The Street Car Clocks, Published 20 June 1944It was with a pang that us oldsters learned the Ottawa Electric was putting away its clocks for the duration. A fixture for 40 years and more, they have become a war casualty.
On no other tramway system in North America, the O.E.R. clocks were really unique. Fancy gadgets you might find on other cars, such as the loud speaker system on the Mitten Management cars in Pittsburgh, and one could exult over the elegance of something you might see in Atlanta, or perhaps Colorado Springs. But nobody gave to its public clocks like Ahearn and Soper did. Your observer remembers, as a small boy, seeing some benighted people arguing, in the front of the car, about the time. Why, said the writer to himself impatiently, don't they look up at the clock? That there could be such a thing as a clock in the street car they didn't even dream, and they debarked, still wondering about the time. The writer thought them pretty ignorant folk, till he himself went abroad, and discovered that Montreal had no tram clocks. After that, the street car systems of North American were progressively revealed to have nothing so convenient as clocks.
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So the clocks that Ahearn and Soper put in our cars, away back at the turn of the century have ticked off millions of hours collectively, since that happy event. First, they appeared in the old single truck, wooden cars, such as 22, which let the Gilmour Hotel fall on it, and No. 24. with its Gothic shaped windows, and which was a product of the Brill Company of Philadelphia. As far as the writer knows, that was the only foreign-built car we ever had in Ottawa.
The clocks blossomed anew when we got the 100 class, and they of course operated in the open street cars. They found their way into the railway-coach 200 's. particularly No. 204 which bore the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, afterwards King George V and Queen Mary. Following this ride by royalty, No. 204 for many years carried just the name, and not any number, except inside. A spectacular investment were 312. 313. 314 and 315, done in yellow and red. with Britannia-on-the-Bay written along the side. They too had clocks.
Then came 500 and 502, the first pay-as-you-enter cars, equipped with throbbing air brakes. The old hand brakes didn't chuggle-chuggle-chuggle every time the car stopped. The clocks found their way into 516 and 518, which were the old re-converted No. 80 and 102. and then when the big. longish, wooden 520 series began, the clocks followed them. Incidentally, last of the old wooden 520 type is 650. still running on the streets of Ottawa. Watch for it.
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With the advent of the first steel cars In 1914, came the chronometers too. the new 600 class being pea green. Indignant Subscriber wrote a letter to The Citizen, criticising the O.E.R. for "painting its cars like box cars." Actually, the box car color is red, not green, but the man wanted to make a case, and so mixed pigments and logic. These 600 type cars are now converted into one-man trams and run as the 650's, 660's and so on.
It was ten years before we got the broad-beamed 800's. and by that time, the A & S cars were supplied with electric clocks. In the old days, the boys at the Albert, Rockcliffe and Cobourg car barns used to have to go round each night and wind up the time pieces. With electric clocks, they ran without winding, forever. Theoretically. But an electric disturbance would give the car clocks a bad case of hiccups.
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So we went out of single truck cars, latterly known as Toonervilles; we went from catch-as-catch-can to pay-as-you-enter; we went from wood to steel, and from two-man to one-man cars. But still we kept our clocks. Those clocks more than anything else symbolized the Ottawa Electric. They could buy trams from Toronto, they could import new motormen from British Columbia, they could go in for these new fangled busses. They could rip up tracks, they could build new car barns, they could get rid of the old route signs on the roof, they could scrap their old full length transfers. Still the cars were Ottawa cars they were as native as Sparks street. They made you feel as much at home as the sulphur smell from Hull, or the light on the Parliament Tower. Old boys and old girls, returning home from years in such foreign parts as Brockville and Budapest, wept unashamedly when they saw the old clocks again. Now they're gone. Our street cars aren't going to seem the same without them.