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The Genesee Dinky

The streetcar once ran along Genessee and up 50th Avenue South.

99.08.10This photo depicts the Genesee Streetcar on a day when it was not going anywhere, at least not for a while.

It was during the ‘20s and ‘30s when the “Dinky”, as it was called by the locals, traveled east on Genesee Street from Rainier Avenue, going under the old 48th Avenue overpass and on to 50th Avenue where it turned South. It then climbed up the gentle slope, passed the Lakewood Playfield, and continued one block further to the end of the line at Hudson Street having dropped off passengers along the way.

With no turnaround, the motorman had to reverse the car’s direction. He would have to switch the overhead trolley to the other end of the car and then push the seat backs to the opposite side so the riders were facing the front. He also had to disconnect the fare box and take that, along with his control lever and lunch box, to the other end of the car.

He would then wait for the exact time to start the return trip to Rainier Avenue as he had to be precisely on schedule. He picked up riders on the return trip, usually issuing transfers as most of them were headed for downtown on the Rainier Avenue street cars.

Although most people referred to it as the Dinky, some of the old timers said the appropriate name in their day was the “Galloping Gertie”. 

The Dinky, or the Galloping Gertie if you wish, probably made its last run in 1936 when the Seattle and Rainier Valley Company ceased operation on Rainier Avenue. When car # 106 came into the Hudson Street barns on the final run at 1:45 AM on January 1, 1937 it ended 45 years of transportation service to Rainier Valley by private operators.

Don Bearwood, my high school classmate, had told me about the photo he had of the derailment of the Dinky. We weren’t sure where the derailment had occurred but assumed it was just after the turn at 50th and Genesee. 

We had come to that conclusion because teenagers, who shall remain nameless, were known, on occasion, to have put grease on the tracks just before the corner at the bottom of the hill. This prevented the street car from having enough traction to slow down to make the turn. It also prevented them from getting up the hill.

In the ‘20s and ‘30s the Bearwood’s beautiful old family home was on the west side of 50th just south of Hudson Street. The home was only one-half block beyond the end of the streetcar line which was on the east side of the street. The family album Don brought in had several photos of the surrounding area but this one image of the Dinky proved to be the most interesting. 

Shortly after Don told me about the photos of the Dinky he moved to the town of Goldbar which is on hiway 2 going towards Stevens Pass. We kept in touch and I kept thinking about those photos until we finally got together last spring and I was able to see them and make negatives and copies for our archives.

He is one of those methodical individuals that saves everything that will some day be historically significant and never throws anything away. The thing that is different about him is he has everything cataloged on his computer so he knows what he has and where it is located in his storage boxes.

It was just after we received the Dinky photo that I was talking with Vera Almquist Carr at our Historical Society’s annual meeting. The Almquist family were pioneers in the Lakewood area and they had donated land to the city of Seattle for the Lakewood Playfield. 

Their home was very close to the end of the streetcar line on 50th and Hudson and when I mentioned the photograph of the Dinky laying on its side in the ditch, she said, “I remember that and I know why it went off the tracks.” It seems the motorman had parked the streetcar at the end of the line and came to their house and asked to use their bathroom. 

Apparently he hadn’t set the brakes and when he returned to begin his return run, his car was at the bottom of the hill. It had jumped the tracks at the curve and tipped over into the ditch. Nobody was on the car so there were no injuries. Finally the mystery was solved.

But there is more to the story. While I was working on the article I received a call from one of our members, Captain Elmer Yates, who grew up in the Genesee area and is currently living in Tampa, Florida. He was in the Franklin class of 1934 and after spending his life at sea he wrote a book about his experiences and is now writing some short stories for the local paper in Tampa.

 He has just written an article about the “Dinky” as he remembered it and the editor asked him if he could get a photograph to go with the article. He phoned me and I sent him a copy. He then sent me his article so we now have some of his recollections to add to the story and our archives.

He referred to the Dinky as the “Toonerville Trolly”, a name derived from the comic strip of the same name. He described how the steel wheels would squeal every time it came to a stop and how the steel tracks were anything but smooth. No doubt some of the regular riders knew how many lengths of rail there were between their station and the end of the line. They would be able to count the clickity clacks as the trolley passed over rail connections.

Elmer and his brother were regular riders on the line but they had a rather unorthadox seat. Their paper route ended at 50th and Genesee so rather than walk home they would wait until the streetcar slowed to make the curve and then jump on the rear cow catcher. Quite often the motorman would stop the trolley and run back and try to grab them, always without success. 

As they became regular riders some of the passengers near the back would warn them if they saw the motorman make a move to go after them.

Whatever name we use to describe this trolley, the Dinky, the Galloping Gertie or the Toonerville Trolley, the memories will not be forgotten by those of us who put their pennies and nickels in the token box or jumped on the cow catcher or tried to find some grease in dad’s garage. With light rail scheduled to come into the area we will once again be riding on steel rails, but unfortunately it won’t be the same. Our grandchildren will only be able to read about the “Dinky” in our archives.

By Buzz Anderson

Days Gone By