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Empty railcar. unknown date. courtesy of the Holyoke History Room & Archives

With the increasing costs of maintaining streetcars, rails, wires, and poles and ridership slowly declining due to the increasing presence of automobiles, the Holyoke Street Railway phased out trolley use in the late 1930s. With more autos on the road, drivers grew tired of navigating around the sluggish behemoths. To keep up with the times, the HSR began to offer bus service in conjunction with the trolley service. For all of the trolley’s faults, (uncomfortable, slow, noisy, major infrastructure investment), it had a minimal environmental impact. Of course during the 1930s, economics drove decision making, not protection of the environment. It is only with the hindsight of seventy plus years that one can now look at the decision to tear up the rails as being shortsighted.

The final trolley ride was taken on Labor Day in 1937.

HSR Carman shaking the and of the final passenger of the trolley. 1937. Courtesy of the Holyoke History Room and Archives

During the 1930s the HSR was running buses simultaneously with the streetcars. They transitioned exclusively to buses after 1937.

Silent color footage of the Holyoke Street Railway Company.

Footage includes: trolley cars traveling on Canal St. High St., Suffolk St., and Pleasant St, a tool car, trolley cars proceeding to Mountain Park to be destroyed, trolley cars being burned at Mountain Park, workers salvaging steel and copper from the remains, a lineman cutting down trolley wires, workers tearing up track. This film was shot sometime in the late 1930s, just before the trolley system was dismantled. Footage is courtesy of the Holyoke History Room and Archives of the Holyoke Public Library.

The trend of buses and autos overtaking trolley use was not exclusively due to the whims of the marketplace. In 1922 only one in ten people owned an automobile. 90% of the populace used rail. Some have argued that Alfred P. Sloan, the president of General Motors in 1923, conspired to eliminate rail use in an effort to replace it with bus and auto use. National City Lines was a front group for several companies including General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum, Mack, and Federal Engineering Corporation. This major conglomerate bought up more than one hundred major rail lines in the United States between 1936 and 1950 and replaced them with GM buses. The other companies would receive exclusive supply contracts with the bus companies.

In 1947, nine corporations and seven individuals were indicted by the Federal Government under the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act. There were two charges: conspiracy to acquire control of a number of transit companies to form a transportation monopoly, and conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by National City Lines. In 1949, the companies were acquitted on the first count, but found guilty on the second.

There is no evidence that National City Lines was involved with the decision by the Holyoke Street Railway Company to eliminate rail service.

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