Thursday, December 31, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Six - The Automobile

In the early 1890s the Kokkonen family found their way from Finland to Ellis Island by boat and to Boston by rail. When they stepped off the train at the end of the line in Rockport, Police Chief John Sullivan used a few words of the Finn language to direct them to the kivihouse, the 'stone' house maintained for boarders by the Rockport Granite Company. The Kokkonens set out on foot, crossed the arched bridge, found countrymen and a room for the night at the Stone House just past Company headquarters on Granite Street. The next day Antti Kokkonen had a job at the Babson Farm Quarry on Halibut Point and a newly anglicized name, Andrew Peterson.

The Stone House, 1895
Photo courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Association
Andrew and Maria worked hard, saved money, bought land north of Pigeon Hill, built a house on Hillside Road. Andrew became his own boss developing small quarries or 'motions' on their property. They baptized their third son Kaarlo Kokkonen, born by tradition in the household sauna.

 In grade school Kaarlo became Karl, an adventurous lad who at age ten started working after school as a tool boy in the Babson Farm Quarry, scrambling up and down ladders with the men's drills for sharpening by the blacksmith. At age twelve he expanded his world riding with the groceries delivery wagon to the Rockport Granite Company stores. A trip as far as Bay View meant the extra treat of staying overnight with colorful companions in a quarry boarding house.

 On May 21, 1900, the year Karl was born, the Gloucester Daily Times editorialized about "The Coming Vehicle, Automobile versus Trolley." Karl experienced the paper's forecast that "these auto-coaches give promise to supply a long felt want and will in many instances take the place of barges and trolley cars. They ride easily, are fast and safe when under competent management, and the expense of running will not be very great." Along the way that "long felt want" led to a dream job for young Karl.
Karl Peterson at the wheel of a 1916 Cadillac Touring Car
Upwardly mobile, Karl landed a chauffeuring position at age sixteen with Mr. and Mrs. D. L. Page, summer residents on Point de Chene, Pigeon Cove.

At eighteen he came of age as a motorman with the Bay State Street Railway Company. His name was further anglicized to Carl.
Carl Peterson, trolley conductor, 1918
Carl's Union book
When the Cape Ann trolley system succumbed in 1920 to the versatile vehicles with internal combustion engines, Carl joined Morris Katz's Gloucester Auto Bus Company as a driver. The Times editorial had predicted the evolution in mass transit, too: " A style of automobile built after the fashion of a tallyho or an omnibus, will ultimately find favor with suburban and long distance passengers."
En route to Fitchburg, early 1920s
Carl was proud to drive a Gloucester Auto Bus carrying members of The Christian Endeavor from the Finnish Lutheran Church on Forest Street, Rockport to a conference of the Eastern District in Fitchburg. They left at 7:15 Saturday morning and arrived home at 9:30 Sunday evening, by way of Revere Beach.
Bus driver Carl with brother Axel
Carl's older brother Axel graduated from Suomi College in Michigan with a pastoral assignment to the Finnish community in Red Lodge, Montana. Carl offered to accompany him in 1923

Carl in his 1917 Model T Ford
They set out for the Far West on the unpaved interstate highways of the day. Carl discovered that  driving in reverse up the steepest mountain grades helped the gravity-feed system get gasoline to the engine.
Carl, cross-country traveler in Indiana 1923
Red Lodge was situated at the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.
Vehicles lined up at the entrance to Yellowstone
Carl found a Civil Service job as a 'gear-jammer' driving a tour bus in the Park. The canyon vistas were spectacular. Guard rails had yet to be installed on the switchback roads.
Carl at the wheel of a Park bus
As many as fifty buses would line up to take passengers on a four-day tour of the Park with overnights at hotels. They stopped at Paradise Peak, Artist's Point, the Voodoo lava flows and mineral springs "the color of a Heavenly Blue morning glory." Carl forever considered the geysers at Angel Terrace the most beautiful thing he ever looked at.

One-wheeler in the chromium mine
Occasionally he helped a local Finn man work his chromium mine.

Carl and Axel in Red Lodge
The young Easterners made a fine impression in Red Lodge, 1923-26. They captivated and married two of the prettiest young ladies in the Finnish community.

