The Charleroi Interurban

by Cpl Ira L. Sweet
INL,Pittsburgh Railways Company, January, 1945
The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of William E. Nary of the Pittsburgh Railways Company.

The text of the original article is transcribed below. Scanned copies of the original article from the Pittsburgh Railways Listserv @Dementia.org are at the following links: Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3

Photo and map from scanned INL article, Page 3

The great city of Pittsburgh, crouched like a sprawling tiger at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, is one of America’s premier electric railway centers. From clumsy old woods to sleek new PCCs the streetcars rule the streets; busses are few and those in evidence are small and unimpressive. It is a genuine pleasure to stand anywhere in the Golden Triangle and witness the never-ending parade of cars; once every half-hour an even greater pleasure is experienced when the Charleroi interurban - - long and low and powerful - - glides smoothly past. Let’s ride this car and see how the Charleroi run compares with other interurbans of the America’s.
Here we are in Roscoe, a pleasant little town about thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. The great Monongahela is slowly rolling along just below us, its placid surface disturbed only by the paddlewheels and prows of the river boats as they shepherd their clumsy charges, great scows loaded high with West Virginia coal. We are on the west bank of the river; just ahead of us is an electric railway loop and standing there, almost ready to depart for Pittsburgh, is an orange-and-gray car 3813, one of fifteen single-end cars built by St. Louis Car Company in 1928 for this run. These cars are one-man steel jobs, with front entrance and center exit. They conform in general appearance to the standard Pittsburgh streetcars but have larger motors which drive them at speeds up to 65 mph. Entering the 3813, we pay our $1.04 to the operator who rings it up on a miniature cash register; we clutch our receipt and carefully put it away, for a lost receipt means paying a second fare. You will appreciate that with eighteen fare zones between Roscoe and Pittsburgh, the payment of fare is not a matter to be taken lightly.
The interior of the car is interesting to one unfamiliar with this design. As we face toward the rear, we see 35 seats - - single seats set at an angle on the left of the aisle and double seats on the right; no, the 3813 isn't narrow - - the seats are extra large, of the bucket type. Seats in this forward compartment are upholstered in green plush and most are very badly worn. The rear compartment has eighteen rattan-leatherette seats, also of the bucket type. We note the presence of controls at the rear center window and see a Westinghouse M20A brake valve. The floor is wood and the ceiling is a cream color with six large dome lights down the center; windows are wood single sash. Weight of the 2813 complete is about 56,000 pounds. Her lines are clean and modern.
With a strident blast from her big air-horn, 3813 awakes, rolls around the weed-choked loop and hits the high iron which parallels a narrow highway. The single-track line is quite rough with very little ballast noticeable but the arch-bar trucks with their roller bearings ride it easily and swiftly. A bit of street running comes next, with quite good rail embedded in the usually brick pavement. We swerve to the left of the highway and again are on private right-of-way; we notice the modern light signals of the permissive protective type which will guard our progress all the way to Pittsburgh.
Gradually we pick up a full load but notice a very unfortunate thing: each passenger must receive a receipt from the register and the time loss is appreciable. With groups of as many as twenty boarding, the Charleroi interurban wastes long precious moments standing idle. The operator presents a unique scene as he swings his big chair around to face us and becomes instantaneously a minor official behind the gleaming façade of his complex financial machine. The last receipt doled out, he whirls away from us and resumes his normal role of alert motorman with eyes glued to the speeding rails and the marching procession of light signals.  
