ASKULL UNEARTHED on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay, and a manuscript found in a recluse’s Oakland home, frame this novel about a streetcar empire that flourished in the Bay Area in the first half of the twentieth century. These two discoveries reveal, in the end, how both the man and the enterprise met their intertwined fates. Fortunes and partnerships grew, in business and in families, as cities grew along their rails. But crashes—both fatal and financial—undermined the system. And lives and fortunes declined, under a conspiracy of rivals that turned tracks into roadways, and forced cities to convert from rails to rubber.

“Shellback King”

John “Shellback” King gave the King Route the ferries that crossed the Bay.

Leo Reston

Evangeline McGee saw the pearl in the oyster, when she met “Shellback” King.

Septimus Bartelson

The banker Septimus Bartelson made the King Route a powerhouse in real estate.

Leo Reston

Leo Reston introduced scientific efficiency to the operations, but couldn't control his own impulses.

Dead in his Tracks presents the rise and fall of the King Route through the lives of the people who made it run. For half a century, the car and ferry network linked everyone together—working men and women, entertainers, suppliers, capitalists and socialists, rich and poor—and shaped the cities of the Bay Area. But all the while, almost unnoticed, a local bus company was expanding its reach, threatening the hegemony of streetcars. And at the denouement, the verdict in a nationwide anti-trust trial wiped out everything that car lines like the King Route had built, and changed the face of urban America.

All this is told from the perspective of 1967, as an urban planner finds himself caught between the ideal he’d envisioned, and the reality on the ground, with the future of transportation in the Bay Area at stake.

Frederick and Therese Howell

Cautious Frederick Howell led the company safely through the Depression.

Edgar Voorhees

Edgar Voorhees made the machinery run, but had to strike for Union-scale wages.

Jack King

Jack King, frustrated in his desk job, unwittingly helped to destroy the streetcar network his father had founded.

Rudy Lorimer and Lainey King

King Route heiress Lainey King, horsing around with cabaret owner Rudy Lorimer.

Who killed the streetcars?

System map

The King Route network of streetcars—and ferries across San Francisco Bay—at it's height in the 1920s.

San Francisco bound cars leaving Oakland City Hall

San Francisco bound cars leaving Oakland City Hall

Greyhound Bus, circa 1922

Range Rapid Transit serving Duluth, Minn—the first bus company in the Fitzgerald brothers’ empire.

Who killed the streetcars? Why do so few American cities have them? Most people don’t know or care, even though streetcars could have alleviated many urban problems, like sprawl and rush-hour congestion. Some people have heard something about a conspiracy involving the big oil companies; and a few people know that a bus company played a key role.

The truth has been “out there” for years, in magazine articles and books written for streetcar buffs. But until now, there has never been a full-length book for everyday readers that tells what really happened, and does so through the eyes of men and women who built -- and ultimately decimated -- the streetcar networks of American cities.

Dead In His Tracks: A Romance of the Rails is a novel, constructed from research and interviews—a fiction that brings history to life in the most exciting way.

Dead in his Tracks: A Romance of the Rails

About the author

Like several of the characters in his book, Hal plays and sings the “great American songbag” of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley tunes that come mainly from the first half of the twentieth century.

He is also a published author of mystery fiction in paperback and in audio. The novels closest in spirit to Dead in His Tracks are in Hal’s Katy Green series, set in the musical milieux of the years just before World War II: Too Dead to Swing (Perseverance Press, Menlo Park, CA, 2002), A Fugue in Hell’s Kitchen (Perseverance, 2004) and The Last Full Measure (Perseverance, 2006). Too Dead to Swing and A Fugue in Hell’s Kitchen are also available as audio-plays with music from www.audible.com.

Hal Glatzer

Hal at his vintage desk.

Dead in his Tracks by Hal Glatzer


Available now as an eBook from Amazon