Thursday, July 1, 2010

History of Sand Springs 68

by Bob Kutella

Greg Stepanek photo

Above is a photo of restored Sand Springs Railway 68 operating on the Museum carline loop. This car has been owned by IRM longer than any predecessor ever rostered the car, and it underwent a restoration process spanning four decades. What follows are excerpts from documentation and photos accumulated over many years.

In 1918 in Cincinnati, Ohio a new type of electric railway car dawned upon the American scene. These cars were the result of a study conducted by the Cincinnati Car Company, the General Electric Company, and the Westinghouse Electric Company. The Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg, and Aurora Electric Street Railway Company, in desperate financial condition, needed cars which drew less current, were lighter on the track, and in general represented a new concept.

William Fronczek Jr, Wagner-Simpson Collection

The above photo is one of the official builder’s photos from Cincinnati Car Company. Some evidence uncovered during restoration indicates the car was painted Pullman Green on the letterboard and below the windows, and a cream color above that, with gray roof. Some evidence suggests reddish brown stained and varnished windows and doors, but that is speculation since no color photos or water colored period photos exist. Black trucks and underbody.

Our No. 68 was numbered 918, with the letterboard carrying C. L. & A. E. STR. R. R. CO. There were seven cars built for this order. While no firm evidence can be found, there are some photos suggesting that the cars were numbered even numbers only from 910-922.

These cars were noteworthy because they were the first interurban cars to be built utilizing a lightweight design. It was from the principles developed with this series of cars that the Cincinnati Car Company designed their famous and legendary curve side lightweight cars. In years following most of the other major car builders embraced these concepts and were to come up with their own lightweight designs.

Louis Lockwood Collection

The CL&A operated from a connection with the Cincinnati Street Railway at Anderson’s Ferry westward along the Ohio River valley for 26 miles to Aurora, Indiana. There was also an eight mile branch from Valley Junction to Harrison, Ohio which gave a total route miles of 32. The line construction was ‘light’ but not unusual for the time with much of the track being in the highway or side of the road.

Louis Lockwood Collection

The new cars were well adapted to this service, having a top operating speed of 26-28 mph (depending how close you were to one of the two substations), very slow by today’s standards.

On November 22, 1930 the line was forced to abandon as the result of many years of financial woes. Much of the problem was caused because the line could not operate into or within Cincinnati, whose system used wide gauge tracks and a two wire overhead system. Ridership suffered because people never liked to transfer from one car to another to continue their journey. And as roads improved the line was very susceptible to bus competition.

After abandonment, an equipment dealer from Chicago, Bert B. Barry, bought these seven cars, and on February 1, 1932 they were purchased by the Sand Springs Railway of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is doubtful the cars ever were physically moved to Chicago or removed from the Cincinnati area before the sale. The Sand Springs Railway paid $20,957.46 for the seven cars, including shipment from Cincinnati, and reconditioning for service in Oklahoma.

Also acquired second hand (in 1934) were cars 69 and 70, this time from the Oklahoma Union Traction Company.

For service in Oklahoma several modifications were made. The upholstered seats were replaced by stark wood slat seatbacks and ‘cushions’, the controllers moved from the center of the ends to the left side, the rear doors on each end were closed off, pneumatic door engines were added to the remaining two doors, and over time, the handsome arched upper sash windows were replaced by shop forces, piecemeal, with more utilitarian squared off glass openings.

Initially the cars were painted in a cream over maroon paint scheme with light silver roof coating, again with black trucks and underbody. There were a few variations in this scheme with at least one car being named.

Robert Kutella collection

In the above undated photo, sister car 64 carried the name TULSA. By the mid 1940’s the roof color had been changed to a light tan.

The cars were renumbered 62-68 and proved to be the mainstay of service for the SSRy for 15 years, operating on 15 minute headways throughout the daytime and early evening hours. The line ran on street trackage in Tulsa, and then on private right of way west to Sand Springs, where again they entered some street trackage through the business district.

The Sand Springs line was constructed to quite light standards with street running and side of the road running, so these cars were ideally suited to the route and likewise well adapted to its several stops per mile.

This is a ticket of the type used in 1939 by the Sand Springs Railway.

According to a report from 1949, service was offered throughout the day every 20 minutes, with rush hour 10 minute headways and short turn cars terminating at Bruner. The 68 was the owl car providing hourly service throughout the night.

Robert Kutella collection

M. D. McCarter collection

This photo dated June 17, 1948 shows 68 still in the maroon scheme at the Sand Springs carbarn, shortly before the new yellow scheme was applied.

In 1947 and 1948 cars 62-67 were retired after years of high ridership throughout World War II. They were replaced with additional second hand cars. Nos. 71 - 76 came from the abandoned Union Electric Railway of Coffeyville, Kansas. BUT – our car, No. 68 did not succumb to the torch, and was retained for late night owl service.

