And Now You Know: Moving sidewalks and a tube across the river

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, July 3, 2018

By Mike Louviere

Orange was a very prosperous town in the early decades of the 20th Century. It must have been a target for “Civic Flim Flam Men”.

There are reports of proposals to the civic leaders for a tractor company, money invested, but factory never built.

There was the proposal for Orange to become the center of wool production for the region. The woolen textile mill was never built.

The strangest and most vague proposal was for Orange to install moving sidewalks and a pneumatic tube to be used to cross the river.

The January 4, 1918 edition of the Orange Daily Leader proclaimed, “Orange Chosen as Field for New Method of Transportation.”

“The City of Orange is to be the scene for a new trial of a new method of transportation that, if successful will sound the death warrant of all present-day methods of intercity communication as it will push the street car systems of the country out of existence for the simple reason that the charge for this method will be only one cent per passenger.”

The details following this paragraph were vague.

A representative of a large corporation in the East had come to Orange and stayed in a local hotel. He looked over the city and decided it was suitable for the pioneer demonstration of the new method of transportation.

A reporter from the Leader interviewed the gentleman who did not want his name used, he said he did not want to be bothered answering inquires. At first, he said he had nothing to say for publication. He finally consented to give an outline of the proposed innovation.

The company would acquire rights alongside sidewalks on both sides of the two most centrally located streets in Orange, one going north and south, the other going east and west. Moveable strips three feet wide and four feet long would be installed and run on rollers placed on rails embedded in concrete. The patron would walk up to an automatic gate and deposit a penny in the coin slot. The patron could then take a seat and be on his way. The seats would be covered the length of the entire line as protection against inclement weather. Once inside the system the patron could change from the north-south line to the east-west line by obtaining a token to be taken to the other line’s coin box. The token would be deposited, and the patron could continue the trip.

The other proposal from the gentleman was the installation of pneumatic tubes to transport passengers across or under bodies of water.

This idea came from the post office which used pneumatic tubes to send bags of mail from the main post office to various sub stations.

At the waterfront, the passengers would be placed in a small two passenger car. An attendant would position the car in the tube and push a button; the car would then be whisked across the river.

What was on the other side of the river was not mentioned.

Passengers could change from the moveable sidewalk to the tube at no additional cost. If the patron only wanted to cross the river, the cost would be one penny. The return trip across the river would cost an additional penny.

“This service will no doubt be of great assistance to the city and in a measure tend to bring our town into international prominence in the future as the first town in the world in which such a scheme has worked out and the transportation problem economically solved.”

In the past, Orange has had taxis and a city bus line. There have been no reports of moving sidewalks or a tube that shot passengers across the river like a check sent to a teller at a drive through bank.

“And now you know”