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Ohio Railway Museum’s

Ohio Public Service Interurban Car 21

 By Ryan Hoover, Museum member 1962-1969

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Fig. 1. Ohio Public Service #21 in all its 1960's glory at the Ohio Railway Museum.  21 on the west end of ORM track, in 1968, just before the curve to the southeast near Proprietors Road. 21 restored to its last  in-service appearance on OPS. (Dave Bunge photo, ORM postcard set 5.)

        Ohio Public Service electric interurban trolley car number 21 was the centerpiece of the Ohio Railway Museum (ORM) collection throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s until the acquisition and restoration of CD&M steel parlor car 501 of 1926.  21 was the first piece of railway equipment acquired by the Central Ohio Railfans’ Association (CORA) for the museum.  It was also the oldest, having been built in 1905, until the arrival of Kansas City Public Service Co. streetcar 472, built in 1900.  Car 21 is a shining example of early wooden interurban car design and construction, resembling in some major details of architecture of the classic wooden Pullman sleeping cars built between 1890 and 1910.  This article tells of the manufacture, early history, and restoration by ORM of this classic electric railway passenger car.

Origins of Interurban Combine Number 21

        The Niles Car and Manufacturing Co. was a manufacturer of railroad equipment, including many street and interurban cars.  It was founded in 1901 in Niles, Ohio, and ceased producing railroad cars in 1917, the peak year for U.S. electric interurban railway usage.  Its sales offices were in Cleveland. Niles specialized in building wooden-bodied cars in the heyday of interurban building.  It had a reputation of building durable and stylish cars.  In its advertising, Niles called its wooden interurban cars “Electric Pullmans” since their design, construction and finish was very much like that employed by Pullman in its wooden sleeping cars of the period.  After 1917, Niles built motor trucks for which demand was higher than for trolley cars.


Fig. 2. Niles catalog sheet for a car very similar to OPS 21, but with 15 smoker seats and 30 coach seats.  (From Niles 1908 catalog reprint1.)

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Fig. 3. Niles catalog entries for car style 198, TPC&LR 5, and car style 201, C&SWR 134, similar to OPS 21.  (From Niles 1908 catalog reprint.1)

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      Car 21 was one of a pair of cars – the other was number 20 – built by Niles for The Toledo, Port Clinton and Lakeside Railway (TPC&LR) in 1905.  Niles listed it as car style 201 in its catalog. It is a fine example of early wooden interurban car construction.  It is 51 feet 10 inches long and weighs 60,500 pounds (30½ tons).  The car is a combination passenger-baggage car, or “combine.”  It was a twin of car number 20 built at the same time.  See fig. 2 from a 1908 Niles catalog of an almost identical car built for neighboring Toledo, Fostoria & Findlay Railway1.  Its interior arrangement was slightly different from 21’s which had a smaller smoking section but more coach or “ladies” seats.  Fig. 3 shows floor plans of it and of TPC&L coaches 5 and 6. 

        The car is single-ended and is operated from the front of the baggage room.  A crossbar between two poles behind the motorman’s position prevents baggage and freight from falling forward which could cause crew injury. The motorman either stood or sat on a tall wooden stool to operate the car – crew safety was not a primary concern in those days.  And there was no safety glass then, either.  The baggage space includes a telephone for communication with the dispatcher.  It was used by plugging leads into a phone line connection trackside. 

