Traction cars gave Madeira residents a way out of town

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published June 1, 1994 in the Suburban Life, added June 14, 2017.

Scene after the wreck of a traction car and a freight train near Madeira.

After all these years, the old “traction” line is still spoken of nostalgically in Madeira.  But since it made its last run Dec. 31, 1919, few people are around who remember it or rode it.

The traction was an early streetcar, an interurban train between communities.  It ran by electric power and, in its time, seemed to be the salvation of people who had been trapped in their own communities by muddy, dirt roads.

It meant life to the people. It took them to their jobs in the morning and brought them home again at night.  It brought them the newspaper, and it brought them milk.  On Sunday, it meant they could take a joyride or go into Cincinnati to see a movie.

Many traction lines existed in that era.  They were never big and never financially sound.  Their lives were short, but they were important while they lasted.

The electric train that served Madeira was owned by the Cincinnati and Columbus Traction Co.  The line was opened from Norwood to Hillsboro, April 22, 1906.

The traction line ran along Duck Creek Road from Norwood to Madisonville, along the B&O Railroad to Madeira, where it took off cross-country to Milford.  In Milford, it went under the Pennsylvania, crossed the Little Miami River, rode the crest of the hill through Milford, and headed east along U.S. 50.

The line had a station in Norwood and one in Madisonville, among others.  Freight was transferred at the Norwood station.  Electricity to run the traction line was made at Perintown.

Substations were located at Madeira, Owensville, Allensburg, and Hillsboro.  The substation at Madeira still exists.  The building, on Miami Avenue, now houses the Breitenbach Plumbing shop.

At the time of the traction line, the stationmaster lived upstairs in the Madeira building.

Although people would usually speak of the line as the “traction,” it was also called the “Swing” line.  Two of the early promoters of the Cincinnati and Columbus line were Phillip and Richard Swing.  Phillip Swing later served as general manager of the line.

Gus Uebel, who remembers the traction and rode it, says he thought it was called Swing line, because it swung from side to side.  “If you rode on the back of it,” he said, “it would really whip you around as you went through those woods.”

The average speed of the traction was just over 31 miles per hour, but that must have seemed fast, after traveling by horse and wagon or even by train.  Before the traction line, people in Madeira could go into Cincinnati by train, but the traction was quicker.  A trip to Hillsboro, which once took two days, could be made on the traction in 2 hours, 15 minutes.  Later, that time was reduced to 1 hour, 45minutes, with 23 stops.  Stops were located about two to the mile.

The fare ran about two cents per mile, with lesser rates for commuters and students.  On Sundays, the fare was only one cent per mile.

Cars ran at regular intervals all day long, with the last one being at 8 p.m.  On Sundays, a special movie car took people to the movies in downtown Cincinnati.

Oscar Meyer, a longtime resident and businessman in Madeira who now lives in Kenwood, is an authority on the traction line, as well as other Madeira history.  “I regularly rode the traction downtown to the movies,” he said.  “The theater was at Third and Plum.”

Ruth Butcher, a Madeira native who now lives in Kenwood, remembers the traction well.  The traction ran by her house, and Stop 8 was in front of her house.  “I rode it every day to work and back,” she said, “to my job at U.S. Playing Card in Norwood.”

The traction cars have been described as “big orange cars with bleating horns.”  But Ruth says, “They weren’t orange.  I’d say they were more of a yellow color.”

Whatever the color, they were posh for their time.  The interior of the cars was plush, with inlaid mahogany and leather seats.  There was even a smoking compartment for men.

The traction never lived up to its hopes, and it couldn’t last.  In addition to financial problems, it suffered two severe misfortunes during its tenure.

In 1913, a severe flood washed out the Little Miami Bridge at Milford, interrupting service of the traction line.

Then in 1918, a tragic head on collision occurred near Madeira between a freight car and a traction line car carrying 50 passengers.  The motorman was killed and a score of other people were seriously injured, including many from Madeira.

By then, the automobile was appearing on the scene, and the traction line did not survive.

Today few vestiges of it remain.  Dave McNeil, who recently spoke to the Madeira Historical Society, said that Indian Hill has preserved the traction line right-of-way through Indian Hill as a riding trail.  He also said that an abutment still stands at the bottom of the hill at Given Road.

Though its life was brief and few people are alive who remember it, the traction line still lives as a legend, a reminder of a slower and gentler time.