Horse Railways

A major cause of the advent of horse railways in Nebraska towns in the 1880s was the statewide urban real estate boom. In Hastings, for example, the owners of one of the new subdivisions boasted street cars on three sides of their land, and the cars on one line bore the sign “Dawes and Foss Addition.” Similar situations prevailed at Beatrice, Columbus, Nebraska City, Norfolk, Grand Island, Kearney, Red Cloud, South Sioux City, Wymore, and York.

The promotion of horsecar lines was not limited to real estate salesmen and investors. News items and editorials indicate that rival towns viewed expanded street railways as a matter of civic pride. In Nebraska’s small cities adequate patronage for a street railway was provided, if at all, by a park, an important institution, or perhaps a railway station some distance from the business district. In Omaha, Norfolk, Red Cloud, and Wymore, the principal railway stations were at least a mile from town. In fact, the horsecar lines in Norfolk, South Sioux City, Wymore, and Red Cloud had little else to justify them.

As a passenger clambered aboard a horsecar (usually at the front platform) the driver held the horses still, and the passenger was expected to drop his nickel or celluloid “check” into the fare box. As the car lumbered along, an occasional passenger would “pull the bells” and prepare to alight. In Omaha two bells meant “stop immediately” (even in the middle of a block); one bell meant “stop at the next crossing.” The car seats, made of wood, were benches paralleling the sides of the car, thus causing each passenger to look across the car into the faces of passengers seated opposite him. Early cars were without heat (though in winter they did have straw on the floor).

Horses were usually used in pairs. The day was divided into three shifts with the assignment of about fourteen miles for each team. Faster transit was constantly being sought. Horsecars were operated irregularly or not at all in various Nebraska towns after 1889. One was operated north of Lincoln to Belmont as late as 1906. In Nebraska City the last horsecar made its final run to Morton Park during Chautauqua week in 1910. In Red Cloud they continued to meet all the trains until 1918.

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