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The Great Trolley Strike

Valley Daily News’ readers were surprised by the December 11, 1913 headlines that read, "West Penn Company Discharges Men without Notice." The report went on to say that all employees were paid off and discharged when the Traction Company had learned that the men had voted 36 to 3 in favor of a strike over a number of grievances. Their main complaint centered on the company’s effort to force employees to drop out of Local Union 11528 Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America. When the men refused to sign the agreement, they were discharged. The next day a number of the workers spoke with the former trolley company manager, Mr. Frank McCoy, who seemed to side with the discharged workers. Unfortunately, the new managers who had taken office on January 1, 1913 did not agree. The workers claimed that employees were threatened with dismissal if they even talked unionism with any new employee. In addition, a graduated life insurance policy had been offered to any employee who would drop out of the union. The workers adamantly responded that the union assisted them today, while a life insurance policy would only be a benefit when they died. To make matters worse, many unionized streetcar workers, at other locations, had already received the same insurance policy without any restrictions.

The next day, several hundred men, women, and children waited outside the car barn at Adams Street and Second Avenue for the first trolley to make its appearance (see photo). By 3:00 P.M., a much larger crowd had gathered and deputies were stationed in cars to avert trouble. Meanwhile, the other local trolley, the West Penn Railway Company, made no effort to operate their cars.

On the following day non-union workers were operating the trolleys. A number of near fatal accidents occurred that resulted from the use of inexperience drivers, including a head on collision at Second Avenue and Corbet Street, as well as other switch locations. Most of the local trolley line consisted of a single track with a switch over at convenient spots as the one located in the 200 block of Seventh Avenue in West Tarentum. A verbal order had recently been given by the trolley company managers that no car should proceed beyond a regular passing point until the car that should pass had arrived. This caused great consternation

among the working class as this made them late for work, especially on foggy mornings when the other car could not be seen.

Within a few days, the former employees and local citizens were outraged as management refused to arbitrate and would neither recognize nor deal with the union. Near Glassmere, numerous obstacles were placed on the tracks to stop the non-union drivers. There was fear what might happen if the trolley cars tried to operate at night. All trolley traffic was suspended on December 12. By then nearly everyone living in Tarentum and the surrounding communities supported the locked-out employees. Large auto trucks (see photo) were being used by the former employees to haul passengers. Huge crowds gathered each morning at the Tarentum Station (see photo) to board the passenger trains to Pittsburgh or Butler.

The following poem written by a ‘friend of the street car boys" appeared in the December 13 edition of the Valley Daily News.

The Street Car

If you have business in Tarentum.

If you are going to that town,

There is something for your notebook.

Which you had better mark down.

The street cars are not running,

Those happy days are o're.

For the people at the company,

Have got mad and have got sore.

Mr. Balsinger he does tell us,

What the company wants to do,

But when we think of the first national

Then the picture we do view.

Homes on Christmas which are dreary,

Homes on Christmas which are sad.

Hundreds in the mad house crazy:

Boys and girls gone to the bad.

All because they simply trusted.

This company like you and I,

That is why this verse I am writing.

This is why I do reply.

That when Harget came among us,

He build street cars, he built tracks,

And he will always find a welcome,

If he ever does come back.

And that grand old Mr. McCoy,

Suited Mellons, suited me.

But he was too good a man.

For the West Penn Company

But there are brighter days coming.

Brighter men are coming too.

Men who make their word and promise.

Sacred, honest, good and true.

Boys take courage. God is with you.

And he will lead you on your way,

For the good comes to the top boys.

Like the cream above the whey.

There was even a question if the company would lose their local franchise as according to their contract. they were required to operate a car every 30 minutes.

A street car conference was planned but failed to materialize when the general manager. Mr. Moore. refused to meet with the committee.

A report in the Valley Daily News by Tarentum council president. W. F. Denny and the other members claimed that West Penn Trolley Company’s attitude was unjust and unfair.

On December 16, a large group of state troopers, whom the local citizens referred to as the "State Cossacks." arrived on horseback from Greensburg to maintain order and to escort the cars from the trolley barn. A few days later the local citizens were outraged over arrests of several prominent Tarentum businessmen who were allegedly accused of causing problems. The state troopers rode though any crowd that gathered on the sidewalks, thus endangering the welfare of the women and children. A mass meeting was held in Tarentum on December 17 and the sheriff was asked to withdraw the troopers.

On December 21, a number of the strike breakers also walked off the job protesting the long hours they were being forced to work A resolution was adopted by the local townspeople against the West Penn Company and oil December 22 many of the remaining strike breakers quit their jobs due to the lack of passengers.

 

On January 3, two trolleys derailed with extensive damage to the cars due to the inexperience of the untrained drivers.

On January 22, the trolley employees of Wheeling West Virginia (a division of the West Penn Trolley Co.) sent each striking employee $150. That same day an autobus arrived from Monongahela City and was then used to transfer passengers. A few trolley cars continued to operate during January but there were few. if any, local citizens willing to ride the trolleys.

On February 4, the former street car employees published a special edition of the Valley Daily News, with the employees receiving all the profit from the sale of this issue.

Finally on February 10, an agreement was reached that appeared to be favorable to both the company and the locked-out employees. The first car left the trolley barn at 5:00 A.M. on February 11 with Harry Robbins, conductor, and Charles Ellerman, motor-man. On February 14, 1914 the company made a statement to reinstate all the old employees and agreed that they would not prohibit them from paying union dues. During the strike, the trolley company lost over $50.000 in revenues caused bitter feelings with the local citizenry. and produced major transportation headaches.

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On November 28, 1913 the West Penn Trolley Company announced a fare increase for those passengers traveling from Natrona or Brackenridge to New Kensington. The fare from Tarentum to New Kensington remained at 5 cents while Natrona and Backenridge passengers had to pay an additional 5 cents, which was collected near Peterson Station in West Tarentum. Returning from New Kensington the extra 5 cents was collected at the Tarentum Borough line near the Flaccus Glass Plant. There was also a fare increase from 20 to 25 cents for those passengers traveling from Tarentum to Aspinwall.

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