Edited by David F. Harling
(Originally published in RollSign, March/April 2009 Issue)
As one of the largest organizations of its kind, the Boston Street Railway Association has provided its members—who amount to nearly 900 persons in 2009—with quality publications, top-notch entertainment programs, and fascinating fan trips, and has done so for fifty years. The Association wasn’t always a multi-faceted operation, however. In its earliest days, a group of ten young transit enthusiasts in the Boston area formed the BSRA with a relatively simple goal of preserving a streetcar—and saved it from the scrap heap.
For our fiftieth anniversary, four of the original ten members—Dave Harling, Charlie Reynolds, Paul Harling, and Paul Miglierina—have collaborated, with the agreement of the surviving members, to share their memories of the earliest days of the Association, telling the story of Type 5 streetcar No. 5706 and the founding of the Boston Street Railway Association…
Wheels in Motion
The BSRA’s foundations can be traced back to the Massachusetts Model Railroad Society (the “Mass Model”), originally located near Boston’s South Station. In the 1950’s, soon after Charlie Reynolds joined the club, Mass Model was forced to move, ending up on the second floor of 27 Prospect Street, near Central Square in Cambridge. It was there that construction began on an HO-scale layout, followed by an O-scale layout, and the addition of a lounge and meeting room, complete with a TV set—a luxury at the time!
Charlie soon introduced Bob McCarthy, his paper boy, to the Mass Model and he, too, became a member. Danny Dineen was also a member of the Mass Model, as was Marshall Simmons. Marshall, who was manager of Hobbytown, introduced Paul Miglierina, a frequent customer, to the Mass Model.
David Harling was invited to Mass Model by George Marshall, a model railroader who also happened to be an MTA motorman, working out of Bennett Street.
Roger Jenkins, who was already a member of the Mass Model, met Dave and his brother, Paul Harling (a UMass Amherst student), after “discovering” Paul’s model railroad layout at the Harlings’ home in Gloucester. Roger, residing on Hyde Park Avenue in Roslindale, was well-acquainted with the MTA and its streetcars, which ran past is home on one of the “Country” lines out of the Arborway.
Bernard Gould learned of the Mass Model Railroad Society from an employee of the Boston Model Railroad hobby shop near South Station and wished to join. His father subsequently brought him to a meeting in Cambridge, where he, because he was 13, was told to return when he turned 14 (the minimum age for a Junior Member), which he did.
Several members of the group occasionally visited the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine, and on one occasion decided to clean out a car as a volunteer project. During that visit the group saw people working on one of the Type Two cars, cleaning it in preparation for returning it to passenger car condition. One person identified himself as Paul Frazier, from Gloucester, which immediately brought a response from Paul Harling, also from Gloucester. Paul joined the nine as the tenth and final member of the group which was to become the BSRA. There were others from the Mass Model who mized with this little group, but never became part of the BSRA. They either drifted away or were not interested in buying a street car. (To be fair, many were railroad modelers or fans and not traction fans.)
Germination of the Idea
In 1957, Roger Jenkins and I traveled to Johnstown and Pittsburgh, PA over the Thanksgiving weekend. In Johnstown, we were highly impressed with the possibilities of charter work, using their several older double-ended cars. We even invited ourselves aboard the tail end of a railfan charter using ex-Bangor #311, an elderly double-truck Birney. On the drive home, we daydreamed about the possibility of doing the same in Boston with one of the remaining serviceable Type Fives.
At the Mass Model, a small group of older Junior Members (under 18) and younger Senior Members coalesced. We were unhappy with the way the club was being run by the older members (as only a group of teenagers and former teenagers can be). We started meeting Friday or Saturday evenings in my parents’ attic, at 14 Maynard Street in Medford. As a nose-thumbing gesture to the Mass Model, we gave ourselves the exalted name of The Bay State Society of Model Engineers!
Saving a Streetcar
Paul Harling and Roger subsequently presented their thoughts to this informal railfan group, and as is customary when someone initiates a proposal, that person is assigned to do the footwork. Paul Harling wrote a letter to Mr. Edward Dana, General Manager of the MTA at that time, investigating the possibilities of preserving a Type Five car for charter service (by purchase, if necessary).
Paul Harling recalls:
Mr. Dana’s response was supportive but he indicated that all remaining Type Fives were still in service at that time and, therefore, not available. He did, however, put us on record to receive the bid list when the cars were declared surplus.
In 1959 the first group of ex-Dallas double-ended PCC cars had fully replaced the remaining Type Fives, which were subsequently retired and put out for bid. We received the list with proper procedures for bidding. The group raised the funds for the appropriate bid deposit and submitted our bid for #5645. When the bids were opened, we were notified that Warehouse Point was the winning bidder for #5645, our bid deposit was returned, and we were without a car.
