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80 years of Pilsen trolleybus / Chapter 1

 

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1   Tough Beginnings

 

Trolleybuses have been an integral part of Pilsen’s landscape for generations. They are a positive exception to our heritage from the times of war and occupation. But who should we really thank for bringing trolleybuses into existence? [51]

1.1       Electric Hopes for Doubravka

The Electric Enterprise during the First Republic era

During the First Czechoslovak Republic era (1918–1938), the City of Pilsen was in its heyday as it was morphing into a modern and cultural big city, with prospering industry and sophisticated urban development. The city was expanded in 1924 when the boroughs of Doubravka, Doudlevce, Lobzy and Skvrňany were annexed, creating Greater Pilsen with a population of 108 thousand. The city’s transport system consisted of an ageing network of three tram lines that were built in 1899. The Electric Enterprise of the City of Pilsen (EECP) operated electric lines only, and generated and distributed electric power across the city. In 1928, the City Council decided to re-structure and substantially modernise the EECP. The EECP introduced a bus service in 1929 and during the following years modernised the tram network and technical facilities. As early as 1931, they started to look into the experiences the USA had gained from their trolleybus operations.

Trams, trolleybuses or buses? The first calculations

The first calculations of the operational costs produced in 1936 showed that the running of trolleybuses would be financially disadvantageous. Trams were the preferred choice to serve Doubravka and present-day Americká Avenue. In 1938, these transport options were reviewed, leading to new plans that considered a total of 30 trolleybuses. However, when the Nazi troops seized the vast area of the Czechoslovak borderland on 1 October 1938, a new border line was marked just outside Pilsen. The development of industry resulted in more passengers using public transport, which led to overcrowding in buses. In addition to that, the fuel they used was becoming dated and more expensive. The Director of the EECP, František Mlynařík, requested a new calculation of annual profitability, which was presented to him on 5 November 1938. It showed that trams were still in the lead, unlike buses which were running at the biggest loss.

Trolleybuses come to the fore

The fate of Czechoslovakia was sealed in March 1939 when it was put under military occupation by the German Reich. The EECP investment budget allocated 4 million crowns to be spent in 1939 on improving the transport services to Doubravka. Referring to the poor results that came out from testing buses that ran on town gas, the Enterprise proposed to build a trolleybus line going from the City Spa (Městské lázně) to Doubravka, with an additional branch line to the Central Cemetery (Ústřední hřbitov). This route was to be operated by six three-axle trolleybuses, which would be boosted by extra buses during peak hours. One of the arguments for this was an option to convert the trolleybus route to a tram line at a later stage. The Cukrovarská depot was supposed to be used by trolleybuses, which could get there via a tram line that would have an additional negative conductor wire. In spite of the motorist lobby, the EECP continued to push for a new tram track to be introduced in the city centre, going from the railway station along present-day Americká Avenue to Skvrňany.


(p. 21) A draft of a letter addressed to the Municipal Authority, dated 12 July 1939. Trolleybuses were the preferred choice. [51]

The Doubravka line project gets the green light

On 6 September 1939, the EECP commissioned six trolleybuses to be made in Pilsen’s Škoda works and began the construction of a converter station in Rokycanská Avenue, Letná, in October 1939. The design plans of the trolleybus lines were issued on 21 October 1939 and had already factored in driving on the right side of the road. The vehicles were to turn clockwise at the City Spa, so that they could avoid crossing overhead wires for trolleybuses and trams. ‘The vehicle fleet should consist of six 6-wheel Škoda 539 trolleybuses, similar to the trolleybuses supplied to Prague. The fleet will be used to its maximum capacity on route A during the morning rush hours each working day. On Sundays and national holidays, there will be a service on both routes, and on the days when larger volumes of passengers need to travel to the Central Cemetery, there will be a service on route H. On such days, route A will be operated by a replacement service using the current buses, which will be kept for the third line, additional service for route A during the morning rush hours and as a backup.’ [51]


