Trolleys to the Casino: The EH&A System -- 1907-1921

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Chapter 6

The system of which Receiver Hollis assumed operating control on January 1, 1907 consisted of 20.721 miles of first main track and .885 mile of sidings and turnouts for a single track equivalent of 21.606 miles. The first main track embraced the 12-129 miles from the Exeter depot (including both legs of the loop) to Hampton Village and the junction of Winnacunnet Road and Ocean Boulevard at Hampton Beach; 3.5 miles from the north end of the Hampton River bridge northerly to Portsmouth junction, and 5.092 miles from Whittier's in Hampton Village through Hampton Falls to Smithtown and the connections with the Haverhill & Amesbury and the Amesbury & Hampton Street Railways at the Massachusetts state line.

Other physical properties included the car barn, power plant and substation at Hampton; the casino, Ocean House, five cottages and sundry small buildings at Hampton Beach and 25 units of rolling stock, consisting of four 20-foot closed cars, a Duplex convertible, six 10 bench opens, two 14 bench opens, the mail car, three snow plows, a line car, a flat car and six dump cars.

Because of neglected maintenance in previous years, the track, roadway and overhead were in a deteriorated condition. Thousands of new ties were installed and many poles were replaced, some trolley wire also being renewed. Extensive repairs to rolling stock also were necessary. About $40,000 were spent for these purposes, the money being borrowed through the issuance of receivers' certificates to the American Trust Company, trustee for the bondholders.

(Some of the borrowed money may have been applied toward the purchase of the brick carhouse at Hampton but most of the $7,500 in cash paid to the New Hampshire Electric Railways came from the proceeds of the insurance on the burned car barn and its contents. Some of the insurance funds were used for the acquisition of five second-hand 10 bench open cars from the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company of Brooklyn, N. Y.)

Receiver Hollis was assisted in this rehabilitation program by John A. MacAdams, who was named superintendent of the EH&A on January 1, 1907. MacAdams formerly had been superintendent of the Portland & Brunswick Street Railway at Freeport, Maine.

While in receivership, the EH&A defaulted all of its semiannual bond interest payments and on November 7, 1907, the American Trust Company, acting for the protective committee and in accordance with a reorganization plan, foreclosed on the mortgage securing the railway's $225,000 bond issue. Shortly thereafter, the Rockingham County Superior Court ordered the sale of the property at public auction on March 10, 1908. At the auction, the protective committee submitted the successful (and only) bid of $250,000, this group also agreeing to assume the railway's debts and obligations.

Even before the foreclosure sale, it had been decided to separate the EH&A's railway and lighting departments and the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company was organized on March 30, 1908 to take over the latter (and to acquire title to the Hampton power plant and substation building). On the following day, the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury Street Railway was reorganized under its old name and the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company was formed as a holding corporation to own the securities of the street railway and the electric company. Control of the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company, in turn, was vested in the Charles H. Tenney Company of Boston, managers and engineers of public utilities.

Officials of the reorganized EH&A included Allen Hollis, president; Charles H. Tenney, vice president; Elihu A. Bradley of Boston, treasurer; John Scammon of Exeter, clerk of the corporation; Everett P. Weeks of Hampton, assistant treasurer, and John A. MacAdams, superintendent. Weeks, who had joined the old Exeter Street Railway as a motorman on July 4, 1897, died suddenly on May 19, 1914 and was succeeded by Walter A. Scott, formerly a conductor, who had been hired in 1903.

(Among blue uniform men transferring to the EH&A from the New Hampshire Electric Railways on January 1, 1907, in addition to Scott, were L. P. Clark, C. J. Edgerly, G. E. Felch, Jr., John F. Gynan, L. Hoyt, J. J. Noonan, L. Frank Stevens and F. Thompson, conductors, and George Fifield, W. Felch, M. J. Flaherty, William Hay, J. G. Irwin, Howard M. Lane, W. J. Murphy and H. C. Rand, motorman. Stevens was the senior man, with a September 1897 date of employment).

In reorganizing the EH&A, the old capital stock of $360,000 was cancelled and the bondholders exchanged $225,000 in bonds, plus accrued interest, for $125,000 in stock and $113,000 in bonds of the new company. They subsequently invested $12,000 in cash for corporate purposes and received in return a like amount in stock. The new bonds paid 5 per cent interest and were to mature on April 1, 1928, the American Trust Company being named trustee of the first mortgage securing the bonds. All of the new stock and bonds were held by the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company, which also held the entire original capital stock of the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company.