Not to be discouraged, we turned to the Saugus Scrap Company, which had purchased the remaining cars (minus 5734 and 5777, which were purchased by Seashore Trolley Museum and Allen Pommer, respectively). They were amenable to selling us a car and, because the winning bid for 5645 was $500, they determined that to be an appropriate price for us as well.
We raised the funds—$50 each (equivalent to $312 in 2009 dollars!)—from each of the ten members, and because we were selecting a car from a batch owned by the Saugus Scrap Company, we had to choose the one we wanted standing outside Everett Shops looking through the fence, not having permission at that time to enter the MTA property! We decided on #5706, as this car had been retired earlier due to a faulty door motor, and thus had not been vandalized, as had several of the other cars.
We were well coached by Bernard’s father, Bernard B. Gould, Sr. (an excellent corporate lawyer), in preparing a proper sales agreement and a quit-claim deed for the car. At this time we were also advised that we ought to be incorporated for our own protection.
On Paul Harling’s suggestion, and without any great fanfare, the group decided on the name Boston Street Railway Association. Appropriate papers were then drawn up. It should be clear that at this time the sole purpose of the Association was to maintain 5706 running in Boston.
At this time elections became necessary. Paul Harling retired as first President and became Clerk of the Corporation. Marshall Simmons was elected as our second President. The papers of incorporation had to be first approved by the municipality where the Clerk resided, thus the BSRA was acknowledged by the City Council of Gloucester.
Shake-Up at the MTA
Paul Harling recalls:
Meanwhile, the three Type Fives (5645, 5734 and 5777) purchased from the MTA were removed from the area, and the remaining cars were brought out for scrap. The principal of Saugus Scrap Company, Mr. Thomas Waldron, was familiar with us, so he allowed us to have any and all parts we thought we needed for 5706 from the cars being scrapped.
During this time we were treated sympathetically by Mr. Dana, until his retirement in 1959. Then our problems began as we were instructed to remove our car from the MTA property. According to the terms of the bid, if the cars were not removed in a timely fashion, the MTA could rescing the bid, reaquire the car, and dispose of it as they saw fit. They were not too pleased to discover that No. 5706 had been sold to us by a third party and was no longer subject to their bid procedures. Although this was a nuisance to them, they did not pursue the car removal too vigorously and it remained in the back of the Everett Shops property.
We presented proposals to the interim management for retaining 5706 on the property for charter service only to have them contradict each other. We were officially informed that the MTA did not charter streetcars. We then called their charter department and were told that indeed we could, and were even given prices (So much for organizational coordination!).
After over a year of negotiating and the appointment of a permanent General Manager, Mr. Thomas McLernon, we were informed that the company would not permit private vehicles to be operated on MTA premises. We could not argue this, as it was clear that the MTA management was not going to allow us to remain. An alternative plan became necessary.
5706 Goes to Connecticut
Paul Harling explains:
We investigated the possibility of a move to the Pleasure Island Amusement Park in Wakefield. They had a long freight siding, a working diesel locomotive that could provide 600 volts DC power, and they were interested in having 5706 as another attraction. This did not occur, as shortly thereafter, the park declared bankruptcy.
We also considered a move to the Seashore Trolley Museum, but passed that up as it would have required us to surrender ownership of 5706, and they did not need another Type Five. The Branford Trolley Museum, however, was amenable to our moving 5706 to their location where we could still retain ownership of the car, a very important point to us.
The BSRA raised sufficient funds to lease the Hines flatbed trailer which had previously been used to move No. 5645. With a tractor and volunteer crew from Branford, the car was loaded gratis by the MTA and secured by BSRA member Danny Dineen. The move was made Friday night and Saturday, on May 7-8, 1961. The MTA was so happy to see us leave that they gave us their entire remaining upper window sashes for the Fives!
The car passed through New Haven amid much curiosity, and arrived at Branford and a previously built ramp. Paul Harling had the honor of driving 5706 off the trailer and onto the Branford tracks. After securing the site we boarded the car for its inaugural trip, complete with a barrage of track torpedoes!
Bill Grimes: The 11th Member
Ed Anderson, a long-time member, recalls Bill Grimes:
It was around 1960-1961 that Bill joined the BSRA, which at that time had 10 members and a 15-ton streetcar, No. 5706, and had only the most minimum of organization. It was Bill who saw that the BSRA could be an independent voice to publish news about the MTA. I think that his qualities of patience and tolerance of fiercely held opinions helped him to hold the organization together and slowly build up the membership. Bill seized the reins of leadership during the BSRA’s most critical time and guided it, oh so gently and patiently, on the road to where it is today. The publication, Rollsign, was his invention. He even named it! He was extremely proud to see it eventually published in color.