Axel and Helena, Carl and Lillian
When Axel received a posting back East in the fall of 1926, the four newlyweds came back across the country in Carl's Buick Special Touring Car. Carl sold for $80 the Ford he had  bought in Rockport for $30. He paid $50 for the Buick.
The 1924 Buick Special that brought them home
The couples camped along the way in a canvas tent. When hard rains turned the clay hard-pack to 'gumbo' they put chains on all four wheels.
Lil has her first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean
In the late Twenties Carl drove a delivery truck for Savinen's Bakery, next door to the Pigeon Cove Post Office. The Thirties found him delivering freight in metropolitan New York for American Express and the Swift Company. From 1941-45 worked on jet engine parts in Lynn at the General Electric plant. His son Fred recalls the weekend trips back to Pigeon Cove, Dad getting off work in the middle of the night, packing the family into their '41 Oldsmobile, setting off along the Rte 127 shore road, crossing The Cut bridge to Cape Ann, tucking the kids into bed at the homestead on Hillside Road.

Carl reminiscing with Barbara Erkkila, 1987
Says Fred, "He prided himself in being able to drive anything that had wheels. He loved being on the road."

With appreciation to the recollections and archives of Fred Peterson, including a taped interview between Carl and his grandson Wayne in 1976.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Five - The Trolley (2)

The Annisquam stagecoach
All photos from the collection of Paul Harling, unless otherwise noted1

Once upon a time, in my grandfather's early years, two firms rivaled for stagecoach passengers from Annisquam to Gloucester proper. When the line founded in the 1830s by Messrs. Ezekiel and Chard ceased operation in 1889 Charles Harvey of Lanesville 'reined' supreme on the north roads of the City.2

Trolley tracks on Washington Street, Bay View, looking northeast.
Granite industry facilities and the Methodist Church merge with houses in the background.
The granite railroad from quarries in uplands to the right crosses to Hodgkins Cove at center.
The revolution on wheels brought the electric railway from Gloucester past Annisquam to Bay View in 1890. Its extension to Lanesville posed additional challenges including a more substantial bridge at Hodgkins Cove. The railway management decided that a trestle would make the best roadbed at Plum Cove. Only months after its completion in 1893 the owners of the Plum Cove pasture insisted that it be taken down.

Electric railway trestle, Plum Cove, looking southwest
The rail line reached Lanesville in time to garner26,770 five-cent fares to and from the village in the first seven days of July, 1893. Extra cars had been added to handle crowds for the circus in Gloucester. The electrics were making 36 trips daily, compared to the typical two trips of the stagecoach line.

At the beginning of 1894 Mr. Eli Morgan, 89, and Capt. Joseph Saunders, 75, took their first ride on an electric car. The Lanesville correspondent of the Gloucester Daily Times reported that "they enjoyed their ride, thinking it a great improvement on the former accommodations. They said they had not visited Gloucester before for the past six years." 

The original Lanesville terminus at
Washington and Andrews Streets
The railway tracks stopped just past the center of the village.  Folks further on got up a petition to continue the line to Folly Cove. The daunting hill and curve up to Langsford Street provoked engineering debate from both professionals and amateurs. After three years the newspaper was finally able to report a successful blasting at Andrews corner to open the way to Mason Square. It came at the expense of "the old sliding rock, which was worn smooth by much sliding and wearing out many boys' pant and girls' dresses in years gone by."

Washington and Andrews Streets
The railway continues on to Mason Square near Folly Cove
The Cape Ann railway network closed out the nineteenth century with inclusions to Rockport and Long Beach.

Crossing the dunes at Good Harbor toward Long Beach

Excursionists at Long Beach
 In September 1896 while the electric railroad was being extended from Pigeon Cove to Halibut Point  the Village Improvement Society sponsored a Jolly Trolley party to Ipswich for the day, departing Pigeon Cove at 9am, reaching  Ipswich at 11:30. "As it was the first visit of many of the party to this charming place, they were agreeably surprised at beautiful scenery of this most picturesque town." Newspaper advertisements in the summer of 1899 offered trolley linkages from Pigeon Cove all the way to Nashua, New Hampshire.

Riverdale passengers
Goose Cove causeway and mill in background
 The awkward gap in local service was erased when the trolley loop around Cape Ann was completed around its northern tip in 1902, with a short leg from Mason Square to Halibut Point.
Trolley tracks on the way to Halibut Point,
at the intersection of Langsford and Washington Streets near Mason Square

The Folly Cove turnout, where cars could bypass each other

"Cape Ann is now encircled by an electric car line....If this prediction had been made to the early residents of the Cape, the idea would have undoubtedly been taken for a good joke, but if they could have looked from their old time homes this morning, they would have seen the scheme realized....The continuous route around the cape will make one of the most beautiful trolley rides imaginable, and not only will it be exceedingly popular with pleasure seekers, but will be of great convenience to travel." Gloucester Daily Times, August 11, 1902.