The major reason for the separation of the railway and lighting departments of the old EH&A appears to have been the belief that the electric business could be developed into a growing and prosperous undertaking, which should be more or less independent of the transportation service. It was hoped that the street railway, with its reduced capitalization, particularly the much lower bonded debt, could be operated profitably - but one would gain the impression that the owners were not overly optimistic. As a matter of fact, offers were made to sell the stocks and bonds of the reorganized EH&A to the New Hampshire Electric Railways but the voluntary association, in effect, was not interested. It agreed to buy the securities - but only at a price that was considered unacceptable by Messrs. Hollis, Tenney et als.

Power for the EH&A continued to be supplied by the Rockingham County Light & Power Company, the railway purchasing direct current measured at the feeder panels in the Hampton substation. The RCL&P also supplied the alternating current marketed by the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company and, as part of the arrangement, the power company continued to use the Hampton substation as a distribution center for the high tension lines feeding the substations of the Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway and its predecessors.

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Unfortunately, the reorganized EH&A was only slightly more successful financially than the old company. During the eight fiscal years from June 30, 1908 through June 30, 1916, the railway reported profits in only five, amounts ranging from a high of $2,152 to a low of $3. There was a $1 deficit in 1913 and losses of $3,158 and $3,157 respectively in 1914 and 1915. For the six months ended December 31, 1916, the road reported a profit of $4,138 but there was a loss of $140 in 1917 and a deficiency of $601 the next year.

At times, the company had difficulty raising the funds to pay its bond interest, due semi-annually in April and October, and occasionally had to borrow from the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company in order to make the April payments, the money being repaid in the late spring or early summer.

Various fare changes were attempted in an effort to increase revenues and every possible economy was effected to reduce operating expense, expenditures for maintenance being cut to the bone. The company, in a move to save even more money, went so far as to discharge Supt. MacAdams on May 22, 1917, George D. Baxter, manager of the Exeter & Hampton Electric Company, assuming responsibility for the railway's operations. Walter A. Scott, assistant treasurer, was designated assistant manager of the EH&A.

(It was reported in the press that Mr. MacAdams had "resigned" to accept a position in the engineering department of the Charles H. Tenney Company in Boston. In later years, he became general manager of the Claremont Railway Company at Claremont, N. H.)

The efforts to reduce expenses were offset, at least in part, by wage increases, a pay dispute involving conductors and motormen having resulted in a short strike in February 1917. Blue uniform men walked off the job effective at midnight Sunday, February 4, but returned to work Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 after both sides agreed to submit the issue to the State Labor Commissioner for settlement. The men had sought an increase in the maximum hourly rate, paid employees with six years or more of seniority, from 26 to 30 cents per hour: the company had offered 28 cents.

(By agreement made some years earlier, wages paid platform men on the EH&A were two cents less per hour than those received by comparable employees on the Massachusetts Northeastern. Whenever the Northeastern raised its pay rates, the EH&A had to follow suit. The decision of the Labor Commissioner raised the maximum hourly rate on the EH&A to 281/2 cents as of January 1, 1917 and provided for one cent increases on May 1, 1917 and May 1, 1918 and a half cent hike on May 1, 1919, boosting the maximum on the last date to 31 cents per hour) .

By late 1917, the EH&A management was becoming weary of the struggle to keep the railway in -operation. World War I was raging; riding was down and the physical condition of the property left much to be desired. As early as March 1918, President Hollis wrote to David Belden, president of the Massachusetts Northeastern, concerning the possibility of that company's purchasing certain EH&A property should the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury decide to discontinue service. The letter was supposed to be confidential but the word leaked out and the breaking of the secret caused considerable consternation among EH&A officials who, in the meantime, had decided to keep the road in operation during the summer months. There were deniers of abandonment plans, of course, but the report gained wide circulation. So it was not any great surprise when, on September 20, 1918, after a difficult summer, the railway filed an abandonment petition with the New Hampshire Public Service Commission. In its application, the EH&A sought authority to permanently discontinue operation over the major portion of its system - from Exeter to Ocean Boulevard at Hampton Beach and from Hampton Village to Smithtown - and for the right to discontinue temporarily, until such time as it could make reasonable operating arrangements, the remaining part of its road. This consisted of the line along Hampton Beach from Portsmouth junction to the Hampton River bridge and two short branches connecting with the Massachusetts Northeastern at Smithtown.

It was hoped to sell or lease the trackage from the Hampton Beach Casino northerly to Portsmouth junction to the Portsmouth Electric Railway and to sell to the Northeastern the two branches in Smithtown and the trackage from the casino southerly to the Hampton River bridge. (The two branches and the bridge-casino tracks then were being rented to and operated by the Northeastern).

The petition was opposed by Exeter, Hampton Falls and Seabrook and particularly by Hampton, which asserted the railway was needed to serve the Hampton Beach area. Witnesses from all four towns appeared as remonstrants at hearings held in Exeter, and while there seemed to be general agreement that the EH&A could not be expected to continue operating at a loss, suggestions as to what might be done to solve the problem varied widely. Municipal subsidies and municipal ownership were among the proposals put forth, with the latter receiving the most favorable reception.

