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The B.E.Ry. during the years of the Fair Haven and Westville

Fair Haven and Westville single-truck closed car #71 has derailed on Harbor Street, Branford. The car was built by J.M. Jones in 1895 and was equipped with a Bemis truck, two G.E. 800 motors and two K-2 controllers. In 1915 it and car #70 were used by the Connecticut Company to build an experimental center-entrance car (#1605), which was finally scrapped June 6, 1929. Mason Foote Smith photo., Branford Hist. Society coll.

Branford Awakes

Within weeks of the opening of the Branford line, newspapers recognized the impact which the line was already making on the lives of Branford residents. The New Haven Register, on Friday, August 31st 1900, notes:
...many pleasant little reminiscences were told of primitive Branford, when the place enjoyed its appellation of ``Sleepy Old Branford.´´ Many of these old friends had left the town before the dawn of its new era which has brought electric lights, telephones, water systems, and last, and best just at present, because new, the electric road. Branford's Rip Van Winkle condition has passed into history, and now the old place is very much awake.
Just a few days earlier, the Register commented on the growing shore resort business:
The roasting atmosphere of yesterday, which was nearly as hot as on that hottest of Saturday's, August 11, drove thousands of people to the shores and the cool places in the neighboring countryside. ... The new Branford line was well patronized, fully 4,000 passengers taking the ride down through Short and Double Beach to Branford Point and Branford. The service given by the trolley companies was extremely good all day long...Two cars were kept going all the time to the East Haven green with passengers for the Branford line, and the transfer made at the green under the management of a very competent starter. The Branford line over the new route was well patronized, and the beauties of the new route thoroughly investigated. The line provides some of the finest scenery along the local shores and will undoubtedly be a popular line when it is known. The reduction of fare to East Haven to 5 cents makes the ride but 15 cents.
While there are conflicting accounts, most newspaper evidence supports the theory that the permanent connection between the Branford line and the rest of the Fair Haven and Westville (FH&W) system at the East Haven Green was made during the week of September 3rd, 1900, when two turnouts were placed in service at Hemingway Avenue and River Street.

New Cars

The Branford Opinion of December 1, 1900 reported a minor derailment:
The car which is due to leave the green at 1:24 was derailed at the top of the hill near Corporal Sullivan's residence {Harbor Street} yesterday. The car was coming toward Branford, and when it had nearly reached the top of the hill it left the rail and ran across the road nearly to the fence before it stopped. Mason F. Smith was the only passenger on board the car, and he and the conductor were thrown together in the center of the car. Neither were injured. The wrecker came out from New Haven and got the car back on the rail. No cause for the accident could be found.
The lone passenger, Mason Foote Smith, was an avid shutterbug employed by the Yale Observatory; he took several shots of this incident which have survived. Indeed, he took many photographs of the early days of the Branford line and might be considered the Branford Electric Railway's first railfan.

The derailed car, Fair Haven and Westville (FH&W) #71, was a single-truck closed car typical of the type assigned to the line during the winter months. The same newspaper issue describes the new cars which would soon arrive from J.G. Brill:

They will be forty feet long, wider than the general run of cars, and vestibuled...Ten windows of plate glass made as large as the sides of the car will render the car as light as possible in the day time, while twenty electric lights, double the number in an ordinary car, will make it likewise light at night. The cars will be finished in the best mahogany, and its seats with their backs will be provided with springs and upholstered in the finest Wilton carpet. The seats will be arranged nine on each side of the aisle with one in each corner, and the cars will seat forty-four people. Each car will be fitted also with four electric motors, which is double the number on other cars.
The new closed cars would be numbered 124-127. Car 125 entered service first, on December 22nd, and the others followed shortly thereafter. During the summer of 1901, the single-truck open cars were back on the line to provide air-conditioning. An additional order of cars, 146-151, similar to the 124-127 group, was delivered in 1902.
This photo of car 127, which was involved in the fatal wreck of 1902, is believed to be taken shortly after delivery in the winter of 1901, at Main and Laurel Streets. St. Mary's Church is in the background. It was part of a group of cars (124-127) which was equipped with Brill 27G trucks, four G.E. 52 motors, two K-12 controllers and an Allis-Chalmers air brake system. The group was renumbered 581-584 and sent to the Torrington division in 1915, and sold in 1929. Mason Foote Smith photo., Branford Hist. Society. coll.