Carl Peterson3
 As soon as he turned eighteen Pigeon Cover Carl Peterson donned the uniform of a trolley conductor. Motormen's hardiness was tested during winter blizzards.

Clearing the tracks in Lanesville

Digging out a buried trolley snow plow
During one storm Carl and two mates operating a trolley plow on Essex Avenue in West Gloucester became stuck in deep snow near the LePage Glue Factory. They shoveled until dark, then drew straws to see who would fulfill company policy that night, to never abandon the train. Carl drew the short straw and lit a little coal stove on board. Neighbors brought a hot dinner. He slept four consecutive nights in the car until they finally cleared the tracks.

Carl Peterson's certificate of Railway Union membership, 19183
In the next essay we will follow Carl's adventures driving several generations of the new motorized vehicles that could travel anywhere the roads led, on inflatable tires.
1. Retired Gloucester schoolteacher Paul Harling collected these images of Cape Ann trolleys. Paul grew up in Arlington at the end of the streetcar line. He and his brother got the streetcar bug early, and enjoyed the parental freedom to explore the whole Boston metropolitan system, sometimes with a wink from their pals the conductors. A good day consisted of roaming the entire route paying only one fare. When Paul married Ruth Harvey, granddaughter of the Lanesville stagecoach operator, his interest and resources in Cape Ann history deepened.

Paul Harling holding court in the Diving Locker
at the Maritime Heritage Center, Gloucester
 2. The story of the Cape Ann trolleys has been gleaned from accounts in the Gloucester Daily Times on microfilm at the Sawyer Free Library.
3. Fred Peterson of Rockport provided stories and materials relating to his father Carl.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Four - The Trolley (1)

Railroads had proven their social and economic worth to mid-nineteenth century America for moving passengers and freight between cities. Within a generation of their introduction the Transcontinental Railroad  both enabled and symbolized the power of the nation.

Postage stamp commemorating the 75th anniversary of
the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad
The  scale and nuisances that railroads imposed were not appropriate for urban streets. A Massachusetts Railway Commissioner summed up the dilemma in 1871. "A wide field for the inventive genius of the country still remains open, in the supply of some motor better than horse power for street cars, and, what is still more desirable and necessary, the improvement of combustion in the locomotives on the steam roads, so that they shall not annoy the passengers in the cars and the neighborhoods they pass through with clouds of stifling smoke and storms of cinders, as at present."1 The answer did not lie in simply reducing the scale of equipment.

George Shillibeer's first London omnibus (1829)
Railroads awakened the possibility of urban mass transportation. Traditional carriage and stagecoach services could provide only limited seating at relatively high prices.  Innovators began to "stretch" the stagecoach to hold up to forty-two people inside and on the roof of the horse-drawn omnibus (from the Latin 'for all', eventually shortened to 'bus'). They picked up and discharged passengers at any point along established routes without requiring reservations. They had the versatility of going anywhere, even in the worst weather, with no investment in a fixed track.2

Rail car in the West End, Boston3
On the other hand horses could haul coaches much more smoothly and speedily over rails. An initial trial of street railways in 1856 in Cambridge was followed by a long period of competition between horsecar and omnibus operations.

The West End Street Railway began consolidating the byzantine network of Boston area franchises in 1887. But a typical horse could work only four or five hours a day pulling a streetcar about a dozen miles and producing prodigious amounts of manure.

Horse-drawn rail car passing the Ellery and Babson houses
near the present-day Gloucester rotary, late 1880s
Photo courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
Gloucester advocates had been promoting a horse railway system for over a decade when the Cape Ann Advertiser suggested in late 1877 that their perseverance would be rewarded. "The horse railroad project to Riverdale is not dead, it only sleepeth. It will be awakened 'in the sweet bye and bye.'"4 And indeed it was, when service started rolling through Riverdale in 1885.  Enthusiasm for an extension to  Annisquam still resounded in 18885 even as a new generation of street railways was making its mark elsewhere.

