New ORLEANS STREETCARS Vintage Trolleys in the Deep South

The New Orleans streetcars on the St. Charles Line date back as far as the 1920’s, meaning they are approaching 100 years old. As such, they are as iconic a sight in the Big Easy as the antebellum neighborhoods that they trundle through. The St. Charles Line itself has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and it is an integral part of any sightseeing tour of New Orleans. Being such an important part of the fabric of this great city, they are endlessly photographed, but I had my own preferred methods of photographing these vintage ‘Perley Thomas’ vehicles, which I will describe below.

A Streetcar name Desire

The St Charles line is composed of some very long and straight stretches, which makes for great opportunities to use a long lens. Using a 300 mm telephoto provides the opportunity to peer a long way down the line without the threat of being run over by the streetcars. Watch out for New Orleans drivers, though; they’ve been known to mount the median and knock over a traffic light or two! The use of a telephoto provides the opportunity to compress the image and use a shallow depth of field. This makes the streetcar pop out in an image that is generally framed by soft focus, but pleasing juxtaposition of leafy live oak trees and the overhead catenary feeding the electrified lines. If you catch the image right, the depth of field will be enough to capture some of the cross street signs. Everyone that visits New Orleans has a favourite, and it’s a great way to add a personal touch to such an image. My own favourite was Henry Clay. Just because I lived there.

Rolling through Audubon Park to Henry Clay

A long standing problem with the St. Charles streetcar is punctuality. As public transport in uptown New Orleans is about advanced as the Perley Thomas cars themselves, some people actually rely on the streetcars to get around, or to get to an important party. This is a mistake. Streetcars rarely operate to any kind of recognized schedule, and a 45 minute wait is not exactly unheard of. Mitigation of delays is even worse: streetcars will often bunch up, operating in a convoy system, which can be deeply frustrating if you’re trying to get to somewhere. However, this does make for some interesting photographic opportunities. The bunching up of streetcars can lead to some somewhat pleasing scenes; and if you can catch them rolling past the colonial mansions, then all the better. Just be glad you weren’t in a hurry to get to the party.

A convoy of Streetcars

As anyone from New Orleans will tell you; when it rains in the city, it does so in no small measure. The city’s drainage issues are well documented, and it is no exaggeration to say that standing water is a very common occurrence. This does create some interesting scenes on the St Charles neutral ground, though. Everyone loves a reflection in an image, and the St Charles median does not disappoint when the heavens open. The shot below was taken on near to Washington Avenue, as the sun shone and a streetcar trundled down through the Garden District.