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February 23, 2009

Mule Drawn Street Cars

While we often think of mules being an everyday part of farm and country life a century ago, they were just as much a part of city life back in that day.

Not only did mules pull the farm equipment used in planting, cultivating and harvesting farmland, and used to pull coaches and wagons across country. They were also the "engine" for many city streetcars.

I was reading the news, and ran across this article in the El Paso Times about mule drawn streetcars. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"By 1882, we also had our first mule-drawn streetcar system. Much of the heavy traffic filtered back and forth between El Paso and Juárez, the crossing point being a wooden bridge, built in 1887, at the foot of Stanton Street. Mule cars operated on light, standard-gauge tracks, the mule plodding along at a leisurely pace. And while the wooden cars had no springs, they had slat seats and oil lamps. In winter, wood-burning stoves added comfort."

"During the spring season, with its subsequent dust storms, passengers sometimes had to help push the car over difficult places. Yet, for 20 years, the streetcar system operated without an accident."

"Round trips usually took about half a day, the conductor acting as stable boy, car repairer, as well as father to numerous children whose mothers often parked them inside a streetcar, then picked them up a few hours later when the carriage passed that way again. And why did it take so long for a round trip? Well, the driver was repeatedly obligated to accommodate passengers who wanted to stop and buy a loaf of bread, a spool of thread, visit the butcher, or whatever."

Follow this link to read the rest of the article.

This article piqued my interest, so I started searching for more information and pictures of mule drawn streetcars. Here are some of the treasures I found.

Sulphur Rock Street Car

A mule-drawn street car in downtown Birmingham, AL in 1887.

Streetcar No. 69 being pulled by two mules on the Massachusetts & College Avenues line

Two mules pulling a streetcar that has signs reading "Woodruff Place" and "E. Washington & S. Meridian Sts."

Ontario, CA's Mule Car

Scroll Down to 3rd story titled "Technology leads to demise of Interurban Lines"

The Horse Car Home Page

Here is a fun excerpt from the last link above:

"From 1883 to 1910, an unusual horse car line ran in Englewood, south of Denver, Colorado. A horse pulled a car from Hampden and Broadway up a steep hill on Broadway to Quincy. At the top of the hill, the horse backed onto the rear platform, and the car proceeded down the hill by gravity. This line became a major tourist attraction and was a popular subject for postcards. I understand the car is still on display in the Englewood Civic Center. Similar lines ran in West Denver and Southern California. It is a popular story that when the horses used on these lines were sold to farmers, that they would pull plows uphill, but not down."

Mules, horses and donkeys were an essential part of life 100 years ago.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at February 23, 2009 06:30 PM