Remembering the old trolleys

Three Bangor trolleys move down Main Street in the 1940s in this photo Lee Mathews received from his daughter, Sally.
Three Bangor trolleys move down Main Street in the 1940s in this photo Lee Mathews received from his daughter, Sally.
Posted Sept. 05, 2011, at 3:48 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 05, 2011, at 7:30 p.m.

In the 1940s, it was a big deal to Lee Mathews when he got to his dad’s weekly pass for the trolley on Saturdays.

“The pass ended on Saturday night at midnight,” LeForest Mathews III recalled last week. “You had to buy a new one on Sunday morning.”

Penobscot Transportation Co. issued the weekly pass for $1, each one giving the beginning and end dates for the week covered. The ticket bore the named of Edward M. Graham, president of the Globe Ticket Co. in Boston.

Mathews has been in love with trolleys since he was 14, and “a guy named Mallory” let him drive the setback trolley along a portion of Ohio Street in Bangor.

Now something of an expert on the mode of transportation so few can remember, Mathews still loves driving trolleys. In fact, he’s a licensed trolley operator for Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport.

Mathews has lots to share, including a cherished photo of the Bangor Trolley coming down Main Street that his daughter Sally gave him. He will give a talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 13, for the Brewer Historical Society at First United Methodist Church, 40 South Main St. in Brewer. All are welcome.

Riding the trolley way back when was a memorable experience, especially for those who didn’t get to do it regularly. The Bangor Daily News reported a century ago, on July 28, 1911:

“Through the kindness of the Bangor Railway and Electric Co., some 700 children from Bangor and Orono enjoyed an excursion to Riverside Park in Hampden. Eight [trolley] cars were needed to transport the little ones. City Missionary Mrs. Johnson was the chaperone and the Orono delegation was in the charge of the Rev. John M. Harrington. Patrolmen Gehigan and Rogan were the guardians of the children and made so much of a hit with the youngsters that they are booked for president — both of them.

“Mrs. Johnson expressed thanks to those who contributed: T.R. Savage Co., peanuts; Thurston and Kingsbury, lollipops; Fred Crowell, peanuts; Staples and Griffin, ginger-snaps; D.F. Snow, ginger-snaps; J. Frank Boyd, confectionery; Tea White, confectionery; Helson’s Bakery, cookies; Boston Cooking School, cookies; W.H. Stacy, sandwiches, bananas and cookies; Rice and Miller, bat; O. Crosby Bean, ball; R.B. Dunning and Co., baskets.”

The trolley also ran to Veazie, Orono, Old Town, Glenburn, Kenduskeag, Corinth and Charleston.

So what is a “setback trolley”? Even those too young to remember trolleys can understand the way Mathews explains it. The setback was the extra trolley that came along to pick up passengers when the regular Ohio Street car was elsewhere in the city.

But the trolleys came to an end. Edward M. Graham himself turned off the electric power to the generator on Dec. 31, 1945, at the Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. substation at the top of Park Street Hill in Bangor.

Watching as Graham threw the switch were Charles H. Johnson, superintendent of transportation; Gordon D. Briggs, attorney; Ernest W. Brown, operating engineer; Frank G. Usher, utility man; and Millard F. Brown, operator.

Motorman Thomas Davis was pictured in the Bangor Daily News the next day, standing in old car 40 on Exchange Street. Guy Webster, the last of the men who ran the open air trolleys to Old Town and Hampden, droves buses until 1955, when he stepped down to return to work for Bangor Hydro.

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