The wooden “500 class” rail cars date back to the very beginning of the Pacific Electric’s (PE) corporate existence. They were the first new cars ordered by the PE, which at the time had only a small fleet of equipment inherited from several predecessor companies. They were also Southern California ’s first standard gauge electric interurban cars. Built in three groups beginning in 1902, the “Fives” were used for light interurban and suburban service. They embodied all of the unique trademarks of early Southern California electric car design, including an open-air section and 5-window ends with distinctive curved corner glass. These same design elements were subsequently applied to hundreds of PE and Los Angeles Railway (LARy) cars in the ensuing decades, becoming something of a trademark and earning the design its “ Huntington ” nickname. Although the Fives were quickly overshadowed in importance by their larger and faster interurban cousins, they did open service on several early PE interurban lines, and many of the cars served the system for over thirty years.
The Fives were divided into two basic groups of fifty cars each, the “Small” Fives, or 500s, ultimately numbered 500-549, and the “Big” Fives, or 550s, numbered 550-599. All of the cars were visually very similar, and unlike many of their contemporaries, all retained their open sections until retired. Cars 500-549 were built by the St. Louis Car Company over two orders between 1902 and 1909. Cars 550-599 were created in 1911-1912, when the PE extensively rebuilt a group of older cars inherited from a predecessor company. A 1922 article on equipment assignments in the Pacific Electric Magazine described the Fives as general-purpose utility cars:
“The 500-class cars, being smaller and lighter are used for short haul suburban service where frequent stops make high speed impossible and are used as general utility cars to meet emergencies in all class of service.”
All of PE’s 500-class cars were retired between 1934 and 1936, excepting cars 544 and 546 which were converted to baggage motors. Car 538 was retired in 1936 and sold to Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank for movie use. It remained on the movie lot until 1959 when it was purchased by Mr. Gary Allen and donated to the Museum.
In the 1970s, a group of Museum volunteers embarked upon a restoration project in which major sections of the car was disassembled and rebuilt. Unfortunately, interest in the project waned and the car was left in a partially completed state. It serves as a constant reminder to the current generation of Museum volunteers about the importance of careful planning in restoration work.