A Somber Moment In Time for the End of an Era
A Somber picture of the procession of Birney Cars as they are led by Car #452,  
escorted out of the city of Richmond, Virginia on November 25, 1949
The following article was recently recovered from within the archives of the Richmond
Times-Dispatch, Newspaper and is presented here as was shown in 1949
Richmond Times-Dispatch
Richmond, Virginia, Friday, November 25, 1949
(Front Page News)
Streetcars Reach End of the Line Here Today
As Buses Take Over Highland Park-Hull Run
By Jim Sirmans

Today marks the end of a era begun in 1888 when the first trolley car clanged its way down Broad Street as
Richmond’s last streetcars made their final run.

City officials will add to the solemnity of the occasion by cutting the ribbon which will release the first buses at
Forty-second and Hull Street and at Meadowbridge Road and Patrick Street. All this will be done between 10 A.M.
and noon and then everybody will climb into a streetcar for the last time and take a sentimental little ride down to
the trolley burial ground, or barn, as the case may be.

Today’s changeover on the Hull-Highland Park line, the Virginia Transit Company says, completes its program of
converting from streetcar to bus operation.

“And so you may witness this historic event,” a company advertisement revealed yesterday, “and ride in the parade
of streetcars on the last official trip over the regular route, five streetcars will leave Patrick Street and
Meadowbrook Road at 10:58 A.M. and five other cars will leave Hull and Forty-Second Streets at 11:00 A.M.”

“As many persons as the cars will hold,” VTC pointed out, “may ride free on this last official appearance by
boarding at either of the leaving points as named above.”

The transition from streetcars to buses comes under the heading of progress, as VTC explained, and observers feel
that Richmonders will make the best of it. Old-timers hanging onto straps for dear life for the last time, however,
probably will think a number of pretty unprogressive thoughts.

What else but a trolley in this day and age, as Judy Garland sang, gives out with a melodious “clang, clang, clang,”
and “ding, ding, ding,” to break the monotony of city noises, and what, she asked, is half so romantic as a trolley?

And streetcars have always been so easy to blame when you were late for work in the morning. Everybody knew you
couldn’t depend on a streetcar to be on time, but who ever heard of a bus being late?

But it’s the youngsters, finally, who will miss the trolley perhaps most of all. To kids, many of whom resolve early
in life to be a streetcar motorman, nobody was as important as the conductor. And every father agrees with his son
that there’s nothing as fascinating as a trolley, unless maybe it’s an electric train.
Page 20 (continued from front page)
Farewell to the Trolleys
By Jim Sirmans
It is no exaggeration to say that today marks a milestone in the history of urban transportation. This morning the
electric streetcar will make its last scheduled run on Richmond streets. This is an event of more than local
interest; it was in Richmond, in 1888, that the first successful electric railway system began operation.

Back in 1936, Montgomery, Al., replaced its streetcars with buses, and they tried to make a big event out of the
occasion down there by talking about the final run on “the world’s first trolley transported system.” It seemed that
a Belgian inventor tested out some sort of a contraption one midnight in 1886 on Montgomery streets. This
relatively insignificant event had little bearing on the birth of the streetcar industry, and if the Montgomeryites
will only look into the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Americana, the World Book Encyclopedia and other good
reference books they will find that the first successful electric streetcar system operated right here in Richmond.

“… the Richmond road is now recognized as the first of the modern systems in which a larger railway was equipped
and operated under service conditions by electricity, and as the pioneer of commercial electric traction,” says the

Now, in November, 1949, the pioneer city in the electric transit industry is saying good-bye to the trolley. The last
runs will be made today on the Hull-Highland Park line, thus completing the Virginia Transit Company’s
conversion to all bus service.

Frank J. Sprague, “The Father of the Trolley Line” and one of the early developers of the electric motor, received
the contract from the Richmond Union Passenger Company to build the first electric car line here. On one of the
early test runs, the trolley motor went out. A big crowd gathered and Sprague, unwilling to let the curious
Richmonders learn of the ignominious turn of events, sent an assistant after some “instruments.” After the crowd
had tired of waiting and had dispersed, the assistant arrived with the “instruments” ---four big mules.

