Corporate Changes

The building of the Johnson Steel plant in Lorain had been a massive undertaking and an economic boom for Lorain, but all did not pan out as hoped for the Johnson Company. The Lorain plant had been built at a cost of $15 million with the intention of becoming an integrated steel mill that would take in raw materials, produce its own steel, and ship out finished products. In the years after the Panic of 1893, however, steel prices and demand for rails remained low. Profits were well below projections, Moxham was over-extended, and the additional capital required to build coke ovens and blast furnaces at the Lorain plant was not forthcoming. The Lorain plant had great potential to become an integrated steel mill, but for the first few years it remained only a rail mill (albeit state of the art) using pig iron made at other locations. By 1897 the company's need for cash was becoming desperate.

In the summer of 1898 J.P. Morgan, financial backer of Elbert Gary's Illinois Steel, approached Tom Johnson with a merger proposal. The advantages for both parties were great. Gary and Morgan would acquire a sophisticated but undervalued mill with great potential, while the Johnson Company's financial crisis would not only be alleviated, but return a handsome profit for the major shareholders. In November 1898, the Johnson Steel Company became part of the new Federal Steel Company under Gary's leadership. Construction of the much needed coke ovens and blast furnaces began at once.

Federal Steel would be short lived, however. In 1900 Andrew Carnegie proposed building his own competing mill at Conneaut, Ohio. Fearing an all-out war, Morgan quietly negotiated with Carnegie CEO Charles Schwab to buy Carnegie's steel holdings and create yet another merger. On February 25, 1901, United States Steel was incorporated, merging Federal Steel, National Tube Works, and Carnegie Steel. It was the largest corporation the world had ever seen, capitalized at $1.4 billion and accounting for two thirds of the nation's steel production.


The Lorain Street Railway and Sheffield Land Company were not included in the Federal Steel merger of 1898. Tom Johnson astutely realized there was still profit to be made from their ownership, improvement, and eventual sale. At the time of the merger A.J. Moxham resigned as president of the Johnson Company and moved to Nova Scotia to head a new steel enterprise. Pierre du Pont was offered the position of Johnson Company president and arrived in Lorain in March 1899. His major task as president was the continued development of South Lorain, which included street construction, extension of utilities, sale of lots, and building homes and businesses. He was a cofounder of the South Lorain Bank at the corner of 10th and Pearl Ave. where his office, and the corporate offices of the railway, were located. As president of the Lorain Street Railway he was also responsible for improvements that would help the railway keep pace with the booming population and economy of Lorain and Elyria.

The railway's power supply was one such necessary improvement. The original wood frame powerhouse built in 1894 had been abandoned once the steel mill was operational. Four belt-driven dynamos at the rear of the mill's Bessemer power house provided power for the railway. With the corporate separation of the steel plant, however, the railway constructed a new brick powerhouse of its own next to the carbarn around 1899. A 550 horsepower Buckeye steam engine (most likely the same one which had been installed in the first powerhouse) was fed by three steam boilers and supplemented with two 225 horsepower "helper" engines during peak demand. Six hundred volts of direct current went to the overhead lines with no need for substations. Carloads of coal to fire the boilers were delivered via the connection with the Lake Terminal Railroad at the steel mill. The carbarn was also enlarged to house the line's expanding equipment roster. An additional four long stalls increased total capacity to twenty-two cars.

Very little information is available on the early equipment roster, but it is believed that around 1897 several of the single-truck cars were spliced together to create five longer double-truck cars. Five cars, even numbers between 12-20, were among the conversions and these numbers reappeared on the new double-truck cars. Johnson's du Pont ties were evident in the new cars which rode on large wheeled du Pont designed trucks, giving them an odd, overly-tall appearance. Between 1897 and 1900 the line owned nineteen motor cars, all made by Stephenson. In 1901 (or early 1902) this number increased to twenty-two motor cars. At least six double-truck cars from the American Car Company of St. Louis and a few from the Kuhlman Car Company of Cleveland were added to the roster in this period. Several of the older Stephenson cars were probably retired or sold off.

Despite the railway's purpose of moving people, passenger facilities were nearly non-existent, a situation that would change little in the following forty years. At the Lorain loop the railway occupied a waiting room in the Wagner Block, shared with the Lorain & Cleveland Railway from 1897, and the Cleveland, Elyria & Western Railway from 1900. At the Elyria loop a tiny free-standing waiting room was erected in front of the Elyria Milling Co. The exact year is unknown but it was probably built sometime around 1900. At all other stops riders waited outdoors or in nearby businesses.

