In keeping up with expanding line construction and growing ridership, Pacific Electric Railway ordered twenty suburban cars from the St Louis Car Company in 1909. These cars were to become the 230 class, numbers 230-249. The 230 class were essentially copies of the 200 class, reflecting the major modifications that occurred between 1907 and 1909. For information on the 200 class, visit the page for Pacific Electric 524 (old number 224).
In 1911, several streetcar companies in the Los Angeles area merged to become the ‘new’ Pacific Electric Railway. Renumbering of the cars resulted in the 200 series cars being renumbered into the 500 series. Cars 500-529, the 1902 vintage cars became known by PE crews as “Baby Fives”, with cars 530-549 called “Medium Fives”, and a similar class of fifty “Big Fives” came from the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad were numbered 550-599.
Disaster struck the PE on July 13, 1913 when an inbound train of 500’s from Venice Beach rear ended a three car train of 800 class cars at Vineyard Junction at about 30 miles-per-hour. The fragility of wooden bodied cars was illustrated with massive destruction, resulting in 200 injuries and 14 fatalities. What became known as the Vineyard Wreck, resulted in Pacific Electric only ordering steel bodies cars after 1913 and great pressure from the community to discontinue the use of wooden cars. The 500 class cars continued their service through the 1920’s and were used on suburban lines across the PE system. With the addition of the steel bodied 600 class “Hollywood” cars 1922 and 1100 class cars in 1924, the end was in sight for the 500 and 800 class cars. The first major retirement of wooden cars occurred in 1934, with a majority of the 500 class cars being dismantled at Pacific Electric’s Torrance Shops. 538 stayed in service until 1936 until it to was retired to the Torrance Shops.
Pacific Electric 538 was sold in 1936 to Warner Brothers studios for uses as a movie prop. Uniquely, 538 was the only 500 series car sold to a private party as a complete car in operable condition. Little tangible information on 538 during it’s tenure at Warner Brothers studios. It is unknown if the car was ever used in a motion picture. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, 538 could be found in storage at the Warner Brothers back lot in Burbank awaiting an uncertain future. In 1959, the car was purchased by the Orange Empire Trolley Museum and moved to the the museum grounds in Perris, California in late 1959 or early 1960. While the car was complete, twenty four years of outdoor storage had taken it’s toll on the the woodwork and mechanical components. In the early 1970’s, 538 was partially restored in a project that was never finished, serving as a constant reminder to properly manage restoration projects. Today, 538 and its parts are stored indoors waiting for the volunteers and funding to complete the restoration. 538 is a good candidate for future restoration to operating condition as the car, even in its disassembled state, is mostly complete include it’s mechanical components. 538 Further work on 538 relies on generous donations to the museum Red Car Fund.