Birneys were arguably the first
"lightweight" streetcars. They were heralded as safety cars because
of such things as their high-strength stressed-skin metal construction and
design features that included a "dead man" control that brought the car to
a halt if the controller or foot pedal were released.
Birneys were arguably the first "lightweight" streetcars. They were
heralded as safety cars because of such things as their high-strength stressed-skin
metal construction and design features that included a "dead man" control
that brought the car to a halt if the controller or foot pedal were released.
In spite of a wobbling ride and lack of power Birneys were popular for
a time. The public enjoyed new equipment and seemingly renewed transit
company interest in marginal neighborhood lines. Management appreciated
their economy and the reduced headways made by the purchase of more Birneys
than would have been possible with regular cars. Birneys also proved
less of a power drain (they weighed about half what the streetcars that preceeded
them did) and were easier to maintain. Also, they were the first cars
to be designed for one-man operation
Although Portland's Birneys were leased from the Emergency Fleet Corporation
in January of 1919, they were purchased in 1922. They were to be the
only Birneys ever used in Portland. The Birneys were originally meant
as replacements for the old City & Suburban Railway Company
Portland Railway, Light & Power used these old "C&S standards" on
short lines, stubs and as trippers. Thus, the new Birneys were employed
almost exclusively for stub service. The narrow gauge cars were used
on the Willamette Heights, Irvington, 13th
and 16th Street Lines,
with 13th probably being the last line on which they operated. Their
standard gauge twins were used on the Murraymead and Eastmoreland stub lines.
Car #13 is said to have gotten its name in the paper once while working
on the 13th Street Line. Seems it was Friday the 13th
the succession of "13s" struck a reporter as being very unlucky.
The Birneys' color scheme was maroon with gold detailing and natural wood
windows at first (1910s). Some were apparently repainted in gray &
green with a black stripe in the 1930s like the new “Broadway” Master Units.
In the last years (1940s) they were painted maroon with cream livery (by the
'40s only the standard gauge units may have remained in operation).
One Portland Birney survives, albeit in a horribly "remuddled"
way. Paul Class, of Gales Creek Enterprises, restored Car 801 to its
a color close to its original maroon livery and placed it into the original
Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in downtown Portland in the 1970's as part
of the restaurant chain's theme. Unfortunately, the car was heavily
remodeled in 1983 for placement in the new Old Spaghetti Factory then under
construction in the John's Landing area. The car was repainted to green
and cream and a fake clerestory roof was placed on top! So, although
diners can still sit in the last vestige of Portland's Birney cars, this trolley
bears little resemblance to the originals. It might be best to avert your
eyes from the roof while approaching the car and just enjoy it from the inside
where the Birney ambiance remains.
Two Classes: Two of the Birneys that came with
this lot, as order 1157B, had basically the same specifications and builder's
date, but were standard gauge. Originally numbered 801& 802, they
were assigned numbers following the rest of their class (24 & 25) after
the arrival of the Broadways in 1932 (which took the 800 series numbers).
Retirement: 1933 = 9-10, 14; 1936 = 5; 1938 = 801 (24)
; 1941 = 1-4, 6-8, 11-13, 15-23 & 802 (25). This last bunch
all went on September 18 according to company records.
Technical Notes: Car's 801-02 were renumbered
24-5 on April 30, 1932. Mechanical rear doors (operated from the front)
were installed in the following cars on October 4, 1926: 1-9,11-12, 15-21
& 23. Car 23 was not planned for this installation, but was damaged
in a collision in July, 1926, so they were added during rebuilding. The only
cars never to receive these doors were 13 & 25. Car #14 was listed
as unserviceable in 1928, but as can be seen, it was officially retired in
1933 (probably moldered in storage for several years).