupants again in front of the state house, just three hours having been occupied in making the trip. As to the success of the test, there can be no doubt whatever and all who witnessed it expressed their surprise and gratification in unbounded terms of praise. The Oakland line will be open to the public today and the other divisions in a day or two more.
THE NEW RAPID TRANSIT
How dear to our hearts is the Capital City,
How pleasant we find it to wait at the station,
Complain of their lot and indignantly frown,
Topeka, March 15
(An advertisement from the program of a home talent entertainment called a kermess, given at the Grand Opera House, April 10-11, 1890, by the U & I Club “In aid of the Home for Aged Women.”)
THE ELECTRIC ERA OF
TOPEKA RAPID TRANSIT COMPANY
Compiled by the Editors
(Page 66 - 71)