Journal-News Guest column, Friday, March 1, 1996
Public bus service era ends today in Hamilton; tax share up more than 770 percent in 30 years
By Jim Blount
A transportation era closes today in Hamilton with the end of public bus service after more than 62 years. Increasing costs to the city, reduced federal support and failure of a transit levy in November prompted city council to halt The Bus Company, a $1.1 million operation mostly financed by public subsidies.
Recently, city payments have exceeded $350,000 annually. In addition, the buses received more than $500,000 in federal grants and about $150,000 from the state last year.
Starting Monday, March 4, vans operated by Universal Transportation Systems will replace the eight buses and three vans on six routes. The new plan doesn't include city subsidies.
Sunday, July 23, 1933, also was a transition day in Hamilton. At 12:35 a.m. on that date, the last electric-powered streetcar began its final run. It clickity-clacked from the end of Millville Avenue to the car barn on the northeast corner of Pleasant and Williams avenues in Lindenwald.
Conrad Mainous was the motorman on that nostalgic trip. A passenger was George J. McGehean, who had operated the first Hamilton electric streetcar Dec. 30, 1890. Public transit in Hamilton had started with horse-drawn streetcars in the fall of 1875.
In 1933, Hamiltonians saw the switch from streetcars to gasoline-powered buses as progress for several reasons. The rubber-tired buses were considered safer, quieter and more comfortable than the steel-wheeled streetcars which clanked over steel rails.
Passengers often complained of bumpy rides on the streetcars, a condition caused when wheels developed flat spots from frequent braking. Passengers had to board and leave streetcars in the middle of the street. Buses provided curbside service.
With buses, routes could be extended or altered in an instant. Changes in streetcar routes had required laying of new track and erection of overhead wires.
Some riders must have questioned the wisdom of the 1933 switch soon after 20 new 21-passenger buses left the Hamilton City Lines' new garage at 331 Court Street shortly before 7 o'clock Sunday morning, July 23.
The bus drivers had been streetcar motormen the previous day. Few of them had ever driven a bus, and most had never driven a car -- which was quickly evident.
At 10:30 that morning, a bus westbound on High Street struck a city electric pole near the east end of the High-Main Street Bridge. The driver was making change for a rider when the vehicle rammed the pole. Relying on old habits, he had taken his hands off the steering wheel. On a streetcar -- bound to its course by a pair of rails -- a motorman didn't steer.
Later that day, another new bus was out of service after plowing into a streetcar passenger loading platform at Pleasant and Williams avenues.
No one was injured in the two accidents, and safety, service and rider confidence quickly improved for the privately-owned, city-franchised system. But riders and drivers alike had to make another adjustment later in 1933 as temperatures moderated. The first fleet of buses came without heaters.
During the first 12 months of operation, a Depression year, the 20-bus fleet averaged 6,700 passengers and traveled about 3,000 miles a day.
Ridership rose steadily as the Depression yielded to Hamilton's industrial boom of World War II when government restrictions discouraged the use of private cars. By 1943, the middle of the war, Hamilton City Lines, operating seven days a week, averaged 28,900 riders daily.
In 1952, its 20th year, the company employed 84 people, including 67 drivers, and operated 47 buses which covered 4,100 miles and served more than 16,600 passengers daily -- a 42 percent ridership loss since the World War II peak.
To cut losses, Sunday bus service ended Oct. 2, 1960. The Hamilton Transit Company said it had been unable to realize a profit, which was part of its cost-of-service contract with the city. That agreement entitled HTC to a profit equal to 5 percent of gross revenues. It hadn't collected its full share since acquiring the franchise in 1954.
In June 1965, with ridership and revenues continuing to fall, the owner announced cuts in service and employment. That prompted a 36-day strike by drivers. When it ended, the city agreed to subsidize the bus firm.
