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Once Upon A Time

From the Des Moines City Council minutes


100 years ago (October 1915):
Major event this month detailing the “Street Car Franchise,” requiring compromise, a new contract and Council Resolution. Just as important was the permission granted to the Des Moines Commercial Club to have traffic closed for three days on East Fifth Street between Locust and Grand Avenue during its “corn show,” as well as the auditor being directed to pay $725 in favor of Sears Automobile Company to purchase a Dodge automobile for Department of Streets. (That is about $17,000 today.)

Statements were received from Councilman Myerly and Mayor Hanna explaining they were reluctant to approve the new Ordinance for the Street Car Franchise. Concerns included arbitration details and self-protection for the City in any future controversy, whether it is “good business” to fix the current fares for the next 25 years, including a clause to allow the City to purchase the railway, and the rate of interest that must be paid to the Des Moines City Railway Company on capital investment of $4,110,000. (That is nearly $97 million in 2015 monies.)

The new ordinance covers overhead trolleys and interurban railways, details freight lines, use of tracks and rails, poles and wires, underground conduits and electrical safety, use and maintenance of bridges and viaducts, insurance, arbitration and removal of track if not needed.

“The maximum rate of fare for a single continuous ride within the limits of the City in one direction over any route of the Company” shall be no more than five cents. The Company will provide “at least 25 convenient places” to sell tickets at five cents or six for 25 cents. Children under 12 are sold a 5-cent ticket, valid for two fares. Children under 6 with an adult paying fare shall ride free. High school students to and from school use tickets sold in books of 20 for 50 cents. The Company is entitled to charge passengers on its “owl cars double the maximum rate.” The new ordinance defines “Owl Car” as a “car leaving either end of a regular run on the business section of the City between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.” (Twenty-five cents is more than $5 today.)

Rules regarding transfers to cars in a different direction, and the time limits for transfers and delays for transfers, are outlined in the ordinance. Also, a ruling of “no free tickets, free passes or free transportation of any kind” except for “firemen, policemen and employees of the company” when in uniform.

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Salaries for company directors, officers, agents or attorneys are to be paid, taking into consideration the compensation paid to similar positions in enterprises of similar magnitude. All “accounts shall be kept in the manner prescribed by the American Street and Interurban Railway Accountants’ Association.” Finally, the City will have the right to purchase the company, “whenever the City shall have the legal power so to do”, for the sum of $5,000,000. (That is nearly $118 million today.)

50 years ago (October 1965):
In 1915, across the City, installations were continually being granted to Welsbach Street Lighting for “gas lamps” and an increasing number of “incandescent lamps” installed by Des Moines Electric Company. Now, in 1965, those are gradually being replaced (often on same poles) with 7, 11 or 21,000 “lumen mercury vapor street lights” by Iowa Power and Light Company.

Motion carried, three to two, to grant Drake U. Greek Week committee to collect funds in downtown Des Moines and at Merle Hay Shopping Center for the Children’s Zoo, “using wheelbarrows on the sidewalks.” Bill Riley from KRNT, who is in charge of the drive, has given consent and support.

Motion carried (unanimously) five to zero, to accept low bid from Pildis Hardware to supply 35 “Winchester riot guns, No. 1200; plain barrel for price of $54.89 each.” (That is about $415 today. Pildis was at 814 Sixth Ave. and now under the parking ramp.)

Chairmen of Polk County Republicans and Democrats Central Committees approved data processing procedures of the City Clerk for voter’s registration, and both parties contributed $750 to facilitate conversion of records. Motion carried to receive, file, and accept the $1,500. (More than $11,000 today.)

Whereas, Des Moines Billiards, at 405 7th St., was charged with ”operating a disorderly place where gambling is permitted”, found guilty, and paid a fine of $10; it is resolved the City revokes their cigarette permit, pool tables permit, and coin-operated amusement permit, which are “hereby rescinded, recalled, revoked, and cancelled” and the License Collector directs Vice Squad of the City of Des Moines to pick up said permits. (Ten-dollar fine is about $75 today. The address is under Banker’s Trust.) CV

Steve Nelson-Vaux is a retired Iowa farmer-turned-library explorer and vintage prospector digging Des Moines’ and S.E. Polk’s historical aether-ore.

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