Trolleys on the Avenue

I loved to ride the trolley …

Mounds of metal tethered with poles to wires that supplied the energy, the electric trolleys were masses of power that glided, rumbled and wobbled along their tracks while passing rows of merchants… the tailor, shoemaker, barber, grocer, the undertaker, baker, saloon keeper, liquor store owner and fish man.
Academy Avenue was a busy neighborhood street where people bustled along sidewalks and streetcars hummed along the street. Trolley tracks and overhead wires connected one end to the other.

Mt. Pleasant and Atwells Avenue Trolley

Bulky and powerful, the trolleys pounded along the Avenue, oiling their way with steel wheels on their steel rails. As I walked down my street toward the Avenue, I heard the wheels screeching, like chalk on a blackboard. The trolley’s poles swayed in the opposite direction of the streetcar. Wires looked like giant spider webs when the car stretched around the corner of Atwells Avenue’s hill to the flat of Academy.

I loved to ride with Grandma on her trek to Federal Hill every Saturday. “We take-a the stree-ta-car. Here she come.” The trolley stopped one block from the end of my street. I stood on tiptoes, stretching, looking and waiting for the clanging of the bell. It was near. Its brakes thumped. I took a deep breath.
Grandma held my hand as we boarded and passed the friendly motorman who greeted us with “Good morning.” On summer days, the trolley was crowded and hot. I sat on a wooden seat by the open window while Grandma stood, holding the leather strap, swaying with the rhythm of the ride. Did I smell something burning? No. Just the brakes and the tracks when the car came to a stop. At each stop, elderly ladies barreled on.

The trolley was more than a ride to The Hill. It was a source of adventure. I strolled alongside the track on summer days. Sometimes I saw a dead mouse crushed in the tracks and wondered what a cat would look like…or a dog. Or maybe half my foot. I purposely caught my shoe in the track. What if the trolley were coming? In the old movie, a femme fatale was rescued when tied to a railroad track. So what if it was a train speeding at 100 mph and not the trolley at its maximum of 15. It would do just as much damage… a lost toe, foot, leg, or a life. I knew I could get my shoe out. It was easy, so I did it again, and again.

Sometimes Dad, in a moment of defiance and bravery when no trolley or autos were in sight would say, “Watch me drive the Chevy on the tracks. Do you feel it, Edward? We’re gliding. Do you feel how smooth it is? How she slides?” He was so excited, but just as quickly as he got on the tracks, he got off; loving his moment of mischief. On a face that would have tightened in disapproval if he knew what we did with the trolleys, he now had a wispy smile of triumph.  I tried it with my bike, but the wheels got stuck in the track and never glided.

It was the older kids who pulled the big adventures. I watched from a hiding place, of course. I might put caps in the tracks to hear the rat-a-tat-tat. That was about it.  But those guys used salutes or the formidable cherry bomb which might, we thought, jolt the car near off the track. We fanned out after they placed the cherry bomb; taking strategic places well out of sight. In my trusty Keds I buzzed by the bakery. That bread smelled so good but no time to savor it today. I needed to get behind the building. This wasn’t blind man’s bluff or Red Rover. This was the real thing. I wanted to watch while being prepared for a getaway.

The bigger thrill was when those kids ran after the car, jumped and pulled the boom off the wire. Screech…the sound of the untethered trolley coming to an abrupt powerless halt. Down the steps and around to the rear came the mumbling conductor to reattach the boom. “Damn kids!!”

They dug up the tracks one day and replaced them with a smooth, black street.
Gone were the rumbles, clickety clacks and screeches. Gone was another neighborhood institution. I didn’t need much more to bond me to the neighborhood because I lived, learned and played there, but the trolley was among the favorites. Kids from school, men from work, smells of fish and chips on Friday; all were among the myriad of neighborhood connections.

I drove to Atwells and Academy Avenues recently. I visualized the trolley following the streets of my youth….old streets, sidewalks, stores, schools now gone. On those streets I had found fun, excitement and familiarity.