Fig. 4. A.E. Barker drawing of car 21, (From The Toledo, Port Clinton & Lakeside Railway, by George W. Hilton.2)

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        TPC&LR also bought two all-coach interurban cars numbered 5 and 6 – Niles style 198 – built to the same overall dimensions (fig. 3).  Originally, 20, 21, 5 and 6 were equipped with Peckham 40 trucks, Bullock R-50 motors, and Bullock controllers. Later, 20 and 21 were refitted with General Electric 263A 65hp (48 kW) motors, a GE K-34-D2 controller and a Westinghouse 3817 air compressor.  The cars operated on 600 volts DC, drawn from an overhead wire through a trolley pole with a rolling grooved wheel from Ohio Brass Co. Car 21 had a baggage compartment at the front, a smoking section seating 12, and a main passenger section seating 34, for a total capacity of 46 seated persons.  An open hopper toilet closet is located in the right rear of the passenger compartment.  Fig. 4 is an elevation drawing of car 21 as it appeared at ORM in 1970.2

       The car was built with a cast iron heating stove in the right rear of the baggage compartment but later the cars received electric heaters.  The interior of the car is finished in inlaid, quartered oak.  It had leather seats in the smoking room and plush seats in the passenger section.  Arched Pullman style windows over each pair of side windows and clerestory vents were fitted originally with opalescent stained glass (fig. 1).  21 and its siblings were equipped with collapsible “basket-weave” strap steel streetcar fenders on the front for street running. In theory, a pedestrian would be scooped up by the basket with little or no injury.

21’s Original Owners and Operators

Fig. 5. Route map of TPC&LR, NWOR, OPS and T&E.  (From The Toledo, Port Clinton & Lakeside Railway, by George W. Hilton.2)

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         The TPC&LR was an electric interurban railway system serving northwestern Ohio's Marblehead Peninsula.  It was incorporated in 1902 in Ottawa County, Ohio, to link the village of Genoa, east of Toledo, with the resort town of Port Clinton, a distance of 23 miles.  This line was completed in 1904, and was extended another 12 miles to Marblehead in 1905.  Originally, cars entered Toledo over the Lake Shore Electric Railway's tracks from a connection at Genoa, but in 1906, the TPC&LR constructed its own line connecting with Toledo’s city streetcar line.  In 1911, a further three-mile extension was built to the pier at Bay Point which gave TPC&LR a ferry connection to Sandusky.  See Fig.5 for a map of the line.

        In 1912, TPC&L became the Northwestern Ohio Railway & Power Company.  Twelve years later, in 1924, it was purchased by the Ohio Public Service Co. (OPS).  Several cut-backs took place in 1925, but the line ran passenger service until July 11, 1939 (figs.6-9).  At least two special railfan trips occurred in 1939 using car 21, seen at Clay Center (fig.5) and on the Oak Harbor Bridge (fig.6) (this bridge collapsed in 1923, destroying 21’s sister, car 20 in the accident).  OPS continued operating freight service from 1939-1945.  In 1945, OPS sold the property to the Toledo & Eastern Railway (T&E) after the route east of Clay Center was abandoned.  This left 11 miles of railway hauling dolomite from Clay Center to the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad and coal to a Toledo Edison power plant.  When coal shipment moved from rail to water in 1958, T&E was abandoned.1

Fig. 6.  21 on fan trip at Clay Center, 1939. Note that two arched windows have already been replaced by wood or sheet metal. (W. Lupher Hay photo2)

Fig. 7 OPS 21 on fan trip in 1939, on Oak Harbor Bridge.  Karl Liebenauer photo.2


Fig 7. 21 at Port Clinton.  Alex Campbell Collection

Fig 8. OPS 21 at Marble Head.  Alex Campbell Collection

21’s Acquisition by Central Ohio Railfan's Association

        Combine 21 operated on its home rails along with coach 6 until OPS ended passenger service in 1939 (figs. 6-9).  After retirement, 21 was bought by the Eastern Ohio chapter of the National Railway Historical Society for $300 and stored at Oak Harbor, easternmost end-of-track of OPS. It became isolated there when track was cut back to Clay Center by OPS in 1945 and scrapping seemed imminent.  In 1947, CORA was able to get 21 donated by the NHRS and it was moved to the Ohio State Fair Grounds in Columbus where it was used as a meeting room. Some initial restoration work was done, replacing some rotting wood.

