The LiveWire

The Baltimore Coal Car

By Denis Falter

     Before 1921, electricity to power Baltimore streetcars was generated by United Railways and Electric Company at two generating plants. The most visible was the one on Pratt Street that today houses Barnes and Noble Booksellers among others. The other was built on the North Point peninsula, near Bay Shore Park. It contained eight generators, seven to provide DC current to power streetcars and one generator which provided AC current, primarily for Bay Shore Amusement Park. Coal Yard

     Both plantsí boilers were coal fired. Coal was brought into Baltimore by barges at either Curtis Bay or Clinton Street in Canton. The barges hauled the coal to the wharf next to the Pratt Street station. Two cranes with clamshell buckets carried the coal to hoppers near the top of the building where it was discharged and moved by gravity into the plant and, ultimately, into the boilers.

     The Bay Shore station had no such water access so that barge delivery of the coal was not possible. Due to the condition of roads in the area and the lack of coal hauling trucks, vehicle transport was not possible either.

     So, how did the coal get there? The answer was found in the Maryland Rail Heritage Library. Among the historical transit documents was found an article from an unknown and undated industry publication titled The Baltimore Coal Car. This vehicle was built in the UR&Eís Carroll Park Shops and was given the number 6017. It operated on the same 600 vdc as the streetcars. Its capacity was 15 tons and it hauled coal to Bay Shore. On the return trip, it removed ashes that were used as fill material along the many miles of streetcar right of way.

     The car operated at night when it would not interfere with the movement of streetcars. Coal was loaded from the aforementioned hoppers into the car at the Pratt Street power station by gravity. The car then proceeded down Pratt Street to East Baltimore and then down the private right-of-way along Dundalk Avenue of the Sparrows Point line. It proceeded through Sparrows Point town to the power station about two miles away. There the car positioned itself on a trestle behind the power station where gates installed on the sides of the car were lifted allowing the coal to flow by gravity into a storage area below.

     The career of this interesting piece of equipment ended with the cessation of electric generation by UR&E in 1921. The company then purchased power from Consolidated Gas and Electric Company which also purchased the Pratt Street plant. The Bay Shore plant was no longer needed and the equipment was removed.

     It was used as storage for aircraft templates and plans during World War II, but no documentation of other uses could be found after that. The shell of the plant can still be seen by hiking along the number 26 trolley trail in North Shore Park.

     As for the disposition of the 6017, it was converted to a flat car in 1923 and labored on for many years in that capacity. Many, many thanks go to the workers at the Maryland Rail Heritage Library for their assistance in the research for this article. The regular workers there are Ken Spencer, Harry Gesser, Bob Janssen, Ed Schell, Dick Hutzler, your truly, Charlie Plantholt, Pete Riecks, C. Ben Bates, Sandy Mitchell and occasionally, Mike Miller.

    (Reprinted with permission from the Baltimore Streetcar Museum's quarterly newsletter, The Live Wire.  Copyright 2004, The Baltimore Streetcar Museum, Inc. All rights reserved.)

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