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The End of the First Age of the Branford Elec. Ry.

That the Shore Line Trolley museum is the oldest operating railway museum in the United States, and that its historic Branford Electric Railway is the oldest continuously operating suburban trolley line, is more a matter of luck than design.

As early as 1931, the Connecticut Company had announced its intentions to abandon the Branford line. In 1937, the Stony Creek portion of the line was abandoned and replaced with motor bus service. The remainder of the line would have fallen at that time too, except for a small snag. Ironically, it was the private right-of-way section that is now the museum railway which stood in the way.

In converting to buses, the company was required to duplicate, as closely as possible, the existing trolley route. In 1937, as in 1900, there were two possible road routes between East Haven and Branford: the so-called ``high route'' via what is now U.S. 1, and the shore route. The former was too far removed from the trolley right of way to be an equivalent replacement -- it would have left Short Beach isolated. Therefore, the buses would have to run south down Hemingway Avenue, then east along Short Beach Road (State Route 142), crossing the Farm River (a.k.a. the East Haven River) into Short Beach and then resuming along the original trolley route beyond the intersection at Bradley Avenue (now Court Street).

The bridge over the Farm River has a long and rich history, which will be the subject of an upcoming article on Johnson's Quarry. In 1937, this structure was an iron drawbridge about 30 years old. It was no longer being used as an active drawbridge, that role having dried up years earlier when the quarry quit. The bridge was not large enough or strong enough to allow motor bus traffic, and therefore bus conversion would have to wait until a new bridge could be constructed.

It was several years before these plans materialized. On July 17th 1941, H.S. Palmer, who had taken over the presidency of ConnCo from J.K. Punderford during the bankruptcy proceedings of 1936, announced that buses would be substituted shortly, as the State Highway Department was ready to build a new bridge. This bridge, it was announced, would be of modern structural steel, concrete-encased construction, 35 feet wide with a 750 foot span, and would be built by Mariani Construction.

Buses Invade Branford

The New Haven Register on July 26th 1941 lamented:
New Haven-Branford trolleys will quit when Short Beach bridge is done. But do New Haveners have to wait that long?
* * *
The Connecticut Co. is making money and can afford to buy buses. Let's have an end to dawdling motormen!
and on August 19th 1941:
Trolley cars roll on their last wheels in New Haven, only city in Connecticut still using the veteran vehicles... Like the buffalo, lumbering yellow electric cars are fast becoming extinct, vanishing from city streets to re-appear strangely as summer cottages, restaurants, chicken coops or sundry other shelters.
These editorials require little elaboration. Throughout the country, the internal combustion engine was seen as the enabler of the American dream. Trolleys were viewed as antiquated, and buses sleek and modern. Ironically, many decades later, the ``light rail'' renaissance would reverse that view.

In August of 1941, the Kirkham St. bridge over the New Haven R.R. tracks required rebuilding, severing the trolley line there. Therefore on August 4th, ConnCo cut back service to the nearest cross-over, at the ``Red Barn'' location at Stannard Ave. Passengers for Branford Center had to continue their journey via bus.

Meanwhile, a shortage of structural steel meant that the new Farm River bridge would be delayed. The Branford line had received another stay of execution. The bridge would eventually be completed late in the fall of 1942. However, events a half a world away would intervene and keep the trolleys running for several more years.

The War Years

On December 7th 1941, the United States was drawn into World War II by the bombing of its naval base at Pearl Harbor. Rations were imposed on gasoline, oil, rubber, aluminum, steel and other materials that were needed to wage war. In April of 1942, Washington D.C. sent down the order that all street railway companies must continue to use their existing infrastructure, and forbid the consumption of resources on bus conversion.

The vigorous industrial production and low unemployment necessitated by the war drew the country out of its decade-long economic downturn. New Haven's trolley system was busier than it had been in over a score. Many of the older cars, sidelined for years, were pressed into service, and several abandoned routes were resurrected. Throughout the war years, the 1900 series cars remained assigned to the Branford line, however, the older cars were known to pop up then and again as ``trippers.''