In 1965 it was called a lease-management agreement, not a subsidy. The city leased the company's equipment for $10,800 a year, and then leased it back to the operator for $1 a year. Under the pact, the company could not realize a profit of more than 3 percent of gross income.
At the end of 1966, the company paid the city $6,257, plus $1 for the lease. That meant city taxpayers put only $4,542 into the system that first year.
By 1972, the city's annual cash infusion had increased to $26,400. That figure didn't include city payments on 1968 bonds which helped purchase 15 new buses for the company. A year earlier, 18 of 37 buses had been 1950 models or older.
More changes came in the 1970s. During the 1971-72 school year, city buses hauled an average of 2,452 students to and from Hamilton schools. That revenue, at 13.5 to 20 cents a ride, was lost in September 1972 when the school system started operating its own fleet.
In 1975, with federal assistance, the city took over full ownership of the operation and renamed it The Bus Company. A private transit management company was hired to run the service. Meanwhile, more and more vehicles were on the roads. Butler County registrations increased from 34,000 vehicles in 1941 at the start of World War II to 53,887 in 1950 during the Korean War, to 89,600 in 1970 during the Vietnam War.
Over the final decades, other changes, refinements and promotions failed to lure more riders. A major innovation was the point deviation service introduced in 1991. It enabled riders to call the company a day in advance for door-to-door service within the city.
In the end, nothing offset the negative impact of rising fares and service reductions. A system which once ran 19 to 20 hours a day seven days a week became a 12-hour operation. Ridership dipped below 1,500 in the mid 1980s, and to less than 450 in its final year.
In 1994, an Ohio Supreme Court decision affirmed a lower court decision that Bus Company workers were city employees and were entitled to retirement benefits. It was a costly edict for the city, which had to make retirement payments for previous years.
In November 1995, Hamilton voters rejected a 2.4-mill property tax levy which would have raised about $1.5 million a year to support the bus system. That sealed the fate of the public service, whose cost to city taxpayers had rocketed from $4,542 in 1966 to nearly $400,000 in 1995 -- an increase of more than 770 percent in 30 years.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 6, 1996
Ice harvesting was long, hard work;11 to 14-hour, seven-day stints common
By Jim Blount
When ponds froze in December, it meant 11 to 14-hour days, seven days a week, for the men employed by the companies that harvested and stored natural ice in the Hamilton area at the end of the 19th century. The crews worked until either the icehouses were filled, or the weather warmed. Their 75 to 90-hour weeks often continued into February.
A description of icehouse procedures and working conditions was provided to the writer in the 1970s by Mrs. Olive Stumpf. She shared her research, including the recollections of Frank Kapp, an ice company employee.
Kapp, later an Oxford resident, worked for Frank Ramsey, who managed five icehouses for the Cincinnati Ice Company. The ice was harvested from the Big Reservoir on the Hamilton Hydraulic, north of Hamilton, in an area now the site of municipal softball diamonds and a swimming pool.
Before the turn of the century, the five stone icehouses were 50 to 100 feet long, about 50 feet wide and 25 to 40 feet high. Each one held as much as 25,000 tons of ice. Kapp said "in one house they had double lining with a foot of space in between which was filled with sawdust. When the house was filled with ice, it was covered with a thick layer of straw."
In 1893, Ramsey and his wife resided in a six-bedroom house on Campbell's Island (east of U. S. 127 between New Miami and Hamilton).
Kapp said the complex included a "barn (which) was a long narrow building with room for 20 head of horses and mules, with a long hay mow overhead for feed. The toolshed was there with a large stove in it for the benefit of the hands that worked there."
"It was my job to take care of the horses and mules," Kapp said. "I was the first out at 4 o'clock in the morning and the last in at night. Sometimes we had to scrape snow from the ice at night, and sometimes we had to mark ice and plow it at night so the gang could go to work in the morning."
He recalled one winter when they worked with the temperature falling to 22 degrees below zero. The ice had to be six inches thick before horses and mules could safely work on it. In February 1887, the ponds froze to a depth of 22 inches.
