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A Very Special Big Red Car

By Brandon Hu - Torrance, CA USA

A look at the history of Red Car 4601

By the entrence of the Southern California Live Steamers stands a piece of California history. Pacifific Electric No. 4601, once part of the pride fleet of the East Bay Electric Lines, it serviced during war time with the U.S. Maritime Commission, and ran on the vast Pacific Electric system, its life on the rails ended in tragedy, but revived as a lovely home for a Torrance family. Today it stands in the middle of Wilson Park. its magestic red coats inspiring all those who sets eyes upon it.
No. 4601 began its life as Southern Pacific 315 in 1911, as the first set of "blimp" trolley coaches manafactured by the American Car and Foundry Company. It was titanic compared to trolleys at the time, at 73 feet long and 10 feet wide, it utilized a 3-2 seating format allowing 116 busy commuters to jam into the car. For the first three decades of its life on the rails, S.P 315 serviced on the East Bay Electric Lines in the Oakland Bay area, which was Southern Pacific's response to the sucess of Oakland's first trolley system, the Key System. The fleet of "blimps" were painted in a bright red coat which earned the beasts the nickname of "the big red car", (not to be confused with the Pacific Electric "Red Cars" in which Henry Hunntington cleverly copied.)
The Oakland Red Cars remained in serviced until 1941 when Southern Pacific was no longer able to compete with the Key System. And in 1942, it was sold to the U.S. Maritime Commission for $5,586, and remained in service for the Maritime Commission during the war time, transporting defense workers from their workplace in San Pedro to their homes in downtown L.A. It 1944, It was sold to Pacific Electric and renumbered 4601 and serviced on the Pacific Electric system at the peak of the railway's history.
No. 4601's tenure with pacific Electric did not last long, when on a fall day, October the 19th, 1946, running on the Torrance Line collided head on with a ten car freight train at Athens way and 128th street (today's El Segundo Blvd). The damage was severed, killing the motorman and injuring around seventy passengers on board, No. 4601 was heading to the scrapyard for sure just when Torrance resident Forest Wilson purchased the damaged car for fifty dollars. Wilson moved the car to a property on Newton street in Torrance's Walteria neighborhood, removed the damgaed section, and modified the car body into a two bedroom house. The Wilson family occupied the car until 1963, when they builded a new house next to the car and made the car into a workshop. In 1986, Forest Wilson passed away, his wife Virginia Wilson had planned to scrap the Red Car house when the Torrance Historical Society stepped in and in 1987, as a sign of gratitude to the City of Torrance, Virginia Wilson sold the car to the city for one dollar.      
It is during these years that the once proud car was negalected, vandals broke the windows and beated down the unprotected exterior, wildlife took ahold of the car as when hornets invaded the interior. A proposal came in the early 90's when the city of Long Beach offered to take the Red Car and make it into a diner. This caused the Torrance residents to take notice of the historical car, and efforts from multiple groups to restore the Red Car have been planned since.
Although little have been done, Red Car No.4601 now stands proud before the Crenshaw branch of the Southern California Live Steamers minature railroad. Its bright red coat still shines on day and night, its story hidden in its old steel walls. It inspires all those who set eyes upon it, it reminds us of the past, what was once great. 

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About the Author:
Brandon is currently a South High student whom in his spare time volunteers at the Southern California Live Steamers. He has expressed interest in railroad operations and history.

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Comment Date: 5/29/2015 1:28:06 PM
Comment By: Phil Cohen
From: Camarillo
Very nice story Brandon, lots of good information that I was not aware of. Keep up the good work. Phil