• History from "Trolley Car Treasury"

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Moderator: Nicolai3985

  by vector_one75
When I was still in school, I recall seeing (but never acquiring it) a book called "Trolley Car Treasury" on the history of trolleys. One chapter called "Weird and Wonderful Horseless Cars" spoke of attempts to develop new ways of propulsion in the wake of the "Great Epizootic", a disease which killed a lot of horses and many horse-car services were hit heavy by this. Until electric trolleys became virtually universal in streetcar technology, there were steam, compressed air, manual power, and other schemes, but one in particular has got me quite intrigued. Unfortunately, having seen this book once only about 40 years ago, can someone relate to me the particulars of this experimental stored-mechanical-energy propulsion streetcar powered by clock-springs in Philadelphia in the 1870's (?).

All I recall originally glancing through the book is that an experimental streetcar was developed in Philadelphia using clock-springs (like a child's wind-up toy car, large and strong enough, of course, to propell the streetcar with its passenger load). From what I recall, it was "officially" unsuccessful, in that it RAN TOO WELL! (ie. they were not able to control the speed of the vehicle DOWN to a safe speed and it flipped over on a turn and wound up into the river.

As is often the case, when in an experimental mode some hiccup will be often be sensationalized by the media and the idea will be discredited never ever again to see the light of day, even though the concept (even during the non-environmentally-sensitive era of that time) may still be very sound.

Consider emissionless vehicles, be they public transportation or even private cars. Rather than look for substitute fuels for fossil or caustic material for batteries on-board the vehicles themselves, why bother with fuel or batteries of any kind in the vehicle to begin with? Even the hydrogen buses (which essentially emit steam (WATER) as a "waste residue by- product") we're testing in Perth (Western Australia) have potential for explosive problems regarding hydrogen itself. Sure, there will be the need to energize the clockspring winding process, but it can be done under controlled operations and any number of "greener" energy sources can be used.

Ultimately in the drastic scenario of an oil "depletion event", even human muscle power (eg: community service in the correctional labor force with internal remuneration to finance the running of the institution) can be used with the renewable resource of food being the "fuel", as it happened during the "Great Epizootic" where horse-cars were actually pulled by teams of people when horses were unavailable due to the disease, as described in the book.

My civil engineering background does not give me sufficient reasonable expertise in this in analyzing the power capacity requirements for clocksprings and other detailed technival matters to intelligently discuss the relevant issues, but perhaps any mechanical engineers on this list might be able to gave some thoughts and insights on the idea. After all, the "prototype" DID WORK TOO WELL, according to this book, and surely after 140-odd years, the technology to control the speeds down to a safe level ought to be able to be perfected.

And any ideas on availability of the book "Trolley Car Treasury", or other more information about the clock-springs streetcar experiment beyond what was in the book, which as I recall was very sketchy and general, would also be appreciated as well!


Vytautas B. Radzivanas
Perth, Western Australia

  by CarterB
Amazon.com happens to have:

Trolley Car Treasury: A Century of American Streetcars - Horsecars, Cablecars, Interurbans, and Trolleys
by Jr. Frank Rowsome (Author), Stephen D. Maguire (Editor) (Hardcover - 1956)
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Usually ships within 1-2 business days
Used & new from $8.68

  by JimBoylan
"Trolley Car Treasury" has been reprinted in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the account doesn't give dates or newspapers' names for the sources of the clockwork streetcar in Philadelphia.

  by 3rdrail
"Trolley Car Treasury" by Rowsome is a wonderful and informative book that any trolley buff should have. The pictures in this book are not to be found anywhere else, and the book is formatted in an interesting and very readable style. I've had mine since I was a kid, and it is one of my treasures.