Troubles and Tragedy

Although the Lorain Street Railway had an auspicious beginning it was not without the mishaps and troubles that all railways of the era regularly experienced. In 1901 a controversy over fares erupted and generated an animosity among Elyria's residents toward the railway that would smolder for years to come.

On June 20, 1901, the railway changed the fare structure which had been in place since its opening. Under the old structure the line was effectively divided into two zones, each with a five cent fare, while a trip over the entire line cost ten cents. The new system created three zones, each with a three cent fare. Riders were charged one fare within the city limits of Lorain, one within the limits of Elyria, and one for the "suburban" line between the cities.

On the surface this appeared to lower local fares from five cents to three, and from ten cents to nine between cities. In practice, however, fares for steel workers residing in Elyria (who constituted the vast majority of Elyria riders) nearly doubled. Instead of the five cent rate the steel workers had been charged under the old system, the new system charged one fare within Elyria, another over the suburban line, and a third fare upon entering the Lorain city limits. No stops were offered at the city limits or over the suburban line so all riders travelling north from Elyria were forced to pay the full nine cent fare.

The railway's stated reason for the change was to make fares commensurate with operating costs, especially as the suburban line between Elyria and Lorain was sparsely populated and generated no traffic of its own. Elyrians, however, suspected ulterior motives. That the Sheffield Land Company was under the same ownership and management as the railway was well known, and the fare change was assumed to be an attempt to make South Lorain real estate more attractive and pressure steel workers to relocate from Elyria. Political motivations were also suspected. Tom Johnson had been elected mayor of Cleveland in April 1901 and was advocating for a three cent fare on that city's streetcars. The outcry among Elyria residents, civic leaders, and newspapers was immediate and vocal. A general boycott of the railway by Elyrians quickly ensued. In an effort to alleviate the situation U.S. Steel chartered Lorain Street Railway cars and charged workers a six cent fare, with the steel company paying the remaining three cents. Some office workers refused to ride a Lorain Street Railway car on principal, instead walking as far as a mile to ride the competing Cleveland, Elyria & Western to Lorain, then walking another mile to the steel company offices. An effort was also made to convince the Cleveland, Lorain & Wheeling steam railroad to initiate a passenger service for steel workers between Elyria and Lorain at a five cent fare, but this apparently never materialized. A war of words erupted in Elyria's newspapers, which printed lengthy exchanges between George Ely, president of the Elyria Chamber of Commerce, and railway president Pierre du Pont. One newspaper even discussed the possibility of having the courts revoke the railway's franchise over a procedural technicality that had occurred in 1894.

The railway made various proposals to give steel workers discounted fares, but these were immediately rejected as insufficient, unfair, or impractical. The situation remained deadlocked, and the boycott continued, until an agreement was finally reached in September 1901. Under this plan steel company employees could buy special ticket books which gave them a fare of 6310 cents. The nine cent fare remained in place for all other riders. While this plan was reluctantly accepted and resolved the immediate dispute, distrust and bitterness against the railway would never completely dissipate.

Problems were not limited to public relations. Many operational mishaps also occurred. On February 27, 1901, a flywheel explosion in the railway's power house caused considerable damage, but fortunately no injuries. About half an hour after the helper engines were started to provide extra power for the evening rush hour, one of the large, multi- piece flywheels exploded. Large chunks of shrapnel tore through the roof, wall, and even the floor. The engine was completely destroyed and the switchboard shorted out. Traffic on the railway was stopped for two hours until a temporary connection was made to receive power from the Lorain & Cleveland Railway.

July 1904 saw two mishaps involving fires. A storage shed, which had been built during construction of the steel mill, was completely consumed by a fire in the early morning hours of July 4. The loss was estimated at $5000, and included a team of mules owned by the Sheffield Land Company and three old streetcar trailers. These trailers were most likely the old horse cars from the 1880's, which had been used in the early days of the electric line.

The very next day, July 5, car 48 was struck by lightning while on the private right-of-way between Lorain and Elyria. The car's electrical controls were burnt out by the shock and the car rolled downgrade until hitting the quarry switch. The wooden car caught fire and burned to the trucks. The motorman was stunned and the passengers shaken, but no other injuries were reported.

