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In the Pipeline: Red Cars become part of the ecosystem

March 18, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • A U.S. Navy salvage ship lowers a Pacific Electric trolley into the ocean off Redondo Beach/Palos Verdes in September 1956.
A U.S. Navy salvage ship lowers a Pacific Electric trolley… (Courtesy: Artificial…)

The author Michael Crichton said, "If you don't know history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree."

And so I think he would've been impressed by the many messages I received last week in reaction to my column on tracing where the Pacific Electric Red Car trolley lines used to run throughout Huntington Beach. Not unlike the reaction I got after the recent Meadowlark Airport columns I wrote, the words from readers were passionate, nostalgic and even a bit mournful for these bygone things that once helped sculpt the city of Huntington Beach.

Bob Hoenig was generous enough to send me a fascinating map that traced all of the Pacific Electric Railway stops throughout Southern California. Paul Stone sent me a wonderful photo and let me know that his brother-in-law is a trolley car expert with lots of information and photos should I ever need more in the future.

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John Osborne wrote with memories of actually riding the Red Cars with his parents from Long Beach to Huntington Beach. In fact I received a number of first-hand accounts of what it was like to ride the old trolleys. For me, that is what brings history alive — personal accounts from those that were there. Thank you, everyone that reached out to me.

And much like the Meadowlark Airport series I did, this is a story that does not want to be contained in one piece. Just after I finished writing about the Red Cars in Huntington Beach, I read an intriguing post on historichuntingtonbeach.blogspot.com. This is a site created and maintained by Mary Urashima, who as of late has been doing a remarkable job documenting and leading efforts to protect and preserve the historic Wintersburg site here in Huntington Beach.

In the post, Urashima wrote about the history of the Pacific Electric Railway in Huntington Beach. She included some interesting photos, quotes and background information that help flesh out the history of the trains and their effect on the city. Near the end of her story, she included something I'd never heard about: information about a bizarre repurposing of many of the cars once they were pulled off the tracks and ready for the garbage heap.

It seems that someone had the idea to use a number of the cars to create artificial reefs off the coast of Southern California in an effort to create wildlife habitats. And while it sounds like an urban legend, as Mary discovered, it is actually true.

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