Pacific Electric PCC No. 5023: Dawn to Dusk of a Beauty Queen

 Jeffrey Marinoff Collection

Jeffrey Marinoff Collection

By Ralph Cantos

Pacific Electric’s double end PCCs were arguably the most beautiful PCCs ever built. Unfortunately for PE’s Pullman built PCCs, beauty did not translate into longevity.

Depending on the city system where the PCCs operated, the service life of the cars was about 20 yeas in such “rust belt” cities as Pittsburgh to almost 35 years in Mexico City and more than 50 years in Newark, New Jersey. Good maintenance was the key to long service life.

Even in Toronto, where snow- and salt-covered streets cut the average life of automobiles to about 15 years (if that long), the TTC’s fleet of PCCs lasted into the late 1980s with the last PCCs still in operation into 1991.

On the other hand, some PCCs did not do as well. The San Diego Electric’s twenty-eight PCCs were retired after just 12 years of service. After about 5 years of dead storage, 20 of them were sold to El Paso City Lines where they saw service into the 1970s. Six of the San Diego were scrapped and 2 preserved, at this time both cars 508 and 528 at OERM.

PE’s beautiful, well-maintained double-enders served the Glendale-Burbank Line for all of 15 years before being put into “really dead storage” in the damp PE Subway tunnel. After four years, the cars were sold to Buenos Aires for further service. However, that tenure lasted just about three short years before the cars were once again retired. All 30 of the car disappeared with out a trace, with no photo record of their final disposition.

In these two photos from the Jeffrey Marinoff Collection, the “dawn” photo shows the 5023 at the Pullman Standard factory in all her splendor and beauty being made ready for shipment to Los Angeles in November 1940. Just twenty-one short years later, the “dusk” photo shows the same car , now renumbered M1523 in the final year of service during its short second career.

One car, no. 1528 (PE no. 5028) was never modified with train doors and remained a true double-ender. It was used as a training car to the end. How wonderful it would be if some rich Buenos Aires rail-fan could have purchased this car, stashed it away for posterity, just waiting to be discovered and returned to Los Angeles. It does not hurt to dream, as some dreams do come true.

Jeffrey Marinoff Collection

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Showing 4 comments
  • Tito

    Hi Ralph:

    Thanks for this wonderful story. I loved those PCCs. They were so luxurious compared to the other cars that the ran alongside. Sadly back then in Buenos Aires nothing was preserved. Buenos Aires had one of the largest trolley car systems in the world and not one sample of the trolleys was saved – it’s only the heroic efforts of the trolley fans at AAT (Asociacion Amigos del Tranvia) that an original car from that era was restored and now operates on their museum loop. The huge Buenos Aires trolleybus system, which featured rare U.S.-made Westram (Ward-LaFrance) trolleybuses was dismantled and not a trace exists today. The Key System bridge units are long gone. A Hollywood car survives only because it was a work car (but not restored) and there is an “eleven” somewhere completely dismantled. It survived because it had a life as a locomotive-pulled coach. I wish it were different and I wish I had been the rich Argentine, who rescued so many of my childhood favorites.

    Again, thanks for continuing to shed light on these wonderful cars.

    • Ralph Cantos

      Tito, thank you so much for your “on the spot” reports. I only wish you had better news..

  • Joe Vaughan

    The Orange Empire Railway Museum has a Key System unit that as far as I know still operates. PE 717 was repainted still runs. The 1624 is in need of paint job. Iearned how to operate many of Pacific Electric cars at OERM as a member. One of my favorites was 00157 a tower car. The Hollywood cars like the 717. 498 and 314 learning how to operate these two cars was dream just thinking of the history in these cars.
    Please check the museums web site

  • Tito

    Ironically, I rode the Hollywood cars and Key Bridge Units in Buenos Aires, and about 25 years later I rode the Orange Empire preserved cars. Brought back so many great memories. Associacion Amigos del Tranvia (the local preservation group) only started in 1980 and by then all the great trams were gone. They have done a great job salvaging historical pieces, usually only body shells, and putting them back into museum loop service.

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