Monday, April 18, 2005
Old Power House For Bellingham Street Cars
On Champion Street.
Some transit history memories.
As I was out walking in my neighborhood this backside view presented itself.
A friend was amazed it hasn't zuppified yet. No zesty coffee shops, ritzy art studios for wealthy faculty spouses.
An island of authentic life, preserved by the pragmatic storage of construction equipment, building those urban showcases elsewhere. Whatcom Creek Gurgles past.
I remember, years back, when this place had a low rent space for something called "Blackberry Printing Co-OP." Early 1980s when their motto was, "Freedom of the press belongs to those who OWN it, or SHARE IT." Emphasis on "share" for Blackberry's idealistic co-op members.
That was the days before Internet technology empowered so many little folks onto the World Wide Web.
What ever happened to Blackberry? I don't know.
Long before those days, this was the industrial heart of Bellingham's electrified street car system. Local historians give slide presentations about the cars that went nearly everywhere.
There was even a funeral car.
What happened to Bellingham's electric transit?
As in countless other cities, the automobile took over.
Conspiracy theorists say the oil companies plotted this, but I heard another twist on the story.
While I was bicycling across America, down a long lonely road in eastern Montana, the radio waves from Canada were keeping me company. Canadian National Broadcasting had a radio documentary on the demise of street car systems.
Public perception was to blame.
Old transit was seen as "The Big Guys." "The Crooked Guys." "Gruff Old Drivers." "City Hall."
The Automobile was new. Seen as "Empowerment For Individuals."
"Don't rely on transit bosses." "Take charge yourself." "Drive your own car."
Transit fell into disrepair. Then oil companies bought, in some cases to try and salvage bankrupt systems, in other cases to dismantle and recycle used equipment.
Governments also took over dying transit systems.
I once heard that the owner of a private bus system, here in Bellingham, was going broke. Went before city council in 1960s and said, basically, "It's all yours or I'm shutting down." The city took over and birthed present days of "taxpayer subsidized transit in Bellingham."
I came on the scene, as a college student, in mid 1970s. My dad impressed that Bellingham Transit was only "a dime a ride." Sales taxes, of course, paid most of the cost.
Also there was, supposedly, the oldest continuously operating bus line in Washington State. It was still coming into Bellingham.
The Lynden Stage.
Started as horse and buggy. Went between Bellingham and Lynden each day.
Someone told me, "the old guy still drives the bus because the wife can't stand to have him around the house."
Riding in a friend's car, we got behind the Lynden bus one day.
Black smoke curling out the tailpipe. My friend said, "sure needs a ring job."
Not long after that, Lynden Stage was discontinued.
Also Bellingham City Transit was folded into Whatcom Transit Authority. "The WTA."
Runs have been extended out to Lynden and a few other county locations.
It's 75 cents per ride.
Nothing more said about the street car power plant, but it hasn't been yuppified, yet, at least.