Selected Articles From Manufacturer and Builder
Collected by Joe Thompson

These articles from Manufacturer and Builder Magazine were published in the early 1880s, the time when cable railway technology first spread beyond San Francisco. Photo scans of the articles are available from Making of America at Cornell University. Uncorrected text scans are available from the Library of Congress' American Memory site. I did some cleanup of the text scans. I made a few editorial comments in italics with my initials.

The Steam Street-Car Problem

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 14, Issue 7, July 1882

When this article was published, cable railways had just begun to expand beyond San Francisco.

Late advices from Paris report the fact that the managers of the street-car lines of that city, after persistent and continued experiments continued for the past five years, during which time they had tested the merits of no less than twenty-one forms and modifications of steam motors, have finally abandoned the attempt and gone back to horses.

Such a conclusion appears to be contrary to our accepted notions of progress, but it is practically the same result as that reached several years earlier by the street-car companies in a number of American cities. The conclusion is to be regretted, as the substitution of some economical motive power to take the place of animal traction for this service would be attended with many advantages from a sanitary and humanitarian standpoint. Perhaps the electric railway, which has lately been successfully introduced in Berlin, and which is spoken of with much enthusiasm by all who have had the opportunity of witnessing its operation, may be the initiation of a departure that will ultimately solve the vexed question.

Whatever the future may have in store for us in this direction, it appears to us that, with the benefits of the experiments and failures with steam in Paris, and in our own cities, inventors should find the problem of devising a safe, practical and economical motor for street cars not impossible to solve. The cable system in vogue in Chicago is highly spoken of, and seems to have proved a very satisfactory method. It may, in fact, be the practical solution of the problem, though we do not know enough of the details of its operation to venture a decided opinion on the subject.

The capabilities of compressed air engines for this species of service, it seems to us, have not been sufficiently considered by those who have turned their thoughts to the solution of the street-car problem. The system is free from most of the objections that are properly urged against the use of steam. It would dispense with the cumbersome and uncomfortable adjunct of the steam boiler, which of itself would be a signal advantage, even if it possessed no others.

The present state of quiescence into which the consideration of the subject has fallen should not be interpreted as an indication that public interest in it has been lost. On the contrary, the demand for such a reform will grow more and more urgent from year to year, until the right solution of the problem has been found.

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The Cable System of Street Railways (1882)

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 14, Issue 10, October 1882

When this article was published, cable cars ran only in San Francisco, Dunedin, NZ, and Chicago. The line in Philadelphia was about to open.

In recent editorial remarks on the Street Railway Problem, we took occasion to refer to the partial failure of the use of steam as a substitute for animal power. We referred briefly to the cable system and its apparent success, and desire here to supplement our previous remarks by additional facts and observations, which, we are pleased to state, speak very favorably indeed of this novel method of street-car propulsion.

The cable system was first introduced in practical operation in San Francisco in 1873, by Mr. A. L. Hallidie (A S Hallidie - JT) and his associates, on what is now known as the Clay Street Hill Railroad Co., the means employed being substantially the invention of the gentleman named (not true - JT). The difficulties of the steep grade on the line of this road were so great that ordinary horse cars were out of the question, and some substitute had to be found to make the route feasible. Mr. Hallidie's invention solved the problem successfully, and paved the way for the introduction of numerous other roads of a similar kind in that city, all of which have proved highly satisfactory in practice.

The essential features of the cable system, which is gradually making its way into other cities, are briefly described in the following: Between the tracks, which are of ordinary construction, is laid a tube, formed of sections laid end to end, and bolted together at the ends, so as to form a continuous passage. The tube is elliptical or circular in cross section, and from 12 to 20 inches in largest diameter. At the upper portion of the tube is a slot about 3/4 to 7/8 of an inch in width, forming a continuous opening on the surface between the tracks the whole length of the line. The object of the tube is to carry a steel wire rope, which moves inside of it at the rate of about six miles per hour, being driven by a powerful stationary engine placed at the end of the line. The rope is carried on guide pulleys stationed at intervals of a few feet apart on suitable supports within the tube.

The cars are of the ordinary pattern, but are provided with a gripping device, which is controlled by the driver, and which connects the car on the track with the traveling wire rope, the shank of the grip passing up through the slot above described. By throwing the grip on the cable, the car is pulled along at the same speed the rope is traveling; and by throwing it off it is brought to rest. At each terminus of the cable road the wire rope passes from one tube to another, around a large horizontal sheave; and the transfer of the car from one track to another, the turning of curves, and the crossing of one line by another, interpose no serious mechanical difficulties.

