Photo by VeloBusDriver

In the spirit of the holidays, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to think about the sentimental value transit often offers us.  To do this, a little digging is required, exercising our past memories to elicit those experiences we often had aboard, or sometimes off-board, transit.  While I’m not that old and didn’t have the fortune of developing a nostalgia for things like the Interurban and the early streetcar trolleys, many of you, our readers, have had such experiences far and wide.

Many of my nostalgic memories around transit occurred in the early to mid-90s– the DSTT was new, Metro ridership was on the rise, the RTA was preparing to go to the ballot, and many questions were being asked about the future of rapid transit for the Puget Sound region.  But what I remember most were the daytime trips my grandmother would take me on from her apartment in the International District to Seattle Center: a ride on a dual-mode Breda trolley through the bus tunnel, and a transfer to the Monorail at Westlake, with a chocolate ice cream cone on the 4th floor food court to boot.

Over time, it’s been the little things that have stuck out at me as I ponder my old perceptions (and misconceptions) of transit.  Like many of you, I was particularly fond of being the one to pull the stop request cord; to hear a real ‘ding’ aboard a bus today is considered a novelty.  And since I never continued beyond Westlake in the DSTT, I somehow wound up with the belief that the tunnel continued onto Vancouver B.C. with a station underneath the Seattle Center House.

I blinded myself with some other self-concocted myths over the years– when I was in middle school and didn’t care particularly for transit, I thought that Sound Transit bus drivers were far meaner than Metro drivers, only to discover a number of years later that they were all the same.  And for the longest time, I would never board a Seattle-bound commuter bus at Eastgate because the long queue gave me the impression that riders had to have a special pass or eligibility to board.

What are your special memories of transit?  Did you ever fabricate naive falsehoods that turned out to be wrong?

30 Replies to “Transit Nostalgia”

  1. I have special memories of riding the Yakima City buses from approximately 1957 to 1963. The fare was ten cents. I remember the 10th Avenue bus was a Fageol Twin gasoline powered bus. One time I caught it on 10th Avenue, of course, to go to my father’s corner drug store in downtown Yakima. I was the only passenger, and perhaps seven years old. The bus driver was probably twenty-one years old at most. He drove that old Fageol Twin like it was a “stock car racer.” Yelling and screaming at other cars on the road. Scared the heck out of me!

    Yakima had a lot of hand-me-down buses in the 50s/early 60s. They were kept in the old Yakima Valley Transportation Co. streetcar barns on Pine Street. The streetcars were retired in 1947, I believe, and replaced by buses. The street railway continued freight service up until the mid-eighties. I absolutely adored that street railway which, incidently, was owned by the Union Pacific Railroad.

    1. I enjoyed reading your memories, Rod–especially about the old Fageol Twin Coaches! The City of Yakima now owns what remains of the street railway, and streetcars are still run in Yakima seasonally. Definitely a must-see for any transit nerd! The line car and steeple cab electric locomotive are both still in Yakima and operable, as well as two original YVT streetcars and the two Oporto cars purchased in 1974. The museum website has more information about Yakima’s system, and you can also get updates on the Facebook page.

      1. Thanks for your comments Greg. Yes, I am aware of that. I actually wrote a history of the Y.V.T as a 12 year old transit nerd; researched at the downtown Yakima Library. I rode in Unit A, the line car in 1963 when I was 12 years old. I rode one of the Oporto cars in 1976 to Wiley City. Missing from the property is No. 297, which was the back-up to No. 298, the Steeple cab. Also missing is No. 301. I saw all of them in action in the early 60s. During the early autumn, apple harvest time, the Y.V.T. was very busy in the early 60s. I must say, the Union Pacific Railroad kept those electric locomotives in absolutely spectacular shape – always freshly painted Union Pacific yellow.