That same year the management of the West End Company was running out of options for a practical public transportation system in the congestion of Boston. "As a last resort, they journeyed to Richmond, Virginia to study yet another new technology, electrification, recently undertaken by the Union Passenger Railway Company.... it seemed almost impossible that a small copper overhead wire could propel cars set on rails at such great speeds....So impressed were the Boston visitors, that the decision was made to electrify all of the West End Street Railway routes."3
Frank Julian Sprague (1857-1934)
"Father of Electric Traction"
In 1883 a business associate of Thomas Edison had persuaded Frank Sprague to resign his naval commission to join the Edison Laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey. He left the following year to found the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company.

Sprague's company  originated key improvements to many parts of the trolley concept that made street railways commercially viable. His motor was the first to maintain constant speed under varying load. It was endorsed by Edison as the only practical electric motor available.

In 1888 Sprague won the opportunity to install the first successful municipal street railway system, in Richmond Virginia. Almost immediately  110 electric railways incorporating Sprague's equipment had been begun or planned on several continents. In 1890, Edison, who manufactured most of Sprague's equipment, bought him out.6

"The Electrics, Main Street, Gloucester
Photo c. 1910 courtesy of Paul Harlin
The Gloucester Street Railway Company opened service in 1891 to give Cape Anners their first taste of modern transportation.

The trolley reaches Annisquam, 1891
Photo c. 1905 courtesy of Paul Harling
Within its first season of operation the Gloucester Street Railway had laid track through the city center, reaching out through Riverdale to Annisquam. Next week we will trace these and subsequent developments as regional extensions grew. 

1. "History of the Railways of Massachusetts," by Hon. Edward Appleton, Massachusetts Railway Commissioner, in Walling's Atlas of Massachusetts for 1871.
2. "Omnibus" Wikipedia
3. Website of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
4. Cape Ann Advertiser, December 1, 1877.
5. Gloucester Daily Times, May 25, 1888.
6. " Frank Julian Sprague," Wikipedia
7. "Tracking the Gloucester Trolley" by John Sample in Rail Classics, Vol 16 No 3, May 1987
8. Paul Harling's monograph on Cape Ann Trolleys, unpublished.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Revolution on Wheels, Part Three - The Railroad

As the American States were forging political novelties in their first century of union, technological novelties were joining an ancient machine - the wheel and axle - to a new machine - the steam engine - to transform the Continent.

While the advantage of rolling rather than dragging heavy objects over the ground had been understood since pre-history the wheel and axle did not become useful in bulk transportation until quite recently when strong lightweight axles could be manufactured to couple carts to wheels. Therein lay the solution for reducing friction: a minimal rotating contact point nearly perpendicular to the ground. It also offered advantages in traversing irregular surfaces, if the wheel radius were sufficiently large compared to the irregularities.
Railroad car, Thacher Island, Rockport
Photo courtesy of the Thacher Island Association1
These physical potentials were greatly enhanced by applying them over smooth rails. The principle can be seen today in the restored Thacher Island tramway that once hauled coal from dock to power station for the Twin Lighthouses. Interestingly, the world's first railroad was developed to haul coal from a Welsh mine in 1804. By mounting a steam engine to a carriage on iron rails Richard Trevithick invented the locomotive engine to power the system.
An early Massachusetts locomotive, 18472
The first public steam railway opened for service in England in 1825. American entrepreneurs began operating in 1830. Visionaries in Massachusetts foresaw rail networks to move freight and passengers with the new speed, comfort and economy. They anticipated profitable returns.
The first four executive officers of the Eastern Railroad2
It was a time of profound social engineering that explored relationships between the public interest and private enterprise. The industrial era ushered in new questions on population movement and the supervision of capital and competition. The Legislature considered applications for a relatively new type of economic engine, the corporation. Their charters, at that time, were grants from the Commonwealth to operate for limited purposes within a specific floor and ceiling of capital.

