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The Story of Phoenix’s Power and Electric Streetcars

We begin with the Arizona Republican, 12 September 1893, page 1:

Within two weeks the mule service on the Phoenix street railway will have been exchanged for electric. Two cars have already been shipped from Los Angeles, two more are in the shops almost finished, and still two more are in an advanced state of completion. There will be six cars on the line and it is intended to traverse the line in seven minutes, so that the service [headway] when complete will be less than five minutes. The time in which the company has under the extension of the franchise to make the change will expire on October 1.

With this announcement, the Phoenix Street Railway entered the Electric Age. Phoenix itself had been graced with electric lights since at least 1890, when the Phoenix Power and Light Company’s plant opened. (Arizona Republican, 21 April 1890, p.4) The Power and Light works were at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Buchanan, according to Sanborn’s 1893 Fire map; the Street Railway power-house was behind (east) of the Water Works on the southeast corner of Dennis (now Polk) and 9th Streets in what is now Phoenix’s Verde Park. At this time there was no connection, electrically or corporately, between the Light Company and the Street Railway. The Railway, however, did own and operate the city’s Water Works.

In January 1894, the Phoenix Light and Fuel company was bankrupt and operated under receivership for a time. Numerous articles and advertisements in the newspaper assured Phoenicians that they would continue to receive electricity, in the face of much skepticism by the public. December of 1894 saw the final sale of the Light and Power Company’s properties and operation to the newly-organized Phoenix Light and Fuel Company.

At the Street Railway Water Works and Power Plant property, Sanborn’s 1901 map shows three dynamos (which convert the mechanical power to electric) and two steam engines, a 250 Horsepower and an 80 HP. These engines were fed from oil from a tank on the northeast side of the stations, about one thousand horsepower is available for from light to ten months of each year, but the balance of the power must be furnished by steam... With the new equipment, Phoenix will be much better supplied with water than many cities of ten times its population...” (Arizona Republican, 26 September 1902, p.5)

Early 1903 saw the major upgrade to the Street Railway plant: “The City Railway company which for several weeks past has been using power from the Phoenix Light and Fuel company, yesterday connected its newly installed power plant which will hereafter run the city railway and the waterworks... The new plant has involved an expenditure of approximately $20,000...

“The boiler is a Babcock & Wilson high pressure water tube, tested for 300 pounds of steam and usually [running] at 150, though a minimum of 100 pounds is nearly always ample for the present plant. This boiler will run the new tandem compound Hamilton-Corliss 250-HP engine, made to order for the City Railway and only a few weeks out of the shops... This in turn runs a new 250-HP compound wound Westinghouse generator that furnishes the ‘juice’ and which in power more than equals the three generators formerly used. There is also a complete new switchboard in the power house, and in the cellar below it are found the condenser, feed pump, air pump, circulating pump and hot well, the machinery all being below... There is also a new cooling tower erected over the lake enabling the re-use of the water for the machinery, an arrangement for the sake of economy. “The new boiler described above will also furnish power for the operation of the waterworks plant which is now equipped with three large pumps, two of which are in use, the other being held in reserve, and a new Deane triplex pump... This pump has a capacity of 2,000,000 gallons per day and will be driven by a 50HP motor. This pump has a capacity of 2,000,000 gallons per day and will be driven by a 50HP motor. This pump alone has a capacity sufficient to meet the demands of the present water system...

“Speaking of the railway system, yesterday Manager Heap said that during the summer, the Washington Street double track will be relaid with heavier rails and new wire...

the rolling stock will also be given a thorough overhauling.” (Arizona Republican, 1 April 1903, p.6) Phoenix Light and Fuel itself bowed out by July of 1906, when the Pacific Gas and Electric Company purchased its assets (Arizona Republican, 10 July 1906, p.2). PG&E withstood a call to place the electric plant under City control in 1910, running half-page advertisements headlined “Do You Deny Any Person Or Corporation A Fair Profit?” This perhaps echoes today’s (2019) headlines seeking to hold PG&E responsible for wildfires in their home state of California.

The Phoenix Water Company and the Water Works were to be purchased by Phoenix from Sherman for $150,000 late in 1906 (Arizona Republican, 18 October, p.1), not entirely to the satisfaction of all citizens who felt the price was too high. The sale concluded on 29 June 1907 (Arizona Republican, 30 June, p.5) after which it was discovered that the mains pipes, machinery, and wells were played out and all quickly abandoned. This failed to endear Mr. Sherman and his allies to many in the city government, and along with later disputes about street paving may have been factors in Sherman’s motion to abandon the Railway entirely after two more decades in 1925.

The Arizona Republican of 4 April 1909 shows Pacific Gas & Electric’s new Power Plant for the reception of electricity from new Roosevelt Dam. By 1915 the Street Railway power-house was no longer in use (source: Sanborn Fire Map), having been replaced by purchased electricity; and by 1920 PG&E itself was replaced by the Central Arizona Light and Power Company. It was CAL&P that the City of Phoenix would then contract for the Street Railway’s electricity when the Railway fell under City control (after further tribulations, which is another story entirely) in 1925.

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