Looking Back: Restoring the Peter Witt Cars 2766 and 2894

1973 was quite a year for the streetcar system in Toronto.  The TTC had just decided to keep its fleet, and embarked on the rebuilding of its PCCs.  At the same time, an interest in TTC heritage led to the creation of the “Belt Line Tour Tram”, a regular fare tour car looping around downtown.

Only one small problem: the TTC didn’t have any cars fit to use for this service.  Car 2766, the last Witt on the property, only operated occasionally around Hillcrest for special events.  Car 2894 was sitting in a barn in Hawkestone, Ontario near Barrie.

24 thoughts on “Looking Back: Restoring the Peter Witt Cars 2766 and 2894

  1. Too bad the trailers, that were pulled by the Big Witts on Yonge Street, couldn’t be around to be used and hooked up to serve as a comparison to prove that the new low-floor streetcars are NOT really that long. I understand that the motor and trailer did have some difficulty with the hill on Avenue Road, but I wasn’t around to witness them there.

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  2. Thanks for the photos Steve.

    While 2766 mostly spends its time hidden away at Hillcrest, venturing out very rarely (although it does make the annual appearance in the Beaches Easter Parada); 2894 can be found actively undergoing another restoration at Halton County Radial Railway in Milton.

    Prior to starting the restoration, 2894 was one of the active “working” streetcars at HCRR. Early in 2012, 2894 underwent its annual inspection and spring servicing. It was found that there was a problem with the air compressor, which had to be removed from the car for overhaul and rebuild. At this time, HCRR decided to replace some of the windows due to deteriorating wood. The maintenance on these old cars, both at TTC and HCRR is very time consuming and a true labour of love, mostly due to the fact that replacement items must be made by hand, from scratch.

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  3. This would be an an amazing thing to have in Toronto again.

    Sometimes I wonder why Toronto just can’t celebrate its transportation heritage as as effectively and passionately as other cities.

    Obviously London and New York are the leaders and far above what Toronto can do, but we should be able to match up with (our international doppelganger) Melbourne….

    Cheers, Moaz

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  4. I remember, as a seven year old, in 1971, simply walking into the Wychwood car barns with my dad and asking for a tour. We got one! 2766 was actually sitting in one of the barns, before it’s rebuild. Obviously, I had never seen a Witt before. The yardman let me on, started her up, and moved her about ten feet. That was a cool experience. They also gave me a spare route linen from a retired PCC, probably and Air-Electric. I still have it.

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  5. Great photos, Steve!! I grew up at St.Clair and Dufferin in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I also spent a lot of time over at Bathurst (usually with Mom shopping at Honest Ed’s more often than not). I remember seeing these type of cars on the old FORT streetcar route before the BD subway came along. Thanks!

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  6. I can remember on Friday of the Labour Day long weekend when the races were still on at Greenwood. Every PCC at Russell that would run was out in service when an operator showed up an asked if there was any chance of getting overtime. The supervisor said he would use him but no cars were available. The operator pointed at the Witt and said. “I’m qualified on the Witt.” He did 2 round trips with the Witt as a race track tripper. Probably the last time it was used in regular service. No one who got on made any comment about the car. It was painted red and cream and had a fare box; that was all that mattered.

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  7. How long this service last, and why don’t they provide it anymore? While they have used a PCC on a regular basis on Sundays on the Harbourfront route the last few years, it would be nice to see the PCCs and Peter Witt 2766 on a tour around Toronto on a regular basis.

    Steve: It lasted a few years, but the ridership didn’t stack up against the cost of keeping the cars in service, and the TTC’s Belt Line route was ended after the 1974 season. Privately operated tours followed for some years, but these couldn’t make a go of the service either.

    2766 does not go out in regular service any more and would not likely be used as part of 509 Harbourfront, but only for special trips.

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  8. This article stirs political thoughts as well as reminiscences. Rebuilding those cars was certainly not “efficient” and used taxpayers dollars. How much nicer it was to live at a time where a liveable city was more important than reducing taxes. Not only that, I’ll bet that these tourist cars actually made our city wealthier as well since tourists and city residents enjoying our city do spend money while doing so.

