Philadelphia Trolley Tracks:

History of the PCC Overhaul Programs

photo by Harry Donahue

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Keeping the PCCs on the Streets

By Rev. E. Casey

The rebuilding program of PCC cars took place in 1973 when one air-car, 2565, and one electric car, 2168 were completely rebuilt. This included stripping the car to the bare frame and included all new wiring. The cars also included two new experimental paint schemes. 2168 was painted in a lemon yellow type of color, with a purple belt rail and a white top. It was referred to as the "banana car". 2565 was painted in a bright orange, with blue trim and a white top. It was referred to as the "Gulf Oil" car, based on the colors of the longtime petroleum company.

The two cars featured interiors of white and wood grained plastic laminate material, new incandescent lighting fixtures, lexan windows, orange brown tweed like plastic upholstery material and sheet linoleum flooring. The cars did not have bus horns, push doors or bus marker lights like the other rebuilding project. One significant change in this project was the old life guard trip gates under the fronts of the cars were eliminated, and were replaced with a plow like device fastened to the front of the front trucks.

The exterior and interior paint on the cars was bought from a company called Uracal Chemical Company and was supposed to be graffiti resistant paint. After a car was marred with scribbling, it was supposed to be able to be sprayed with a special chemical and after the car went through the washer it would come right off. The results were less than spectacular and it seemed that the only thing that removed most of the graffiti was plain old elbow grease by shop personnel.

2565 was the first car completed and sent to Woodland Depot, where it was put into service on the same run on Route 13 each day, Run 503, Block Number 3. 2168 initially went into service at Luzerne, but after a few months the cars switched depots and went into the general rosters of the respective depots.

The orange, blue and white paint scheme eventually was judged to be the better choice. Later in 1973 two other cars appeared in the "Gulf Oil" scheme, 2124 and 2100. 2124 was only repainted and not rebuilt, while 2100 was overhauled along with being repainted. The first two 2700 cars in this program were 2795 and 2800. Both of these cars went into service at Germantown Depot, but 2800 was eventually assigned to Woodland. For 2800 and railbuffs alike, it was an unfortunate switch based on what happened in October 1975, with the disasterous Woodland Depot fire that destroyed 60 trolleys. 2715 in 1980

A new rebuilding project of PCC cars was begun in 1979. This program was the most ambitious program of rebuilding PCC cars to date, and when looked at in retrospect, has to be considered fairly successful. The program was carried out with federal funds from the Urban Mass Transit Administration. The cost per car has been estimated at anywhere from $98,000 to $112,000, depending on the source of information, and the rebuilding was to add 8 to 10 years useful life to the car. This was good considering the cars being rebuilt were already 30 years old.

Originally 50 cars were done in this program at a cost of $ 3.94 Million, but after the program got underway it was extended to a total of 112 cars. Only cars in the 1947 and 1948 orders were to be included in the GOH program. The remaining air-cars and KC-Toronto-Birmingham cars would be scrapped when enough GOH cars were available for service.

2715 was the pilot car for the program and this car was rebuilt from operating funds rather than the Capital budget. The first car completed in the General Overhaul Program was 2100, which was assigned to Luzerne Depot in June of 1980.

The cars were basically totally rebuilt, with replacement of deteriorated frame and body panels, complete rewiring and rebuilt trucks. New aluminum frame windows were included without the crank arrangement, and new interior aluminum panels replaced the original armrests, which were a trademark of the post-war PCC. 2791 in 1979

The new paint scheme for the GOH cars was basic white, with red and blue trim. There were two variations on the new paint scheme, which included the stripe across the front of the vehicle. The first car painted in this new scheme, which was the same on SEPTA bus and trackless trolleys was 2791, which was not a GOH car when it was painted in the new pattern. 2791 was assigned to Woodland Depot. 2791 had the red stripe come around under the headlight. When 2715 came out of the shop, it also had the red stripe go around under the headlight. When 2100 was completed, it had the red band go on top of the headlight. This was judged to be the better looking option. 2715 was eventually repainted in the new pattern. The only other variation in this paint scheme throughout the 1980's was car 2730, which in 1989 received a paint scheme that was the same basic red, white and blue but the car had a gray window area similar to the neoplan busses and trackless trolleys. Two Kawasaki cars also were painted with gray window areas.

When 2728 was the 100th car completed in the GOH program, this fact was commemorated with a blue ribbon painted onto the side of the car, designating it was the 100th car completed.

The rebuilt cars were all placed in service on Route 56, until enough cars were available to be placed on the other lines. The last Luzerne line to receive the rebuilt cars was Route 23. Eventually Callowhill received the cars for Route 15. Rebuilt cars in this program were never assigned to Woodland or Elmwood subway surface lines.

The newly rebuilt cars were part of a system wide plan of Quality Control established by then General Manager David Gunn. When the Gunn management took over in the late 70's the equipment looked horrible. One of the first things that Gunn saw was essential was making the equipment look like you wanted to ride on it. With many new vehicles scheduled to be acquired by SEPTA, including new Neoplan busses, AM General trackless trolleys, and LRT cars, Gunn wanted a program in place that would insure the new equipment would continue to look good.

Each car was inspected by the operator and a supervisor before it left the carhouse, and was re-inspected upon its return. If an operator made relief on the street, he or she was also to walk around and inspect the vehicle. Each vehicle had a diagram that was to show in graphic form where any physical damage, such as scrapes, dents etc. were and this was to be compared with what was found on the vehicle.

A car that had graffiti or any major body damage was not supposed to leave the depot. This was followed very strictly for the most part. The Quality Control Program had various growing pains in is method of operation in the early 1980's. However if you compare photographs of the cars taken during the 1970's with photos of the GOH cars taken toward the second half of the 1980's, the program of Quality Control instituted by the Gunn Management at SEPTA was a success.

The demand for cars was lessened somewhat in June 1980 with Route 56 coming back rail due to sewer work on the southern portions of both Route 23 and 50. Route 23 was split with PCC cars north of Venango Street and bus south of Germantown and Butler (just north of Erie Avenue).

The summer of 1980 also saw the West Philadelphia PCC cars converted to the trolley shoe method of current collection. This completed the conversion of the whole system from trolley wheels to trolley shoes.

-- Rev. E. Casey

These photos by Harry Donahue. Click on them to view enlargements with captions.

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