  2. Fondest memories: The elderly people who lived on the 3/4 route on both ends that became like family over the years. It wasn’t unusual to have half a bus load and everyone knew each other.
    Biggest misconception: After being thrown out on the road in an old 900 ETB, my first trip from Queen Anne to Judkins I was 30 minutes late with no traffic. Pedestrians were passing me, I was so slow. I thought this was going to be impossible to ever learn well enough to stay on schedule. It came in time.
    Best Experience: Operator of the Month at Atlantic Base.

  3. I never really started riding until a few months ago but I do remember the “field trip” we had in fifth grade: How to ride the bus.

    I believe it was on a bus similar to the one in the picture.

  4. When I was 21, I used to ride the 22 Filmore bus in San Francisco as the second leg of a trip from Union Square to Lower Haight 5 days a week at 7 am (I was a night auditor at a hotel). For anyone who’s ever ridden on the 22 Fillmore, you know it’s hard to imagine a bus line that is as crazy and soulful anywhere in the world. I don’t have time to get into it here, but the adventures I had and sights I witnessed on that bus have definitely stayed with me ever since.

  5. Mid-90s I took the 307 regularly to Bothell and bike when I wasn’t riding the BGT. That same bus pictured looks just like the 307 I would get in the tunnel. One day on the return trip back to Seattle the driver cut the corner at 125th and Lake City. Next thing I see beside me is a street sign being dragged alongside the shiny new bus from mid-section all the he way to the back end. I felt for the driver!

  6. Thanks for a great posting. I drove Tunnel routes most shakeups between February 1991 and July 1995. Early on, drove 70-series expresses, and also Routes 106 and 107. Especially liked the 107 for the long run along the lake between Renton and Rainier Beach, which I wish they’d put back. My last run for Metro was morning half of a 307 combo. Any chance you rode with me?

    I always tried not to give any of my passengers impression I was mean, especially younger ones, because I had loved transit since early 1950’s, when the Chicago Transit Authority was my own Disneyland, except much more exciting. I’m very glad your experiences convinced you to start driving transit yourself.

    Thanks especially for the photo of the Breda bus. My I have permission to use it for future postings? Because I think it’s especially worthwhile at this Season to reflect on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project like this: Remember which ghost finally got the old banker’s attention.

    For me, the early days of the project were some of the best of my life. Having seen my first dual-power “artic” at an exhibition just before signing on part-time in 1982, I started deliberately shaping my driving experience for Tunnel work. My first part-time run was a 308 out of East Base, chosen for the brand new German sixty-footer that was a kick to deadhead across Evergreen Point every morning.

    I also went to trolleys soon as possible, and tried to vary my work between electrics and artics, until the arrival of the 4000’s combined both in one bus. Best of all was being detailed to the Employee Advisory Committee on the Downtown Seattle Transit Project.

    I was helping to bring a new form of transit into being with my own hands! Just reporting for work everyday was everything I could have asked for in life. At 37, after a work-life off a book-jacket-cover of I honestly thought I’d finally found my lifetime career. On a project unstoppably in motion.

    This winter, the way I look at the transit system everybody you rode with helped start is that you and people of your seniority have something really good to take hold of and take into its next thirty years. From what I’ve seen of your writing, I’d appreciate your staying close to the Tunnel and “joint-ops” this next while. It’s a rare opportunity for an able, motivated citizen to be personally responsible for some major developments in public transit.

    Everything the matter with Tunnel operations is curable by people like you- but absolutely no improvement will happen by itself. Whichever Holiday is pertinent this season…I can’t think of a better present.

    Good luck.

    Mark Dublin

    1. BTW- that’s “book-jacket-cover of a short story collection about whatever the author did before becoming an assistant professor of literature…”

  7. Riding one the of four or five Melbourne Trams (the entire fleet?) that had been staged either at International District Station or in front of the Comedy Underground on S. Main from Occidental Street at the end of the famous Game 5 of the ALDS when the M’s beat the Yankees. We were stuffed to the gills, hoarse from screaming and deaf from having been inside the Kingdome that night still pinching ourselves over what had just happeened. I remember having given Tuba Guy extra change on the way down Occidental. Metro ran the streetcars back to back, as one-way extra service to take people out to the low-cost various parking lots and (free!) on-street parking that lined the route all the way to Pier 70 (which it self had a good deal of parking).