As above remarked, a number of these roads have been in operation in San Francisco for several years with notable success. During the past year some five miles of cable railway have been laid down and operated in Chicago; and in response to inquiries made by the editor of this journal, the superintendent states that thus far the road has met every anticipation, and that before the close of the present year nine additional miles will be placed in operation. He states that they have met with no difficulty from the accumulation of dirt in the tube (the provisions for removing the same being adequate), nor from snow and ice. They are able to make better time than with horses, and the operating expenses are 60 per cent less than with animal power.

We may add to this the statement that an experimental line of this kind is being laid down in Philadelphia, and will be in operation during the present month; and if successful, as it has proved to be elsewhere, it will be followed by others like it.

From all that we have been able to learn concerning the cable system, it would appear to have solved the vexed question of supplanting animal power for street-car propulsion in a very satisfactory manner. We hope to present illustrations showing the operation of this system in an early issue.

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Excerpt from 1882

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 15, Issue 1, January 1883

This item from magazine's year in review summary offers a brief comment on the state of cable railways in 1882.

Some attention was attracted during the year to the experiment of operating street cars upon the cable system of propulsion which has been going on during the past year in Chicago. This system has been in successful operation for some years in San Francisco, and the Chicago experiment is pronounced to have been so satisfactory that it has been considerably extended. A similar road was also laid down in Philadelphia during the year, and is now about going into operation. It is not at all unlikely that this system may come in time to be universally adopted.

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Endless Wire Cables for Street Cars

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 15, Issue 5, May 1883

Cable cars were still just beginning to spread when this article was published. One factor that slowed their growth was concern about their ability to operate in cities with harsh climates.

It is remarkable that the substitution of endless wire cables for horses in drawing the street cars of this city (New York - JT) should not have been proposed long ago. Costing half as much, and greatly preferable, because neater, cleaner and less troublesome, it is a change that ought to have commended itself promptly to the consideration of the horse railroad companies especially since its practicability was demonstrated long ago in San Francisco. The fear seems to have been entertained that while these wire cables might answer in a comparatively equable climate like that of San Francisco, they would not do where the extremes of temperature are very great, the theory being that the expansion of a wire cable several miles long by the heat of summer, and its contraction by the cold of winter, would make such a difference in its total length as to interfere seriously with its working. This apprehension, however, has been proved groundless by the successful operation of a cable road in Chicago.

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The Daft Electric Railway

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 15, Issue 12, December 1883

Professor Leo Daft (no kidding), an Englishman working in America, built several early electric lines. The lack of success of some of these lines led to the building of cable lines, including the Los Angeles Cable Railway. Note that this experimental line in Newark used the tracks to carry electricity to the car.

The daily newspapers of recent date contained more or less extended notices of trials of an electric railway upon a system which embraced a number of points of novelty. The trials in question were made near Newark, N. J., and the system was that devised by Mr. Leo Daft. The following, is a condensed description of the system and motor employed:

The tracks are used as conductors of the electric current, which is picked up by the wheels of the motor, and by means of wires carried to the motor's machinery. A bushing of vulcanized fiber takes the place of part of the axles and so insulates the wheels on the one side from the other, preventing a short circuit. The connection of the wires that take up the electricity from the wheels, is changed by a switch, so that the armature of the motor is made to turn forward and backward, as desired, and the power is transmitted from the armature to the axles by means of sprocket wheels and chains. Near each pair of wheels are two coils of wire, through which the current can be thrown when, stoppage is desired, by means of a switch. They are thus made powerful magnets, are attracted to the wheels, and, pressing against their periphery, act as magnetic brakes.

This is all there is of the motor. It is so simple that a boy could understand it, and, with a few minutes' instruction, operate it successfully. The machine upon which these demonstrations were made is small, weighing only 460 pounds, but Mr. Chapin says that it can drive ten tons on a level, and that by its own power it has climbed a test track at a grade of 2,000 feet to the mile. Above its little platform upon which there is room for four persons to sit nothing is to be seen but a couple of small cranks or levers, which are the switches for the impelling power and the brakes. Beneath all the machinery is exposed to full view.

The tracks are not insulated, but are laid down on grounded ties after the ordinary fashion of surface roads. At one place, it is affirmed in the account from which we have gleaned the foregoing, a sandy country road crosses the tracks, and the soil is flush with the top of the rail. At another the track is covered by the water from a pond whenever there is rain, yet, we are told, neither earth nor water exercise any notable influence upon the action of the motor, which depends for its efficiency upon the use of a current of exceedingly low tension in comparison with previous devices for a similar purpose. It is affirmed, furthermore, that the Daft system will shortly be in operation on the Newark & Bloomfield street railway in Newark.