Notwithstanding the opposition, the Public Service Commission felt that the EH&A's petition should be granted and did so, but in order to give all parties concerned time to devise some method to keep the railway in operation, it postponed the effective date of abandonment until May 1, 1919, although permitting the railway to discontinue operations temporarily.

The PSC's order was issued January 9, 1919 and a week later, on January 16, the EH&A announced it would discontinue operation of its entire system at midnight on Saturday, February 1.

The ink on the discontinuance notice scarcely had time to dry when a number of officials and residents of Exeter, Hampton, Hampton Falls and Seabrook gathered at Exeter to discuss what steps might be taken to preserve street railway service. It finally was decided that municipal ownership was the only solution and it was voted to file with the State Legislature a bill which would empower the four towns to purchase and operate the railway. In the meantime, it was important that operation be continued and after a conference between Herbert L. Tobey, a Hampton real estate and insurance man, who was the prime mover behind the municipal ownership plan, and President Hollis of the EH&A, the latter announced on January 27 that the cars would keep on running - at least for the time being. The time being turned out to be about two years.

The enabling legislation was passed March 6, 1919 to begin a long period of haggling over price. There were several appraisals and a number of offers and counter-offers as men on both sides sought to reach a meeting of the minds. In the meantime, the EH&A kept on operating at a loss in the hope that some agreement might eventually be reached and in the belief that it was better to sell an active property than an abandoned one. Among the towns themselves, it was agreed that Hampton would buy the railway and the others would provide. annual subsidies.

Contributing to the losses was the necessity to boost wages over and above the amounts specified in the 1917 decision of the Labor Commissioner. These increases were granted in the form of war bonuses - five cents per hour on May 1, 1918, four cents more on January 1, 1919, another two cents on July 1, 1919 and a further three cents on August 23, 1919. An additional wage increase became mandatory in 1920 after the Massachusetts Northeastern raised its rates.

Negotiations bogged down early in 1920 and on April 26, in an apparent effort to force some definite action by the towns, the EH&A management requested authority from the Public Service Commission to abandon the five miles of track between Hampton Village and Smithtown. The immediate result was a strong suggestion by the PSC that the railway and the towns "get with it" to settle the matter of municipal purchase once and for all. More talks followed and finally, on November 8, President Hollis agreed to consider an offer of $80,000 made by the Hampton committee if such an amount actually was voted at a town meeting.

The town meeting was held December 20 and by a vote of 155-118, Hampton residents empowered the committee to purchase the properties of the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury, or the securities representing the same at a price not to exceed 580,000 and to issue town bonds in that amount. They also voted to issue another $20,000 in town bonds to provide working capital and to appoint a board of directors to supervise the railway's operations.

There was still more horse trading after the town meeting, with the Hampton committee offering $74,000 for the property and the EH&A asking a minimum of $77,500. Finally, on January 7, 1921, the town committee increased its offer to $76,000 and this was promptly accepted. A bill validating the action of the town meeting was passed by the Legislature on February 3.

The effective date of sale of the EH&A property to Hampton was February 1, 1921 but because of action by local opponents of the purchase, who petitioned the State Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the enabling act and also asked the town to reconsider its vote, the municipality did not actually take over until April 6. During the intervening time, the railway was operated by the existing management for the benefit of the town. The reconsideration move was defeated at the annual town meeting in March and shortly thereafter, the action before the Supreme Court was dropped.

Purchased by the town from the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company were $100,000 in capital stock and 576,000 in mortgage bonds of the EH&A, payment being made with $76,000 in 25-year 5 per cent municipal bonds dated February 1, 1921. Interest was payable semi-annually and the bonds were callable at par and accrued interest on any interest date after two years.

The physical property covered by these securities included the track extending from the Exeter depot to Ocean Boulevard at Hampton Beach; from the Hampton Beach Casino northerly to Portsmouth junction, and from Hampton Village to Smithtown Square and the state line; the car barn at Hampton and all rolling stock, tools and supplies. The casino properties and the trackage southerly from the casino to the north end of the Hampton River bridge were conveyed to the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company, which surrendered the remaining $37,000 in capital stock and $37,000 in bonds of the EH&A in payment therefor. Subsequently, the casino-bridge trackage was sold by the ER&L to the Massachusetts Northeastern for $6,000. Also sold were the casino, Ocean House and cottages.

The Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury continued as an active corporation after all these trans-actions were completed, the only difference being that its outstanding capital stock and bonds were owned by the town of Hampton instead of by the Exeter Railway & Lighting Company, which appears to have been dissolved later in 1921.

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