        Car 21 did not fare well at the fairgrounds (pun intended). Weather and vandalism took a heavy toll and CORA decided to renovate it and move it to Worthington for restoration and eventual operation. Initial work on 21 was done by the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Columbus shops.  It was trucked to Worthington in 1948, becoming the first unit of railway equipment acquired for CORA’s Ohio Railway Museum (ORM). The ORM leased about a mile of right-of-way once belonging to the Columbus Delaware & Marion Electric Railway (CD&M) as its “Worthington Cutoff,” completed in 1923.

Fig 10.  OPS 21 at the Ohio State Fair Grounds in 1947.  21 was vandalize by the neighborhood kids prompting the move to Worthington.  (Photo by BJ Kern, Edward H. Miller Collection)

Fig. 11.  21 after the move to Worthington and initial restoration becoming the beginnings of the Ohio Railway Museum.  Proprietor's Road is in the background.  (Alex Campbell collection)

Rebuilding and Changes to 21 at ORM

       21 had been so thoroughly damaged during its time at the fairgrounds, it was almost scrapped.  Virtually all of the windows had been smashed.  The roof canvas was slashed in several places, all of the seats were slashed and vandals had tried to set the car afire on more than one occasion. In addition, time and weather had damaged much of the exterior siding, the wooden roof, and some of the body structural members.  CORA wisely decided to attempt to restore the classic wooden car.  Once at the ORM site, extensive rebuilding and refurbishing began (fig. 11). 

        New wood side posts and siding were installed.  The roof was completely rebuilt with new boards and canvas.  New windows were made as needed and all of the glass was replaced.  The cost to replace the arched side and clerestory window art glass was prohibitive at the time.  The clerestory windows were re-glazed with plain window glass and the arched “Pullman” windows were covered by plywood or sheet metal and painted green.  The exterior of the car was thoroughly repainted in its last in-service OPS colors: traction orange on the letterboards and below the belt rail with pale yellow on the window panels.  Doors and window frames were painted red.  The roof was painted a reddish-brown color and the trolley poles, trucks, underbody and other hardware were black.

        Inside, a new ceiling was installed.  The original quartered and inlaid golden oak paneling was mostly intact and it was refinished, stained and several coats of varnish were applied.  The seats were replaced but were not original. They had been irreparably damaged by time and vandals.  ORM installed “walkover” streetcar seats upholstered in green leather-like material.  

         The original streetcar fender was either missing or badly damaged so an interurban-type pilot was built of lumber and attached the front end.  Since the car was single-ended and ORM had no way to turn it around at either end of its point-to-point railway, a second trolley pole was added to the front end for backup moves.  The car always faced south at ORM. The reversible streetcar seats were easily flipped for backup moves whenever the car traveled north on its new, i.e., restored CD&M track.

        Although 21 never saw service on the CD&M, ORM members added CD&M’s “Through the Heart of Ohio” logos or heralds centered on each side.  The destination sign on the front of the car was labeled “COLUMBUS.”  A train sign advertising CD&M’s The Capitol Limited (operated by one of CD&M’s 1926 “Red Bird” parlor cars) was also attached to the front end at one point.

        It would still be three years before Car 21 would operate at the ORM, since the museum had no electric power source required to activate the electric motors.  During 1949, 1950 and 1951, track was laid and poles were installed to hang overhead trolley wire.  1951 was also a year of negation with the Erie railroad for a retired gasoline-electric “doodlebug” railcar which generated its own 600-volt DC current.  This would be ORM’s first source of power to run 21 and other trolley equipment.

        Erie car 5012, built in 1931 by Electromotive Corp., arrived at ORM in 1951 and its two 300-hp Winton gasoline engines were overhauled.  5012 was fired up in June, 1952, and was the first piece of equipment to run on ORM tracks under its own power.  Now work began to allow 5012 to transfer 600-volts of electricity to the track and overhead trolley wire to power 21 and the other electric cars.  Bonds were welded across all rail joints and the means to connect 5012’s generator to the overhead wire were completed.

