Traction and Electrical Company, Power Station
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HAER No. MI-76-A, Page 4
By 1880, neither the horse drawn cars nor individual carriages could cope with increased traffic and use. Steam locomotives were unpopular for city use due to the smoke they produced. Electric streetcars offered fast, frequent, and efficient mass transportation. West Bay City began operation of an electric streetcar line in 1889 and "the cares at the Third Street Bridge were drawn across the river by horses to connect up with the Bay City horse-drawn line". By 1893 the success of the West Bay City electric line had spurred the development of a similar line to service Bay City.
From 1893 to 1919 electric streetcars were operated successfully in Bay City by the Bay City Traction and Electric Company and its successors. Founded in 1893, Bay City Traction and Electric Company became an operating company with stock controlled by the Saginaw Bay City Railway & Light Company in 1903. By 1910, the Bay City Power Company absorbed the electric properties of the Bay City Traction and Electric Company. A series of labor disputes and unpopular rate increases contributed to decreasing ridership for the Bay City electric streetcar line until in 1919 the line began operation at a loss.
The following recollection of Robert Trudell chronicles the Bay City electric streetcar days:
I remember riding the streetcars in the early 1900s. In the winter there stood a small coal stove in a space where a seat had been. This stove was stoked by the conductor, and often the car was either too hot or too cold, but we were used to that in our homes. I never heard any complaints.
There was strung overhead, full length of the car, a rope running through loops to a register at the front end. The conductor, as each five cent fare was collected, gave this cord a pull and thus recorded the coins. The system discouraged any knocking-down by the conductor, through it was rumored this happened, especially when the car was overloaded. A good conductor was supposed to divide with the motorman - all this in spite of knowing the firm had unidentified spotters riding the cars.
All lines met at Center and Washington, central stop with an elevated kiosk, where a policeman directed traffic. If you wanted to go on one of the other lines, you needed a transfer slip, free at first but later costing a penny.
If you desired the open-air car to Wenona Beach, the fare was only 15 cents round-trip. The beach was a kid's paradise. You had so much fun riding the roller coaster, merry-go-round, Old Mill, etc., for a nickel a ride! A hot dog, sack of popcorn or bottle of pop also cost a nickel. At Wright's Cafe a whitefish or steak dinner cost 50 cents.
Then came the streetcar strike, about 1904. The company decided to fight the wage and hour demands, and ordered in the Pinkerton strike-breakers. They quickly found where the people's sympathies were. There were few riders as cars looked empty on their routes. Hardly a car made the run to Essexville and back without windows being broken by kids throwing stones.
I don't know how other regions of town fared for transportation, but we in Essexville found a new way to get uptown for the same nickel fee. William P. Kavanaugh's fish house at the foot of Scheurmann Street became the terminal for our new transportation system. With a slow season for fishing, Billy's fishing tug was turned into a jitney bus-boat to Bay City taking passengers on a pleasant cruise upriver to disembark at the foot of Center Avenue where Wenona Park is today.
Kavanaugh, William P.
Bay City Power Co.
Billy's fish tug
kavanaugh's fish house
Saginaw Bay City Railway & Light Co.
Third Street Bridge
West Bay City, MI