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ST. LOUIS • Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Heinz stepped aboard clad in the same tuxedo and beaded dress they had worn to a New Year's Eve party 36 years before. Railroad enthusiasts took pictures at every stop. A young man brought a case of beer.

Such was the clientele on Car No. 1628 on May 21, 1966, the last day of streetcar service in St. Louis. It ended an unbroken run of 107 years of public transportation on rails, sundered by family sedans and cul-de-sacs.

In the 1920s, about 1,650 streetcars rumbled along 485 miles of tracks in and near the city. Other lines ran to Florissant, Creve Coeur, Alton and Belleville. They ran across the Eads and McKinley bridges and down most every major street. Whole neighborhoods were built to be near them, and large apartment buildings sprouted at junctions and loops (turnarounds).

Then came buses and, fatally, automobiles. St. Louis Public Service Co., forerunner of the Bi-State Transit Authority (now Metro), bought a last fleet of streamlined streetcars shortly after World War II. But ridership continued to plunge while complaints rose from motorists about streetcars. Only three lines were left in April 1964, when the new Bi-State agency winnowed the system to the Hodiamont line, which ran from downtown to the Wellston Loop. Along the way through north St. Louis, the Hodiamont had its own right-of-way, like a railroad.

The motorman on the last ride was John Herin, who was ending 23 years of streetcar service.

In 1930, the Heinzes took a streetcar to the Jefferson Hotel for a party they remembered so fondly. Herin enjoyed their reminiscences. He indulged the rail fans' need for just one more picture. But the young man with the beer was too much.

He boarded in the Gaslight Square entertainment district with a suspect story about getting permission from Bi-State headquarters. Herin told him to keep the beer in the carton, but the man began passing bottles to his buddies.

"I warned you," Herin said. "Now you get off here." The beer man and his friends stumbled off.

St. Louis' first streetcar was pulled by horses. In 1886, the city got its first cable cars, pulled by below-ground cables. But the cables and pulleys needed constant maintenance and lubrication. In 1889, the first electric-powered streetcar ran along Lindell Boulevard, and it was an immediate hit. The cables were gone by 1901, replaced by the more efficient clutter of overhead wires.

Herin's final run had one last unscheduled stop. Heading west, he came upon Car No. 1656, which was stranded at Walton Avenue with a burned motor. Herin's streetcar had to push it home.

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