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A Duplicate Cable Railway

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 16, Issue 1, January 1884

D J Miller's duplicate system used two cables in each conduit and a double-jawed side grip. This made the cable system more dependable in theory, but added greatly to the cost of building and operating it.

The wire rope or cable system of street car propulsion, which is gradually finding its way from San Francisco and Chicago into other cities, is about to be introduced in Kansas City, Mo (Kansas City Cable Railway - JT). As we glean from the Kansas City Review, this will be the first railway of the kind that will be supplied with a duplicate cable. Thus far all such roads have been provided with a single cable, which, in case of an accidental breaking or fraying of the wire rope, entails a cessation of traffic until the damage can be repaired. It is said that during the first year of the operation of the cable road in Chicago, breakages of cables through carelessness of the inexperienced grip-men were frequent, and caused many vexatious delays.

The plant contemplated for Kansas City will consist of a duplication of the driving rope and the connected portions of the machinery. While one cable is driving the other is idle, and in case of damage to one, the other can at once be put in service. This duplication of the plant, of course, materially adds to the expense. Another notable feature of this particular cable road, is that the western portion is designed to be an elevated structure, built entirely of wrought iron.

Respecting the operating mechanism, it may be added that, in carrying out the duplicate feature, there will be two sets of driving drums, either of which can be put in operation by the use of a screw-clutch, throwing one or the other into gear, so that in the case of one cable becoming damaged by accident or other cause, its operating drum is at once thrown out of gear, and that of the duplicate cable thrown in, thus calling the latter into requisition. Another advantage to be derived from this duplicate system, is that it will facilitate the frequent inspection of the cables, and by thus permitting the detection of trifling injuries and their repair, will materially contribute to the durability of the cables. This it is proposed to accomplish by means of a small stationary engine fixed to the bed-plate of the driving machinery, and of sufficient power to be just able to set in motion either of the sets of drums and cables, which happen to be out of service. While, therefore, one set of drums is propelling the cars on the street, the idle one may be slowly moved into the station-house with the aid of the little engine just named, carefully inspected, and, if necessary, repaired.

The cable system seems to be growing in popularity, as we hear of considerable extension of its use in San Francisco and Chicago, where it has successfully stood the test of a number of years trial, and in Philadelphia, where an experimental line of about half a mile was laid down last year. This experiment appeals to have been so satisfactory that the Union Passenger Railway Co., of that city, possessing extensive lines, has been for some time past engaged in laying down a long line of cable railway, which, it is understood, will be adopted on all the lines of this company should the anticipations of the projectors of the enterprise be fulfilled.

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Prize Offered for a Street Railway System

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 16, Issue 1, January 1884

New York's Metropolitan Railway held a contest to seek a better method of propulsion than horse, cable, or trolley. The prize was never awarded.

The Metropolitan Traction Company, of this city, which owns and operates many miles of surface railways, recognizing the limitations of the cable system, the serious objections against the overhead trolley system, the present unsatisfactory state of the storage battery system, and the utter inadequacy of the antiquated horse cars, for solving the problem of surface traction in the crooked streets of the crowded portions of the city, has made public the announcement of a prize of fifty thousand dollars to be awarded to the inventor of a system which shall satisfactorily solve the difficulties of this perplexing problem. The company has in operation no less than 80 miles of street railway (in addition to its cable lines), now operated with horses, all of which are below Central Park, and it is understood that it is to these lines in particular, most of which have numerous curves, that the company's proposition has reference.

The company's letter to the New York Board of Railroad Commissioners, lately published, reads as follows:

"On streets where the lines are straight and the business is heavy, the cable system is the most economical yet invented. For general use in a city, winding about through the streets and following the routes of travel which the public wish to pursue, it is impracticable. You require straight routes for cable roads. We have, in addition to the lines upon which the cable will be laid, over 80 miles of street railroads now operated with horses, all below the Central Park. It is to these lines in particular that we now desire to direct your attention.

"Up to the present time, the only system whose practicability has been demonstrated is the overhead trolley. We are well aware, however, that its application in the streets of New York would not meet with the approval of the community. What we most desire now is to hasten the development and perfection of a better system. We therefore submit the following proposition:

"First. We will set aside the sum of $50,000, to be awarded as a prize to any person who shall, before March 1, 1894, submit to your honorable board an actual working system of motive power for street railway cars demonstrated to be superior or equal to the overhead trolley.

