Tram 650, Published 16 January 1946
Cross Town With Austin F. Cross
Start looking for street car No. 650, because it is the most interesting trolley that Dave Gill's got.
First of all, it was built in 1911, and is therefore the oldest tram on the OER still carrying passengers. (Hull has some older ones, and if somebody wants me to do a piece on them some day, I can.) But No. 650 did not start life as No. 650. She first made her debut, moving across the street, from the old Ottawa Car Company's sheds on the south side of Albert street, to the car barns on the north side of Albert street, as No. 520.
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She began her career, as men tioned above in 1911. That was a great year. The Coronation of George V took place in 1911. Ontario used metal automobile licenses for the first time in 1911. The Conservatives held a torchlight procession .in Ottawa) that night in 1911 when Borden beat Laurter. And the first two-truck, pay-as-you-enter street cars reached Sparks street, In 1911. A great year as I said.
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No 520 started out as a snappy green and red job. The one-color austerity decoration began In 1914, when No. 600, the first all-steel car, was painted a sort of pea green. (No 600 is probably the all-red No. 651 now.) Anyway, 520 ushered in a new epoch. Earlier. Ahearn and Soper had ventured into pay-as-you-enter cars with Nos. 500 and 502 (never was any 501) and then ran down the line to 515. These had air brakes, but they were one-truck cars. The success of such smaller cars decided A&S to go into the tram business, in a big way, literally, and so 520 became flagship of a fleet which saw them run right through to 539. The 540's were composites, made up of two smaller cars joined together, and all m all, they proved failures.
No. 520, however, was a real car, and she operated down through the years. While she was the first of the double truck trams, she was also the last of the all wooden cars. With the advent of the all-steel green cars in 1914, the company never went back to wooden construction.
Somewhere about this time, when the steel cars came out, two other interesting things happened. They began painting the red and green cars a solid, rather ugly green, and they commenced stopping the trolleys on the near side of the street, rather than the far side. The increased motor traffic abetted that move.
The reason that 650 survived while no others managed to do so is in part attributable to the disastrous fire down at the Rockcliffe car barns in 1927. Guy Rhoades, now in New York, covered that story for The Citizen, and Vince Pask headed it up. Not only did the fire lick up nearly all of the old 520's and 530's, but it destroyed a number of Ottawa's older cars. Up till then, they had preserved some of the low numbered items like the 40's and 60's and the 80's, I am sure. But after that, I don't seem to recall that many were retained for the passenger trade.
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Somehow or other. 520 survived the fire. Then after having been first red and green, then all-green, she was to change her colors again. With the conversion of all trolleys to one man cars, those still green were repainted red. In doing this, they changed he numbers. No. 520 became 650. Then 600 was made 651, and so on. But 651, as I said before is nothing like 650. This old wooden car, now steel sheeted, still operates, every day. Now 35 years old, she is still going strong.
So I say, that in this age when the current theme is Chickory Chick, and the sloppiest lads and lassies in school are the best dressed, you don't expect the young people to get sentimental about old street cars. But every time I see old 650 go by, I sigh nostalgically for the delightful Ottawa of the good old days when we had more sawmills than senators.