When the ice was ready, crews usually worked from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m., except for a lunch break.
The cut ice was moved in large blocks to a water box. There it would be cut into smaller pieces before being placed in storage in an insulated icehouse.
Some of the mules pulled canalboats in warmer months, hauling the ice they had helped harvest in the winter.
"Every horse and mule had to have a choke rope around his neck," Kapp said. "I was on a mule's back one day when he fell in. When a mule falls in, choke his rope and he will not struggle, but a horse will. That is why they would rather have mules on ice instead of horses," he explained.
"The rope kept the animals from floundering in the water." When they fell in, boards were placed under them and three or four men lifted the horse or mule out of the water.
The company hired about 150 men, including about 20 who boarded with the family.Most of the workers were fed by Mrs. Ramsey, who baked bread; raised chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys; maintained a vegetable garden; and tended cows for milk and butter.
"The men in the icehouse called setters got $2 a day, the men who operated the hooks got $1.75 and other laborers got $1.50 per day." Mrs. Ramsey furnished them meals for 20 cents per meal. "I got $1.50 per day and paid 60 cents per day for meals and room," Kapp explained.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 13, 1996
Majority of 1946 Hamilton voters favored World War II memorial that was never built
By Jim Blount
More than 62 percent of Hamilton voters favored a $435,000 bond issue 50 years agoto finance a war memorial municipal coliseum that was never built. Local families were still recovering from the losses and sacrifices of World War II and adjusting to peace when the proposal won approval in November 1946.
World War II had ended a year earlier with the surrender of Germany in May 1945 and Japan in August. Some of the more than 8,000 Hamilton men and women who had served in the war were returning to the city during the seven-month campaign for the memorial. More than 150 Hamilton men didn't survive the four-year struggle.
A majority vote -- 9,691 for and 5,879 against -- wasn't enough. Under state law in effect Nov. 5, 1946, at least 65 percent approval was required. With 15,570 people voting, it needed 10,120 positive votes for passage. Although supported by 62.2 percent of Hamilton voters, it was 429 short of the 65 percent mark.
The movement started with a mass meeting Feb. 26 at the Anthony Wayne Hotel. Business, industry and organizations, including veterans groups, were asked to send representatives to begin discussion of a war memorial and what it should it be.
With about 200 people attending, Common Pleas Judge P. P. Boli presided and was authorized to appoint a group to select an executive committee to consider the suggestions and compile information.
T. Edward Knapp chaired the executive committee with W. W. Marsh, vice chairman, and Robert Marrs, secretary. Others members were Mayor William Beckett, Mrs. Richard Braun, Edwin Brendel, James Butler, J. B. Conroy, C. J. Dyer, Vincent Emminger, James R. Fisher, H. R. Grosvenor, Russell Huls, Ralph Morningstar, William Murstein, Peter E. Rentschler, Frank Rosendahl, Mrs. Nell Snyder, Louis Sohngen, Maurice Taylor and Clarence Wehr.
A steering committee -- to develop plans and publicize the project -- was chaired by Robert M. Clark. It included Knapp, Marsh, Marrs, Richard A. Connelly, C. L. Hardin, Walter S. Rowe, Murray S. Stephens, Joseph True and Robert Wolfenden.
In October, 117 people were named to the Citizens War Memorial Committee, which was charged with promoting the issue in the final month. The measure had strong backing from veterans groups -- including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Amvets, and their respective auxiliaries -- and civic and service clubs.
Supporters said the coliseum would be "a fitting, living tribute to men and women of this community who have given their lives in military service for their country."
"Hamilton has a pressing need for a place where large groups can meet," Knapp stressed. "The possibilities for the use of a coliseum type memorial are unlimited," he said. "It can be used, for example, for basketball tournaments, symphony concerts, community dance parties, mass meetings, community dinners, conventions, pop concerts, boxing matches."