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  9. I often wonder why they can’t do a “Belt Line” tour again, there is certainly enough track variety to allow several options. Whether it’s the Witt or the PCC’s (or preferably both types) I’m sure it would be a hit. Here in Melbourne (I note we got a mention from Moaz) we have the “City Circle” which runs around the edge of down town (it’s actually a pan handle now as it has been extended into our Docklands area) using our iconic “W” class cars (just a tad younger than the Witts but the similar technically) This service is free but it is also the heaviest used line in Melbourne and runs from 10 am to 6 pm every day all year and to 9 pm Friday and Sat which extends to all days during the daylight savings period.

    Thanks for the great shots Steve, had no idea that 2894 was stored so close to where I was living (I lived in Orillia in 2008) though the timing was different.

    Cheers
    Greg

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  10. I courted my wife on the Tour Tram (well, partly). I also used it as regular transit because I worked at King and Toronto Sts and there was a shop I visited at Queen and Spadina. With the 20 minute round trip I could shop during my lunch hour.

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  11. One point that may have worked against the profitability of the Tour Tram was a very generous transfer tolerance. You could use a regular transfer to get on and a TT transfer on the way back.

    If you rode the last run at night, you could get all the way up to Wychwood and transfer to a St Clair car.

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  12. At the TTC Commission meeting of November 29, 2002, the Commission determined that Peter Witt Car 2766

    “should only be used for special events and public viewings and not for charter or tour service.”.

    The restoration of the car cost the TTC C$250,000 (2001-2002 dollars). There was a major concern about the braking system on the Witt. The Witt braking system consists of an air-applied wheel-tread brake and a mechanically operated cable parking brake (the big wheel by the front doors).

    “The vehicle is not equipped with a spring applied fail-safe emergency brake or backup track or electric brakes”

    as are the PCC’s or CLRV/ALRVs. The commission report goes on to detail other reasons to keep the vehicle for special events only. The legal-beagles at TTC sidelined the vehicle to reduce liability.

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  13. Greg King said:

    Here in Melbourne (I note we got a mention from Moaz) we have the “City Circle” which runs around the edge of down town (it’s actually a pan handle now as it has been extended into our Docklands area) using our iconic “W” class cars.

    Riding the City Circle Tram was the (transportation) highlight of my trip to Melbourne (with Southern Cross station, the St. Kilda Light Rail up there too) . I wanted to try the Restaurant Tram but there wasn’t enough time.

    Cheers, Moaz

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  14. If one likes old streetcars (and who doesn’t?) there is the wonderful F Market route in San Francisco but they have kept (and purchased) a real fleet of old cars.

    It would be good if the TTC kept and maintained a couple of CLRVs and ALRVs, but if the past is a guide we will probably need to go to Halton or San Francisco to see them.

    Steve: These cars will be a big challenge for preservationists because the technology of the control systems is decades out of date and sourcing parts is very difficult. Unlike the older cars where fabrication of replacement parts was comparatively easy, the electronics will be a real challenge as, indeed, they are today for the TTC. A rebuild program for the CLRVs was originally to include updated electronics packages, but this was dropped when the cost appeared to be well beyond reasonable for cars with limited remaining lives. (The decision might have been different if the vehicles did not face a mandated retirement date due to inaccessibility.)

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  15. I had a conversation with several members of HCRR (of which I am a member) about the CLRV/ALRV question. They do not feel that HCRR would be able to handle the electronics issue. If HCRR were to get a CLRV or ALRV, it would be a static display item only. In speaking with a couple of TTC’s Rail Vehicle Analizers ( the rail equivalent to Coach Technician (mechanic)), that ride my bus quite frequently, they have spoken of the great difficulty in keeping these vehicles on the road. Many parts and components are long ago obsolete and must be hand made or require labour intensive rebuilding. They tell me that the electronics are a nightmare due to the fact that a lot of the components on the circuit boards are long ago discontinued by manufacturers. 1970’s technology is not compatable with 2013! Try finding an 8080 microprocessor for example!

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  16. Hi.

    I first remember seeing Witts between Eaton’s and Simpson’s downtown stores in 1957. I was 5 years old. Then in September 1962 I was lucky enough to board a rush hour Witt just west of Russell yard on Queen St to Sherbourne St., then lucky again I boarded a GM 980s small 3612 bus northbound on Sherbourne. This bus had a painted green steering wheel from a 930s GM old look gas bus. In March 1973 I was employed by TTC as an operator at Eglinton division. In July 1974 I went to St. Clair division and took my Witt training. Alfie Biggar was my trainer from the school. We went on strike aug 74, so I lost my crew on Witts.

