The Oklahoma Railway Co. operated from 1903 to 1947 and during its heyday it was the chief means of transportation for residents throughout central Oklahoma.
On February 6, 1903, the Oklahoman headline read, “Car Service Next Monday,” and indeed it was. The article tells a brief story about a “Boomer” who had witnessed a trial run. He had sighted “the modern electric flyer” moving north on Broadway, and “His amazement was apparent.”
Leaning forward, with his hands thrown out, sombrero tilted back, this survivor of the picturesque band of intrepid adventurers which effected the opening of Oklahoma to white settlement stood with his eyes riveted upon the receding car until it disappeared from view over the crest of the North Broadway divide, when, straightening up and heaving a great sigh, he exclaimed:
“Well, by thunder! They’ve sure got them cars toted by lightnin.”
With this solitary comment the” boomer” entered the nearest saloon and quieted his nerves by swallowing a four-finger quantum of fire water with a toast to “civilization and the memory of David Payne.”
The article noted there would be two lines, the University Line (South Broadway to University Heights) and the Maywood Line (Stiles Park to Colcord Park and Delmar Garden). If that be so, the routing would quickly change … When Oklahoma Took The Trolley says that, “The original plan called for a four-mile double-tracked loop around the downtown district on Main Street and Grand Ave., but by February 7, 1903, cars were operated on a more elaborate system including a line from Choctaw and Broadway north to 13th and Broadway; a line from Main and Broadway west to Western; a line from Reno and Harvey north to Fourth, west to Walker and north to 13th, and a line from Stiles Park from Fourth and Broadway via Harrison Ave.”
Oklahoma City’s trolley and interurban system was not funded by public funds. It was funded by leading city businessmen Anton Classen and John Shartel who poured millions of dollars into developing and maintaining the system.
After obtaining a franchise from the city, it was pretty much up to a company to develop the lines as they saw fit (in the absence of a city council’s prohibition of placing track on a particular street). If they knew what they intended, land, and lots of it, could be acquired before the line was actually developed … of course, by other companies who not coincidentally were at least partially owned by the same principal stockholders of the traction lines themselves. By controlling the trolley routes, Classen and Shartel guided much of the city’s early day growth.
The system continued to growth through the early 1920s, with ridership peaking at 25.5 million in 1920. The city’s population that year totaled 91,000, which, if broken down by just locals, averages out to 280 rides for every man, woman and child.
With 130 miles of tracks to maintain and operate, and the emergence of the automobile, the Oklahoma Railway Co. struggled financially throughout the 1920s. In 1924 the company was forced into federal receivership, and while that ended in reorganization in 1927, the turmoil continued.
By the start of the 1940s, the company started a plan to replace lines with buses. The last Oklahoma City streetcar ran on April 13, 1947, followed by the final Interurban run on September 27, 1947.
Dr. George Winn was one of Oklahoma City’s leading allergists and was one of the key players in building the Oklahoma City Allergy Clinic at the Oklahoma Health Center.
Winn’s dedication to recording and preserving the history of the Oklahoma Railway Co. – including the Oklahoma City streetcars and Interurbans – is a priceless snapshot of our city’s past.
Winn was a life long train enthusiast, enjoyed collecting miniature trains and also filming full size trains among other subjects and taking photos.
He was a noted member of the Cinematographers Club of Oklahoma City, and started in that hobby by taking his own home movies on 16mm film starting in the late 1920s on. He and his wife traveled the world, as much by train as other modes.
George filmed trains and streetcars, because he found them interesting. The different types and configurations caught his attention, as did the scenery or street traffic in the background. He knew the local streetcar and interurban lines were being converted to buses in the 1940s, which inspired him to record the final operations on film.
In addition to filming the streetcars as they traveled through downtown, the OU Medical Center and surrounding suburbs, Winn contributed a collection of Oklahoma Railway Co. memorabilia to the Oklahoma Railway Museum at 3400 NE Grand Boulevard.
Thanks goes to Steve Davis, who along with fellow train enthusiast Willis Bottger transferred the Winn films to video, and then made them available for display by Retro Metro OKC.