It would have cost property owners 39 cents per $1,000 of valuation to pay the 15-year bonds issued by city for "purchasing a site, erecting, equipping and furnishing a fire-proof coliseum type memorial structure."
According to preliminary plans, it would have included an arena, stage, lounge and other facilities. It would have provided about 5,000 seats for basketball and space for up to 6,500 people for other events. No location was specified during the campaign. Proponents said the site would be coordinated with the new city master city plan that was being formed in 1946.
Under Ohio law, the memorial coliseum would have been administered by 11 trustees appointed by the mayor. At least seven members had to be veterans of a war, and no more than six could be members of the same political party.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 20, 1996
Ice shortage hit Hamilton in 1913, raising question of municipal plant
By Jim Blount
Should Hamilton have a municipal ice plant? That's a silly question in 1996, but many Hamiltonians backed the proposal in the summer of 1913 when a severe ice shortage hit the city.
In mid June, engineers, drivers and helpers employed at Cincinnati icehouses went on strike. At first, it appeared the walkout would have little, if any, effect in the Hamilton area.
But concern increased June 19 when warm beer was reported in some local taverns. The next day, Friday, June 20, 1913, only one railroad car of ice arrived here from Cincinnati.
There was optimism Tuesday, June 24, when the Hamilton Ice Delivery Company on North Sixth Street announced it was receiving three rail cars of ice each day in addition to the 35 to 40 tons it produced daily.
That was offset by news that day that the Cincinnati Brewing Company at South Front and Sycamore streets would halt ice production for a few days to permit repairs and expansion.
The situation became serious June 26-27 when no ice shipments arrived on those days. Then the weekend of Friday-Sunday, June 27-29, temperatures soared to 98 degrees, followed by a record 100-degree reading Monday afternoon.
Dr. Anderson L. Smedley, Hamilton's health officer, declared the shortage "critical" Wednesday, July 2. The city required 150 tons of ice daily, but only 10 to 15 tons were available. When the Cincinnati strike started, two rail cars of ice (a total of 80 tons) daily had been secured from Sandusky, Ohio, but ice plants there were closed July 2 by labor disputes.
In addition, Dr. Smedley sounded an alarm. "Don't use the Sandusky ice," he said, "except for refrigerating purposes. This ice must not be used for drinking water and the like," he warned, because it "has typhoid germs."
The health officer said if relief didn't come soon, saloons and ice cream shops would be ordered to close with their ice supplies going to vital uses.
Meanwhile, that day in Cincinnati, Mayor Henry T. Hunt ordered Cincinnati police to take over the ice plants and begin operating them at 6 p.m.
Thursday, July 3, Dr. Smedley met with operators of Hamilton's three icehouses, who had been seeking new sources of ice. One local dealer had obtained a promise of one carload of ice daily from an Indianapolis brewery, but it had a stipulation. Taverns handling the Indianapolis beer had first choice, with the remainder going for public distribution.
The local companies said they could meet no more than 50 percent of Hamilton's ice needs. They also agreed on a distribution plan with food handlers having priority, then families with babies, and aged or ill people on presentation of a doctor's certificate stating need.
"A curious spectacle was witnessed on Hamilton streets last night," the Republican-News said in reporting the situation the holiday night of July 4. The paper said "John Holzberger and Joseph Kopp, local saloonists, succeeded in making arrangements to have ice shipped from Seymour, Ind. Many citizens were awakened out of sleep to hear the happy cry, 'Ice. All you want. Better hurry!' " The report said two railroad cars had arrived that night with others to follow.
Mother Nature helped Saturday night, July 5, with a rain storm that helped drop the temperature to 51 degrees, the lowest in several weeks, by Sunday morning.
The Cincinnati strike ended Tuesday, July 8, and Hamilton's ice supply was reported back to normal two days later.