(p. 23) Letná converter station included three flats built for the families of the staff who were in charge of its operation and maintenance. [52]

(p. 23) A proposed design of the site for the masts that were to be erected on an old stone bridge over the Úslava River. [51]

(p. 23) This drawing from August 1939 was altered in early 1940 to change the street names to German. Out of the two options of where the Doubravka line should terminate, the shorter route with vehicles turning around Habrmannovo Square was selected. [56]

(p. 24) A news article about Pilsen’s project, printed in a German specialist magazine [2], included the design of trolley overhead lines. We can see the location of supply points (Speisepunkte) and the site of Letná converter station (Unterwerk). [61]

The battle for material

Trolley wire could only be supplied when old copper was sold off and permission from the authorities granted. On 2 November 1939, the Reich Protector Office issued a statement announcing that supplying copper ‘is considered utterly undesirable due to the current situation’ and requested a review. The EECP replied that when tests were conducted, during which buses ran on fuel consisting of compressed gases, the timetables were not adhered to, the buses used a lot of fuel and were blocking the traffic when they needed to go up the long ascending road leading to Prague. On top of that, preparatory works to introduce a trolleybus service were at a very advanced stage by that point. The construction of the converter station was well under way, and the EECP had already paid its suppliers 3 million crowns (e.g. for mercury-arc rectifiers and trolleybuses). Nevertheless, the request to procure trolley wire was declined by the Reich Protector Office again in January 1940. Unfortunately, we do not know when and how the Office eventually gave its approval. In the meantime, the EECP was having a hard time procuring armatures for trolley lines. For instance, on 18 June 1940, ČKD refused to supply bronze casts due to a lack of material. The fact that the EECP had them made at a metal arts foundry in Prague in the end is a testimony to the enormous lengths the company went to. The procurement drama was completed with insulators, which were only delivered at the end of the construction work, and some of them had to be loaned by Prague’s Electric Enterprise.

The construction of the line

The planning permission was granted on 18 April 1940. On 1 July 1940, the Ministry of Transport issued a decision concerning the names of the stops, stating that ‘the sites for trains to stop in stations will be determined during technical and police tests’. The Ministry was the authority that approved, for instance, the design solution of the split switch located at Pietas and an electrical equipment box for the trolleybus line. The EECP had to come to an agreement with the Railways Headquarters on fitting four wooden, up to 35-metre-long, protective troughs in the underpass structure near the U Prazdroje stop. The issue of a depot remained unresolved.


(p. 24) In January 1940, the Reich Protector Office requested a calculation for the amount of copper that was needed, but in the end it only allowed the company to buy 5 kilometres of wire for the maintenance of tram overhead lines, provided that the dismounted conductors were sold off immediately. [51]

(p. 25) The overhead wiring in the street with the At the Town Brewery stop (U Měšťanského pivovaru) – present-day U Prazdroje – looks simple enough; however, many overhead line crossings had to be tackled and masts had to be erected in the railway area to build the line. [52]

(p. 26) In order to accommodate a terminus near the Central Cemetery where vehicles would be able to turn around, the EECP had to widen the state road connecting Beroun and Haselbach at their own expense. On 13 July 1940, AUTO ŠKODA Mladá Boleslav determined that the envelopes for the turning radius of the outer front wheel should be approx. 8.5 to 9 metres. [51]

(p. 27) Travelling by trolleybus through a Pilsen street for the first time. [346]

(p. 29) In early March 1941, a trolleybus with registration number 101 on one of its initial test drives going from the City Spa to Doubravka, passing the Brewery. [60]