         September 1952 saw OPS Car 21 come alive again for the first time since 1939.  With 5012 as the power plant, 21 began "regular" weekend operation on ORM track.  A huge milestone had been achieved!  Figs. 12-15 show 21 in operation during the mid 1950's.


Fig. 12.  21 at The Ohio Railway Museum in 1957. The car is on the curve from the west end of the line approaching Proprietors Road.  Late B.J. Kern motorman. (Dave Bunge photo, from Ohio Railway Museum postcard set number 3.)

Fig. 13.  21 facing Erie gas-electric 5012, which provided electric power for the trolleys. Photo taken next to the Worthington Foods Plant on Prorietors Road. James Osborne Motorman. (Dave Bunge photo, from ORM postcard set 2)

Fig. 14.  Rear view of 21 at The Ohio Railway Museum in 1957. Ahead is C&LE lightweight car 119. To the left is OPS Kuhlman lightweight car 64, undergoing restoration. (Dave Bunge photo, from ORM postcard set number 4.)

Fig. 15.  21 next to the old PRR freight house.  This was the end-of-line until the SR 11 bridge was reinstalled.  There are sliders on the track in front of 21 to ensure all cars set stopped properly.

Additional Restoration to Original Appearance

        I took an active part is refurbishing the car and in getting opalescent glass cut for the arched side and clerestory windows.  The goal was to restore the car to its OPS appearance during its prime as much as possible.

        Following is a timeline of repairs and restoration done to car 21 by ORM volunteers to bring it back to operating mechanical and electrical condition and to a visually pleasing appearance.  This information is taken from ORM annual reports.2

1947-48 — All of 21’s windows and seats were replaced.  The hot water heating system was removed, and the truck journals were rebabitted with new brass.  Rotted and burned wood in the end sills and dash boards was replaced.  The back dash was replaced by a steel one from Ohio Southern Traction car 101.  Siding, molding and a baggage door sill were replaced.  A first coat of white lead primer paint was applied.

1949-51 — After moving to the ORM site in 1949, all of the window glass was again replaced, the roof was completely rebuilt and canvassed, and painted plywood replaced the broken art glass in the arched side windows.  Seats were recovered in smooth green material from Columbus Coated Fabrics.  The car was completely repainted and CD&M “Through the Heart of Ohio” logos were painted on each side.  A wooden “steam road” type pilot was built on the front end.  Additional annual maintenance was done each year.

1952 — Car 21 began operating under its own power in September with Erie gas-electric 5012 supplying the 600-volts of electricity required.

1954-55 — In 21’s rear vestibule, some rotting wood was replaced and new flooring was installed.  A few other minor improvements were done.

1955-56 — The car’s right side bulged out a little from an old accident while in regular service. This area was pulled back into line and rebuilt with new exterior siding. Some new trolley pole boards were installed.

1956-57 — A new electric car heater was acquired and installed (the original coal stove and hot water heating were long gone). Resistor banks were thoroughly inspected and several grids were replaced. The copper “fingers” for the GE K-34-2D controller – increasingly hard to find and easily pitted by flashovers – were given complete inspected and restoration. The trolley pole boards on the roof were repaired or replaced.

1958 —Some decaying wood was replaced in several areas and the exterior was repainted.  A new air filter was installed in the air brake compressor.

1959 — The roof was patched in several places.  Several missing brass window latches were acquired and replaced.  All loose seats were rebolted tightly to the floor.  One bank of resistor grids was rebuilt and the headlight plug was repaired.

1960 — Some minor interior and exterior painting was done.

1961 — Trucks and underbody were repaired.  More roof patches were made.  Two rear arched windows were rebuilt and installed.  A new gong and headlight jacks were installed.  Minor repairs were made to the GE K-34-D2 controller and to the car body.