"Second. The qualities necessary to meet this requirement shall be left to your decision; but, with the present state of the art, a system to win the award must necessarily approximate the trolley as a standard of economy in operation, but should be without the features in it objectionable to the public.

"Third. We shall exact no rights in the invention in return for the $50,000, and shall have nothing whatever to do with the making of the award further than to pay any expenses which your honorable board may deem necessary or wise to incur, either in the employment of experts, the giving of hearings, or the conduct of experiments this in order that no effort may be spared to achieve the desired result."

It is understood that the commissioners, while unable to accept the conditions proposed by the Traction Company literally, have offered to cooperate with the company so far as they may, and that, for the purpose of conducting the experimental trials of such inventions as may appear to promise favorable results, a section of road on Fiftieth street will be used.

As this offer is a free gift in public recognition of a valuable invention, and not of the nature of purchase money for its use, it should stimulate the ambition of our inventors to the utmost to earn it.

The popular sentiment is unanimous in the conviction that the day of the horse car is past. The mechanical difficulties of operating the cable system on lines having numerous curves, are so great as to place this system out of the question. The overhead trolley system for crowded thoroughfares is open to many objections, and though it has come into use in many cities, it has been tolerated only because nothing else has yet been proposed that, with equal or superior advantages, offered fewer objectionable or impracticable features.

Naturally, the consideration of this subject at once suggests the electric conduit and storage battery systems, as presenting the greatest promise of meeting the exigencies of the situation. Unfortunately, however, neither of these plans appears to have been so far developed as to have demonstrated its complete fitness for the kind of service required.

The conduit system for surface roads, it is gravely to be apprehended, would encounter insuperable difficulties from the accumulation of mud and dirt, and obstruction from snow and ice; the general opinion of those expert in such things being that it is only adapted for use on an elevated structure.

The storage battery system offers much greater prospect of solving the difficulties of the question, and though numerous failures have been recorded of experiments made with this system in various localities, the accounts of certain trials at present being conducted in this city (on Second avenue), announce that fairly satisfactory results have been attained, from which it would seem that substantial progress has been made in the adaptation of the storage battery to this class of work. It is universally admitted that a practicable storage-battery system, would, once and for all, solve the surface road problem for the crowded streets of cities; and it is scarcely credible that the constant efforts of inventors to remedy the faults of the apparatus will fail of fruition. We have confidence in the ultimate complete success of this method, and look upon it as the system of the future for the intricate surface traffic of the large cities; while for rapid transit in cities the elevated electric system, fully commented on elsewhere in this impression, appears to have demonstrated its substantial superiority over steam; and for suburban lines, and connecting lines between towns and villages, the overhead trolley appears to be particularly well adapted, and in the near future will most probably be enormously extended. Thus, it would seem as though for the next few decades at least electric traction in one form or another, must practically supplant all other systems in the fields of application herein referred to.

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Notes and Queries

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 15, Issue 1, January 1883

This item explains the operation of the pull curve for a side grip line.

Q. 3149. CABLE STREET RAILWAYS -- In your editorial in your October issue, on the Cable System of Street Railways, you say that the crossing of one line by another interposes no serious mechanical difficulty. I do not quite see how it can he done, and will be obliged if you will explain the method. -- J. E., Philadelphia.

Answer. The crossing of cable lines where two lines intersect each other is done in a very simple manner. Of course the rope of one of the intersecting roads is below the other. At the intersection the track is slightly deflected to one side -- just enough to clear the grip entirely from the rope, which is alowed to slip entirely away from it. The car then goes over the crossing by its own momentum, and the grip is switched on to the rope again as the former moves back to its original line on the other side, the tubes at such points being especially constructed so as to give the cable the proper elevation.

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Excerpt from 1883

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 16, Issue 1, January 1884

This item from magazine's year in review summary offers a brief comment on the state of cable railways in 1883.

It may be of interest to notice incidentally that the endless wire cable system of drawing street cars as a substitute for horses, to which we referred in last year's summary, has continued to demonstrate its feasibility. It has been considerably extended both in San Francisco and Chicago. In Philadelphia an experimental line, laid down in 1882, proved the advantages of the system so satisfactorily, that the projectors have considerably extended it. In Kansas City a cable road, with duplicate cables and duplicate operating mechanism (to avoid delays or stoppage of traffic should one of the cables suffer injury), is about to be put in operation. 1884. [Manufacturer and builder / Volume 17, Issue 1, January 1885]

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Excerpt from 1884

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 17, Issue 1, January 1885

This item from magazine's year in review summary offers a brief comment on the state of cable railways in 1884.