Trolley power for the line was not generated by the Branford Lighting and Water Company's plant in Branford. Rather, it was supplied from the FH&W generating station ``B´´ located at Ferry Street in New Haven. During periods of heavy usage, the voltage at the Branford end of the line sagged heavily, causing delays in service especially during the summer of 1901. Additional generating capacity and improved feeder cables were deployed to address the problem.

The New Haven Register made the following amusing observation in 1901:

Quite a little annoyance is caused to strangers Summering at Short Beach who are not familiar with the fact that all trolley cars must pass through Short Beach to reach Branford. Many have gotten badly fooled in New Haven anxiously awaiting the coming of the car that never comes labeled Short Beach....

Although there were scattered reports of outages and delays, in general public opinion of the new Branford line was quite high during these early years and ridership was very strong.

The Wreck of 1902

On warm summer evenings, it was not uncommon for double-headers and triple-headers to run back from Branford, carrying throngs of homeward-bound beach and resort patrons. On Saturday, the 26th of July 1902, two extra cars were dispatched for picnic-goers at Double Beach. They delayed the regular 6:48 P.M. car from the Branford Green by about six minutes.

Most of the Branford line in 1902 was single-track with passing sidings. One of the sidings where opposing cars met was known as the ``gravel pit switch´´. It was located just west of the ``Riverside´´ S-curve, at approximately the location we today call ``Beacon´´.

The regular car from Branford, #127, was operated by Motorman Peter Sture Lindstrom. Only 25 years old, Lindstrom was already an experienced and respected man on the FH&W. His conductor that day was George J. Hugo. At the gravel pit switch, car 127 was scheduled to pass the opposing car at 7:18 P.M. Motorman Joseph Smith, operating eastbound (Branford-bound) car 145 (an oddball single-truck closed car built in 1902), brought his car to the switch and waited in the twilight. (Sunset in Branford was at 7:16 PM. Daylight Savings Time would not be invented until 1918).

Smith had been working as a motorman for only three months, and had just been assigned to the Branford route three days earlier. His conductor, W.W. Peterkin, had been working for the FH&W but five weeks.

The first westbound special car passed. Its motorman, Martin Marlin, waved his hand, indicating that cars were following. Motorman Smith received this signal. However, he later stated, he expected a number of fingers to be outstretched, corresponding to the number of following cars. This, he claimed, was customary procedure among motormen and conductors. Knowing only that there was at least one car following, Motorman Smith waited at the switch.

Quickly, the second special car came into sight. It, like the first, was almost certainly a single-truck open car, as these were used at the time for summer extras, however the exact car numbers are not known. Motorman Smith would later testify that the motorman of the second car, J.L. Overlander, did not signal. Unsure, Smith continued to wait. A minute or two went by. Conductor Peterkin pulled the bell cord twice, signaling Smith to proceed. When the car did not move, Peterkin went to the forward vestibule. Although Peterkin, stationed in the rear of the car, had not been able to see the signals of the opposing motormen, he advocated proceeding slowly. He returned to the rear vestibule and rang the bell again.

Car 145 started forward and entered the curve. Car 127, moving downhill at a considerable speed and expecting to find a clear track, came sweeping into view. The darkness and heavy vegetation on Beacon Hill contributed to an estimated visibility of 25 feet. There was scarcely time to shut off power and crank on the brakes before the two cars met with a great crash.

Car 145 climbed and rode over the vestibule of car 127, pinning Lindstrom. Motorman Smith received several gashes on the head. There were a total of 19 passenger injuries, all of which were comparitively minor. An East Haven boy of 12, Leslie Augur, although badly cut, freed himself from the wreckage and ran to East Haven to summon help. A doctor from East Haven arrived about a half hour after the accident. Additional doctors came via trolley from Branford.

A repair trolley was dispatched from New Haven and en route collided with an ice wagon in East Haven, evidently causing no injury. The most seriously injured were taken via trolley to New Haven Hospital. Motorman Lindstrom had lost a great deal of blood as both his legs were crushed. With modern medicine, he probably would have recovered. Doctors amputated his legs in an effort to save his life, but he died shortly after midnight, minutes after his sister arrived at the hospital.

