The challenges of operating a streetcar business
Despite the optimism engendered by the arrival of the railroad, and early successes at modernizing the city, Tucson's population actually declined to 5,150 by 1890. During the early years of that decade it remained stagnant, no doubt abetted by the national financial panic of 1893.
By the time the street railway was established in 1897 the optimism was back. The 1900 census showed 7,007 people within the city limits, making Tucson the largest city in Arizona territory which then had 122,931 residents. By 1901 the newspapers were proclaiming the greatest growth the city had ever experienced. Most of that probably occurred prior to the economic recession in 1907 but is reflected in the 1910 census population figure of 13,193.
Tucson of a hundred years ago was glowingly described in a promotional book on Southern Arizona entitled Treasure Land. It was published in July of 1897 and contains a chapter on Tucson which gives a good picture of the city the year the Tucson Street Railway was established.
It reported that 200 new buildings had been erected the previous year. J. Knox Corbett could supply Portland cement at $9 per barrel of 400 pounds, bricks at $8 per 1000 laid in the wall, and lumber - Oregon pine at $27.50 per 1000 feet and California pine at $25 per 1000 feet.
Beans were 3 to 4 cents a pound. Canned goods averaged around $1.50 per dozen. Coffee was 35 cents a pound and eggs 20 to 35 cents a dozen. Flour in 50 pound sacks averaged around $1.60, and rice was 8 cents a pound. Ham averaged Twelve and one-half cents a pound, and fish from Guaymas or Los Angeles about the same. Prime cuts of alfalfa-fed beef were 10 cents per pound.
Tucson boasted a fine public school, the Indian industrial school, and St. Joseph's Academy, the Catholic school. It had a pubic library which had been started in 1886. Music for entertainment and special events was provided by the Club Filarmonico Tucsonense, formed by Fred Ronstadt, which performed Spanish and Mexican music, and the militia band. There were five churches and five fraternal organizations for residents to choose from. Mention was also made of the new Opera House.
There were two daily papers published in English and two weekly papers published in Spanish. And, under construction and expected to open in August, was the Natatorium. These public baths were essential for cleanliness in the days before indoor plumbing in residences.
It was noted by City Engineer L. D. Chillson that Tucson had eighteen miles of curbed sidewalks and well-graded streets. Tucson was said to be a good bicycle town. A spin of 15 or 20 miles before breakfast was no unusual performance, even for ladies. High grade wheels could be obtained from Frank E. Russell and M. E. Sheldon. Their firm also sold electric and gas fixtures. It goes on to say:
"While the bicycle fad is as great in Tucson as in any place in the country on account of our excellent roads, there is an exhiliaration (sic) produced by a good drive that can not be simulated; then, too, a buggy will hold a pair, and if the proper relations exist between them, the ride becomes a dream of ecstasy and an armful of bliss. Neff & Co. make a specialty of providing the public with good horse power to suit the circumstances..."
For those who could not afford a buggy or even a wheel, for a nickel there was the new street car line. On May 15, the Star pointed out that the students no longer had to walk, and four days later said: "There is no excuse now why the people of Tucson can not visit the university as the famous horse street car line is now completed." Apparently the people did just that, especially on weekends and in the evening. The paper of May 22 announced that Sunday "...two cars will be run in the afternoon for the benefit of those desiring to take an airing", and the following Tuesday noted that "The street car line did a large business Sunday, people passing to and from the university all day long".
The "big two horse car"
In early June it was announced that "The street railway company will arrange to make special trips to the University grounds for evening promenades. The idea is a good one and should be encouraged". Later that summer, on July 19th, it was reported that "The streetcar company now run their big two horse car every evening between 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock p. m. It is delightful to take a ride as far as the University and back".
One place the street car did not go was to Carrillo's Gardens located on Main Street between Simpson and 17th Street. It reopened that summer to large and enthusiastic crowds after major improvements costing $5000 to $6000. To get there, one had to walk or take a carry-all, which cost substantially more than the streetcar (25 cents for a round trip - Arizona Daily Star 7/4/99).
On May 21, the schedule of the line was published in the Star. There were 17 trips a day with headways averaging around 45 minutes. The article promised that in a few days there would be 2 cars running and the headway would be dropped to 30 minutes. Apparently the reason for not doing it sooner was a shortage of animal power as an article the next day stated that Hoff was "negotiating for some extra horses". It also urged the public to "Please report any inattention of employes (sic) to the undersigned. Telephone No. 84. Chas. F. Hoff, Manager".
