PE’s 1200s : Industrial Art at Its Finest

By Ralph Cantos

In the image above, PE’s San Berdoo 1221 rolls along towards San Pedro Station on March 5, 1948. The 1221 is working the local “Long Beach – San Pedro line” via the West Basin.

PE’s reasoning to assign this “speedster” to the 8-mile local line is a bit of a mystery. The 1221 could easily roll along at a mile-a-minute clip, and yet here is PE’s finest, working a line that can best described as “marginal.”

On the 45-minute run between the two coastal cities, the speed rarely passed the 35 mph mark. The 12s were the last regular cars on this line until it was abandoned on January 2, 1949. What passengers there were that rode the luxurious 12s must have been “a little put out” with the replacement vehicles, the gasoline powered WHITE 798 buses.

Looking at this photo through a high-powered magnified glass, the condition of the 1221 is “PERFECT and near flawless.” But in little more the 30 months, this beautiful, magnificent, handsome interurban will be reduced to a burned out hulk at Kaiser Steel Fontana in 1951.

The entire 1200-class of interurbans, and most notably the San Berdoo 1200s, were the pinnacle of interurban travel in California. The six “BUTTERFLY 12s (1216 – 1221) were the apex of PE’s entire fleet of interurban cars. They were fast, comfortable, almost indestructible cars.

The 12s were born of necessity. The original plans for the fast 1200-class of interurbans were to be constructed of wood and would have been a “Super Ten Hundred.” But the tragic 1913 accident at Vineyard Junction between two trains of wood cars changed interurban construction on the Pacific Electric forever. Plans for the wood 12s were discarded and the all-steel 1200 class of cars was created.

They were best-built interurbans in California, if not the entire United States.

The first 30 years of the twentieth century produced many classic, elegant interurban cars. I would not call the PE 12s elegant or classic in the true sense of the word. But they were smart, handsome-looking cars. In the “BUTTERFLY” configuration, they were a beautiful sight.

But the striking beauty of these cars was no guarantee of a long life. Retirement came in late 1950. Officials from Buenos Aires looked at the 12s but two factors made the purchase of these fine cars impractical for continued service in South America.

Factor one: the single-end passenger loading doors.

Factor two: the incredible heavy construction of the 12s made adding a second passenger loading door impossible.

The 12s were passed up in favor of the slower 1100s, their double stream-loading doors the deciding factor.

With the trolley preservation movement still at least five years into the future, and scrap metal prices at historic highs brought on by the Korean War, the finest interurbans California would ever know were lost for all time.

Ralph Cantos Collection

Ralph Cantos Collection

Ralph Cantos Collection

The finest interurbans in California are cremated at Kaiser Steel. The trucks were removed and the bodies set on the ground, then the beautiful interiors of the cars, barely 10 years old, were set afire. The 1209 is the only number visible in this horrid scene. Every one of these cars was in PERFECT condition when delivered to Kaiser for scrapping….UNBELIEVABLE!!

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  • Bob Davis

    The Kaiser cremation is even sadder than the Terminal Island “stacks” because at least some of the Hollywood cars survived. Two factors leading to the demise of the Twelves and lack of any effort to preserve one (other than “system unique” 1299) were the high price for scrap steel during the Korean War and the fact that the IER and NWP hand-me-downs would carry about 40% more passengers. I never got to ride a Twelve, but part of the rush hour service on the Monrovia-Glendora Line was a three car train that could include everything but a Long Beach trailer (1246-1251). There could be an “owl-face” car with the stained glass upper sash (which I later learned were from Oregon), a regular Twelve, or one of the flamboyantly painted Butterfly Twelves. If I won the megabucks lottery, I would find a North Shore interurban, have it fitted with PE roll signs and pneumatic trolley bases, and have it painted like 1221.

  • Kim Paulsen

    The powers that be got rid of the cars and paved over and or ripped the tracks out to state; IT’S TO EXPENSIVE TO BRING BACK !!! It was all manipulated foks. MOST POEPLE BELIEVE THAT !!!

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