WIPE OUT! — It wasn’t so long ago, really, that brick pavement and trolley car tracks could be seen in the heart of the River City. And this wasn’t such a good thing when the rain came down, according to longtime resident Jack McGiffin in his wonderful book It Ain’t Like It Was in the Good Old Days… No, and It Never Was.
Main & Forsyth proved a slick and risky intersection when wet, Mr. McGiffin recalled. Here are the reasons why: Trolley companies often placed bricks between and around the rails that were in streets. When tracks had to be repaired, the bricks could be removed and later replaced. The companies used vitrified bricks, which show few, if any, visible pores. Impervious to water, vitrified bricks are heated to a near-liquid substance, which then slowly hardens over a seven- to ten-day period. They feel quite smooth as a result. But there’s more…
Until the 1930s, Main & Forsyth lay at the core of the city’s streetcar system, with two busy tracks crossing there. Consequently, it received an extra large number of bricks. According to Mr. McGiffin, however, workmen proved too efficient when laying them, keeping the bricks at just the right height and fit. During rainy days, therefore, the junction seemed almost as slick as a newly polished kitchen floor. Cars spun out when starting and skidded when braking. Pedestrians slipped and slid, and horses fell down, their iron horseshoes giving no grip on the surface. The bricks even had a greenish, glass-like look, said Mr. McGiffin.
How did the city government respond to this soggy mess? They sent men with chisels to Main & Forsyth, where they chipped the bricks to make a rougher pavement. This allowed animals, pedestrians, and vehicles to pass more safely.
~written by Glenn Emery