The schedule showed times for cars running from the S. P. depot to the University only. No mention was made of service on West Pennington. Apparently it was not being provided since the line to the University had started operating, because on July 26 the Star said: "Why should not the street railway track on Pennington street be taken up if not used." That prompted the company to reply two days later that in a few days two cars would be run "...continuously between the university and the city and the depot and the Orndorff House." The Orndorff House was one of the city's leading hotels located on Pennington at Main Street. It was owned by Charles DeGroff mentioned earlier as the operator of the Orndorff Bus. The article went on to say: "The second car is being fitted out with new set of wheels and axles, and will be the best car in use." It is surmised that the used cars purchased by Hoff were found to need considerable work before being fully serviceable.
The same article also quoted Manager Hoff as saying the company was contemplating the extension of the line to two different residential areas of the city. As it turned out, the realization of that goal was more than four years away. Other dreams such as electrification or use of some motive power other than animals were even further away despite statements such as that in the May 16 Star: "If present plans are carried out, a small motor engine will replace the weary horse and make transit between the city and the university quick and pleasant."
Blurred image of photo taken on North Stone Aven near the carbarn
Smaller improvements were within immediate reach. The May 14 Star reported that "The street car conductors will come out today gaily attired in neat grey (sic) uniforms, with caps to match". Four days later the paper said that they "look quite jaunty".
Another improvement reported in Citizen of the 14th, was the provision of a "station or waiting room" at the University end of the line. It was described as "The old car that was worked some time ago". On the surface that statement sounds like it was an old street car, formerly used in Tucson. The first thought of the authors was that perhaps there was a previous, by then defunct, street car line from which one of the cars was still around, and was acquired by the Tucson Street Railway for this purpose. Then the story of the first accident was discovered in which a street car was said to be "badly" damaged. Thus the more likely explanation is that the car was damaged beyond use on the line, but could be repaired enough to be used as a shelter. It is known that it remained in place until after December 15, 1898 when the Star complained that "The car used as a waiting room at the university is sadly in need of repairs". However, by the time the streetcar photo reproduced on p. 13 was taken in October of 1901, it appears to be gone. In addition, the 1902 photo looking down Third street from the campus does not show it.
The second recorded accident on the system, and the first with injuries occurred the evening of August 16, 1898. A man "reposed on the street car track" was run over. The press did not speculate as to why he was lying on the tracks.
Perhaps the biggest news story of 1898 was the early Sunday morning, September 18, fire which destroyed the Radulovich building on the northeast corner of Stone and Congress.
The 1897 book Treasure Land, describes the erection of the building in the late 1880's thus:
"Prior to the erection of the Radulovich block, there was only one two-story business building in Tucson, and when it was rumored that Mr. L. G. Radulovich intended to erect another at the far end of town, his friends tried to persuade him that it was a wild speculation. He carried out his intention, however, and has made money by it. He occupies one of the stores with a large stock of china, glass and shelf-hardware, displayed in the most tasteful manner."
At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by some of Tucson's principal businesses, including W. F. Kitt, ladies furnishings, Mrs. Beggs' millinery store, Zeigler's candy and ice cream parlor, Wells, Fargo & Co. express office, and the Western Union telegraph company. The fire apparently started upstairs in the corner office of dentist, Dr. F. A. Odermatt. Other professional offices suffering damage were those of Dr. Jones, and attorney Colonel Herring who had a library of 1800 books, said to be the best in the Territory. The corner room on the ground floor, until recently occupied by the Post Office was vacant.
The Radulovich building before the fire
Most significant for the story of the Tucson Street Railway were the losses suffered by Charles F. Hoff. The central telephone exchange was in the room next to Dr. Odermatt's office. The Citizen reported that: "Everything was destroyed, including a lot of material and some personal effects of Manager Hoff." As a result most of the city was without telephone service for over three weeks. What "material and...personal effects" might have related to the founding and construction of the street railway is unknown. It is possible that the original accounting journals were lost, as the ones surviving a century later are dated in 1899 and appear to recreate fare income and other records from the early days of the operation. The Star did report specifically that: "The street car company lost safe registers, harness and supplies valued at about $250."
