Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

February 18, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

When many see or hear the word streetcar, they get an immediate image of a street racing car.  Our culture today does embrace street cars, but they are those designed to look faster and more sleek than our average family automobile.

This title is one word, not two.  It is streetcar.  Streetcars were a mode of mass transportation when I was young.  A better description would be electric streetcars.  Prior to electric power, there were street cars   pulled by horses down the street in major cities.  Most of these streetcars rolled on tracks that were placed in the middle of the street.  These horse-drawn cars yielded to electric power when it became available.

These electric streetcars were in use prior to the turn of the century, but for Atlanta, Georgia, they were not introduced until 1900.  By 1920, they were in use in DeKalb County where I grew up.  By the time I was a boy, the streetcar was available through Decatur, Clarkston, and Stone Mountain.  This would be the route and primary mode of transportation  if you wanted to go to Atlanta.  Although the track for the streetcar was in the middle of the street in Atlanta, for our area, it would mostly follow the route of the train tracks and the primary road from Decatur to Stone Mountain.  Stone Mountain was the end of the line.

The cars rolled on a narrow gauge track with a pole mounted on the roof that would touch the electric wire that ran directly overhead.  The speed would surprise you, except there were so many stops that seldom could much speed be obtained.  However, the stretch between Clarkston and Stone Mountain provided for more speed because there were fewer stops.

The streetcars only operated about every hour, except for the early morning hour and late afternoon hour in order to accommodate those going to and from work.  If this was your only means of transportation, you had to mind the time or you would be stranded.  That fact kept my parents engaged!

Here’s that sidebar:  My mother and father were engaged. My father had come from Clarkston to Stone Mountain to see her.  He had traveled by streetcar. Something occurred to cause my mother to return  the engagement ring.  As they discussed it, the last streetcar was leaving back to Clarkston.  My father was not about to leave.  My mother was so scared he would miss it, she finally said, “Give me the ring and go catch the streetcar!”  Just think, if the streetcars ran all hours throughout the night, they may have never gotten back together.  And of course, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

I always loved streetcars.  Living in Stone Mountain gave us more opportunity to know about them.  Since this was the end of the line, there was a barn for the streetcars, and we could go in and out of it from time to time.  All of us knew the men who cleaned and worked on them.  Also, Mr. Sexton was the primary operator of the streetcar and he was our neighbor.

An interesting thing about these streetcars is when they would come to the end of the track, they would simply reverse everything.  The electric pole on top was lowered, and one at the other end was raised.  The seats all reversed and so the operator would simply walk down the aisle and pull them forward.  He would go to what had been the rear of the car as he came, and there was an identical set of controls.  The exception to this reversal was the Stone Mountain line.  The track made a circle at the end because of the streetcar barn.

This mode of transportation was popular into my early teens.  The streetcar was them replaced in Atlanta with trackless electric  trolleys.  These cars, which resembled buses, did not run on a track, but had rubber wheels, but used the overhead electric wires for the source of power.  In our area, since these trackless trolleys could not function in the paths used by the streetcars and because there were no overhead electric wires, gas-powered buses became the mode of transportation.

For some of you who never experienced a streetcar, your opportunity may be coming.  Many major cities have considered such again because of the environment and ability to be on city streets.  Of course, they will be sleek, modern cars.  Interesting that some things do come around again!




  1. Hilarious that Mama kept the ring so Papa wouldn’t miss the car!

    Comment by jjr — February 18, 2010 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

  2. I would like to talk to you more about the Street Cars of Stone Mtn. If you will contact me on my email or send me your Phone # I am from Stone mtn. I grew up there in the sixties and my father was a local police there in town. I would really like some more history. Thanks David

    Comment by David Poteat — January 11, 2012 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

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