Robert Kutella collection

To match the newly acquired cars a new paint scheme was devised of cream over bright canary yellow with an orange-red roof, with the usual black underbody and trucks. The above photo dated October 13, 1951 is at the Sand Springs carbarn.

Robert Kutella collection

This page from the Official Railway Equipment Register, circa 1952, shows a LOT of information about the Sand Springs Railway, including the roster of electric passenger equipment.

The Sand Springs Railway was successful in developing enough freight business to help support the passenger operation, and it continues as a diesel powered shortline industrial road to this day, although, as of 2010, its future is far from assured. While an electric operation it employed Baldwin Westinghouse locomotives, second hand, from a variety of former owners.

M. D. McCarter collection

In an undated photo, locomotive 1001 pushes on a string of tank cars. Locomotive 1001 was built by Baldwin Westinghouse in 1913 and developed 400 HP. The Sand Springs Railway rostered a total of six electric freight locomotives.

Electric trolley operations continued until 1955 and the 68 was retained until the last day of service, being retired January 4, 1955 amid parades and events celebrating the arrival of new buses.

Sand Springs Museum

On the last day of service special LAST RIDE trips were run with the cars decked in bunting, women wearing their furs and finery, and men in fedoras and suits.

Sand Springs Museum

The line up!!!

Sand Springs Museum

“Well, we finally have clean, modern, non-polluting transit and have dispatched the dratted trolley!” Which one of the smiling faces do you suppose was the bus salesman?

Sand Springs Museum

The pole comes down for the last time on the last service car, while in the background “The band played on!”

John J. Myers Collection

This photo from later in 1955 shows that our No. 68 had been pushed by towbar into the depths of the carbarn and sat gathering cobwebs, uncertain of its future.

Charles King photo

The next stop for the 68 was to be moved to the area fairgrounds, along with a small steam locomotive in a stillborn attempt at setting up a railroad museum. Above photo dated May, 1960.

In further developments of what might be construed as a car with nine lives, the motors, controllers, and some of the underbody equipment were removed and scrapped. The car was later sold to Ozark Mountain Railroad of Beaver, Arkansas. Their intent was to develop a tourist railroad, and the 68 was to become a coach on their steam powered operation. Apparently someone did not do their homework since the 68 has no conventional underframe or center sill and there was no way to install couplers for it to be pulled in a train. And of course, the 68 has straight air braking, so it could not be adapted to automatic air train brakes.

Ozark Mountain was operated by a group of fans and enthusiasts and they were interested in seeing the car saved by some preservation group, so once again the 68 lived on to escape the scrapper’s torch. Throughout this period it sat forlornly in a Tulsa scrapyard waiting for the future, never leaving its roots far away.

In a way the car was ultimately saved by the grapevine, as our fellow museum groups communicated the fact that this car still existed. Coincidentally, IRM had acquired ownership of our Frisco 1630 decapod, and it last served out its active days at Eagle Picher mining, near Tulsa. What could be more natural than to inspect the 68 as our intrepid members drove through Tulsa?

Coming so few years after the abandonment of the North Shore (when complete cars were available) this car proved to be little more than a stripped carbody, with much of the wood structure roof, windows and doors needing attention. But it did have potential with the steel sides and underbody judged to be in good shape.

We had many of the components to restore the car, although the motors we had were GE 264A (salvaged from a Milwaukee 800 series streetcar) with sleeve armature bearings vs. the original GE 258 ball bearing motors. Otherwise the motors are identical. After much searching, we managed to make two of the rare K-12 controllers form ‘kits’ including new reverser drums we made to allow switching of the appropriate leads for a four motor car.

After more arrangements were made, Dave Shore and Norm Krentel traveled south to Tulsa to oversee the loading process. On February 3, 1967 the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railroad moved New York Central 500440 flatcar into a siding for us. The same day, truck mounted cranes from American Storage and Transfer Company lifted the car and loaded it.

The loading did not go completely unnoticed as the scrap yard was in easy sight of a major highway. At one point a crew from KTUL-TV stopped by and recorded the event for airing on the evening news. Dave Shore and Norm Krentel both got some ‘face time’ answering questions about the trolley car and its eventual home at IRM in Illinois.

Norfolk and Western Magazine

I know this photo quality is not good, but it is a very rare shot. An employee in the North Kansas City Yard, Switchman C. E. Winters, caught the 68 in transit. And the railroad published it in their April 26, 1967 employee magazine.

On February 3 the car left Tulsa on the Missouri-Kansas Texas line. It was routed via the MKT to Kansas City and then Norfolk and Western to Decatur, Illinois and on to Chicago. It arrived in Landers yard on the morning of Sunday February 12, 1967. The car was sent by mistake to Calumet Yard of the former Nickel Plate where it remained “lost” for three days.

Frank Sirinek photo

This photo is of our car loaded on the flatcar, buried inside the depths of Proviso Yard.