The worst accident the Lorain Street Railway would ever experience happened on the night of July 17, 1902. Car 37, newly purchased from the American Car Company, departed the Lorain loop at 12:45 AM with twenty- three passengers, most of them returning home from the Oak Point and Beach Park resorts. A stop was made at the carbarn where off-duty conductor L.J. Gaudern came aboard for a ride to his home in Elyria. Gaudern and conductor Harry Braman chatted on the rear platform as the car sped south over the private right-of-way. Upon entering Elyria around 1:30 AM, the two conductors realized they were not slowing for the turn onto Lodi Street. Before anything could be done the car ran into the curve at full speed, jumped the rails, and smashed into a two story apartment building on the opposite side. It went completely through the front of the building and protruded a full two feet out the opposite side before stopping. Conductor Gaudern jumped from the rear of the car as the accident happened but suffered severe head injuries and died hours later. Fifteen other passengers suffered cuts, bruises, and broken bones. The motorman, who was only slightly injured but terribly distraught, claimed he lost control of the car. Testimony of witnesses and evidence at the scene, however, suggest that he had fallen asleep at the controls.

The car was pulled from the building the following morning as a crowd of onlookers, photogrpahers, and reporters hovered around. The front truck, which had fallen through the building's floor and into the basement, had to be jacked up and rolled out on a temporary track. The car was damaged beyond repair, but the building fared better and was repaired. In 1917 it became Koplin's drug store, which remained at the location for several decades. Multiple lawsuits were filed by injured passengers and the building owner and the railway eventually paid a settlement of $11,452. In the following thirty six years no other car ever jumped the rails at the Lodi Street turn.

(coming soon)


J.P. Morgan, Elbert Gary, Andrew Carnegie, and Charles
Schwab were the four major figures in the creation
of US Steel. (U.S. Steel)

Newspaper article from February 27, 1901 announcing the
incorporation of US Steel. (Elyria Reporter)

Pierre du Pont moved to Lorain to take
control of the Johnson Co. in 1899.
(Dennis Lamont)

Du Pont's office, and corporate office of the railway, was at
10th and Pearl in the South Lorain Savings Bank.
(Dennis Lamont)

The tiny office of Capt. W.S. Pole, real estate agent for the
Sheffield Land Co., at 10th and Pearl. (Dennis Lamont)

The engines and dynamos at back of the steel mill's Bessemer
power house which powered the railway from 1895-1899.
(Dennis Lamont)

The original carbarn (right) was expanded with offices, four
additional bays, powerhouse, and smokestack. (John Rehor)

1905 insurance map showing the layout of the carbarn
and powerhouse. (Drew Penfield)

Railway employees, including the author's great-grandfather,
pose for photos at the carbarn around 1903. (Drew Penfield)

The railway's motormen and conductors. This photo was taken
the same day as the photo above. (Drew Penfield)

1897 publicity photo of car 20, one of the double-truck
conversions made by splicing two smaller cars.
(Dennis Lamont)

Car 12 after its double-truck conversion.
(Dennis Lamont)

Builder's photo of car 37, one of several such cars purchased
from American Car Company in 1901-1902. (Dennis Lamont)

The L.S.Ry shared a waiting room with other interurbans in the
Wagner Block (left) from at least 1900 to around 1905.
(Dennis Lamont)

Looking south on Broadway from the loop around 1905. LSE
tracks cross loop at bottom of photo. (Dennis Lamont)

A tiny waiting room was built at the Elyria loop in front of the
Elyria Milling Co. sometime around 1900. (Dennis Lamont)

By 1905 the railway operated 23 motor cars and had over
$95,000 of gross income.(Street Railway Investments)

A paper ticket from 1901-1905 when W.A. Donaldson was the
railway's treasurer. (Dennis Lamont)

Looking south on Seneca Ave. in October 1905. Brewery and grocery at left, Ideal
Laundry and Phoenix Hotel at right. (Drew Penfield)

Article explaining the railway's change of fares published in
an industry trade journal. (Street Railway Review)

A solution to the fare dispute with steel
company workers was finally reached
in September 1901. (Elyria Republican)

Built to store cement in 1894 this barn was used for storage
by the railway when it burned in 1904. (Dennis Lamont)

Car 48 was struck by lightning and
completely burned in July 1904.
(Elyria Reporter)

The Lodi Street accident was front page news on the morning
of July 17, 1902. (Lorain Times)

Preparing to pull car 37 from the building it struck after jumping
the curve the night before. (Dennis Lamont)

Front of the car protruding through the rear wall of the building.
(Dennis Lamont)

Full extent of the damage to car 37 was clear once it was
pulled from the building. (Dennis Lamont)

(coming soon)

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