    Thanks

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  17. My earliest Witt memories are from before the opening of the Yonge subway when I probably was a pre-schooler. There were Witt trains. The trailer had a centre door with a conductor posted there. I think the trailer swayed from side to side as the train moved. I recall the power car gears having a grinding, rrrrr-ing sound that the museum Witts did not have. Were these Brill Witts?

    I vaguely recall the Witts going through track construction zones where TTC workers were standing aside to let the streetcar go by. Sometimes I thought the streetcar left the track and was traveling on the gravel. (That was obviously little boy imagination in play. Perhaps it was that aforementioned grinding sound.)

    Many years later I took the Witt tour tram which started from the McCaul loop which at that time looked like a park and had no building on top of it. There was a 2-person crew, the driver and a lady-animator who described the sites as the streetcar moved through the downtown area. And the tour required only a regular TTC fare.

    During the tour tram period, I recall there being 3 Peter Witt cars in operation. I recall observing 3 Witts going south on Bathurst at Queen, one after another. I was surprised there were still 3.

    Steve: The third was large Witt 2424 loaned back to the TTC by the streetcar museum at Rockwood.

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  18. I suspect that keeping stock electronics would be challenging for the current fleet. However, the motors are series wound DC motors, for which there are commercially available PWM drivers. Perhaps they would not keep all electronics (or full full functionality) but it wouldn’t be all that difficult to at least make them move. When the next generation of VFD induction motor driven cars get retired, their circuitry would likely be much more challenging to maintain. At least our current fleet still has real gongs!

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  19. Too bad they don’t run the Peter Witt. I have had a tour of it at Roncesvalles Carhouse during Doors Open, but never rode on a Peter Witt.

    It would be nice to bring back a Belt Line operation with the PCCs, preferably one running in a clockwise direction and the other in a counter clockwise operation. Or in the same direction but spread apart to allow for better service.

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  20. Brings back a lot of memories. I have worked on all the preserved TTC Witts at one to or another excepting 2778 at the Northern Ohio Railway Museum.

    HCRR Witt 2894 had DH-16 compressor armature problems going back a couple of years and was scheduled for an armature changeout in early 2012. Unfortunately, we were tied up with truck repairs and spring replacement on open car #327 so it didn’t get done.

    During the annual inspection in April 2012 the armature had deteriorated to the point that we had to put the car out of service. We were further delayed after London &Port Stanley Railway, interurban car #4 was donated and we had to hustle to prepare and move the car from Orillia to the museum.

    We were able to rebuild a spare compressor and had 2894 back in regular service later in the summer on a date that escapes me at the moment; when you’re doing the work, you don’t always pay attention to these details. 2894 is getting some rotted window sash replaced right now but I expect the car will be available for regular service in May so come on out and go for ride.

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  21. I worked as a summer student at the TTC a few summers ago. During the safety orientation day at Hillcrest, there was an opportunity to tour the facility. Our group got to get on the Peter Witt, and relax on it for our lunch break. It’s a very beautiful piece of machinery.

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  22. WITTneyHouston said:

    Our group got to get on the Peter Witt, and relax on it for our lunch break. It’s a very beautiful piece of machinery.

    The passage of time puts a different perspective on old machines such as the Witt car. The TTC Coupler magazines of 1962-63 seemed to indicate that almost no one would miss the old “bone-shakers” or mourn their passing from service after nearly 40 years. It’s sort of the same sentiment currently appearing on blogs about the CLRVs, being described in less-than glowing terms.

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  23. It should be remembered that anything that is current now, will become historical later. Once the TTC gets enough of the Bombardier Flexity Outlooks onto the streets, the CLRVs and ALRVs will be retired. Some, of course, will be kept around to be used as spares as needed, until the TTC gets enough Outlooks to replace them the spares. However, it also means that a new tour tram could eventually be created, but using the CLRVs as the tour vehicle.

    What I am worried about is that the bean-counters could order the old CLRVs to be scrapped. They won’t see the historic benefit, only dollar signs for the scrap value.

    Personally, I think the all-electric PCCs were better than the CLRVs, but the CLRVs did serve their purpose as the link between the PCCs and the low-floor streetcars.

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