Billl’s many other accomplishments in life were impressive. He graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude with a degree in foreign languages and went on to a long career in translation services, working for the United States Patent Office, Harvard Medical School, and various translation agencies before establishing his own business partnership. Bill also led the transit advocacy group, Back on Track, for restoration of the Greenbush Commuter Rail line.
Bill returned to serve as our Publications Director in the mid-1970s, working in his role until illness in recent years prevented him from continuing. The BSRA Board of Directors named him President Emeritus in 2007, a distinction of which he was very proud. He passed away later that year—a great loss to the BSRA, and all the friends who knew him.
The Next Steps
Paul Miglierina recalls:
In 1962, Marshall Simmons and I journeyed to Branford for a weekend’s work on 5706. We did a modicum of work on the roof, but it was soon clear to us that the work was beyond our meager capabilities. It’s amazing how much larger and heavier the parts of a streetcar are when you actually try to disassemble or pick one up! We all built models out of balsa and bass wood—what did we know?
Much more telling was the realization that the Association at that time did not have the manpower to carry forward the maintenance and restoration of 5706. Although in need of work in 1961 it had, up until a few years before, been an operating streetcar. Nonetheless work was needed and we didn’t have either the horsepower or the will to get t done. Marshall was managing Hobbytown at 4 Park Square in Boston six days a week and had a wife and family. Paul Miglierina was struggling to remain enrolled at Northeastern University. The stories were all similar. Everyone had some type of commitment, 5706 was gone and Branford was a long, long way away in 1962.
Another issue clouded the situation. The Association was founded on the sole premise that it was to purchase a streetcar to be run in Boston. Actually, Plan A was for the MTA to retain a Type Five for charter service. Plan B was for us to purchase a car for charter service on the MTA. With neither Plan A nor Plan B possible, our only options remaining were to move the car, or scrap it. The incorporation papers listed all manners of things, but they were very secondary. When the dream was shattered by the moving og 5706 to faraway Branford, Connecticut and the realization that 5706 might never run in Boston again, many members were openly or quietly disillusioned. That the Association and its prized artifact survived, and indeed prospered, remains a miracle of sorts and a tribute to those who picked up the baton and carried it forward.
It should also be kept in mind that the Preservation Movement did not exist in 1959. One could argue that the destruction of New York’s Penn Station in 1964 was a watershet in awakening the need for preservation. Suffice it to say that in 1959 there was little to no support for keeping an aging trolley running around the streets of Boston. The general population had none. And the MTA, beset by its own problems, including urban flight from the city, could not foresee the renaissance waiting in the wings for Boston and the Preservation Movement.
As the membership changed, so did the Association. Publications, events, membership dues and donations became central fund-raising motors of the BSRA, and ultimately, funding for the resumption of 5706 restoration was secured.
Recently, restoration work has advanced steadily, and our historic streetcar will be operating once again in the near future. It is our hope that, wherever 5706 ultimately resides, the operation of the classic streetcar around which the Association was founded fifty years ago will educate and entertain for generations to come!
Meet the Founding Members
These ten gentlemen founded the Boston Street Railway Association in 1959 to preserve a Type 5 streetcar. The surviving founders were honored at our 50th Anniversary Meeting in June, 2009 for their participation in the Association’s founding. We salute their vision and contributions!
Daniel Dineen — Deceased, bus driver, formerly of Boston, MA.
Paul W. Frazier — Currently living in Rockport, MA and retired from the MBTA after 32 years.
Bernard B. Gould, Jr. — Currently living in North Carolina and is the European Sales Manager for Gould and Goodrich, a leather company.
David F. Harling — Currently living in Rockport, MA and is employed by JEOL (USA) in Peabody as their Training Manager. He is also the BSRA’s current Director of Car Restoration.
Paul T. Harling — Currently living in Gloucester, MA after 33 years of teaching in the Gloucester school system. Now the owner curator of the Diving Locker museum on Gloucester’s waterfront.
Roger F. Jenkins — Deceased (2014), retired Brockton, MA firefighter. He also worked as an employee of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.
D. Robert McCarthy — Currently living in Jamison, MA and is a retired RCA engineer where he worked for 34 years.
Paul L. Miglierina — Currently living in Marblehead, MA and is a retired automotive engineer.
Charles E. Reynolds, Jr. — Currently living in Melrose, MA and is a retired structural draftsman.
Marshall W. Simmons — Deceased, former owner and manager of Hobbytown in Park Square, Boston.