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Early travel not all sunshine and roses

By Henry Timman • Jul 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

For a long time, I’ve thought that one of the best eras of local history was of the time of the interurban cars — from about 1895 to 1935. When streetcars first came into use, the roads and highways basically were unimproved and travel by horse and buggy was necessarily slow depending on the road surface. True, there were trains, but they didn’t go to every town and didn’t always furnish a versatile schedule for passengers.

Interurbans connected many otherwise isolated towns with a railroad. For instance, if you lived in North Fairfield you could ride a streetcar to Willard or Norwalk and connect with a passenger train to travel to your ultimate destination.

However, travel by streetcar wasn’t all sunshine and roses. The motormen had a bad habit of running into things and when autos became common, drivers had the bad habit of turning left in front of an interurban at a crossing. Sometimes, too, someone neglected to throw a switch or set a signal to inform the motorman of conditions ahead.

Norwalk and northern Ohio were served by the Lake Shore Electric interurban line from 1901 to 1938. Just a year after its formation, the Lake Shore Electric recorded its worst accident to date on Oct. 3, 1902. As Car No. 1 was approaching the crossing of the Nickel Plate railroad at Ceylon, north of Berlin Heights, a freight train was headed east. The motorman claimed the brakes malfunctioned, causing him to lose control of the car. In the collision, eight train cars were derailed and two of them crashed into the Ceylon railroad depot, demolishing it. The streetcar was spun around and badly damaged.

Two persons were injured — George Setchell of Lee Avenue in Norwalk, and J. E. Buell of Little Valley, Mich. There was no hospital close by, so Setchell was brought to his home and Buell was lodged at the Avalon Hotel in Norwalk to recover. To show a difference in methods, a doctor was sent to the scene from Norwalk on a special streetcar to provide first aid. Berlin Heights and Huron had doctors, too, but the injured men had to wait on the car from Norwalk. The two motormen escaped injury by jumping out before the crash.

The accident had to be an expensive one for the Lake Shore Electric Company as the derailed and smashed train cars belonged to the Armour Meat Company and had been loaded with hams, bacon and lard. The contents were scattered around the area and were a total loss to the company, of course — though I imagine the locals dined “high on the hog” for a few days.

It was estimated that the loss would be almost $200,000 total for the refrigerated rail cars and their contents. But this wasn’t the only loss for the Lake Shore that weekend. The very next day two interurban cars collided along Ohio 6 not far east of Ruggles Beach in Erie County. No passengers were hurt, but two of the five crewmen on the two cars had minor injuries. One of the cars was half demolished in the accident.

Events often happen in threes, and so it was in October of 1902. A Lake Shore Electric car was running along Ohio 6 near Vermilion when the trolley pole caught on its hanger, swung downward and punctured the roof of the car. The conductor suffered a cut on the head and broken hand, but no other damage was done.

As my Dutch grandmother would have said, “Comes there no end on?”

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

 

 

 

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