Wood-burning steam engine2
Three pioneer railroads in Massachusetts demonstrated the promise of rewards by 1835, the year that Eastern Railroad obtained its charter to connect Boston with the North Shore and the New Hampshire border. "During this decade, the railway interest was subject to great vicissitudes. At the beginning of it, the railroads were regarded as public benefits, but quite uncertain as paying investments."3
The first timetable of the Eastern Railroad2
Initially passengers had to detrain at East Boston and continue by ferry across the harbor to a shuttle at Lewis Wharf that completed the ride to the Boston terminal.
The Legislature as well as market forces had to mediate among the interests of waterfront owners, coastal navigators, and river traffic to sort out access to the city.
In the beginning, Eastern Railroad passengers crossed Boston Harbor by ferry2
The decade of the 1850s spawned innumerable initiatives, consolidations, and machinations in railroad evolution. Creativity and skullduggery flavored the lives of corporations as they did the society they served. A common route into Boston was achieved for the various northern and eastern rail lines.
An intersection of technologies, mid-nineteenth century2
The 'iron horse' crossed marshes and tunneled under the City of Salem. Its tracks reached Gloucester in 1847. Turbulent times, overextension, miscalculations and embezzlement crippled the Eastern Railroad before it could continue to Rockport. Local private investors during the 1850s were unable to raise sufficient capital to do it alone. At last the townspeople themselves assumed financial sponsorship for the extension with an agreement to build and staff their own Rockport Railroad as an adjunct to the Eastern. 
Locomotive 'Excelsior'2
Citizens thronged to a day of free passages between Gloucester and Rockport when the line was inaugurated on November 4, 1861. A holiday spirit suffused the Town decorated with bunting. Those present at the dedication heard from Eastern Railroad directors that their company's transports, once regarded as folly, were now carrying a million passengers a year into Boston, knitting together the city and the country. They congratulated the community on its enterprise and perseverance.

Rockport incurred substantial risk and indebtedness with this investment. Benjamin Hough, a civic leader from Gloucester, noted at the dedication that "only he who had had his experience in travelling in stage coaches could appreciate the conveniences and comforts of a railroad--the payment of dividends was a consideration small in comparison."4

The Rockport Railroad paid regular dividends to the Town during its ownership, leading the Eastern Railroad to purchase the line in 1868, returning the Town's original investment in full.
Carts and carriages at the Rockport railroad station
Photo courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society

A spark of cosmopolitan values had been lit in Rockport when a group of literati from Boston and Cambridge, led by Richard  Henry Dana, summered in Pigeon Cove boardinghouses during the 1840s. The notion of railroad facilities prompted Swampscott speculator Eben Phillips to begin purchasing  during the 1850s seaside tracts in the Halibut Point area along with local partner George Babson.  One day in May 1874 they sponsored an excursion train with half-price fares leaving Boston at 8:15, carriages from the Rockport station getting prospective buyers to Ocean View (Phillips Avenue) by 10:00, with free chowder collation at the Big Tent. Three hundred people came. Thirty lots sold on the spot.

Phillips subsequently purchased land in the South End for which he proposed the subdivision Paradise Cliffs, along present day Marmion Way. Rockport extended Boston's Gold Coast.
Railroad car interior, Rockport 1905
Photo courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
It became possible and desirable to live on Cape Ann and work in the city. On January 18, 1899 the railroad began a twelve-week experiment with its 'Theatre Train' carrying 150 passengers on a forty-five minute run leaving the Gloucester depot at 6:20pm and departing after an evening's entertainment from Boston's Union Station at 11:10.5
Rockport railroad yard
Photo courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
Many proposals were put forward to generate passenger spurs from the Rockport line into Long Beach, the South Village, Pigeon Cove, and around the Cape itself. Granite producers long advocated a rail link from their quarries to the rail system, but the idea of freight trains moving through its streets didn't sit well with the public. And the Rockport Granite Company owned the chokepoint to competitors at the Keystone Bridge. Explorations to route tracks alongside Poole's Hill, to the rear of quarries and out beyond Pigeon Cove proved cost-prohibitive.6 

Train and crew, Rockport5

Meanwhile a lighter-weight supple form of centrally-powered rail transportation gained popularity in the form of trolleys, like fingers into the community as compared to the muscularity of railroad arms. As we shall see in the next essay the street railways launched the novelty of mass public transportation in the latter nineteenth century and developed networks to inter-connect distant areas as well.


1.  Twin Lights of Thacher Island, Cape Ann, Paul St. Germain, 2009.

2. The Eastern Railroad; a Historical Account of Early Railroading in Eastern New England, 2nd ed., Francis Bradlee, 1922.

3. "History of the Railways of Massachusetts," by Hon. Edward Appleton, Massachusetts Railway Commissioner, in Walling's Atlas of Massachusetts for 1871.

4. Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph, November 6, 1861.
5. Town on Sandy Bay, Marshall Swan, 1980.
6. Cape Ann Advertiser, January 23, 1879.