The cable system of street car propulsion has received a noteworthy extension during the past year, by the construction of about ten miles of such railway for several of the leading street railway companies in Philadelphia, and which was about ready to be put in operation at the close of 1884. It is in contemplation to considerably extend these lines, and if the plans at present decided on are carried out, there will shortly he no less than twenty miles of cable railway in operation in that city. The system in question is in successful operation in San Francisco Chicago, Detroit (Never in Detroit - JT) and Kansas City.

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Business Notes

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 16, Issue 6, June 1884

New York's Metropolitan Railway had held a contest to seek a better method of propulsion than cable. They reneged on the deal.

Q. 4800. PRIZE FOR THE BEST STREET RAILWAY SYSTEM -- Can you inform me whether the prize of $50,000 said to have been offered by one of the street railway companies of New York for the best system of street railway, has been awarded, and if so, what was the approved plan? -- J. M. T., Burlington, Vt.

Answer. The prize above referred to, we are informed, was not awarded, and the offer has been withdrawn. The company, it is understood, is at present experimenting on its own account. The conditions of the problem confronting this New York company are extremely difficult to meet satisfactorily. They involve providing for traffic through many narrow and extremely crowded thoroughfares, with many curves, and other obstacles equally troublesome to be overcome. The overhead trolley line, which is so popular in many localities, is quite inadmissible under such conditions; the underground trolley is of questionable practicability; storage-battery traction is not yet quite able to fill the bill; the cable system is not suited for such severe service; an elevated system is not to be thought of, and, taken altogether, the case is an extremely troublesome one to meet satisfactorily.

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The Cable System for Street Railways (1884)

From Manufacturer and Builder / Volume 16, Issue 7, July 1884

By the time this article appeared, cable railways had opened or were about to open in London and Saint Louis, MO.

The success of the cable system of traction for city passenger railways has been so decided in the cities of San Francisco and Chicago, in which it has been in continuous operation for some time, that its merits are urging themselves upon the attention of railway companies in other cities. We have in previous issues of the MANUFACTURER AND BUILDER described the general features of this system in some detail, but for the information of such of our readers as may not have had the opportunity of seeing our former accounts, we will explain that the system consists in drawing street cars by means of an endless traveling wire cable, which is kept in motion at a uniform and predetermined rate of speed by powerful engines at a terminal station, by which the cable is wound over a drum, being wound up on one side and paid out on the other. The cable is carried in a continuous tube or conduit of variable, but generally oval shape, the upper portion of which terminates in a narrow, longitudinal opening, which comes flush with the surface of the ground, and forms a continuous slot the whole length of the line, and in the center of the ordinary surface tracks. The wire rope traveler is supported in this conduit on loose guide pulleys placed at suitable distances apart in the conduit. The cars are propelled with the aid of a grip controlled by the driver. This consists of a lever placed in the forward part of the car, which passes down through the aforesaid narrow slot, and terminates in a clutch or gripping device by which the cable may be grasped when the car is to go forward, or released when it is necessary to stop. This will suffice to give a general idea of the cable system.

At the present time some twenty miles of cable road of an improved pattern are being laid down in the city of Philadelphia, which, when completed and in operation, will constitute the most extensive application of the system in use. We show in the accompanying illustration a perspective view of one of the sections of the conduit employed in this construction, for which, as well as for the following details of the project, we are indebted to the Bulletin of the International Electrical Exhibition:

The engraving exhibits a section of the large subway or tube system referred to, intended for a street railway system known as the cable motor. It is claimed that this motor has the advantages of greater speed and economy over the present method of propelling by horse power. The sub-way is formed of sections bolted together, each section being a self-contained girder, opening at the apex, and forming a continuous slot through which the grip-bar for the cable is admitted. The structure is guarded against lateral pressure on the sides, and from the effects of heavy teams in crossing over the slot, by a series of bracings riveted to the sides and bottoms. The depth of the tube is 33 inches, the clear width of the body of the tube in its lower portion is 12 inches, and the length of the transverse channel beams is 40 inches, which is the widest part at any point.

Two of the most prominent Philadelphia railways, the Union and the Market street lines, are at work changing their roads to accommodate the new motor.

Those of our readers who have had the opportunity of observing the smoothness and celerity with which the cable roads in Chicago are operated, will not be surprised at the claim that it is destined to be the system of the future.

conduit section Conduit for Cable Railway.

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