Now, so many years later, I’ve thought about those scenes. The tracks and its trolley were just another anchor among many in our neighborhood. As time passes, I grow more nostalgic for the memories of youth. Though the trolley and the tracks are long gone, their image remains.

You can find this and similar stories in my book, Growing Up Italian: Grandfather’s Fig tree and Other Stories or in my second book, What Ever Happened to Sunday Dinner?

 

By | 2018-07-10T20:12:02+00:00 July 16th, 2018|Neighborhood, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's|27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Vincent Di Biasio April 4, 2013 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Hi Ed:
    You surely brought back lots of happy memmories of the trolley
    rides on the Atwells and Academy route. I believe we’re about the same age, Mount Pleasant High, 1957, PC 1961.
    I remember the old waiting shack downtown near the Biltmore Hotel waiting for the Atwells Academy trolley.. My mom and I
    would be sitting on the wooden planks near the steam pipes that surrounded the room to keep warm on a cold winter’s night. Mom would have the round metal coins with a star in the middle to use for the fare.
    On the way home my mom would point out Crout Street was where my grandparents lived in the heart of Federal Hill.
    At the end of the line at La Salle Academy we would have to walk another 15 minutes to get home.

    Since I no longer live in RI I’ve gone to Google maps to discover what the old Atwells Academy route looks like now after 60+ years.

    Thanks for the delightful days of the trolley.

    • Edward Iannuccilli April 8, 2013 at 8:39 am - Reply

      Thanks for the memories, Vin. I was Classical ’57 and PC ’61
      So pleased that you enjoyed my story of the “good old days.”

  2. Frank Joly April 5, 2013 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Eddie, I remember the trolley from Washington Park at the Cranston-Prov. line. I would climb aboard the trolley spanking clean and get off the trolley with grease on my clothes from the trolleys tiller at either end of the car. It seems like yesterday!

  3. Dorothy Rozzi Belknap July 8, 2014 at 3:38 am - Reply

    Dear Dr. Ed, this trolley piece was so much fun to read. You listed all the shops that ran along our block on Academy Avenue..

    From my second floor bedroom window, I could see the trolley stop and who was waiting for a ride.
    Women wearing hats and gloves, men smoking pipes – the newspaper tucked under their arm, it was about
    fashion, life styles, kids with parents and holding hands, it was about getting on with the day and going places. I loved the residential/commercial mix of our neighborhood and the cultural mix of English, Irish,
    and Italian.

    • Ed July 16, 2014 at 12:56 pm - Reply

      Than you, Dorothy. It is such an emotional journey reconnect with those from the old neighborhood. Yes, our neighborhood, though multicultural, has so many similarities. I have a film on my blog site. If you click on it, you will hear/see me speak of the old neighborhood.

  4. Barbara Beauchemin July 16, 2018 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    We, too, experienced the trolley on Chalkstone Avenue…..and would run out and put objects in the tracks that we hoped would tip the trolley over……we were mischievous kids in those days….no internet to keep us in the house…..made our own adventures, not always a good thing. We loved to open the chicken cage and let all the chickens out on the avenue as well….

    • Ed July 16, 2018 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      Funny you remember the devilish things, Barbara. Chickens on the Avenue. Gad! Hope the trolley didn’t get them.
      Thanks for sharing.

  5. John Booss July 16, 2018 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Ed….Great NYC memories triggered. From our apartment I walked done the hill past Fieldston School, then past Manhattan College, to where the Broadway-7th Ave subway (the A Train) ended at Van Cortland Park. It connected with the Broadway Yonkers trolley. Broadway there in those years was cobblestone. Buses came along sometime in the first half of the ’50s. Thx for jogging the memory…..John

    • Ed July 16, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      Pleased I could rekindle good stuff, John. Thanks

  6. Peter Voccio JR. July 16, 2018 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    What a beautiful read, and all the comments posted of days long gone. Growing up in the country in the 40s not too much transportation was afforded. We had our bicycles, darn it no trolleys. When I reached the age of 15, 1950 we would walk to Rumford to catch a bus to Providence to see the latest western. Ed, that little devil within was passed on from your Dad.

