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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Scranton's Electromobiles

Scranton, Pennsylvania was the first American urban centre to introduce electric street lighting. Its role in pioneering electric power is celebrated today by the new name 'Electric City' given to its heritage. This includes an important 'trolley museum' with running line.

In the late 1920s' Scranton, along with a number of small town trolley systems, was owned by a holding company - Keystone Public Utilities. Along with New Bedford, Mass; Altoona, PA and York, PA - Scranton benefitted from Keystone's corporate order given to the Osgood-Bradley Company - a New England streetcar builder, for their groundbreaking 'Electromobile' design of 1929. This was well before the emergence of the Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) set up in the mid 1930s to come up with a modern streetcar design able to compete with the increasing dominance of motor buses in the American urban transit market.

Scranton would take delivery of ten of the new trolleys numbered 501 - 510. Altoona took five examples (70-74) while York trialled a solitary example. The New Bedford, MA fleet of Electromobiles would subsequently replace traditional cars operating a shuttle line over the 59th Street Bridge in New York - linking Queensborough Plaza with Manhattan. Ironically these would be the very last electric cars to operate in New York City and one survives, unrestored, at the Kingston Trolley Museum in New York State. A Scranton car , 505, is in the process of a lengthy rebuilding project. The design is parallel in time to the English Electric single deck 'Pantograph' contract of 1928. The Americans definitely have an edge !

Scranton's Electromobiles, in their distinctive (and unusual) dark blue and white livery - boasted a feature which would be taken up by English Electric's designers: curved sprung metal fenders. Hitherto all streetcars (and trams) made use of the formidable underframes which allowed for a substantial fender that gave the tram a definite weight and momentum advantage over anything in its path. The Electromobile fender design was less 'offensive' and added a stylish and curved adjunct to the ends of the car. This was the first time such features were to appear in tram design. The example on Scranton 506 clearly shows the style which may well have appealed to Preston's design team. Within three years this type of fender would become familiar on English Electric's groundbreaking rail coach (and balloon) designs for Blackpool and Sunderland: and requisite features on new trams appearing in Darwen, Rotherham (Below), Belfast, Aberdeen and Liverpool in the final groundswell of UK tram designs in the decade up to 1940.

Images : John Woodman Archive

Britain's most unusual trams - single ended double deck cars specifically to run between Sheffield and Rotherham centres, where track layouts allowed for trams to reverse their direction of travel by using extended street loops similar to Fleetwood's Ferry terminus. Note the 'Electromobile' fender on the front end.

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