The funeral for Lindstrom was held several days later at the Swedish Lutheran Church at 149 St. John Street. The Reverend A.J. Enstan presided. The pallbearers were fellow FH&W employees: Starter J. Quinn, Motormen George Kelly, J. Hogan and N. Simon, and Conductors E. Priest and A. Beckwith. Lindstrom, who was born on March 14, 1877, was survived by his parents, three brothers and three sisters, most of whom resided in Sweden. One brother, Oscar, lived locally, as did his sister Mrs. J.E. Sundblad, with whom Motorman Lindstrom resided at #15 Tilton Street.

The FH&W donated floral arrangements and an undisclosed sum of money to the Lindstrom family. Times certainly have changed in 100 years, as there was no mention in the newspapers of lawsuits by the family or any of the passengers!

Coroner Eli Mix opened an inquiry into Lindstrom's death. Motorman Smith was taken into custody on Sunday the 27th and released that evening on $1,500 bond. Coroner Mix released his findings on Thursday the 29th. He attributed fault for the accident solely to Motorman Smith and Conductor Peterkin. He accepted the testimony of the crew of the second car, Motorman Overlander and Conductor Terrill, that Overlander had held up his hand to signal that yet another car was following. (It should be noted that earlier newspaper accounts of the incident stated that Overlander was the first motorman and Marlin was the second). Motorman Smith denied receiving the second car's signal, and at least one witness aboard car 145 agreed with Smith. The Coroner included in his report the suspicion of some of the passengers aboard car 145 that Smith was intoxicated. The truth will never be known. However, as Coroner Mix pointed out in his report, the crew of car 145 should have known that the regular car had not yet passed, as the two special cars were single-truck opens, while the regular cars on the Branford line at this time were the double-truck closed cars.

The Coroner also recommended that the FH&W use a system of flags and lanterns on the cars in place of hand signals, and noted that such was already the practice on other divisions of the FH&W (perhaps those former Winchester Avenue routes which had been acquired in 1901). He faulted the Branford Lighting and Water Co., owner of the line itself, for not maintaining the brush in the curve, and strongly recommended double-tracking the entire line. He urged that the heavy double-truck cars, which weighed in at 15 tons, be equipped with air brakes. (This is a curious statement, as all other surviving evidence indicates that Car 127 was delivered with air brakes.) Finally, he commented on the design of the closed vestibule cars, which had a curtain that closed off the vestibule at night to block the reflection of the electric bulbs which would otherwise diminish the motorman's view. He stated that:

If the motorman should be attacked with heart disease, or should faint, where would the passengers be in a few minutes?...the car would run along without the passengers knowing that anything was the matter.... I think if an arrangement could be made so that the people on the car could see the motorman, it would be a great safeguard to the public.
His concerns would be answered decades later by the invention of the ``safety car´´.

There is no record of any criminal trial of Smith or Peterkin, and rumors were that they fled the area to avoid prosecution. Cars 127 and 145, though badly damaged, were repaired and returned to passenger service.

A Strike

At the same time that news of the collision was being reported, there were accounts of some labor unrest in the FH&W Co. On Thursday August 7th a strike was called. The principal issue was the discharge of several employees. The men of the FH&W had formed a union, which now numbered over 400, and they walked off the job at 3 A.M.

Although the strike, which lasted two days, was a minor note in the history of the line, it affords the opportunity to examine how integral the trolley had become to daily living. The City of New Haven was paralyzed as its citizens scrambled to get around by bicycle, horse or on foot. Short Beach was particularly hard-hit, just at the height of the summer recreation season. The New Haven R.R. picked up considerable alternate traffic between the New Haven and Branford stations.

Public sentiment was strongly in favor of the striking car crews, despite the inconvenience. Much can be drawn from this simple fact. To the average person on the street in 1902, a trolley worker was a comrade, a fellow man putting in an honest day's work for a honest day's pay. On the branch lines in particular, such as the Branford line, customers came to know the car crews personally. They might ride a particular run several times each work week. The fare was handed to the conductor personally, not dropped into an anonymous farebox, and the conductor surely came to know the names of his customers.

