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Memories of a Rainier Valley Street Car Operator

DGB - Street Car Memories -2 - 10 -'99

Charlie Fletcher was the last surviving motorman from the Rainier Valley Street car line. Before he passed away in October of 1994 at the age of 93, he wrote of his experiences as a motorman during the years of the early development of the Valley. He presented his story, printed below, to his fellow members of the Pioneers of Columbia City, our predecessor organization, on the occasion of their annual April meeting.  The script was then added to the Pioneer's historical archives.

The photo above shows car # 106 of the Seattle, Renton and Southern, Rainier Valley Lines, taking time-out on a curve somewhere along Rainier Avenue, waiting for the photographer to capture the moment. This particular car was one of nine cars placed into service in 1910 and was built here in Seattle at the Moran Shipyards. Charlie Fletcher was one of the motormen running those cars back and forth between Renton and downtown Seattle over the route that at one time was considered the longest interurban line in the country. The Seattle City Council ordered the line to cease operations at the end of 1936.  Car # 106 was the last car to operate on the line, and it clattered across the switches at the Hudson Street Car-Barns at 1:45 AM, January 1, 1937, to end 45 years of street car service to Rainier Valley and Renton.

"Memories of a Rainier Valley Street Car Operator", the talk given by Charlie Fletcher, is printed here.  For those of you who knew him, you will remember him for his great sense of humor and the smile that was forever on his face.

" Friends, Valleyites and Columbians -- lend me your ears!  I come to reminisce a bit, not to bore you.  I hope I may be able to bring the past to life for us, just for a little while.  First, let me tell you of a family moving here to Rainier Valley in 1915, from a very little town in Southwestern Washington.  I was one of that family, and if ever there was a 'hick', I was it, but I didn't know it.

My parents had both been school teachers and they taught us to read and write before reaching school age.  But I had another advantage.  I had memorized the textbooks that my older sisters and brother used so when I entered school, they kept me just one day in the first grade and only four days in the second grade.  I'm afraid I was a real smarty-pants on reaching the third grade so easily, but that seemed to pave the way straight to my teacher's heart.  Miss Collins adopted our class and stayed with us through the eighth grade.  I was to finish my schooling just before my 14th birthday.  Thanks to her faith in me, I was allowed to attend high school classes in Math, Latin and English, while I was in seventh grade.

We moved to Seattle in 1915 and rented a house at 51st and Lucille St.  My  brother-in-law was a good friend of the superintendent and got me a job on the S.R.S. Lines, sweeping cars.  At seventeen I became night foreman, a position I held until 1927 when I moved to operator.
Now let's imagine you are all on my car at 4th and Stewart, about to head to Renton, and let me share some of my memories with you.  Ready now - We must wait until the exact second to start. Schedule was all important on the S.R.S. No fudging. Our watches had to be checked daily with the dispatcher's clock.

Our first stop is Pine Street, where a group of passengers get on the car.   One gentleman asks me, 'Do you stop at Oscar Street?'   Taken aback, I ask him, 'Do you mean Orcas Street?'   'No, Oscar Street, taking an envelope out of his pocket and showing me.  It was clearly Orcas, but he was still calling me dumb when he left the car.

We move on to Jackson Street. Here a lady, accompanied by a Red-Cap, placed a dozen pieces of luggage on the car, then called to me, 'What streets do you cross?'  I guess I was a little dumbfounded and asked what street she wanted?  She said she would know when she heard it. I told her I always call out the names so she decided to get on board. She got off, luggage and all, when she heard 'Oregon'.  
Further along we are at Atlantic Street.  A well-dressed little Italian man asks me, 'what is you name?'  When I tell him, he says his wife wants to name their baby after me because I was so careful when she rode in my car in her delicate condition.  Gee Whiz!  I never did find out who she was.

Now we arrive at Columbia. Passing the car-barn  we see 'old 300', the freight locomotive.  I will share a quick remembrance of when I still worked in the shop.  One evening the boss went with the crew to deliver a load of lumber to Dugdale Park. When the delivery was completed they checked in and went home. Later I gave it my usual inspection and to my surprise I found a very, very frightened and a very warm young lady locked in the control chamber where the temperature was over 100 degrees. I took her home and all was well. This is the first time I have revealed this incident and I'm not mentioning names.

Continuing our trip, we come to Rainier Beach, Taylor's Mill and the city limits, where I must collect an additional fare. Then we ride along the lake shore to Bryn :Mawr. Here in 1917, one of the cars ran over a cougar.  My crew had to clean up the trucks, and believe me it was a mess.

Buffalo station is next. Earlington and we make a sharp turn east and head into Renton, the end of the line.  At the end of the line is where a lady got on my car and went quickly to the back seat.  Before I could send for a doctor, we had an extra passenger, a bouncing baby boy.

As we head back to Seattle we have one more story. We had a wild, stormy Sunday in 1934.  The wind was recorded at 66 mph.  At the 51st Avenue stop, two lovely sisters are waiting for my car.  Aghast, I ask, 'where are you girls going in this storm?'  'Oh, just to see what's happening downtown'.  What they saw downtown in just a few minutes was enough and they returned with me on the way back.
Now, one of the girls is here today and last week she and I celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary"

Charlie ended his talk with this message:

"Now if there is going to be a life hereafter
and, faith, I know there's going to be,
I will ask my God to let me make my heaven
In that dear land in Rainier Valley."

We’re looking for Rainier Valley History.  As a Historic Society that’s one of the things we do, seeking photographs, printed material and artifacts pertaining to the Valley to add to our archival collection before they are lost forever.  You can help.  Call our office at 723-1663 for more information.  Items can be either donated for safe-keeping or loaned for copying and then returned.