But, following these humble beginnings, the streetcar flourished in Richmond, and it was not until 1923 that the
first buses were brought in to handle some of the transit load. Until 1947 streetcars outnumbered buses here, but
the balance swung the other way that year when VTC began its overall conversion to the motor vehicles.

The trolleys which over the years have carried millions of passengers along Richmond streets are now to be
destroyed. A VTC spokesman said the company might be able to sell one or two, but the vast majority will be

“Nobody wants streetcars any more,” he said, a little sadly.
End of the Line
A Special Tribute to Richmond, Virginia
With a passion for Streetcars in general, I view the Richmond area as the perfect place to
settle into for retirement as it has been historically recorded, the “First”, successful and
continuously operated Electric Railway in the United States up through November of 1949, at
which time the city converted entirely to the motorized bus. Up until that time, the city of
Richmond operated a sizable fleet of Birney Safety Cars, the first units having been purchased
and put into service in the early 1920s.

Of the many books published regarding specific Electric Streetcar operations, one of the
greatest to be written, in my opinion, has to be “Rails in Richmond”, written by Carlton Norris
McKenney, now deceased. The time period was covered well with documentation and photos
of the Richmond and surrounding area and the many Birney Cars, both Single-Truck and
Double-Truck models that operated up through their final demise in 1949.

I have to envy those like Carlton N. McKenney, Dr. Harold E. Cox and others who lived it and
were able to capture this exciting time in history with great accurate coverage and writing
abilities. Even though it certainly could never be repeated exactly as it once was, I enjoy seeing
the evidence of streetcars coming back around full circle in some cities. I believe it serves to
retain one of this nation’s great heritages, the Electric Streetcars.

The Photos below are just a few of the Birney Cars that operated in Richmond between 1922 and 1949
Double-Truck Birney Car #403 (Hull Street Line)
Double-Truck Birney Car #408 (City Hall/Ginter Park Line)
Double-Truck Birney Car #452 (Ginter Park Line) Pix 1
Double-Truck Birney Car #452 (Ginter Park Line) Pix 2
Double-Truck Birney Car #453 (City Hall/Ginter Park Line)
Double-Truck Birney Car #454 (Ginter Park Line)
Double-Truck Birney Car #469 (at the Car Barn)
Double-Truck Birney Car #474 (on Robinson Street)
Double-Truck Birney Car #485 (at the Car Barn)
Single-Truck Birney Car #1522
Richmond, Virginia Streetcar #413
A rare view of an old Richmond Streetcar in full color
Cover Photo: M.J. Lavelle was a motorman for Capitol Transit in
Washington, D.C., and was also a top trolley fan. When he passed away,
his slide collection went to Harold E. Cox, and his great slides were
made available from EVDA SLIDES, who graciously shared this
beautiful view of Richmond, Virginia car taken in the 1940's
Old Trolley Track still visibly present in Richmond, Virginia
(Photo taken on March 15, 2006 by R.J. Birney)
Where West Marshall Street intersects with Hermitage Road, one block north of
West Broad Street.
(The view is looking north from the south side of West Marshall Street.)
Again, where West Marshall Street intersects with Hermitage Road just north of
West Broad Street.
(This time the view is looking south from the north side of West Marshall Street.)
Birney Car #1246 as shown on page 51 of Carlton Mc Kenney's great book,
"Rails in Richmond"
This is a photo taken of the still exposed trolley track that runs diagonally accrossed the
entersection at Hermitage Road and West Leigh Street.
Photo taken on June 16, 2008 by R.J. Birney)
Still Exposed trolley track crossing North Allen Avenue  just two blocks east of Hermitage
Road where West Clay Street would have, at the time, crossed North Allen Avenue.
Photo taken on June 16, 2008 by R.J. Birney)
Finally, an image looking south along Hermitage Road where it intersects West Clay Street.
The service provided at the time in the area was known as the "West Clay Line".
(Photo taken on June 16, 2008 by R.J. Birney)