Saturday, August 04, 2007

The gift of Red Electric history

I’ve just been given a remarkable document describing The Red Electric in detail.

No, I don’t mean this blog but its namesake, the distinctive interurban train that stopped here in Hillsdale for 15 years in the early part of the 20th Century.

The gift is a special issue of “Interurbans” magazine dated Nov. 1949. Nearly the entire issue is devoted to The Red Electrics. The magazine, published in Los Angeles, called itself “The National Electric Railway News Digest.” The special cover price was $1, which was a fair amount in those days. "Interurbans" normally sold for 50 cents.

I came by this yellowed and worn copy via friend and neighbor Ruth Adkins, who passed it on from her mom, Jane Willsea. Jane, who bought it at a Terwilliger Plaza discarded library items sale, was kind enough to give it to me, but it really belongs in a museum. That’s where I will see that it goes when I’ve thoroughly studied its contents. I’ve already scanned most of its pages, which I will post here in the future.

(By the way, if you click on these images, they will be enlarged, and you can see the detail and read the text.)

The issue is a trove of information. As I explore it, I’ll share my findings.

For now, here’s a brief outline of what is in this 24-page. 8.25 inch by 10.75 inch, special “Interurbans” issue. The first 17 pages are devoted to the Red Electrics, which were run by the Southern Pacific Lines. Passenger service lasted from January 1914 to July 1929. The issue carries numerous photographs plus route maps, technical drawings of the trains and timetables.

After a brief forward, it is organized into chronologically ordered sections on “background,” “construction,” “operation,” “abandonment,” and “disposition” of the trains. A separate article deals with the horrendous head-on collision that took place in Hillsdale near what is now the old Raz bus garage on Berth Boulevard, which at the time was the Red Electric’s rail bed.

In an early issue of The Connection, I wrote about the collision using newspaper accounts. The Interurbans article adds much more detail, so I plan to revisit the story using this textured new source as well as my old story. Six of the 92 passengers on board the two trains died, as did three of the 10 railroad crew members.

Another remarkable aspect of the Red Electric story — and that of all the interurbans throughout the country — is their demise, and, in light of MAX and other light rails, their resurrection. The issue blames the fall of the interurbans on the rise of the automobile. More recent histories (vis. the documentary “Taken for a Ride”) have blamed it on the coercion and collusion of the automobile and oil industries.

But for now, all of that will wait for future posts.

Thanks Ruth and Jane for bringing this wonderful document to light.

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Blogger Lynette said...

How interesting. Thanks for sharing it.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for posting,
have you posted the other scans? I cant seem to find them on here, I think they are great!

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that you have to approve the post first, as i have been trying to contact you.
Ive been looking to model these cars sometime as I'm a model railroader as well as a real railroad engineer/conductor.
Do you still have these scans? I have tried to find a copy of the red electrics of Portland but to no avail.
I live in the Portland area and have always like these trains.
I have a book on the red electrics by Tom Dill, but alas the drawing are not to scale.
if you still have the scans, and could email them to me, I would be eternally grateful.
I would be happy to share with you my construction process on the models if you were interested.
no need to post this to your blog, I tried to email you but the email was a bad address an undeliverable.
if you could help in any way,
many thanks
Jason Seger
my email is

9:57 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

I do have the scans of the entire Interurban issue. Sent me your e-mail and I will forward them.

5:28 PM  

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