We curve across to the right of the highway and find ourselves alongside the tracks of the Pennsy with the wide Monongahela and its beautifully-green opposite shore furnishing a very attractive backdrop. Ahead is the city of Charleroi, home of the thousands who toil in the great steel mills and factories which sprinkle both banks of the river. We find ourselves rolling down McKean Ave. on single track which at the center of Charleroi becomes girder rail. At the main intersection we lose most of our passengers but their places are filled at once by an even greater crowd. Observe the sign beneath that traffic light over there: "Pittsburgh, 26 miles." We get the green light and roll through Charleroi; at the edge of town, once again on single track, we notice on our right a sizeable carhouse filled with streetcars of the 4200 class. To our surprise, the 3813 swings inside the carhouse and pulls to a stop. Out hops the operator for a sandwich and coke while we watch him enviously. Naturally this gives us a golden opportunity to inspect the dim barn; a modern carwashing machine is set up nearby, and a line car is against the far wall. The streetcars stored in Charleroi barn are used in local service in this area as well as on the Donora line which we will see a little later. At one time there was quite a streetcar system here in Charleroi with the big bridge even carrying the cars to the other side of the Monongahela; today busses have entered the picture. The track was girder rail from Maple Creek to the end of Lincoln Avenue in North Charleroi.
Our operator is ready now, and we roll out into the sunlight onto the main line; while we were hidden inside, an opposing car passed us --- quite a novel turnout! At once we notice on our left an abandoned carhouse (Westside Barn with tracks still visible. The tracks give evidence of the Monesson line; Monesson is the town across the River from Charleroi. The author misspells Monessen as Monesson.
Now begins the most beautiful section of the Charleroi line. The Monongahela makes a broad sweep eastward and its banks become great high hills. Our car, weary of following the river’s meanderings, strikes straight north up the side of the nearest hill. Swiftly we climb upward on straight track, crossing two or three fairly high wooden bridges; spanning offshoots of the river canyon. (All descending cars are required to make safety stops before crossing any of these bridges; a wise precaution it is, too, for should a car get out of control here there would be but faint hope of saving those on board.) Below to the right the bend of the river is revealed in all its glory. Many riverboats and barges can be seen plodding along, while behind us Charleroi is clearly visible, looking for all the world like a toy village beside a blue, blue brook. On the near side of the river Pennsy tracks hug the bank, while on the opposite shore long trains headed by Pittsburgh & Lake Erie engines rumble along. Truly here is one of the most magnificent views offered by an interurban! The three bridges were not wooden. (See schematics of Bridge #1
For photos of the most beautiful section of the Charleroi line, see the Lock View page.
Arriving at the crest, 3813 enters double track and plunges into a dense green woodland. Our track twists and turns, following the demands of the contour lines. Hills rise high above us and the 3813 gives a very nice exhibition of speed on poor track. Curves are entered and left easily and the quiet motors give little clue as to out actual speed, which is about 45. Ahead it Black Junction, where we see 5200 waiting for those who wish to travel east to Donora; the Donora branch parallels the river for 2/3 of the distance to the loop the waters commenced near Charleroi. The dense woodland the author describes is Eldora Hollow. Eldora Park had closed by this time. Either there were no remnants of the Eldora Park stop worth mentioning or the author did not considered it noteworthy.
The author incorrectly refers to Black Diamond Junction as Black Junction.
On double track we roll through Monongahela City, picking up more folks who evidently are eager for an evening of fun in Pittsburgh. The town of New Eagle is close by and in single track street operation we speed swiftly across the intervening strip. After New Eagle comes Riverview where we toll to a stop on a loop behind streetcar 3753, one of the ten 3750s speeded up to help the 3800 handle the traffic which becomes much heavier as one nears the city. Both cars must meet the 3801 here; this accomplished, the 3753 pulls out ahead of us while we wait for her to clear the block. "Unusual," think I. "Why let that slow car drag the line all the way into Pittsburgh?" I pass this question along to the operator, who answers it very capably:  
"Yes, it does seem to be a poor way to railroad," he says, "but I'll be surprised if we get another sight of the 3753. She hasn't our top speed but she can dig out from stops a lot faster than the 3813. She won't slow us down." Sure enough, our frequent stops retard us considerably; only once do we have to slow for the block to clear and that is for the longest block on the entire line.  
The sight of a substation at Riverview brings the information that substations are located at Charleroi, Riverview, Finleyville, Library, Washington Junction and South Hill Junction; three more substations are located on the Washington branch: Thompsonville, Cannonsburg, and Tylerdale.  
