Baltimore Streetcar Museum Marks the 50th Anniversary of the End of Baltimore Streetcar Operations
By Andrew S. Blumberg
(Director of Public Relations for the Baltimore Streetcar Museum)

A weekend of special activities, centered on a ceremonial dinner, marked the Baltimore Streetcar Museum’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of streetcar service in Baltimore, Saturday and Sunday, November 2 and 3, 2013.

Hard as it may be to believe, a half century has indeed passed since the last car clanged off the streets of Baltimore after 104 years of street railway service.  The last two rail lines to operate, the #8 (Towson-Catonsville) and #15 (Overlea-Walbrook Junction) both ceased operations in the early morning hours of Sunday, November 3, 1963.  Throughout the anniversary weekend, the oft-asked question of “where were you November 2 and 3, 1963?” could be heard exchanged between the museum’s older members, many of whom took their final streetcar rides that fateful weekend, including on the very last car out on the streets, B.S.M.’s own car #7407, in the wee hours of that long-ago Sunday morning.  (A happy coincidence found the days of the week for 2013 and 1963 aligning exactly.)

In the spring of 2013, a special 50th anniversary committee was formed to plan and execute a series of events to mark the milestone.   Since the last full day of streetcar service had occurred on November 2, 1963 (with the night owl trips and chartered cars extending into the early hours of November 3, 1963), it was decided that nothing less than a full weekend of activities was appropriate.

On Saturday, November 2, 2013, with intermittent sun, falling temperatures, and a hint of winter in the offing (not dissimilar to the weather 50 years before to the day), the museum had all of its operational cars available for rides.  The stars, of course, were the two in the collection active on that final weekend in 1963: PCC #7407 and single-truck, Brill-built #4533.  The latter, restored by the B.S.M. 12 years ago to its one-man configuration of 1923, had survived, after being removed from passenger service in the early 1930s, as rail-bond-test car #3550.  An anachronism on Baltimore’s streets by the early 1960s, it was showcased much of November 2, 1963 sitting in the Govanstown loop off of York Road.

To lend additional atmosphere and history, two B.S.M. members brought their vintage GM passenger buses (#1426, built 1947; and #1909, built 1957, owned by B.S.M. members Rev. Kevin Mueller and Charlie Neal respectively) to B.S.M. for the day.  Originally operating on the streets of Baltimore in 1963, both buses’ presence at the event helped illustrate the dominant mode of public transit firmly in place at the end of streetcar service.

At the regular 5 P.M. closing time, the museum transformed itself into its best imitation of a five-star restaurant, complete with maître d'h
ôtel, when it hosted a special 50th anniversary dinner.  The sold-out affair was attended by nearly 90 members and friends of the museum, featured Maryland’s Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Jim Smith, as guest speaker, who brought his audience up to date on public transit projects across the state, including the Red and Purple light rail lines for Baltimore and suburban Washington, D.C.  His address was followed by a DVD presentation, compiled by Mark Hurley, of still videos and archival footage of the last years of Baltimore’s streetcars.  The evening concluded with a cutting of the ceremonial cake, depicting both #7407 and #3550, which was in turn admired and devoured by the assemblage.

Long-time B.S.M. member John Engleman, who organized #7407’s charter trip that final night in 1963, prepared a most interesting report on the car’s history, as well as details on the final night of operation, which was distributed to all in attendance at the dinner.

While most of B.S.M. members slept that evening, in preparation for a busy Sunday to round out the weekend’s activities, a small band of hardy souls was determined to observe the anniversary’s pivotal moment by re-enacting it as closely as possible.  Car #7407 entered the history books when it pulled into Irvington Carhouse off of Frederick Road at 6:34 a.m., Sunday, November 3, 1963, making it the last streetcar to operate in Baltimore (at least until the advent of the B.S.M.).  Starting at 5:30 a.m. on November 3, 2013, #7407 once again traversed the rails in the still of an early Sunday morning, making several round trips on museum trackage.  At precisely 6:34 a.m., with John Engleman at the controls, #7407 slipped into the museum’s carhouse, the car’s pole was pulled and the power was shut off, echoing the events that had occurred exactly half a century before.  Either through sleep deprivation or out of a sense of respect for the moment (perhaps a bit of both), a quiet descended upon the car’s passengers as the car’s final trip came to a close.

By that time, dawn was breaking on what proved to be a beautiful day of sun and big crowds at the museum.  The Chesapeake Chapter, Antique Automobile Association of America, had planned its fall visit to the B.S.M. to coincide with the anniversary weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint, as its members, plus the Old Cars Unlimited Club from Washington DC,  brought nearly 100 vintage automobiles for display.  Many of the classics that participated complemented the last years of Baltimore’s streetcars, being in the mid-1950's to early 1960's range.  Others dated to the 1920s, while the newest flirted with a 1980 pedigree, a sobering reminder of just how “young” vehicles officially classified as “historic” seem to be getting!

Sunday also saw the Baltimore Sun send a reporter and photographer to record the events, while local television station WBFF had dispatched a camera crew on Saturday (the coverage from which undoubtedly helped attendance figures on Sunday).

As mementos of the weekend, the museum store sold special tie clips embossed with transit tokens, mouse pads and computer screen cloth wipes with #7407’s image, and special polo shirts with a design commemorating the weekend.  In addition, Father Mueller's extensively updated and enlarged his authoritative work, The Best Way to Go: The History of the Baltimore Transit Company, to be unveiled and sold for the event.  (All of these items are available for purchase at the museum.)

What’s next?  Well, while the museum waits for the 75th anniversary to roll around, 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the B.S.M. itself.  Already, plans are underway to make that occasion as successful and memorable as the one this past November. 
Enjoy the pictures of this event below!
Article © 2013, Andrew S. Blumberg, all rights reserved.  Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express permission of the author.
All pictures © 2013, Mark A. Hurley, all rights reserved.  Reproduction in any form is prohibited without express permission of the author.