Demise of the double-decker


ON THE morning of Dec. 27, 1942, at the corner of Light and Redwood streets, six young men waited for the "A" bus. They were eager to take what they had been told would be the last ride on a double-decker bus until World War II was over. The buses reportedly were being removed from service to save gasoline and tire rubber -- items desperately needed for the war effort.

What the young men didn't know was that they would ride the last regularly scheduled double-decker bus ever offered by the public transportation system in Baltimore.

Among the six bus buffs were 16-year-old Charles Lloyd (now owner of Lloyd's Publicity, 2107 N. Charles St.) and R.P. Harriss, an editorial writer for The Evening Sun. The bus arrived at Light and Redwood streets at 12:12 a.m. The driver, Charles Rogers, was expecting the gang and greeted them merrily as they boarded.

They took pictures and groped for the right words to say during the rolling farewell as Rogers drove north on Charles Street.

Until that last long-ago ride there were 12 double-decker buses serving the Charles Street line. In the early years, there were open-air decks on top, leaving riders subject to the elements and the occasional brush with low-hanging tree limbs. Later versions of the buses, of course, enclosed the top level to keep passengers safe and dry. Most of the buses accommodated 70 passengers -- 30 on the bottom and 40 on top.

The regular route was along Charles Street from Redwood Street to University Parkway; the buses would then go back downtown.

On the last ride, on a gloomy, rainy Sunday morning, Rogers stopped his bus several times to take on people associated with the war effort, including soldiers and sailors. At University Parkway, he turned around and headed back to Light and Redwood streets. There, an innocent would-be passenger asked when the next bus would be leaving. Rogers responded: "After the war."

That turned out to be wishful thinking. Just before the war ended in 1945 an announcement sealed their fate: "The day of the double-decker is finished," said Edmund Collins, vice president of Fifth Avenue Coach Co., which provided Baltimore with its double-decker fleet. He said the company planned to discontinue production of the buses.

R.P. Harriss, in a stinging editorial in The Evening Sun two days after the announcement, spoke for an enraged citizenry: "When we took that 'last ride' back in 1942 we were told that removing the double-deckers was a wartime measure only. Recently, it was announced that New York's Fifth Avenue double-decker will be replaced after the war with single-decker affairs, and so I called the local transit company here and was given absolutely no assurance that the Charles Street double-deckers would come back. I say, give us back our double-deckers."

Double-deckers were then praised for carrying twice as many passengers as a single bus and for smooth handling in ice and snow. But, like the horse and buggy, their day had passed.

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