At the peak of the crisis July 2, citizens had appeared at the regular meeting of Hamilton city council to present petitions asking the city to build a municipal ice plant to prevent future shortages.
Although sympathetic to people losing perishable foods, council rejected the plea because of the state of city finances. The ice shortage had hit Hamilton less than three months after the deadly 1913 flood had devastated much of the city.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, March 27, 1996
Dr. Daniel Drake's 1815 account one of earliest descriptions of Butler County
By Jim Blount
A man renowned as a medical pioneer in the region west of the Appalachians wrote one of the earliest descriptions of pioneer Butler County. Dr. Daniel Drake's varied writings included an 1815 book, Natural and Statistical View, or Picture of Cincinnati and the Miami Country.
With more than 2,500 residents, Cincinnati was well established when 15-year-old Drake arrived from Kentucky in December 1800. During the next two decades, he would have a tremendous impact on the city.
His achievements -- which extended into the regions north and south of Cincinnati -- included founding Cincinnati College and the Medical College of Ohio. Those institutions, both formed in 1819, are now the University of Cincinnati and its medical school.
Dr. Drake (1785-1852) included glimpses of Butler County towns, agriculture, land values and the Great Miami River in his 1815 book, which sold throughout the U. S. and abroad.
Regarding land values, he said "within three miles of Cincinnati at this time, the prices of good unimproved land are between $50 and $150 per acre," considerably more than tracts in Butler County in 1815.
"Near the principal villages of the Miami country," he reported, "it commands from $20 to $40 (an acre); in remoter situations it is from $4 to $8." Dr. Drake said "an average for the settled portions of the Miami country, still supposing the land fertile and uncultivated, may be stated at $8; if cultivated, at $12."
"The Great Miami is about 130 yards wide for 40 miles from its mouth," he noted. "It has generally a rapid current, but no considerable falls. It flows through a wide and fertile valley."
"The Great Miami traverses it diagonally," he said of Butler County, which had 11,150 inhabitants in the 1810 census. "The soil of the northeast and southwest quarters is said to be generally poor; that of the southeast and northwest fertile." The often controversial Cincinnati physician was critical of how farmers were using that land.
"The agriculture of this, as of other new countries, is not of the best kind," he said. "Too much reliance is placed on the extent and fertility of their fields by the farmers, who, in general, consider them a substitute for good tillage," he contended. "They frequently plant double the quantity they can properly cultivate, and thus impoverish their lands and suffer them to become infested with briars and noxious weeds."
Dr. Drake said "Hamilton, the seat of justice, is situated 25 miles north-northeast of Cincinnati, on the east bank of the Miami. Its site is elevated, extensive and beautiful; but near it, to the south, is a pond which has contributed much to the injury of health" in the town.
"The materials for building" in Hamilton, he said, "are neither very plentiful nor excellent. Good timber can not be had nearer than the neighboring hills; the limestone in the bed of the river is indifferent, but some better quarries have been opened in the uplands; the brick-clay yet discovered is inferior, abounding in fragments of limestone.
"The dwelling houses, about 70 in number, are chiefly of wood; well water is obtained at the depth of 25 feet" in the town, which had 294 residents in 1810. (Neighboring Rossville had 84 in the same census.)
"Its only public building is a stone jail," he said. "It has a post office, an office for the collection of taxes on non-residents' lands in the western part of the state, and a printing office, which issues a newspaper called the Miami Intelligencer.
Dr. Drake noted three other Butler County towns. "Rossville, lying on the west side of the river, opposite to Hamilton, is a small place," he said. "Middletown, on the road from Hamilton to Franklin, is situated east of the river. Like most of the villages in the Miami country, it has a post office."
"Oxford, in the western part of the county, has less population and improvement, but more notoriety than either of them, from having been fixed on as the seat of a university." Drake observed that Oxford, "being on the frontier of the state, and almost surrounded by forest instead of cultivated country, it has received but little attention."
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