Just in Time for the Holidays . . . The Test Runs of a Transit Service in Washington State

December 22, 1907

In central Washington State, the first test runs of the Yakima Valley Transportation (YVT) Company interurban electric railroad were conducted. The company was established the previous July to secure the rights to a streetcar franchise that Yakima’s city government had originally granted to a failing railroad company. 

Andrew Jackson “Jack” Splawn became the new company’s president, and he and his six business partners were given until the end of the year to build at least three miles (4.8 kilometers) of the streetcar line and put it in operation. This condition led to plenty of scurrying around to lease or borrow equipment needed for the new transit service. 

George Rankin, Slawn’s right-hand man and the general manager of YVT Company, went to Seattle and found a used motor-generator for running the streetcars on the line. He also obtained streetcars from the Tacoma Railway & Power (TR&P) Company. TR&P streetcars #18 and 36 were rented out to YVT Company through October of the following year to allow time for Splawn to purchase his own streetcars. Both of those streetcars arrived in Yakima in early December 1907 on Northern Pacific Railway flatbeds.  

By the middle of that month, 100 men altogether had completed work on the new line’s first three miles (4.8 kilometers) of track. Splawn, who had to travel out town for business during that time, instructed his chief engineer Edward Kenly to begin test runs on the new track as soon as everything was in place. Kenly, however, waited until Splawn’s return to Yakima before undertaking that procedure.  

With Splawn on hand on December 22, those test runs finally took place. The effort began with Tacoma streetcar #18. This streetcar, with its pole placed against the new overhead electric power lines, began moving forward on the track. Tacoma streetcar #36 soon followed. In the wake of these successful trials, Splawn — along with his business partners and the members of the Yakima City Council — traveled on streetcar #18 a couple of days later on Christmas Eve for the transit service’s official inaugural ride.

On the following day, Christmas, both streetcars were opened to the public; more than 1,300 people paid five cents each on that day to travel on the new line. This railroad eventually encompassed about 44 miles (70.8 kilometers) of tracks altogether. YVT Company’s streetcars served passengers in the Yakima region for four decades before those rides were halted due to stiff competition from other modes of transportation. YVT Company, however, continued to use its tracks and other assets through 1985 for electric locomotives transporting freight.

Approximately five miles (8.1 kilometers) of the line are now maintained by Yakima Valley Trolleys for tourists. In addition, the one-time YVT Company infrastructure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places as the last remaining intact interurban electric railroad system in the United States from the early 20th century that is still in operation.

For more information on the Yakima Valley Transportation Company interurban electric railroad, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakima_Valley_Transportation_Company and https://yakimavalleytrolleys.org/history.html

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