A Freight Train With A View
By Steve Crise
Over the course of its existence, tens of thousands of photographs were shot of the Pacific Electric and its cars, stations, employees and right-of-ways. But perhaps the single most iconic photograph ever made of the system was that of Robert T. McVay’s famous shot of PE 1044 on the Newport – Balboa line in October of 1949. In a single frame, Robert managed to capture the dream of rapid transit in Southern California with the beautiful Pacific Ocean as a backdrop that seemingly suggests that the riders of this trolley have truly arrived in paradise, or at least a sandy earthly version of it.
While passenger service was very popular on this line in the early years of the PE, it was still the big, ugly, noisy freight trains that paid the bills for the PE as passenger traffic declined. As witnessed in this undated photograph by Donald Duke taken near the same spot where the 1044 had her portrait made, the crew of this train have a first class seat in the 15 mile ride along the ocean shore.
While the idyllic image of a quaint red trolley quietly rolling down the sun soaked sandy beach is a cherished image from a bygone era, Don’s photograph of Pacific Electric 1021diesel electric locomotive was the real breadwinner for the PE before, and for another decade after passenger service ended in 1940. But as you can imagine, sharing your beaches with freight trains was not everyone’s idea of a good time and by the mid 1950’s the freight trains were a thing of the past as well.
A close look at this photo shows that the trolley pole is not being used by the diesel locomotive to activate the crossings and signals along the line. This could be a clue that perhaps the trolley wire is already out of service and diesel-electric locomotives have now fully taken over the duties on this line scenic line.
Both the passenger and freight needs of the all the beach communities once served by the PE have, for well over a half a century, been provided by autos and trucks to the point of near gridlock. It is interesting to ponder the possibility of some sort of combined rail passenger and freight service to return to this corridor someday, but in what form would it take? It’s a wild thought to consider your future Amazon delivery made by a Pacific Electric RPO or Box Motor to say, Huntington Beach? Stranger things have happened.