By Cathy Ingalls, Albany Regional Museum board member
Old Charlie, the whitish horse that pulled a streetcar in Albany for years, was quite the town fixture, yet not much is known about his early years or what eventually happened to him.
Most of what we know comes from Albany historian Bill Maddy and Justa Ross Hewitt, whose father owned the horse. Paperwork about the beloved animal is on file at the Albany Regional Museum.
First a little background on why there was a need for a horse to pull the city’s streetcar.
Before a streetcar line was installed, hotels in Albany dispatched carriages to meet passengers at the Oregon and California Railroad Depot, according to Maddy. But nasty winter weather often resulted in muddy streets so carriages weren’t always clean and the rides were rough.
So in 1888, the city authorized the Albany Street Railway Co. to build a streetcar line. Investors and corporate members of the company included some names familiar to us today: Abram Hackleman, William H. Goltra, Samuel E. Young, Moses Sternberg and William Tweedale.
The line was ready to begin operations on Aug. 30, 1889, when Old Charlie was placed in the traces. Jared Elias Truax Ross, who was born in Quebec, owned the horse that he obtained from a family in Sodaville.
Over time, Old Charlie became so familiar with his route and the running times of the trains that he knew when to head to the depot to pick up passengers, Maddy said.
Once passengers were on board and the bell rang, Old Charlie took off leaving Ross free to move about the streetcar to collect the 5-cent fares.
When a larger car became necessary to accommodate more passengers a second horse was brought in to help Old Charlie. Information about that horse isn’t available at the museum.
When Goltra decided to extend the line using what Maddy describes as a steam dummy engine, Old Charlie was no longer needed. But that line was closed not long after it opened.
That is when a locomotive was purchased from the Rogue River Valley Railway and remodeled to do a reduced route. But when that locomotive broke down or needed repair, Old Charlie was called back into service.
When the streetcar line was electrified and Old Charlie got older, Ross and his horse were relegated to pulling a mail truck from the depot to the post office.
Because Old Charlie was so dependable, he never was tied up while he waited between trains. Once when a train was particularly late Ross noticed that when he brought the mailbag outside, the truck was gone and so was Old Charlie.
As it turned out, Old Charlie got tired of waiting and had gone home to his barn.
Hewitt said that when her father bought a 1910 Studebaker to deliver the mail he sold Old Charlie.
But while Old Charlie was still working, Hewitt recalled that Clara, Ross’s wife, could be seen riding the horse sidesaddle, and the horse permitted children on his back, but if he got tired or put out with the children, he would walk under the low branch of an apple tree and brush them off.
More detailed information about Jared Ross’s life in Oregon and in Albany is on file at the museum, 136 Lyon St. S. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The phone number is 541-967-7122, and the website address is www.armuseum.com.