    • Ed July 16, 2018 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Yes, Peter. Did you know that my Dad’s name was Peter? All devils, Eh?

  7. Tom DeNucci July 16, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    I don’t remember the trolley but do remember the tracks. In some parts of the city and surrounding areas they were there long after the trolleys were gone. I remember my dad telling me how carefully he had to drive when near them in the winter because they were very slippery when coated w ice! Were we in the 59 Dodge or the Rambler? Don’t remember. Thanks for another great story and for cool memories on a hot day!

    • Ed July 17, 2018 at 11:06 am - Reply

      Thanks, Tom. Forgot how slippery the tracks were in winter. Don’t you wish you had that car?

  8. Peter Voccio JR July 16, 2018 at 10:58 pm - Reply

    Yes, all Peters are devils. My dad was Peter. The movie Meet me in ST Louis, with Judy Garland, 1943 does wonders with the trolley song. google it.

  9. Natalie L McKenna July 17, 2018 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    Shared this on my Facebook timeline, with a comment on hwat happened to me one time as my brother, my father and I exited the trolley after arriving in downtown Providence. Yours are much nicer memories!

  10. June Champagne July 17, 2018 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    I do not remember the trolleys,but do recall the bus tunnel near the URI extension. The busses all entered the city via the tunnel. I can also remember the smell of exhaust from those busses, yukky smell; it permeated the area. There was a parking lot with meters outside the tunnel, I think! It was so long ago, but I remember the fumes.
    As students of St Mary’s on Broadway, my brother and I took the “Scituate “bus home to Johnston, “Barganian”( phonetic ) owned the company, “Ralph” was the bus driver. It was an old bus, smelling like cigars . My mom gave us both bus money for the week and one week my brother was short – mom wanted to know if he lost his money, he adminately said, “no”, he gave it to the bus driver for the old ripped seats.
    I haven’t thought about that memory in forever.
    “ Thanks for the memories……….”

    • Ed July 18, 2018 at 7:37 pm - Reply

      Thank YOU, June. Good memories, good writing. Want to write a story for my blog?

  11. Larry Goldberg July 19, 2018 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    I enjoy reading your recollections (and books) of a time gone by. Having been raised in suburban Denver, I missed out on many things that were a part of growing up in Providence. Moving here in 1981, me and my family fell in love with the city and its citizens. Though I can’t go as far back as far as many of your readers, I have been building my own memories of this enchanting city and state. Thank you

    • Ed July 19, 2018 at 8:38 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Larry. Nice thoughts. Nice move!

  12. Ellen Cyronak. July 20, 2018 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I do remember the trolley it was fun my grandmother and uncles and aunts lived Atwells ave We used the sand banks when we visited them. Do you remember them

    • Ed July 21, 2018 at 12:39 am - Reply

      I sure do, Ellen. Down the sandbanks I went from Wealth Avenue to visit friends on Newark and Valley Streets and Atwells Avenue. Thanks for reminding me

  13. Diane Grieco July 30, 2018 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed reading this piece as I do reading all of your writing. We are fortunate to share these wonderful memories of long ago. Will our children and grandchildren feel as nostalgic about their childhoods and neighborhoods and downtowns? Perhaps, but I think not. It was a special time.
    Thank you for preserving what was in the written word and sharing that with us.

    • Ed July 30, 2018 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      This was of course Natalie’s piece. I am proud to publish it on my blog. Thanks, Diane.

  14. Betty McGowan Young August 20, 2018 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Speaking of trolleys. How about the trolley on Elmgrove Avenue that took you through the Hope Street tunnel to shop downtown. Also the trackless trolleys and the traffic jams that were caused downtown during snowstorms when electricity was lost and the trolleys just stopped in the middle of the road. This was a nightmare because now many more cars were also on the roads and no one could get through. Have to say I am glad those times are behind us. Betty

    • Ed August 21, 2018 at 8:03 pm - Reply

      Yes, I remember them, Betty. I did forget how they lost power and stymied the traffic, however. Once snow was exciting; when we were little kids of course. Now, as then in the city it is a hindrance.

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