Boise lost its electric streetcars in the 1920s. The possibility that Boise and other cities across the country would replace electric streetcars with gasoline-powered buses was not seen as progress by many who had come to rely on the quiet, nonpolluting trolleys. In December 1924, when the Boise City Council was considering granting a franchise for an automobile bus route, 691 people signed petitions urging only a limited bus franchise. They rightly feared that the electric system on which they had relied for more than 30 years would soon cease to operate.
It was the streetcar company itself, under the leadership of former Mayor Walter E. Pierce, that was expected to be the principal, if not the only, applicant for the bus franchise. Pierce had pioneered both the citys streetcar system and the electric interurban line that had connected Valley towns since 1907, and was widely respected for his years of promoting Boise to the rest of the country.
The proposed bus line would run from the north end of Harrison Boulevard to the new Union Pacific depot, which was then being built on the Bench south of Downtown. Construction on the new Mission Style station, designed by New York architects Carrere & Hastings, began in August 1924. It was part of the long-awaited project to put Idahos capital city on the Union Pacific mainline instead of the small branch line to the mainline at Nampa that Boise people had used since 1887.
When the first passenger train arrived at the new depot on April 16, 1925, Boise turned out in force to greet it. Among the dignitaries who took part in the celebration that day were former mayor of Boise and governor of Idaho James H. Hawley, dressed as a cowboy with a six-gun on his hip, and Carl R. Gray, president of the Union Pacific Railroad.
However, the City Council had not yet decided on who would get the franchise to run buses to the new depot. On May 24, 1925, the Statesman reported that W.E. Young, representing the Astoria Transit Company of Oregon, said that his company had waited 10 months for a decision on its bid for the franchise. The paper reported that, The company plans to operate gasoline buses on fixed schedules and specified routes in Boise. The franchise application offers a consideration of two percent of the gross receipts annually to the city as consideration for the franchise. Each bus would be bonded on a $20,000 and $10,000 policy. ... Services would be maintained between six a.m. and midnight. The fare proposed was 10 cents.
The Astoria Transit Company had an excellent performance record, but as late as May 26, 1926, nearly two years after it had bid on the bus franchise, it had still not had a decision from the council. It finally lost out to the local Boise Street Car Company. On Oct. 1, 1925, the Statesman reported that Boises First Motorbus Arrives. It was one of two that would operate between the city and the new station. Its manufacturer, the Pierce Arrow Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., described it as a 29-passenger Standard Street Car Pay-Enter Bus. The body was built by the Brown Body Corporation of Cleveland, Ohio. In January 1926, the Statesman reported that Walter E. Pierce had received delivery of the second Pierce Arrow for the depot run.
Later in May, the council discussed with Pierce the substitution of motor buses for all of the companys streetcars. The approach road to the station was completed that month and the Statesman reported that buses were traveling both driveways Saturday.
On May 21, 1926, Pierce told the City Council that he wanted to start running buses along Warm Springs Avenue, replacing the streetcars that had run there since 1891. It was truly the end of an era.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.