Although revenue was up, the Connecticut Company was surely not re-investing it in trolley infrastructure. The entire system was in a holding pattern pending bus substitution. Spot repairs were made as needed to keep the cars running at minimal expense. Unfortunately, this would mean that those cars that did get preserved were well-worn, as was the trolley line that the museum inherited in 1947.

Being the last city in Connecticut to run trolleys, New Haven became a Mecca for trolley fans. Many photographs of this time period survive. In addition, several preservation groups began to emerge, a topic which will be covered further in the next installment of this series.

On September 29th 1941, the New Haven Register ran this amusing story concerning motorman Tom King, at this time the senior man on the Branford line, and presumably the same Tom King who was involved, as a conductor, in the 1910 fatal collision at Pine Orchard:

One day last week Tom King, veteran trolley operator on the Branford division was running his car through private way over East Haven meadows and approaching trestle at Johnson's quarry noticed police dog running toward car, barking and leaping up and which would not get off track.
* * *
Tom slowed down and stopped on trestle, between the ties another police dog had gotten caught and was hanging by his paws.
* * *
Tom pulled him out, uninjured, and in his apparent joy at being released began to lick the other dog all over.
A storm on November 10th 1942 washed out the tracks near Granite Bay, yet again. Another round of temporary repairs was made to keep the line going.
Car 775 is inbound on the East Haven trestle. The year is 1942 Scholes Photos

One of the rituals of the war years was the scrap drive. Any unused metal was a candidate for recycling into the instruments of battle. In 1942, the War Department set its sights on 188 tons of scrap steel -- the rails in the streets of Branford beyond Red Barn which were now idle. It is likely that they were scrapped sometime in 1942.

The Final Year

Japan's surrender was announced on August 14th 1945, ending World War II. The slow process of rebuilding the world would now begin. The wartime ban on bus substitution was lifted, but the New Haven trolleys would receive yet another extension. There was a severe backlog of new bus orders, and it would take several years for bus manufacturers to catch up.

Starting April 22nd 1946, trolley service on the Branford line was cut back again by nearly 2 miles. The State Highway Department began the reconstruction of Main Street (Route 142) in Short Beach, which required the removal of the trolley tracks from the street. The bus/trolley transfer point was moved to Bradley Avenue (now Court Street), at the ``Post Office corner'', a block beyond the current end of the museum's line.
During the final year, this was the turn-back point, a few hundred feet from the present-day end of the museum line. Car 1920 is changing ends on the stub track at Court street (at the time called Bradley Avenue) and will soon return to New Haven. coll. J. West

New buses were now arriving. The end for the Branford line would come within a year. In the early hours of March 8th 1947, car 1902 made the last run from Short Beach. Alas, while this was the end of passenger service, the line would be reborn!

Bus service for passengers has replaced the present rail or trolley cars on the New Haven-Branford route and also on the New Haven- Momauguin line, the change-over made possible by the arrival of a fleet of new 40-passenger gas-hydraulic Mack buses.

The Connecticut Co. will take up rails from East Haven Green over the meadows excepting about 7000 feet which is to be used under an arrangement with the Connecticut Co. by the Branford Electric Railway Association, which plans to make use of the trackage in connection with a projected museum for ancient cars used for street passenger transportation. Tracks will remain intact until the BERA can provide housing on the meadow to house their cars. The tracks on Bradley Avenue, Short Beach will be removed at an early date.

The veteran car operator on the Branford line is Thomas King of 35 Rowe Street, New Haven, with a record of 45 years as car operator on that route. King will transfer to the Lighthouse line. He declined an invitation to operate the last car over the line as he is reluctant to operate at night.

The last car left Short Beach at 12:45 where flood lights for photographers were supplied from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. McCarthy.

By the time the trolley reached the car barn it was devoid of identification and removable accessories.
[ Branford Review, March 13th 1947]

It's 12:15 A.M. on March 8th 1947, aboard the last regular service car from Short Beach to New Haven. J.H. Koella

The Shore Line Trolley Museum
17 River Street
East Haven, CT 06512
(203) 467-6927

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Last Updated: /articles/ modified at Thu Mar 10 23:27:50 2005