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Gambling on Bisbee’s Trolleys

The Warren/Bisbee Street Railway trolley pauses at one of its stops in Lowell, c.1910.

The Warren/Bisbee Street Railway trolley pauses at one of its stops in Lowell, c.1910.

Bisbee’s trolley system was inaugurated in March 1908 and was in use until 1928. Named the Warren/Bisbee Street Railway, it carried throngs of  passengers in its 20 years of existence. The route ran from the country club south of Warren up through Bisbee as far as Sims Road (not far from today’s tunnel.) Looking back, it seems it was a wild challenge to run a trolley through Bisbee’s tortuous streets. In addition to steep grades and dizzying curves, the route was crowded with automobiles, especially along Main Street, where the ride was uncomfortably close for trolley passengers and motorists alike — accidents were always a problem. Many passengers were injured just getting on and off the cars.

In May 1910, Fred Meyers suffered severe cuts to his head and face when he fell while trying to step down before the trolley stopped. I.D. Jones rode the trolley to visit a sick friend at the Calumet and Arizona Hospital one evening in March 1913. Just before arriving, he carelessly stepped from the back platform of the moving trolley, fell and hit his head and died of the injuries.

Drunks were also a problem. Andy Neoman, a porter at the Beer Garden Saloon, left work at about 2 a.m. so drunk his boss followed him for a time, trying to persuade him to go home to bed. Neoman ignored him and continued to wander the streets, finally passing out on the trolley tracks. At about 5 a.m., the trolley, rounding a curve in the dark, ran over the prostrate man before the motorman could apply the brakes. Neoman was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The worst trolley accident in the 20-year history of the system happened one afternoon in August 1913. The brakes failed on a special open trolley hired to carry a group of almost 60 mourners to a funeral.

At first the passengers did not realize their danger. But when the motorman on the front platform discovered that the air brakes had failed, he panicked and ran back into the car. The trolley gained speed as it headed down slag dump hill (today about where the highway rounds the Lavender Pit). Some passengers smashed the side windows and jumped or simply leapt from the front platform. Others braced themselves for the inevitable crash.

The careening trolley caught up to the car that had preceded it down the grade and smashed into it with such force the two cars could hardly be separated. Several people were trapped between the cars and in all about 50 people were injured. All but the motorman and two passengers got off the lead trolley after the crash. Once the two cars were pried apart, the attention of the rescuers was focused on the injured. No one noticed as the lead trolley slowly began to move forward and gain speed. The motorman was still on board, but the air brakes were dead. Again there was another runaway trolley heading toward Lowell. The motorman jumped to safety leaving the two passengers aboard. The trolley ran at a frightful speed until it came to the S curve leading into Lowell. There it jumped the tracks, smashed into the curb and skidded along upright for a few feet before finally falling over onto the sidewalk and coming apart in front of the Phelps Dodge store. The two passengers suffered only minor injuries. Passengers from the original accident were not so lucky. One man was pronounced dead at the hospital, another died the next day.

— Tom Vaughan. Photo courtesy Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, Paulus Collection.

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