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The Big Red Cars: The Blimp Electric Interurban Cars of the Southern Pacific Lines


The Harriman Associated Lines, and the SP in particular, were pioneers in the development of all-steel passenger cars. With a staff of creative engineers, it was possible to compete for engineering leadership with car builders and locomotive works. In 1909, it was decided to build a comprehensive electric commuter rail system in the Oakland-Alameda-Berkeley (“East Bay”) area, operating the trains with the most modern, energy efficient railcars yet seen.

For its money, SP got a heavy-duty, electrified commuter railroad, though passenger luxury was not on the shopping list. Most came with 3-2 seating, no heaters and no dining or lounge cars—as plain vanilla as they could get. A few more from Pullman and St. Louis were added later, while the Northwestern Pacific bought nineteen third-rail copies. Some cars were converted from combines to coaches and some trailers were motorized.

These cars served Bay Area commuters until the SP and NWP electric railroads were abandoned in 1941. With the onset of World War II, more than seventy cars found new homes in southern California’s Pacific Electric to deliver shipyard workers, where they were known as “Blimps.” The PE operated them until 1953, when passenger service was sold to Metropolitan Coach Lines. In 1958, local government took over, finally abandoning the trains in 1961.

Over 500 pictures, maps and drawings, this book is the first comprehensive study of this subject to appear in decades. Fifty years of photographic images are presented.

Author Joseph A. Strapac, hardcover 336 pages.

SKU: 2757