1.2       Trolleybuses Going on War Shifts

Test drives

Pilsen’s Škoda works supplied the first trolleybus, labelled 3 Tr1 101, and the first test drive took place on Saturday, 8 March 1941. The trolleybus went to Doubravka, even though the converter station at Letná had not been finished yet. The response from both the public and the press was very enthusiastic. On 12 March 1941, an official test of vehicle 101 was conducted, with the attendance of representatives of the Ministry of Transport. The following day, a preliminary technical check was conducted with an unladen trolleybus. The journey from the City Spa to the Cemetery took 11.5 minutes, including the idling time at stops, which then translated into a travel speed of 19.2 km/h. On 14 March, a technical and police test with 80 passengers took place. The maximum speed limit for regular operation was set at 30 km/h, whereas when going through crossings, switch points and into underpasses the prescribed speed limit was set at 15 km/h. The launch of the service could not take place on 30 March 1941 as scheduled due to delayed delivery of vehicles. On Wednesday, 9 April 1941 at noon, a regular service on route A was launched by three vehicles, running at ten-minute intervals.


(p. 30) This scene shows the second supplied trolleybus at the highest point of the trolley lines in Pilsen, in front of St Wenceslaus’s Church in the Central Cemetery. [52]

Wartime operation

When the remaining vehicles were received, route H going to the Central Cemetery was launched. All six trolleybuses were stationed under the open sky at the turning bay near the City Spa (also U Jána). Right in the first weeks of their operation, it was clear that the technical solution of the switch points was flawed, especially at Pietas, a busy junction with a road going uphill. When turning from Rokycanská Avenue to Masarykova Avenue, trolleybuses were forced to go over the allowed speed limit set at 15 km/h, so that they did not get stuck in an isolated section of the road. On 7 June 1941, the EECP asked the Ministry of Transport for permission to drive through the overhead crossing that carried current in one direction. It was proposed that an insulated section should be inserted into a grounded (negative) conductor wire when going downhill, and then in the bend leave the positive conductor conductive, i.e. a solution that later became commonplace. After that, the hand-operated split switch control at Pietas was provided with an additional electromagnetic control system. The switch could then be operated in both manners. The first winter brought the first experience of trolley wires getting frosted, which made it difficult for trolleybuses to drive smoothly, and in extreme cases, made driving impossible. In 1942, a solution was drafted proposing that high currents generated in Letná converter station could be used to heat the trolley wires.


‘When I was a child, I used to go with my family to the cemetery by old 3 Tr trolleybuses. As boys, we loved to stand near the driver. The drivers didn’t mind at all. They had a big lever of sorts in their driving cab, used for opening the front door at trolleybus stops. The trolleybus went to the cemetery up Rokycanská Avenue, and then turned left to Doubravka. There was a switch in the trolley wires permanently set for Doubravka because that was where trolleybuses had to go more often. At the corner near the U Pietasu stop was a mast with an open box, or a shelter roof with a big lever of sorts. When a trolleybus was bound for the cemetery, the driver had to stop at the mast. He sent us, boys, out to pull the lever down, and the trolleybus moved a little forward just beyond the switch. We then put the lever back, jumped aboard and felt very important. You know, for a bunch of ten-year-old boys, that was something special.’ [351]


In the meanwhile, plans for a joint tram and trolleybus garage in Slovany were put into motion. The EECP bought a large area of land in Slovany. To enable trolleybuses to drive in, a shunting line with a construction length of 3.651 km was needed. The existing tram track was used for the line, which had a negative conductor wire added to it. Trolleybuses then used their second trolley pole to attach to the tram trolley wire that had positive polarity. The garage was used by trolleybuses from the 25th probably to 1949. The new hall was also used by four new 3 Tr2 trolleybuses, which were added on 1 October 1943 to boost Pilsen’s transport service. The air raids that were launched by the Allied Forces on the City of Pilsen during the last six months of the war brought on critical moments and paralysed the city’s public transport system.