    There was an ad card in the car for a restaurant whose name I forget, but the punch line was “and make it Snappy”, which we repeated over and over as “Make it Mister Snappy!” after one of Randy Johnson’s trickier-to-hit pitches.

    Not so long ago, and yet everything I mention, save for the Mariners themselves and Occidental Park, has been taken from us.

    1. With a long transit history, dating back to my first solo ride on an electric #18 from Fauntleroy to the Calf/Alaska junction as an 8 year old in 1956, my most formative transit moment was on a family road trip to San Francisco in the summer on 1959. My uncle lived in Oakland, and we rode across the Bay Bridge on and ACTransit System bus and then got to ride the wonderful Muni PCC cars on the L and N from Transbay Terminal up Market street, through their respective tunnels and all the way out to the Ocean. Was hooked on rail for life. Soon thereafter started taking day-tips to Portland or Vancouver on the train ($4.95 round trip to Portland, and a staggering $5.95 RT to Vancouver) followed by my first long distance trip overnight from Butte, MT to Seattle on Northern Pacific’s North Coast Coast Limited in summer 1964. Still using and crusading for transit and trains a half century later .

    2. I rode the bus after Game Five of the ALDS in 1995, too. I was actually parked up around the Paramount so I only needed to ride the bus up that far. But it was just about the best, happiest bus ride ever. We were all cheering and singing. The bus driver was doing it right along with us. Whenever he stopped to let someone on, he’d say something like “Get on the party bus! Everyone rides for FREE tonight!” and we’d all cheer some more. Of course, this was after we’d all seen a game for the ages, followed by a celebration at the Dome (remember everyone dancing to “Shout”?) — it was really an amazing night. I am so glad I was able to be there. Playoff tickets were a lot cheaper and easier to get then than they are now (or would be if the M’s ever qualify again).

  8. My first bus ride in the Seattle area was a one-way 550 weekend trip. In the interest of exploring the area, I had driven to South Bellevue Park-and-ride and, from there, walked to downtown Seattle across Mercer Island via the I-90 trail. The 550 bus was my ride back. I found the ride extremely comfortable and was pleasantly surprised that a route like this even existed on a weekend. Despite the city where I grew up being larger than Seattle in both population and land area, it was almost unheard-of for any freeway-running express route to operate at all outside the peak.

    This was the ride that got me hooked on Sound Transit and I’ve been riding it all over the Seattle area ever since.

  9. Aaahhh…being a teenager in the 80’s. We had just moved to Seattle in summer of 1981. My mom grew up here, along Phinney, and she had taken the bus as a child. When we moved here, she showed me how to ride the bus and I quickly learned the routes from our apartment on Wallingford Avenue. #26 to Greenlake, #16 to Northgate, #6 to Aurora Village, #43 to Ballard or University, and all these buses to downtown. She’d give me $1 on Saturdays for the all-day pass and I’d spend the day riding the bus to…wherever it took me.

    I also remember the buses back then and the farebox. You’d put your coins in(or fold up your dollar bill) and then the driver would pull a little lever and it would fall into the farebox. What a sound! A few years ago, I saw one of those old fareboxes in a little town in NE Washington, being used as a donation box. I just had to put in a few coins so I could hear that old sound one more time.

    When I was downtown, I could tell which bus was mine by how the name was formatted on the front of the bus. Those old cylinders that the driver had to cycle through to get to correct route number and destination. When I saw my first digital display bus, I was disappointed because I couldn’t tell from a block away if it was my bus or not.

    One final memory from the 80s…the bus routes that would drop you off right at the shopping mall. The #16 that ended right at the totem pole at Northgate. And the #150 that pulled up to The Bon at Southcenter(or was it Nordstrom?).

