Charles Fletcher - Memories of an operator on the interurban

  • By Dave Wilma
  • Posted 3/01/2001
  • Essay 3035
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Charles Fletcher left the following account of his work on the Seattle, Renton and Southern Railway in the 1920s and 1930s. This electric interurban connected downtown Seattle with Renton along Rainier Avenue S. Fletcher's reminiscence is taken from "Centennial History: Columbia City, Rainier Valley, 1853-1991," dated 1992, and compiled  Carey Summers for Pioneers of Columbia City, Rainier Valley Historical Society, Seattle, Washington.

Charles Fletcher's Account

"Friends, Valleyites and Columbians -- Lend me your ears! I come to reminisce a bit, not to bore you I hope I may be able to bring the past to life for us, just for a little while.

"First. let me tell you of a family moving here to Rainier Valley in l915 from a very little town in southwestern Washington. I was one of that family, and if ever there was a "hick," I was it - but I didn't know it.

"In school (as I look back now) I was somewhat of a teacher's pet, probably because my parents, who ran the local newspaper, trained us, from the word 'go' to speak good English. And being former schoolteachers, they taught us to read and write before we reached school age. But I had another advantage -- I had memorized the textbooks that my older sisters and brother used, so when I entered school they kept me just one day in the lst grade, and only four days in the 2nd. I'm afraid I was a real 'Smarty-pants' on reaching the 3rd grade so easily, but that seemed to pave the way straight to my teacher's heart. Miss Collins must have felt sorry for such a pitiful brat, and she pushed me along with all her might. She even gave me a violin and, being a genuine musician, she saw to it that I practiced.

"Miss Collins 'adopted' Our class and stayed with us through the eighth grade. Thanks to her faith in me, I was allowed to attend high school classes in Math, Latin and English, while I was still in the 7th and 8th Grades. Consequently, I was able to finish my schooling just before my 14th birthday. Like I said, I was a spoiled kid!

"Mother sold the paper in 1915 and we moved to Seattle, where we rented a house at 5lst and Lucille Streets. My brother-in-law was a good friend of the Superintendent of the S.R.S. Lines, and that led to my first job - sweeping streetcars. My boss was Jack Stewart, General Foreman of the carbarn, and once again I became 'Teacher's Pet.' Jack steered me into the repair pit and coached me until at 17, I became his assistant as Night Foreman; a position I held until 1927, when I moved to operator.

"Now - Let's imagine You are all I on my car at 4th and Stewart, about to head for Renton, and let me share some of my memories as we ride along. Please remember: I will be speaking of my own experiences, which are true events, and I hope You'll forgive me for bringing so Much of me into it.

"Ready now -- We must wait to the exact second to start. Schedule was all-important on the S.R.S. No fudging! No late starts' Our timepieces had to be Railroad Watches and must be checked each day with the Dispatcher's clock, as well as once a month at Carroll's Jewelry Store downtown.

"Our first stop is Pine Street, where a group of passengers get on the car. One gentleman asks me, "Do you stop at Oscar Street?"

"Taken aback, I ask him, "Do you mean Orcas?"

"'No, Oscar Street!' Taking an envelope from his pocket and showing me the address. It is clearly 41 Orcas, but he was still calling me dumb when he left the car.

"We move on to Jackson Street. Here a lady, accompanied by a Red Cap, placed half a dozen pieces of luggage on the car, then called up to me, "What streets do you cross?"

"I guess I was a little dumbfounded by that, and asked her what street she wanted. She said she would know it if I named them. I told her I always called out the streets, so she finally decided to get on board. Wow! She got off luggage and all when I called out "Oregon."

"Further along, we are at Atlantic Street. A well-dressed little Italian gentleman asks me, "What is your first name?" When I tell I him, he says his wife wants to name their baby after me because I was so careful when she rode my car in her "delicate condition." I never did find out who she was.

"Now we arrive at Columbia City. Passing the carbarn at 39th and Dawson, I recall this is where I once picked up a little lady who had passed out as she left the car. I carried her into the superintendent's office, where she was revived and told us her name was Elizabeth Church. You all know her as Betty Comstock.

"Here also sits 'Old 300,' the freight locomotive, and I'll share a quick remembrance of a night I was still in the shop. The boss came in and asked me when the freight crew would go by. I checked and he waited until they showed up. Then he went north with them as they delivered a load of lumber to the Dugdale Baseball Park [later site of Sicks' Seattle Stadium] Half an hour later they had completed their schedule and turned in. As usual, I gave it its regular inspection. But imagine to my surprise to find a very, very frightened and warm young lady in the control chamber where the temperature was over 100 degrees. I took her home, and all was well. This is the first time I have ever revealed this incident, and I am not mentioning names.

"Up the hill we go, to Hillman City, Graham Street, Rose Street, eventually coming to the bypass at 51st and Rainier. Comes to my memory a rather bad derailment here -- one on which I was called from home to help with the work. We found the cause -- someone had forced a rock into the switch. Why? Only recently, when my wife read me her brother's memoirs, did I learn that the culprit was my future brother-in-law. Today he's as nice a Christian gentleman as you can find anywhere, but then he was just a 12-year old boy full of mischief. He wanted the car to crush the rock.

"Continuing our trip, we come to Rainier Beach, Taylor's Mill and the city limits, where I must collect additional fare before we proceed. Then we ride along the lakes shore to Bryn Mawr -- here in 1917, one of the cars ran over a cougar! That's right -- a cougar. My crew had to clean up the trucks, and believe me it was a mess.

"Buffalo Station is next then Earlington and we make a sharp turn east and head into Renton, the end of the line. We should have about ten minutes lay-over here, before heading back to Seattle. Here, at the end of the line, is where one day a lady got on my car and went quickly to the back seat. I realized something was amiss, but before I could send for a doctor, we had an extra passenger -- a bouncing baby boy! Thank heaven the hospital was only two blocks away and she soon got good care.

"As we head back to Seattle, we have time for one more story. Let's think of that wild, stormy Sunday in 1934 when the wind was recorded at 96 m.p.h. and nobody ventured out of doors - nobody. At the 51st Avenue stop, two lovely sisters are waiting for my car. Aghast, I ask: "Where are you girls going in this storm?' -- and what a reply. "Oh, just to see what's happening downtown." Well -- what they saw downtown in just a few minutes was enough -- broken windows everywhere, trash blowing all over, lights out and nobody there but themselves! They were waiting at Union Street when I returned a few minutes later and could take them back home.

"One of those girls is here today -- and last week she and I celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary. And so help me, that is the way we met! I think you all know my wife, Ruth.

"So now you've heard a few memories of a streetcar operator. It was a job I enjoyed very much, and many of you contributed to my pleasure, for which I truly thank you.

Now if there is going to be a life hereafter,
And, Faith, I know there's going to be -
I will ask my God to let me make my heaven
In that dear land in Rainier Valley."

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