(p. 31) At first, trolleybuses were parked and maintained in the loop at the City Spa (U Jána) and reportedly in the courtyard of Gambrinus Brewery as well, to which they were pulled by a tractor [71]. The image shows the extra shunting trail that was added. [52]

(p. 31) Trolleybus 106 is passing Pietas driving into Rokycanova Avenue bound for the City Spa. The image also shows the only split switch that the Pilsen trolley wires had back then. [55]

(p. 32) A turning bay at the City Spa, shortly after launching the trolleybus service. [55]

(p. 33) The negative conductor wire leading from Slovany ended at the level of the trolleybus turning bay at the City Spa. When starting off in the morning, the trolleybuses could simply attach their trolley poles to the loop trail. When going to the depot, trolleybuses had to drive through the turning bay in the opposite direction. [54]

(p. 33) A 3 Tr2 110 in the turning bay at the Central Cemetery in 1946. [53]

(p. 34) When going to the cemetery, trolleybuses had to overcome the biggest gradient at 73‰. [55]

(p. 34) The air raid of 20 December 1944 put a halt to the trolleybus service. Several trolleybuses standing in the City Spa turning bay were hit, and so was the overhead wiring in front of the Brewery gate. [52]

(p. 35) In front of the bombed-out houses in Nepomucká (present-day Slovanská) Avenue Nos. 47 and 49, you can see an inserted negative conductor wire used for a trolleybus shunting line. When he was five years old, Karel Gott, who later became a famous singer, was buried under the rubble of house No. 55 for two days. [55]

(p. 35) The evolution of the trolleybus network between 1941 and 1945.

The Father of Pilsen’s Trolleybuses – Ing. František Mlynařík

Early life

Born in Pilsen on 5 January 1901, František Mlynařík graduated from the Czech Technical University in Prague at the age of 23 to become an electrical engineer. He started working in the test room at the Škoda Works in the Pilsen Borough of Doudlevce. In 1926, he changed jobs to work for West Bohemia Power Station, where his organisational skills stood out. That was the reason why Pilsen Council asked him to ‘re-organise the power generation business in the city’s electric enterprise’ [54].

 

(p. 38) The Mlynařík brothers at the wedding of the oldest Václav (in the middle). On the left is the youngest brother, Bohuslav; and on the right, František with the love of his life, Františka. [71]

With the power of a lion, rising like a falcon

He assumed the post of the Chief of the Electric Power Section in the Electric Enterprise of the City of Pilsen (EECP) on 1 October 1928. In 1931, he was appointed chief of the workshops and garages for electric lines and buses. At the same time, he became the General Designer in charge of new central workshops and was entrusted with overseeing their construction. The central workshops, which were successfully completed in 1934, were praised for their generous structure and well thought-out layout. He was appointed Director of the EECP by the Municipal Board on 8 April 1935. František Mlynařík published expert articles and was personally involved in the promotion of the electrification of households. He was elected Chief of the West Bohemia branch of the Czechoslovak Electrotechnical Association (CEA). Between 1936 and 1938, he helped build a hydroelectric power station at the Vydra River, Šumava, and ‘thanks to his contribution, the City of Pilsen became a co-proprietor of this building,’ [345] and in doing so, gained cheap electricity from a stable source for the city’s residents and businesses. He modernised the urban transport system in Pilsen and pressed for introducing a trolleybus service. In the troubled year of 1938, this patriot and a devoted Sokol member became the chairman of Sokol Pilsen V. After the Munich Agreement, he was intensively raising funds for a brick-built Sokol gymnasium.

 

(p. 39) František Mlynařík was a passionate motorist. Here, he is shown posing on a 1926 Harley-Davidson JS motorcycle in the early 1930s. In the Pilsen area, there could only be about ten motorcycles of this type at most; it was a higher class machine. [380] His nephew, Míťa, would remember the rides with his uncle across Pilsen’s environs for a long time. [71]

(p. 39) The 1936 photograph of EECP officials shows the two key players from the First Republic era sitting in the middle: Rudolf Novák, a senior technical executive, is the fourth person from the left; and to his right is František Mlynařík, Director of the entire municipal company. [52]

(p. 40) Director Mlynařík giving a formal speech to the employees in front of the central workshops on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the EECP. [72]

