The Pre-War, Air-Electric PCC Cars (Classes A1-A5 and A10)

By James Bow

See also:

Air PCCs

The Presidents’ Conference Committee cars that operated in Toronto can be organized into fifteen distinct classes, by date of order or, in the case of the A-15, rebuild, but these fifteen classes can be further organized into three classes, depending again on when they were built, and also by their primary source of braking power.

The first 300 streetcars to be purchased by the TTC, which arrived before Canada’s entry into the Second World War, are generally referred to as “air-electric” PCC cars. The “air” referred to the compressed air that was used to power the PCCs’ brakes and their doors (a standard technology of streetcars at the time). For readers more familiar with the PCCs that operated after the 1960s, the air-electric PCCs were immediately distinguishable by their less streamlined appearance (their windshields had a 12 degree slope) and separate windows for route and destination signs. The side windows were also larger, taking up space occupied by the later PCC’s standee windows.

Delivery and Promotion

The TTC put in an order for 140 air-electric PCCs in 1937 with the Canadian Car & Foundary company. CC&F licensed the design and purchased car body shells from the St. Louis Car Company. These shells were shipped to the CC&F’s factory in Montreal and mounted onto frames built on site. The first two of these, cars 4001 and 4002, where shipped by rail in the summer of 1938. They were unloaded at Hillcrest Shops on August 20, 1938 and put through rigorous testing before being accepted by the TTC. During this time, the cars were also shipped to the Canadian National Exhibition where they were put on display before thousands of curious onlookers. The TTC were very proud of these new models, and they wanted to tell Torontonians that the future had arrived. The cars were officially placed in public service on the St. Clair line that September. Training runs for motormen began on September 8, followed by promotional free rides to the public on September 23. Full revenue service for these PCCs began on St. Clair the next day. By the end of the year, air-electric PCCs were serving patrons on Bloor, Dundas and King.

With the TTC satisfied with the cars that had arrived, the rest of the shipment continued, with car 4139 finishing up the order on November 23, 1938. With more aging streetcar equipment needing replacing, the TTC placed more orders with CC&F. The second batch of 50 (referred to as the A-2 class, numbered (4150-4199) began arriving in 1940.

By this time, however, the purchase of new PCCs was complicated by the Second World War. With wartime production tightly controlled by the Dominion War Commission, all purchases of streetcars had to be approved by the federal government. Although the government was mindful of the importance of Toronto’s streetcars to the war effort (in 1942, the war commission ordered a number of bus routes replaced by streetcar operations in order to protect the supply of gasoline and rubber), a number of PCCs that would have gone to Toronto were shipped off to Montreal and Vancouver instead.

Even so, another 100 air-electric PCC cars were shipped to Toronto, with class A-3 cars (4200-4259) arriving between 1941 and 1942, class A-4 cars (4260-4274) arriving between 1943 and 1944 and the A-5 cars (4275-4299) arriving between 1944 and 1945.

Time Marches On

Car 4299 represented the last new air-electric PCC to be purchased by the TTC. As the Second World War ended, and restrictions on production eased, the TTC again looked for more streetcars to replace the oldest cars in its fleet. However, in 1947, the PCC design had been updated, with electric motors replacing compressed air as the means for braking and door controls. Car 4300 was the first in the brand new class of sleeker, more modern all-electric PCCs. Time was marching on from the air-electric technology.

But a few more air-electric vehicles would be added to the fleet. In the early 1950s, as the TTC found the price of new all-electric PCCs to be too high for its budget, they noticed that a number of American cities were abandoning their streetcar networks, flooding the market with a large number of used PCCs, all with barely a few years of use behind them. In 1950, the TTC purchased 52 PCC cars from the Cincinnati Street Railway. A total of 27 of those cars (numbered 1100-1126) were air-electrics, built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1940. Car 1100 was a pre-production demonstrator. Classified as A-10 cars and numbered 4575 to 4601, these cars looked very like the other air-electric PCCs on the fleet, with larger windows and a less-streamlined appearance.

Retirement and Shipment to Alexandria (and elsewhere)

As the TTC’s PCC fleet topped 744 (745 minus car 4063, which was scrapped in 1947), the Yonge subway opened and, with it, began the contraction of the Toronto streetcar network. As the PCCs were the newest cars in the fleet, they were initially safe from retirement. Instead, the TTC focused on the aging Peter Witt fleet. The last Witts were retired in 1963, however, and the opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway caused an even greater contraction in the streetcar network. This time, the air-electric PCCs were on the chopping block.

