The Wheel of Years will be sent spinning and when the clicking stops, the red arrow will point to a year – that’s where we’ll start. The tale can flow forward or backward, flow into any subject depending on where my 81 year old hard drive decides to go. We’ll both be off to whatever we find. – Bob Gurr
Today’s Wheel of Years stopped at 1943,
so off we roll.
Thankfully my new school was near the red car station in downtown North Hollywood where I could get there for 5¢ each way from the Whitsett stop a few miles west. I loved trains and trolleys. They both ran on the same Chandler Avenue line. Electric cars by day, steam trains by night. The sounds of steam chuffing and that mournful wail in the night was so clear, the tracks passed by barely a quarter mile from our house. Sometimes the big steam locomotive would stop at the North Hollywood Station to allow red cars to pass by. That deep rumble of the firebox and the heat of the boiler certainly gave a nice warmth on the cold nights I loved to hang out there after a movie.
The red car was my ticket to adventure all over Los Angeles and especially hollywood by myself when I was 11 years old. It took me to Hollywood on Sundays to the free radio shows like Ozzie and Harriet, Blondie, Fibber McGee and Molly. While it was a 1920s suburban design by St. Louis Car, to me it was very modern. I loved to sit on the left front bench seat so I could watch the motorman operate the controls. I knew exactly how to drive it if I ever got the chance. Of course, we kids would cause a big commotion by reaching out the back window to yank the electrical power arm off the overhead wire on crowded Hollywood Blvd, then escape while the conductor had to put it back up.
In summer 2012 Disney’s California Adventure opened the new Buena Vista Street, which transported me authentically back to my pre-teen years and the Red Car all over again. Riding the New Red Car gave me a tear for sure.
(Updated 1/23/13 9pm)
DESIGN: Those Were The Times – Comment Responses from Bob Gurr
You asked for it – Red Car article reader comments asked about how the DCA tribute compares to the original. While the original was a large and heavy full sized 600 volt DC trolley, the tribute is a much scaled down lightweight battery powered car with design details and colors as exact as can be. That’s what gave me the nostalgic tears.
Several readers wanted to know about the pranks that got me into trouble. Realizing that quite a few will forever remain classified to protect the innocent, most pranks were humorous and harmless while the recipients certainly did not agree. Examples: Smuggle my bantam rooster onto the school bus hidden in a covered canary cage. A loud cackle got us both dumped by the side of the road. I got even; I placed a fake painted metal ink spill on the bus driver’s seat. Not funny – I was physically taken to the school principal, shortly thereafter to be expelled and sent to military school.
We’d wedge nickels under the red car wheels thinking it would stall the electric motion – it didn’t – all it did was make a bump and a bang and converted real money into flattened junk. On foggy nights, we’d set off wartime emergency rescue smoke bombs between the rails. When the motorman plowed into the colorful smoke, the red cars would stop with the second car over the bomb – the conductor opening the doors between stations thinking the train was on fire. Our loud giggles as we fled the scene gave the gag away.
The best pranks were to ride at the back of the the rear car and bang the bell in chorus with the front car motorman’s bell clang. Not funny! But the passengers loved the confusing jangle. The hot ticket was to yank down the trolley arm, thus shutting down all power to the cars. But we made sure we only did that when the car was jammed with standing passengers so the conductor could not catch us in the crowd as we made our escape to the loud ringing of the trouble alarm.
Of course, you kids out there probably don’t want to use my pranks as an example. I did get sent to military school after all.