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The Compromise Roof Cars

Early in 1915, the Public Service Railway put a design on the boards for a new trolley car, unlike any car on the rails anywhere in the world. Nothing like it had been seen before, and nothing like it came afterward.

The company fabricated 100 of these cars (2601-2700) at its Newark Shops, also known as the Plank Road Shops, after the prototype car, No. 2600 (see article) appeared in January, 1916. Fifty more of the cars were then built by the Cincinnati Car Company, numbered 2701-2749, and delivered in 1918.

The wartime emergency created an urgent need for trolley service to meet the demands of new or expanded shipyards established around the country by the United States Shipping Board, a federal entity created to counter the massive shipping losses incurred from the prowling wolves of the sea, the lethal German U-Boats.

With a massive and totally unprecedented expansion of ways already beginning near Camden and Newark, 78 mores cars of this design were ordered from Cincinnati by the Emergency Fleet Corporation, the Shipping Board Subsidiary responsible for meeting the equipment and right-of-way needs of the shipyards. The EFC purchased cars and leased them to operating traction companies; after the war, most participating firms were given the opportunity to purchase then-surplus cars at very reasonable prices, sometimes as low as $1 per car.

Of the 78 cars, thirty-three were earmarked for Camden, twenty-five for Newark, and a follow-on order of 20 cars was targeted by the EFC for Richmond Railways, a Staten Island company and the only non-Public Service operation initially using the design.

Equipped with longitudinal rattan seats, the cars at first glance appeared to be little different from other car interiors then in vogue. They were severely plain, with simple, stark lines converging on a front or rear platform. The exterior body bore lines roughly similar to existing designs. But all comparisons, interior or exterior, ended at the roof line. For these cars were utterly different from any previous design, and the difference was in the roof.

Since the advent of the electric trolley car in the early 1880s, car design centered on what was commonly called a "deck" roof, or a "monitor deck" roof---a rectangular vertical projection upward from the roof base, supporting a clerestory, or a series of small windows, sometimes of frosted glass, which could be opened or closed to match theweather and the comfort level of the passengers. An overhang extending from 4 to 6 inches protected and shaded the vertical windows of the clerestory. This roof design was by far the most popular in general use for around 35 years.

Some car builders, disdaining the monitor or deck roof design, chose to build what was known as the "steam coach roof." Some said the SCR gave a more aesthetically pleasing line to the over all appearance of the cars that carried them.

The steam coach roof was exactly what the term implied---similar to that in virtually universal use on the passenger coaches operated by the countless steam railroads of the nation. Instead of the jarring upright vertical lines of the deck roof, the steam coach roof rose in a gentle arc from the front of the car, swept back in an uninterrupted smooth line toward a similar descending arc at the rear. On either side, the SCR dropped vertically several inches to the car body roof line, leaving a space of a foot or so from front to rear on each side of the raised portion. (For examples of the deck roof and the steam coach roof, see the photograph of PSNJ car 3207, Volume 1, page 93, and the picture of Bill Van Ness, Passaic Wharf Yard Foreman, in Volume 1, shown standing before ex-North Jersey Rapid Transit Jewett Interurban car No. 16, used as a yard office.)

The third major roof concept followed for many years, generally popular after 1910, when advances in heating and ventilation methods came about, was the "arch" roof, a simple, flat arch, usually with roof or side ventilators.

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Content: © 1997 Al Mankoff
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Brett Putnam