Occupation

During the occupation period, František Mlynařík continued working on the projects that were already under way, one of which was the introduction of a trolleybus service. The revenues from power generation activities enabled him to build residential houses for the staff in 1940. When the Czech government commissioner, Petr Němejc, was still in power, Mlynařík was granted the historically first permission from the City of Pilsen authority to distribute a part of the company’s profit among the employees. As the Sokol chairman, he wanted to use the saved money on building activities as quickly as possible, as he was afraid that the money would be confiscated. He bought the building material needed for the construction of the Sokol gymnasium basement, under the pretence of building an air-raid shelter. However, construction activities were soon banned.

The trolleybus service was ceremonially launched on Wednesday, 9 April 1941. After the war, it was highlighted that a total of 165 tonnes of steel masts and 15 tonnes of trolleybus wire, etc., were procured for peaceful purposes, ignoring the restrictive regulations and bans to use non-ferrous metals. Three days later, on Holy Saturday, Mlynařík was tipped off that an order issued in Prague by K. H. Frank was going to be delivered, prohibiting the operation of Sokol. Later that day, Mlynařík organised an operation which saw the plumbing material intended for the future Sokol gymnasium hidden away. The gymnasium’s equipment was distributed among people’s households, and flags were sewn under duvet covers. An hour before midnight, the Police delivered the order to František Mlynařík to his flat. It requested that Sokol’s activities were stopped and all the assets handed over. Still, he managed to conceal fifteen wagons of granite and 70 thousand bricks intended for the construction of the Sokol gymnasium and used it on the building of a garage in Slovany. (After the war, the EECP paid Sokol in kind.) In October 1941, Reinhard Heydrich, the acting Reich Protector, dissolved the Czech Sokol Community and had their officials arrested. During the post-Heydrich terror 1,290 metres of piping and 82 metres of copper wire intended for the Sokol gymnasium were walled up in the house of an EECP employee. Only thanks to this, the Gestapo did not find anything.

 

In 1941, František Mlynařík joined the secret resistance movement. He had a cache in his house where he kept a short-wave device, which was a crime punishable by death during the Protectorate period. Together with some loyal EECP employees, he hid non-ferrous metals, which had to be surrendered in favour of the war industry. On 19 and 20 March 1942, they buried 1,362 kg of lead and 430 kg of copper in Cukrovarská Garage. They concealed half of the bronze acquired from ornamental features taken down from trams and cast semifinished products for trolley lines. On 5 July 1942, he was interrogated by Gestapo officers, who suspected him of concealing Sokol’s assets. On 17 May 1943, an anonymous denunciation was received stating that the company was deliberately withholding men who were able to perform forced labour. He managed to defend himself and despite the trend of extending the working hours, he increased the number of EECP employees from 432 to 658 in the course of the war. Another anonymous denunciation received in 1943 led to Schutzpolizei members searching his house. On 14 July 1944, František Mlynařík was arrested. He was held in prison for nine days and interrogated by the Gestapo. He was accused of listening to foreign radio broadcasts, being in contact with resistance fighters and anti-German activities in Sokol and the EECP. He denied all accusations and was later released by a Gestapo commander, who told him: ‘Wir sind nicht überzeugt, dass Sie unschuldigt sind, aber Sie sind zurzeit noch unentbehrlich.

 

As the man in charge of the EECP, he had to face the growing demands made by the Germans and was forced to send his assemblers to bombed-out refineries in the north of Bohemia. According to his contemporaries, he spread optimism around him when the war was coming to its end. Thanks to the practice of shortening the suction pipes in petrol tanks, the EECP managed to hide their fuel reserves. They adapted buses so that they would break down when the Germans were fleeing Pilsen.

