We want your stories for the Edina Reads writing contest. Deadline is Oct. 1. To inspire you, here is a wonderful story from our collection.
By John Reid
We moved into the house at the corner of 44th and Grimes in the summer of 1932. Well, it wasn’t quite on the corner, since the streetcar tracks ran on a private right of way next to it. The big yellow cars would come rocketing by every half hour, on their way to Hopkins or to Minneapolis.
They seldom stopped on the inbound trip since an extra fare was charged when they crossed France Avenue - so few folks boarded at Grimes. It could have been a convenience for us, but it was the height (depth?) of the Depression and money was tight. Even the dime fare made a difference in those days. When we were really sick, we did use that stop to board to go to the doctor.
But it was wonderful to have a way to get downtown and back without a car. I was admonished to take “any Como car” to return home on my own from forays with my mother, and ventured on my own when about 11 or 12 years old. The Como Hopkins cars went by the house, the Como Harriet’s turned in the loop at 44th and France and also went on to 50th or to 54th and were turned on the wye there. From then on the downtown library, stores and theaters were accessible to all of us, car-less homemakers and kids alike.
As the winter hit in ‘32 a new phenomenon appeared. The dishes on the pantry shelves started to rattle every time a car passed. It seemed that the frozen ground transmitted the vibrations set up by the heavy cars. The cessation of the phenomenon was a good herald of Spring. The amount of the car’s weight was demonstrated when a car labeled “Oak Harriet” hit a fire truck when going uphill on Upton Ave. The fire truck was tossed on its side into a corner lot and a picture appeared in the paper of it lying there, looking helpless.
The cars had a thick concrete platform in front and back that held them on the track as they made time along the straight stretches near the lakes. Summers were wonderful, with the windows open and the smell of the flowers in the backyards along the route south of 31st. in Minneapolis. Modern light rail is far too antiseptic in comparison. When the PCC cars were put into service after the war they were very unsatisfactory; spooky silent wheels that didn’t have to nice screams on curves, curved walls and roofs that cramped the insides and the windows didn’t open! Just like a bus. I sometimes passed them up to take the next wooden car.
The same 44th and France corner without streetcars today. Image from Google maps.
We kids couldn’t resist playing with the streetcars! The “big kids” who lived there would put pennies on the track. They emerged squashed quite flat and bigger. Stones were also tried. They exploded with a loud bang when they were hit. Once the streetcar stopped and the conductor yelled about it being dangerous. Sometime about then the game of “streetcars are poison” arose. The idea was to hide so that no one on the cars could see you. The one who spotted the oncoming streetcar got points, although there wasn’t much point to the whole thing.
There was some danger to those of us who walked the tracks to get to the stores at 44th and France Ave. Otherwise we had to cross 44th street at the octagonal stop sign, and the cars often didn’t pay much attention to the kids. Using the tracks was faster, and if we didn’t hear the cars they would blast their electric horns, so no one was hit as far as I know. There were a couple of times when cars came from both directions at once when it was best to go over the edge of the embankment to avoid them.
But we did have some excitement the day a big wind blew for hours. As I came from the Morningside School towards home I could see that all of the mothers were out in the street waving things. The poles that held the trolley wire had leaned over until the wire was maybe two feet from the street! We were told to go down to Curve Avenue and cross the tracks there, where the wires were higher and Constable George Weber was directing traffic. At the Grimes crossing the cars were warned away by a lot of hand waving, but something better was needed.
Some of the Boy Scouts brought the tug-of war rope from the church, and slid it under the wire to the moms. They tied it between the posts of the “cross buck” warning signs and festooned it with towels and kerchiefs to make it visible to traffic. One woman came from the Country Club and accelerated as she approached the rope. SHE wasn’t going to stop! All of the assembled crowd yelled and her bumper hit the rope. The big timbers to which it was tied snapped, tossing the cross buck signs toward the car. She did make a panic stop with her bumper maybe an inch from the wire. She just sat there for a minute or so. We finally had to go in for dinner and didn’t see the repair crew, but the line was restored in hours.
During the Depression the “knights of the road” were seen along many rail lines, riding the rails to jobs or to warmer climes. Some of them even came to our back door, asking for a handout. Mother didn’t want to turn them away, and usually could find a job for them to do to earn lunch.
The final removal of the line was during my days at the U of M. I had an old ’33 Plymouth and didn’t use the streetcar much. Of course, if I needed a part from the dealer downtown it was very handy! France Avenue was deteriorating. The city owned it out to the middle, Edina and Morningside owned the other half, the almost bankrupt streetcar company was responsible for maintaining the areas between the tracks and, to cap it all off, it was a State highway. Each partner had others to blame and nothing was done to fix it. The potholes made it so undriveable that Edina simply widened their half into a full size road of new concrete that was entirely on Edina property. The Minneapolis half sat going further to ruin as the months passed.
To stop the streetcars the Edina road crew showed up with tools and disconnected one rail of the track, and lifted it out of place. Some pictures were taken of councilmen watching this. The cars still ran to the loop at 44th, but not for long.
The line is gone now, everyone uses cars and children are shepherded everywhere. The land used by the streetcar line was nice and flat so houses were built along the right of way. But the lots aren’t very wide!
So it seems incredible that we let this entire system disappear. Sometimes even now I dream that I am back in Minneapolis trying to figure out how to get back to Morningside. I am looking for Hennepin Avenue-and on it a big yellow trolley that was somehow saved comes by . . . .
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