  10. Misconceptions? Well… When I moved to Seattle in 2004 as a teen, I thought the ETBs (particularly the 60-footers) were a “higher” level of service than Metro’s regular diesel coaches, so I figured they required a higher fare as well. It took me a couple years to figure out the truth and start riding the 44.

  11. I am likely much younger than most people here. It was only three years ago that I had my first real job as an intern in Seattle for the summer break, and I was living with my brother in Eastlake. I was not accustomed to riding the bus much and did not know Seattle very well, but I was soon riding Metro all the time. I was meeting up with my brother and friends for happy hour downtown, and we would take the bus together to go to neat restaurants, bars and parks all over the city. I ended up spending essentially everything I earned that summer during that summer, but it was well worth it. Those three or so months were the happiest of my life, and since then I’ve dreamed of living in Seattle and riding the bus to work. I do not own a car and do not plan to. I just graduated this Fall will be moving back soon. I love this city, and much of the nostalgia I have for it is connected with transit in some way, because I was too poor to own a car and it gave me so much freedom.

  12. My childhood was spent riding the Seattle Transit system of the 1960s. Once the All Day Pass became available on weekends, my friends and I had amazing freedom to explore the city. In those days there were WWII era trolley coaches that went up Queen Anne, old gasoline powered coaches that went to Seward Park and 3 different types of diesel coaches that worked the mainline routes. On the trolleys the interior lights would flicker every time the bus crossed a switch or crossover. The gasoline coaches were so slow that it seemed like we could walk faster, but the diesel buses always seemed loud and fast.

    From Rainier Valley we could board a 7 Rainier and travel to the northern city limits on one of its branches. The 42 Empire Way connected us with Green Lake and one of our favorite trips was to ride the 10 Mt. Baker to the end of the line and transfer to the 39 Seward Park. Because printed bus schedules were difficult to find and the information contained within was extremely vague, we sometimes found ourselves marooned in strange neighborhoods, sitting on the curb, waiting for whatever bus would come along next to re-start our adventure.

  13. Growing up in rural England, my primary experience with transit was using intercity trains to get around the country, waiting in the slightly shabby British Rail stations for trains that were usually, but not always, about 20 minutes late. St Pancras, in particular, is etched in my memory as a faded Victorian masterpiece, with pigeons perched on high rafters coated in diesel soot. On a particularly low day in my adolescent existence, a pigeon shat in my hair.

    You wouldn’t recognize that St Pancras now. As the London terminus of Eurostar trains, it’s been expanded and the interior completely remade as a light-filled, airy, ritzy shopping mall to unload travelers of the last of their money before heading home.

  14. I went to Lakeside in the late ’90s and rode the 989 (a custom bus route for Lakeside) to/from Mercer Island. Mornings we usually had an MAN artic and afternoons we got a Breda. I’ve got lots of random memories from that time, including my friends and I playing cards in the very back, the driver getting annoyed at us for constantly pulling the stop cord, and getting passed by everything on the road (the Bredas were apparently governed to 55 mph, not that they could go much faster than that anyway). My freshman year of high school (I think) the afternoon run was driven by a guy from Ukraine, who was a blast to talk to, so I would sit up front and swap stories about growing up in the US vs. Ukraine. I also remember in late 1995 or early 1996 when it snowed, the bus was trying to get going on a snow covered road (NE 135th St between 1st and 3rd Ave NE) and the trailer started sliding sideways into the ditch! Scary as hell, the driver made us all get off, threw a ton of kitty litter down, and somehow managed to get himself up onto 1st, where we reboarded.

    I also met my current girlfriend on the 989 since we both rode to Lakeside from Mercer Island, although we didn’t start dating until 10 years after I graduated! We rode on a Breda for the first time in a decade last week and had fun reminiscing about the 989 (but oh man, the remaining Bredas need to be taken out back and put out of their misery).