The Fair Haven and Westville, on the other hand, was a large monopoly corporation. As detailed in the first installment of this series, through a series of mergers, acquisitions and contracts they came to control all of the street railways in the New Haven area, the final piece of the puzzle falling into place in 1901 when the FH&W acquired controlling interest in the Winchester Avenue Railway. The fare was more than adequate to recover power, labor and materials costs and still deliver a healthy profit. One could speculate that the July collision also fueled an increasingly negative public opinion of the trolley company. In 1903, proposals to extend the line to Stony Creek were defeated in the legislature.

Double Tracking

As originally opened in 1900, the Branford Electric Railway was a single track road, except for the 3-block segment in East Haven. Passing sidings at several locations were provided. The July 1902 collision put considerable pressure on BL&W to double-track the dangerous curves.

On August 23rd 1902, BL&W announced that they would double-track Riverside curve, including replacement of the Stony Creek Trestle. On December 19th it was reported that the East Haven Trestle too was in the process of being replaced, and passengers were forced to transfer across the old trestle. Chidsey Brothers constructed the trestles and Blakeslee & Sons handled the roadbed and track work. By January 2nd 1903, the double-tracking had been completed and both new trestles and a new bridge over the Quarry railway were in service. At this time the opportunity was taken to upgrade the original track from 60 to 70 pound rail. The straight portion of the line between the Stony Creek Trestle and Short Beach remained single-track until 1904.

The Coming of Consolidated

The economies of scale motivated much merger and acquisition activity in the trolley industry after the turn of the century. The New Haven market was no exception. By 1901, the Fair Haven and Westville Company controlled the entire New Haven street railway system. Alas, there's always a bigger fish!

The Consolidated Railway Company was the brainchild of C.S. Mellen, President of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Trolley routes provided competition to the mainline railroad business, and Mellen endeavored to build an empire which would control all rail transportation. Starting in 1902, the New Haven R.R. acquired a number of trolley operators' charters and used the most liberal terms, found in the charter of the Thompson Tramway Co. to incorporate a holding company, the Consolidated Railway Co., on May 18th, 1904. Two days later, it acquired the FH&W and assumed the operating agreement which was already in place between the FH&W and the BL&W Co.

Consolidated desired to own the Branford line outright, however there were difficulties in the negotiations as the BL&W Co. wanted to be bought out whole. Consolidated had little interest in the electricity and water aspect of the business. Agreement was reached on September 5th 1905:

Branford's lighting and water facilities and trolley line all passed into the control of the Consolidated Railway company today as a result of the special meeting of the stockholders which was held this morning in the general offices of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad company. ... The price paid for the road is said to have been about par, the payment having been made in the 4 per cent debentures of the Consolidated Railway Company. It is said that the stock issue of the road is about $300,000, while there is a bond issue of $350,000... The sale is very satisfactory to the old stockholders. By it the New Haven road gets the trolley from East Haven to Branford. It wanted to buy the trolley without the water company or electric lighting system, but that could not be arranged. Selling water and electricity is new business for the Consolidated road, but the right to engage in these enterprises was obtained by its amended charter.

On September 26th 1905, the BL&W Co. received a payment of $225,000 from Consolidated ``for all the contracts, property rights, powers, privileges and franchises.´´ Thus was the corporate end of the Branford Lighting and Water Company, and the end of local ownership and control of Branford's trolley.
The only piece of rolling stock owned by Branford Lighting and Water Company was this 14' single-truck utility motor car. It was ordered from Brill in October 1903, and was probably housed at a small facility in the ``Red Barn´´ area near Stannard Avenue. Motors, controller and pole were mounted by New England Construction for BL&W. The Connecticut Company later scrapped the body but reused the truck to construct ConnCo flat motor #0116.

Thanks to James M. West, Prof. George Baehr, Jane Bouley of the Branford Historical Society and William B. Young for contributing to this article, and to the late Dick Fletcher for his research. In the next installment: Murder on the tracks! The Stony Creek extension, and the Branford line in the heyday of the Connecticut Company.

The Shore Line Trolley Museum
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East Haven, CT 06512
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Last Updated: /articles/ modified at Thu Mar 10 23:25:47 2005