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Issue Date: February 2013


James Bigley II

Two years before the first bus came to Cleveland, Joseph Mills reached his 1 millionth mile as a streetcar conductor on Superior Avenue. In the 37 years Mills had worked for the street railway system, he'd lived at several different addresses, all within a mile's walk of the route he rode every day.

Horse-drawn streetcars were still in operation when Mills began working as a conductor in 1886. It took nearly an hour then to travel the five-mile route.

"In summer, the cars were open and draughty. In the winter, they were freezingly cold," Mills told a Cleveland Press reporter. "The only heat was from a little oil stove in the middle. The floor was piled with straw, to keep warm."

Peter Witt, the former street railway commissioner, testified to Mills' dedication. One afternoon, Witt was the only passenger on his route, but Mills still called every stop.

The original photo of Mills carries marks from a Press staffer, who used paint to create contrast around the stool, the floor and his head. The staffer penciled a notebook into Mills' vest pocket, used a paper mask to isolate his image and placed him in an illustration next to Egypt's Great Sphinx. "Would have gone around the earth 40 times," a caption read.

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