By Friday February 17 the mixup was straightened out and the Belt Railway of Chicago moved the car to the very large Proviso Yard on the C&NW. The following week, on Friday the 24th, the car was delivered to the Guse Coal siding in Union. On Saturday we used a large over the road flatbed truck and trailer for the final leg to our site.

Frank Sirinek photo

It was a very cold arctic-like morning when the 68 became the FIRST car to sit on what is now a very large and well developed Museum Campus. Here, the trolley, loaded on the flatbed truck, crosses through our Olson Road gate toward Yard 1.

Frank Sirinek photo

The first order of business was to install masonite covers over most of the open windows. Before the snow melted that task was under way. Gee, I still have that license plate number!

William Wulfert photo

In this very early photo at IRM, dated 1968, the car sits in its first spot in Yard One, now the site of the 50th Avenue Station. A few other cars have joined the 68, ‘out in the field’.

Ralston Taylor photo

In this 1969 photo the car was being switched from its initial resting place in Yard 1. With its light weight and no motors, the ‘switch engine’ consisted of the strong backs of two members pushing the car.

Over the years at IRM the car has steadily received attention to try to bring it back to a restored and operating condition. The car sat for several years in the open air in Yard Two (now Barn Two), then lived indoors at the east end of Barn Three before the elevated walkways were constructed. Those raised walkways necessitated a move to Barn 7 on track 71. And finally the 68 moved to various spots inside Barn 4 where we were really able to attack the problems of the motors and controls.

At last! In November of 2004, just short of 50 years since it had last operated, the pole went up and the 68 moved out of Track 42 under its own power. The car has operated in the various Trolley Pageant displays, and for special occasions and charters several times, having logged 75 miles of operation as of April 2010. With over forty years logged into the restoration efforts, work continues to add the finishing touches. Is that a record for IRM?

Roy Wall photo

Here is an example of a ‘special charter’ where we hosted about 75 smiling folks who were attending a meeting of the Old Wood Working Machine group in 2007.

Copyright Robert Kutella

This is a drawing of the car laboriously developed on a CADD drawing system from exact measurements taken from our car.


From “Modern Interurban Cars, General Electric, 1925 :


Length over buffers 40’ – 6”

Length over body corner posts 30’ – 6”

Length of platforms 4” – 7”

Width overall 8’ – 3”

Height from rail to top of roof 11’ – 3”

Height from rail to underside of car 25 ¾”

Height from rail to steps 16”

Height from step to platform 12”

Truck centers 20’ – 6”

Width of seat 38”

Width of aisle 22”

Seat spacing 30”

Seating capacity 44


Car body alone 14,140

Trucks, per pair 5, 936

Motors and control 4, 884

Air brake equipment 1,200

TOTAL 26,120 pounds

You can see easily that this was indeed a very lightweight car design. For comparison is it about half of what our Chicago Great Western caboose weighs! This is one reason I do not recommend running the car through closed spring switches as there is just not enough weight to push those points aside if the mechanism is at all tight or misaligned. It only takes a minute to throw a switch!


Motors 4 – GE258-C 25 HP ball bearing

Trucks Cincinnati Car Co. Arch Bar 5’-8” wheelbase

Gearing General Electric Company 70/17 ratio

Wheels 24” diameter

Controllers 2- General Electric K-12A

Trolley base General Electric US-15-C, w/trolley wheel

Air brakes General Electric straight air w/emergency

Air compressor General Electric CP-25-C

Air compressor governor General Electric Type ML, form A-1

Brake valve General Electric Type S, form L-1

Circuit breaker General Electric MR-12-D

Resistance 2- General Electric boxes, RG, form A

Car lighting General Electric Holophane prismatic shades

Hand brake Dayton hand brake

Head lights General Electric Service Supply Corp. “Golden Glow”

Brake cylinder 8” x 12”

Emergency valve General Electric Type E, form J-1

Seats Hale and Kilburn No. 199-A

Mike Farrell photo

Finally, here is this splendid closing photo from 2005 showing the 68 triumphantly negotiating the “S” curve, every seat filled, on the IRM car line loop.

Robert Kutella

May, 2010


Anonymous said...

It only takes 40 weeks to give birth. It takes 40 years to restore a car?

-Jim Stafa
Columbus O

Anonymous said...

Read this car history after looking at cars converted into diners.
Well done IRM crew! More power to you.
Reg Akers
Lynchburg, Virginia [a few miles north of one of those diners in Gretna, Va.]

Cameron said...

Anybody have access to that CADD drawing of "Sand Springs Interurban No. 68 (Bob Kutella)"?
I believe Bob has recently died.

Cameron Bales

Frank Hicks said...


To my knowledge, Bob lost computer access in about 2013 when his health started declining, though I'm not familiar with the exact circumstances. I have no idea whether his computer files may have been saved. The person to ask is Barb Lanphier, Curator of the Strahorn Library, who you can contact at

Frank Hicks