Liberation

In the early hours of 5 May 1945, when the Pilsen uprising broke out, Director Mlynařík put up the Czechoslovak flag on the headquarters building. When the US army liberated Pilsen the following day, Mlynařík offered the army commanders to stay in his house. He and his family spent nights at their relatives’ place and came in to the house to cook for the US commanders. The Americans carried their piano down from the first floor of their house, placed it on Slovanská Avenue and danced with Pilseners. Director Mlynařík released the concealed petrol so that it could be used for bringing back prisoners from concentration camps. He renewed Sokol activities.

 

However, events took a turn in 1946. He was forced to get the thriving EECP ready to be divided up and have its most profitable part nationalised. On 23 March 1946, he was accused by a group of EECP employees of collaborating with the Germans, oppression and asocial conduct during the war. His accusers claimed that he had threatened his employees with sending them to perform forced labour, worked against the financial interest of the workers, was eager to please the Germans while, on the other hand, he failed to protect Czech workers. The complainants, witnesses, as well as Mlynařík himself were called in for questioning. The outrageous nature of the accusations prompted him to write a long letter entitled ‘Personal conduct during the occupation’, in which he described his own conduct during the occupation as ‘a national and professional duty one does not talk about. Forced by the circumstances, he is giving the following account of himself.’ [M2, 52] He denied all the accusations against him, going into great detail. The disciplinary and interrogation process was dragging out. However, many of his employees came to his defence. The purge committee did not stop the process until 27 September 1946.

 

On Saturday, 12 April 1947, at 9 p.m., František Mlynařík ended his life by jumping out of a window from the third floor of the headquarters building at No. 12 Denisovo Embankment. He was found by a machine operator who worked in a hydroelectric power station. However, Mlynařík suffered injuries incompatible with life and died on the way to hospital. Dozens of letters of sympathy sent from all parts of Czechoslovakia were received. His contemporaries recalled that before this act, Director Mlynařík was faced with threats made against him by some revolutionary spirited employees. As an educated, successful and wealthy epitome of the interwar Republic, he was not destined to have a future.

 

On Thursday, 17 April at 10.30 a.m., a trolleybus with mourners on board set off towards the cemetery. Crowds of attendees waited in front of the crematorium filled with people. At 11.00 a.m., all traffic on Pilsen’s tracks and lines stopped. All trams, trolleybuses and buses displayed mourning flags. When they were set in motion again after two minutes, they left the lights on. In the wake of February 1948, the Mlynařík family lost its position in society, and the daughters were not allowed to go to university. After the monetary reform, they lost their financial security as well, and had a hard time finding decent jobs. If it were not for the work of archivists, the achievements and tragic fate of the first Director of the EECP would have been forgotten for good, even though we can still see much of his work around us: we admire the beautiful building that housed the central workshops, and trolleybuses still take us on the routes that he established. Slovany Garage was in operation for 77 years, and Vydra Hydroelectric Power Station is still generating power today. We could and should always ask whether our present work would have made him happy. ‘We will remember Director Ing. František Mlynařík as an energetic, assertive and tireless man devoted to his loved ones, family, electricity and Sokol. His demeanour was modest and people-friendly, and he was conciliatory in dealing with others. He was happy to help and give advice where it was needed. The products of his work that he left for us will be a permanent memento of his endeavour.’ [345]

 

(p. 42) František Mlynařík is welcoming American liberators in Pilsen. [72]

(p. 42) The American soldiers who were staying in Mlynařík’s house are in the photograph with their hosts. František Mlynařík is on the upper left side of the picture, and on the right is his wife Františka with their daughters, Vlasta and Miluše. [72]

(p. 43) František Mlynařík encouraged his children to pursue sports and education. In winter, he used to take both his daughters and nephew Míťa skiing in Šumava. [71]

(p. 45) The tragic death of brother Ing. Fr. Mlynařík. [339]

(p. 46) Deserted Number Five (Sokol V). [339]

(p. 46) Death announcement from the EECP administration and company board. [52]

(p. 47) A letter of condolence from JUDr. Karel Křepinský, Mayor of Pilsen, who himself was subjected to pressure and threats from Communist Party members. [52]

 


 

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