Fortunately, the cars were still in good enough condition that the TTC were able to consider a number of offers to purchase the equipment. In 1968, the city of Alexandria, in Egypt, bought 140 air-electric PCCs, taken from every class on the TTC fleet. The TTC shipped these cars from where they had been resting in storage at Danforth carhouse to the Port of Toronto, where they were placed on cargo ships and sent across the Atlantic. Thirteen of these cars never entered service in Egypt, while the remainder were numbered from 901 to 1027 in random order. They survived extreme heat and sand, as well as attacks from the Arab-Israeli War in 1973. A number of these cars were converted into double-ended three-car trains and continued to serve Alexandria until their final retirement in 1984.

The other city interested in purchasing air-electric PCCs was Tampico, Mexico. In 1971, they placed an order for ten vehicles (A-3 cars 4226, 4228, 4247, and 4253 and A-10 cars 4586, 4589, 4593, 4597, and 4599) which were promptly sent. In preparation for this order, the TTC did experiment with cutting in left-side doors on some of the remaining air-electric PCCs it was keeping for scrap. It decided against making such modifications for the cars that Tempico received. The nine cars sent to Mexico continued to operate until that city’s streetcar network shut down on December 13, 1974.

All A-1 class PCCs were pulled from service the soon after the Bloor-Danforth subway opened in 1966. Other retirements followed, with the A-4 and A-5 classes largely retired by 1970, the A-3 class in 1971 and the A-2 class in 1972. Tampico never sent payment for the tenth car in the order, A-10 class 4578, and so the TTC held it in dead storage until 1975, the last air-electric on TTC property.

Preserved Air Cars

As the air-electric class of PCCs were retired, the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Association, which operates the Halton County Radial Railway museum, asked the TTC to donate car 4000, the first of its class, and the first PCC to be built in Canada. The car had been retired from public service in 1963, but was still used by the commission as a training car. The TTC agreed to the OERHA’s request and, in 1969, the car arrived on museum property, where it served thousands of museum goers. In the late 1980s, as the 50th anniversary of PCC operation approached, the TTC and the OERHA agreed to restore PCC 4000 to its former glory, and then displayed the car at the Canadian National Exhibition in August 1988, recalling the arrival and public display of the first PCCs at the CNE in 1938 (and giving car 4000 a due that had gone to 4001 and 4002 back in the day). After this display, it was returned to the museum, where it remains a cherished piece of equipment to this day.

Also in 1969, A-1 class PCC 4138 was purchased by the Toronto Board of Education for use as a portable classroom at the Duke of York school on George Street. The car was delivered to the school mostly intact, including rollsigns, but likely in inoperable condition. After years of delighting students on site, it was sold by the Board of Education, likely to a scrapper.

Any remaining air-electric PCCs on the TTC property after 1969 were eventually sent to the scrap heap. No work cars were produced from decommissioned air-electric PCCs, and no other cars were preserved.

Interesting Air-Electric PCC Trivia

  • TTC A-1 class PCC car 4063 has the dubious honour of being the first PCC car on the TTC fleet to be scrapped. In 1947, the car cut through an open switch at the entrance to Lansdowne Carhouse and smashed into the north wall of the facility. The building received considerable damage, but PCC 4063 was declared unrepairable, and soon shipped off the property. The second PCC to be scrapped was car 4052 in 1962, again due to collision damage.
  • A-1 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4002, 4005-7, 4011, 4022-3, 4026-7, 4034, 4036-7, 4043, 4049, 4056, 4068-70, 4082, 4087, 4090, 4093-5, 4099, 4101, 4103, 4108, 4111, 4113-6, 4118, 4121, 4126-7, 4131, 4134
  • A-2 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4151, 4155-7, 4160, 4162, 4164, 4167, 4169-70, 4172, 4174, 4178, 4181, 4183-5, 4188, 4190, 4192-6
  • A-3 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4200-2, 4205, 4209-13, 4217-8, 4221-5, 4229, 4231-3, 4235-6, 4238-40, 4242, 4244, 4248-51, 4254, 4255-6, 4258
  • A-4 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4260, 4262-8, 4270, 4272-4
  • A-5 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4276-83, 4287-8, 4293, 4295, 4297-9
  • A-10 class PCCs purchased by Alexandria: 4575-7, 4579-85, 4587-8, 4590-2, 4598

NEXT: The Post-War, All-Electric PCC Cars (Classes A6-A8).

PCC - Air Electric Image Archive


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