The fire likely had much more enduring consequences for the street railway than the loss of records and supplies. It, along with other events, seems to have conspired to turn Hoff's attention from a close supervision and promotion of the company needed to make it successful. Besides having to reconstruct his business life after the fire, and get the telephone exchange back in operation, he was at the same time engaged in having a new home designed and constructed in preparation for his marriage which was planned for the following January. In addition, he was nominated as a candidate to the Territorial Legislature in October. His attention was further diverted in the summer of 1899 to the construction of a long distance telephone system. This project caused him to be out of the city for extended periods traveling throughout the Territory.
Tucson Street Railway car #2 turns the corner off Congress onto Stone
In January of 1899, M. P. Freeman resigned as President of the Tucson Street Railway. Dr. N. H. Matas, a native of Spain, who was one of the city's leading physicians, became President.
The first known charter was reported on January 21 when the Star noted that: "A Raymond & Whitcomb party passing through yesterday bought the street railway for an hour, and in that 60 minutes they saw the Indian school and the university, besides other attractions of interest". In April a group from Benson made a similar trip.
Two interesting stories can be told dating from about this time period. The Arizona Daily Star, published in the morning, then as now, was in the habit of reporting on the status of the Southern Pacific passenger train from California with a one line statement. One day the Arizona Daily Citizen criticized its competitor for never following up with a report on what happened to the train. The editor wrote:
"No. 10 arrived on time. This information is published for the benefit of the readers of the morning paper who are invariably informed that 'No. 10 is on time subject to change', but are left in the dark as to whether the train ever arrived. The S.P. has requested that the Citizen furnish this information to relieve a patient public and let all know that the trains of the company get to Tucson even though the time is infrequently 'subject to change'. "
Three days later they continued the verbal criticism with a tongue in cheek "No. Two on time out of the car barn.", and then concluded their assault a week later with:
"No. 10 which was 'on time out of Yuma' according to the morning paper, it will be noted with sorrow, was about an hour and a quarter behind time at Tucson. Folks will rejoice that the train got out of Yuma on time. There are many fast males who have failed to do this. Folks are always solicitous about the safe exit of the train from that point. It may jump the track or burn up or get wrecked anywhere this side of Yuma but when the public is informed that it has passed that point a great generous sigh of relief goes up. Whether it gets here on time or not is a matter of minor importance."
The other story, reported in a 1924 newspaper article on Charles Hoff is as follows:
"Many stories are told of experiences with his first car line, but the one I have in mind now is, that originally the line used to run east on Congress street to Fifth avenue, north on Fifth avenue to Toole, and ended right in front of the depot. The company had just bought a big fine American horse, that was full of life. He became frightened just before he reached the depot and ran away. He ran over the end of the track north of Toole avenue to Alameda street, west on Alameda street to Stone avenue, where he pulled the car onto the track again."
Of course, runaways with horses pulling wagons happened frequently, sometimes with disastrous consequences. They were usually reported in the paper, although in this case, the likelihood of the car being pulled that far without rails, and especially being rerailed is practically impossible.
Without Hoff actively at the helm, the street car line seems to have floundered. It plodded along with equipment growing old and patronage declining. Records of ridership in the accompanying table show a low being reached in August of 1899 when on two days only one fare was collected all day long, and on the 20th of the month no one rode at all! Total revenue for the whole month was $14.60, not even enough to feed the animals.
Likely in response to the dropping revenues, service was reduced. On October 6, 1899, it was reported that the timetable had been changed so that cars left the depot on the even hour and the University on the half hour. This was a reduction in service regardless of whether the promised 30 minute headway had ever been instituted.
But it got even worse. The following August the revenue for the month amounted to only $12.90. This situation simply couldn't be allowed to continue. Besides the bad revenue report an unknown accident occurred which caused the Citizen of the 20th to report: "The recent accident in the street railway has caused a change in its conduct. Hereafter the drivers will be men instead of children as heretofore."
U of A Map, 1903, showing car shelter
Tucson Street Railway
November 1897 through December 1904
|November 23, 1897||through||December 31, 1897||$65.10|
|January 1,1898||through||March 31, 1898||$78.15|
|April 1, 1898||through||May 31, 1898||$120.65|
Data is compiled from Ledgers 3 and 4 of the records of the Tucson Street Railway filed in the Arizona Historical Society with the records of the Tucson Rapid Transit Comopany.