Onward we speed with the 3813 more than once taking us up into the high speed ranges where she handles quite well, being quiet and smooth. Every once in a while we flash beneath a railroad overpass; this section is laced with branch lines serving coal mines and factories. At Lanks we reenter double track. Ahead now is Finleyville; we cross a little stream on an old wooden bridge, hit the city street and make a sharp right turn --- then pass slowly along a rather discouraged appearing business street. Finleyville doesn't hold us long; we pick up speed again and race through more rolling, green-clad countryside. The brightly burning light signals beckon us on---ever onward. Trolley wire, of the single suspension type, seems rather loose; our operator says it requires two line crews to keep the wire in good shape on the two interurban lines, Charleroi and Washington.  
On our left now is a great burning slag dump, rather an unusual sight to a Southern Californian. We skirt the huge steaming mass and continue onward. Library comes into view with a streetcar waiting on a loop for us to pass; once we are by, the car pulls out onto the main and follows us into Pittsburgh.  
More fast miles slip by and ahead is Washington Junction; here the 26-mile single track Washington interurban joins us and it 3700s (older versions of our car) roll into the city on our track. We are on a slight ascending grade now, with frequent stops necessary because of excellent patronage. The brightly-gleaming double tracks on their private right-of-way unfold beneath us to the rhythmic clicking of the wheels. With a standing load aboard, our operator persists in stopping for more---each time going through his odd Whirling Dervish act and killing entirely too much time thereby. One cannot help but wonder why, with a local car following, we are not running limited into Pittsburgh.  
Now we are at Castle Shannon; on the left is an old storage yard with a boarded-up crew building near the tracks. Once this was a busy place; today some PCCs wye in the yard and a few old service cars slumber at the far end. The flashy cream and orange PCCs have been tried out as far as Library on the Charleroi line, but according to several operators the new cars cannot take the rough track at speed without severe vibration. With heavier trucks, the PCCs would be the perfect answer for suburban lines such as this.  
We curve away from this fallen-from-glory spot that is Castle Shannon and at Oak find ourselves on single track private right-of-way high on the side of a hill; below are numerous homes and an express highway. Hills rise on all sides, but our car threads her way surefootedly among them. So steep is the hillside that there is no room for double track; the PCCs, interurbans and streetcars, protected by modern signals, keep on schedule with the aid of numerous passing tracks. Surely this is the busiest single track trolley line in the nation.  
Down from a neighboring valley on the left sweeps another car line with busy PCCs speeding in both directions. We drop down to meet it at South Hills Junction; there a very large carbarn and storage yards comes into view. We pull to a stop at an intensely busy trolley station at the foot of beetling Mt. Washington. In the face of the cliff, staring at us like an enormous eye (see cover page of December INL), is the south portal of the famous Mt. Washington trolley tunnel: far in its depths we see the bright headlight of a PCC coming uphill towards us. From converging tracks on our immediate right, another well-filled PCC rounds the sharp curve and is swallowed up by the gloom of the tunnel. Truly this is an intriguing spot for those interested in electric railway operation; we decided to stop over for a few minutes.  
The attractive little restaurant across the tracks beckons and we join other trolley riders for some excellent hot soup and a sandwich. All the while the cars slowly pass in review just outside the door---all sizes, all shapes; steady streams of them are being disgorged by the tunnel, the five trunk lines and the storage yard to accommodate the evening rush and to supply the needs of those who rent them for the evening (you'd be surprised how many chartered cares are operated!). No automobiles are allowed here, so we are in a little streetcar world all our own. The brightly polished ribbons of steel, the flaring headlights sweeping out of the tunnel, the crowds of people transferring, the small army of operators waiting for their runs, the busy supervisors scurrying from car to car---all these make South Hill Junction one of the great streetcar nerve centers of the nation.  
From here to the heart of the Golden Triangle is but a short ride. We board a PCC and are whisked through the long tunnel, across the Monongahela on the Smithfield Bridge, past the stations of the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie and the Baltimore & Ohio and into the downtown district. As we cross the river, we pass the 3813, outward bound, having completed her loop through the business section which took her as far as the Pennsy Station. Another capacity load is aboard her and her faithful motors are speeding her south again.