Ticket to Ride

130 years of trolleys and buses on the South Shore

By David Kindy | photos Courtesy of the Kingston Public Library Local History Room

The next time you pull up next to a Plymouth & Brockton (P & B) bus, look below the familiar blue and gold logo at the small letters near the front wheel well. That’s where you’ll find the company’s full name: Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company.

Street railway? Translation: trolley. P&B hasn’t always used buses. When the company started 130 years ago, trolleys were the main mode of transportation, clang-clang-clanging their way along the tracks from Plymouth to Kingston, Sandwich, Brockton and many other towns around the South Shore.

“I remember riding the trolleys,” says P & B’s 92-year-old president, George Anzuoni. “It was fun. My favorite place was in the back where I could watch everything.”

P & B was founded in 1889 as Plymouth & Kingston Street Railway. Three years earlier, Charles Stone and Edwin Webster, owners of the formidable Stone & Webster Engineering of Stoughton, had visited Plymouth and realized there was a need for a trolley service on the South Shore. The partners used their company’s considerable resources to plan, design and build the trolley system. Rather than buy electricity, Stone & Webster built a power plant next to Plymouth Rock to allow the trolley cars to travel their routes.

Service began on June 9, 1889, when the first trolley rolled down the tracks from Jabez Corner in Plymouth to Cobbs Store in Kingston, a distance of 4 miles. A year later, the line was increased to nine miles, extending farther south into Plymouth and north to downtown Kingston.

In 1900, Stone & Webster acquired two other trolley companies and combined operations to create the Brockton & Plymouth Street Railway Co., with lines that stretched 24 miles from Plymouth to Whitman. The company contracted with Old Colony Street Railway so its electric trolley cars could go all the way to Brockton.

Initially, people would primarily take the trolleys on weekdays, to and from work. Ridership fell off dramatically on Sundays. To stimulate interest on that day, Brockton & Plymouth promoted trips to parks and entertainment destinations. This idea of taking a fun trip on your day off led to the creation of a new word in the dictionary: joyride.

Following World War I, an economic downturn caused Brockton & Plymouth Street Railway to file for receivership. The company’s assets were sold in 1922 and the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company was incorporated.

About this time, “Birneys”—smaller, faster trolleys—began showing up on the South Shore. These cars were the forerunners of the modern bus. Eventually, the Birneys were replaced by trucks with bus bodies on select lines. The advantages quickly became obvious. No longer was service restricted to trolley tracks. New routes were easily created as buses could go on just about any paved road. By 1928, P & B had stopped running trolley cars altogether.

Bus service continued to expand over the decades, though the growth of the automobile industry began to take its toll. By 1946, P & B was again in financial trouble. Two years later, George Anzuoni’s father (also named George), the general manager the Service Bus Line in Everett, acquired an 80 percent interest in the company and began operating it with his six sons.

The new owners expanded service beyond local destinations to include Cape Cod, Boston, Logan International Airport and beyond. When George senior died in 1961 his namesake son stepped up and took control of the company. The younger George ran P & B until he turned over daily control to his son, Chris Anzuoni, just a few years ago.

“We’ve always operated under one idea: ‘Customers come first, we come second,’” says George, who still goes to the office almost every day. “It’s important for us to remember that every ticket has a face behind it. We have to remember that if we are going to stay in business.”

The company still feels pressure from personal automobiles, rebirth of rail service and extension of the MBTA lines, but still works hard to provide an exceptional level of service for its riders and convenient routes for commuters and vacationers. While the trolley rails are gone, the trolleys themselves are still around—at least, a reasonable facsimile thereof. Today, P & B offers tours of Plymouth on America’s Hometown Shuttle—buses with trolley bodies.

“We’ve come full circle,” says Chris, who joined the company in the 1990s after a successful career as an architect and now serves as P & B’s vice president. “I told my father I would help out for a few weeks and I never left,” says Chris. “I guess it’s in my DNA.”

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