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As these technologies found their way to the United States the first examples appeared in the 1880's; in 1880 Thomas Edison tested an experimental electric locomotive, powered by a dynamo, which was operated on a stretch of track in Menlo Park, New Jersey. George Hilton and John Due's authoritative piece, "," points out the birth of the true American interurban began when Frank Sprague developed an electric motorcar in 1886 for the New York Elevated Railway whereby the motor(s) were situated between the axle, along with a trolley pole and multiple-unit control stand.This gave way to the typical streetcar which became such a common sight throughout America.It opened on February 2, 1888 and proved successful. Louis Car Company Birneys Electroliners Presidents’ Conference Committee Streetcars, PCCs Another important developer was Sidney Howe Short who invented a double-reduction, gearless motor and also learned that overhead catenary was the best means for electrical pickup." Walla Walla Valley Railway: Handling Agriculture Near Walla Walla, Washington Waterloo, Cedar Falls & Northern Railway Service Across East-Central Iowa Yakima Valley Transportation: Serving Central-Washington's Agriculture Industry Barney & Smith Car Company Cincinnati Car Company G. Short conceived another important development, the contact "shoe." By the time main line electrified systems were introduced in 1895, when the Baltimore & Ohio energized 4 miles of its Baltimore trackage (including the 1.4-mile Howard Street Tunnel), the technology was quite advanced (according to the railroad's "Official List No.
Most were out of the business by World War II and only one still operates today, the Iowa Traction Railway (others have shed their "interurban" status and now operate as short line freight carriers).
In 1889 there were just 7 miles of interurbans in service, a number which jumped to 3,122 by 1901, and finally peaked at 15,580 in 1916.
These numbers slowly receded into the 1920's as abandonment hastened through the 1930's.
For power, most interurbans used overhead catenary (energized electric lines attached to line-side poles), usually rated at around 600 volts.
However, in some cases third-rail was utilized and the electricity greater.