Driving through Philadelphia and crossing over the Delaware River Bridge in the 1940s was always a family treat because we were either traveling to Ocean City for our two-week vacation, or to my aunt and uncle’s house on the river in Delanco, NJ, across from North Philadelphia. (We never drove to Philadelphia, only through it to get somewhere else. The downtown department stores all had entrances opening directly on the subway stations that made driving unnecessary. Taking the El from 69th Street was far more convenient. For years, I did not even know the stores had street-level entrances.
For you non-Philly out-of-towners, “El” stood for “elevated,” meaning the tracks were elevated above the street. The trains started out at the 69th Street Terminal as the “El,” but went underground at about 46th Street for the rest of the way through Philadelphia, where it was called the “subway.” It sounds complicated, but we used both terms interchangeably without a thought. (The big department stores went from 8th Street to 15th Street.)
I could still follow the same route to the bridge today: we drove up Marshall Road to the Cobbs Creek Parkway, made a dog-leg onto the foot of one-way Chestnut Street, followed the timed lights through downtown, and crossed over to Vine Street at about 5th. Franklin Square with its derelicts and winos, and the bridge entrance were all right there, more excitement than a young boy could take in.)
I suspect the name “Cobbs Creek Parkway” has disappeared, but the streets remain as they were. It’s all Marshall Road now, right up to 63rd Street that is the dog-leg that gets you over to Chestnut. I hope to explore all of this this summer.
The fare to get across the bridge was a quarter, and the toll-takers made change from one of those change-thingies on their belts. Then they had a hand-held device that took your quarter that is still a mystery. The slot for the quarter was on the top, but something pulled the quarter in as soon as it touched the slot. You could feel it pull. It was so much fun, my sister and I fought for turns paying the toll. No quarters ever fell on the roadway. I never saw one anywhere else.
How did it work? I suspect the toll-taker secretly squeezed the handle that turned rollers inside, then deposited the quarter in his hand. I never saw how it worked, and never asked. The device was not big enough to store the quarters, and battery-operated devices did not exist back then. I watch American Pickers on TV, always hoping they will find one of those quarter-eaters and show how it worked.