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Trolley Car #8

 Number Eight

The Trolley Car

Dan Miller, MD

July 21, 2015


Editor's note: Recently the Nez Perce County Historical Society acquired one of the three original trolley cars used in Lewiston and Clarkston, the Number 8. In due time, it will be housed and displayed as part of the Museum's Historical Campus at 3rd and Capitol streets in downtown Lewiston. Here is its story. It was officially called the Birney Single Truck Safety Street Car. It is a small trolley car, built for small city use or for lines that wanted numerous cars on the line for the convenience of the passengers, "always a car in sight". Charles O. Birney was the designer, and the cars were made in various manufacturing plants in the East and Midwest. The peak production years were at the time of WW I, 1917-1918.

The design incorporated a single "truck", the mechanical unit consisting of the motors and wheels, attached to the center of the car. Larger cars of other brands had two trucks, one on each end of the car. The Birney had an electrical contact pole at each end, which reached up to an overhead wire, carrying 600 volt direct current. Service from Lewiston to Clarkston was formally inaugurated on May 3, 1915. At that time the Lewiston Morning Tribune reported the Lewiston Clarkston Transportation Company had two cars in service and a third on its way. These three Birney's plied the steel tracks of Lewiston and Clarkston for 14 years, from 1915 to 1929.The Lewiston-Clarkston Transportation Company promised 20-minute service from the Lewiston terminal at 13th and Main St. to the Clarkston terminal at 6th and Sycamore, between 6:30 am to 11:10 pm, promising to furnish "efficient and adequate street car service."* Later, service was extended to 13th and Highland.


After leaving Lewiston’s Main and 13th Streets, the car would travel westward to the old 1899 “High Bridge” over the Snake River, up and over with the help of sand sprayed between the wheels and the steel track, up Diagonal Street in Clarkston to the terminal.


There the car could not turn around. The motorman would get out and drop the trolley, or pole, which touched the electric wire above and walk around to the rear and raise the trailing trolley to the wire, then climb aboard and take over the controls at the now leading end of the car.


The motorman would collect fees from the passengers who entered, and drive back down Diagonal, stopping at various places to collect passengers, across the bridge and back through Lewiston.


For those 14 years, the trolleys were busy but trolley lines became less popular as people got their own autos. Trolley car tracks were usually located in the middle of the street, making access for passengers from the sidewalk to the car hazardous. Passengers had to walk in front of a row of autos to get into the trolley. The Birney was light for a trolley car, and could not plow through deep snow. It eventually got a reputation for being "flimsy" compared to the larger car models.


Once abandoned in 1929 as a trolley car, Number 8 went through a transformation. The heavy truck was scrapped for its copper and steel content, and the body of Number 8 ended up in a trailer park in Clarkston. Someone transformed it into a dwelling for rent. They built a thin wooden partition in the middle, leaving two little rooms without toilet facilities or running water. In 1948, one of the renters was Ladd Hamilton, famous newspaper man, and now deceased.**


In about 2004, Lewiston resident Don Rice acquired old Number 8, welded axles with wheels and tires under it, attached a trailer hitch tongue to one end, and pulled it out of the trailer park. The Territorial Capitol Campaign Committee acquired it in 2011 and Bill Miller towed it to a warehouse in Clarkston owned by Greg Follett. There it stayed until 2015, when the Nez Perce County Historical Society made the final payment to Don Rice and bought it.


*LMT April 22, 1915. “Cars Start on May First."

**personal communication.

The Golden Age, Spring/Summer, 1992



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