1962 — Exterior paint touched up and some additional roofing repairs were made.  Some interior repainting and revarnishing was done.

1963 —The right side of the car below the belt rail was rebuilt with some new bracing and siding.  Most of the exterior was repainted in OPS colors.  One window sash was replaced.  Installation of new roof canvas was begun.  The entire electrical system was checked out and a broken resistance grid was replaced.  Two bent brake rods and one radius bar were straightened.

1964-69 - Over this five-year period, car 21 received several substantial improvements that restored the car, as much as possible, to its original in-service appearance on the OPS railway (figs. 1 & 164).

-   The roof was completely recovered in new canvas, and repainted reddish-brown.

-   Several new oak window sashes were made, painted, varnished, reglazed, and reinstalled.

-   The car’s interior lighting system was rewired, sockets were replaced, and reproduction clear incandescent bulbs were installed to restore working interior lights.  Electric streetcars and interurban cars were the first railway equipment to have electric lighting since they were powered by electricity.  Suitable generators and batteries were still being developed to put electric lighting in steam railway equipment.

-   Some additional refinishing was done of the interior quartered golden oak paneling.

-   Patterns were made of the arched “Pullman” window sashes above the paired side windows and of the oval window in the toilet room.

-   Green and white stained translucent opalescent “art glass” was cut at a local stained glass shop to replace the opaque plywood and sheet metal that had been installed in 1948.

-   The stained art glass was installed in all of the sashes where it had been when originally built.

-   Some rotting wood in the lower right baggage door sash was removed and either replaced or repaired with plastic auto body filler.

-   Once again, the car’s exterior was completely painted in the traction orange and yellow colors it wore in OPS service.  For the first time since being acquired by ORM, “OHIO PUBLIC SERVICE” lettering in black was painted on the letterboards above the windows as it was when the car was retired from regular service.

-   The black homemade wooden pilot built by ORM was replaced with an authentic “basket-weave” steel strap fender to complete the car’s last in-service appearance in the 1930’s.

-   Finally, a new destination sign reading “TOLEDO” was made to replace the fictitious “COLUMBUS” and “COLUMBUS LOCAL” signs used previously. It was flat black with translucent letters that could be lit from behind. The nighttime color postcard photo (fig. 16) was taken by ORM photographer, Dave Bunge, while yours truly hid inside holding a light behind the sign.

        By 1970, 21 finally looked like it did under OPS ownership and service – only better.  Car 21 no longer had to masquerade as a CD&M car, since ORM had acquired and restored CD&M 501 to run on its old home right-of-way.  21 still sits on ORM property today, under a tarp, out of service and looking a bit worn. Virtually nothing has been done to it for the last 30 years by a constantly bickering, largely ineffective and politically stymied membership.  I’m proud to say that I was a member who experienced 21 at its best during the Ohio Railway Museum’s glory days from 1948 to 1970.

Fig. 16.  Night photo of 21 at ORM. Note the glow of the restored interior lights, and the TOLEDO destination sign.  You can also see the hole in the ceiling where the stovepipe once went to the smokejack on the roof. (Dave Bunge photo from ORM postcard set number 4)


1. The Niles Car & Mfg. Company Niles Cars catalog, ca. 1908, reprinted.  48pp.  Copyright © 1982, Caxton Printers, Ltd., Caldwell, ID.  ISBN: 0-87004-292-0.

2. The Toledo, Port Clinton and Lakeside Railway, by George W. Hilton.  64pp.  Copyright © 1997, Montevallo Historical Press, Montevallo, AL.  ISBN: 0-9658624-0-2.

3.  Ohio Railway Museum Annual Reports and Brochures, from Columbus Railroads Website, by Alex Campbell. http://www.columbusrailroads.com/orm reports.htm .

4.  Ohio Railway Museum Postcards, from Columbus Railroads Website, by Alex Campbell.  http://www.columbusrailroads.com/orm postcards.htm .