  15. Judging from the picture, I really miss older bus paint jobs. The colors on the buses now are way to dark and depressing, no creativity!

    1. I prefer the old white, brown and gold as well. The new paint scheme reminds me too much of school buses – or garbage trucks.

    2. I like the teal, yellow, and black. The white buses just looked unfinished and generic, and dingy after years of dirt got on them.

  16. I grew up in the 1950s-60s in a small town called Leonia, NJ, across the river from NYC. The Elementary School was a mile from our house and our little town didn’t have school buses. So to get to school we took the 166, a public transport bus run by a utility called Public Service, which also supplied our electricity and gas. The bus line ran through our town on its way to NYC but we just took it the mile to school. The school sold us books of bus tickets which came to 5 cents a ride. When I started Kindergarten at age 5 my mother (who was born and raised in NYC and knew all the bus and subway lines) accompanied me on the 166 the first day and after that I was on my own. She taught me to pull the cord to ring the bell before my stop, and to say “Thanks for the ride” (those exact words) to the driver as I stepped off the bus. It got me started off right with public transportation as a little kid. I learned I could go to NYC on the same bus. It was a way for me to enjoy that amazing city on my own, long before I was old enough to drive. Things are different now. I’ve never seen a 5-year old riding the bus on their own here in Seattle, as I did when I was a kid in NJ.

    I moved to Seattle in 1977, originally for grad school. I commuted to the UW by bus. I remember one of my fellow students, who came from LA and drove to school every day, telling me “Buses are only for people whose native language is not English.” That was my first exposure to the attitude that riding a bus is some kind of lower-class thing. It had never occurred to me. In NYC I saw wealthy women in their mink coats riding the Fifth Avenue bus. I still run into Seattleites, mostly transplanted ones, who have never set foot on one of our buses and would never dream of doing so.

    In 1979 I moved to Capitol Hill. I arrived right after they had torn out the old trolleybus infrastructure and were rebuilding the system from scratch. I was fascinated watching the trucks unspool their bronze wires and fasten them over the streets to prepare for our new, modern all-electric buses. It was in the days of Earth Day and the beginnings of environmentalism and I thought it was so great that my adopted city was so progressive in this way. By then I was commuting more by bike than bus, but I actually used the trolley wires for navigation as I was learning how to get from point A to point B on my bike.

    I fell in love with the trolley buses and have loved them ever since. Metro promised us that the new system was just the beginning of electrifying more and more bus lines. I still have their brochures from 1982 promising to electrify the 11, 15, 18, 71-2-3, etc. real soon. Of course it never happened and the trolleys have barely hung on since then but at least we still have the system. I love living in a neighborhood served by these magical electric buses. It is one of the things that makes Seattle special and is (nearly) unique in the US to have such an extensive trolleybus system.

  17. How things have changed since I started riding buses 20+ years ago. I remember in the mid 90’s riding the Seattle Express when PT first started saturday service, riding to Seattle and having lunch at the old Iron Horse Resturant, and following that up with a ride on the Waterfront Streetcar down to the candy store which I think is now gone as well. The powers that be in seattle made a dreadfully wrong choice by ending the Waterfront Streetcar. Hopefully now that they are gone, seattle will find a way to bring it back, and intergrate it with plans for the new waterfront.

  18. As a visitor I remember the Green Trolleys on the water front. And a singing motorman. As a dedicated rail enthusiast it was always a must when I came out to visit. As for falsehoods it was I would always be able to enjoy it.

  19. I remember being in Seattle summer of 1980 and taking a bus that would go to all the major city parks on Sundays. Also riding the 43 all the way to Golden Gardens….

  20. My first memories of KC Transit were my parents dropping my friends and I off at the Kenmore P&R, and taking the bus to Mariner games in the mid 90s. I was in 8th/9th grade at the time and still can’t believe our parents let us go without them.

    It was awesome.

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