West Towns Streetcars in Color

One of our readers writes, "the 141 crossing the IHB tracks at Oak Street in LaGrange Park. The car is headed westbound, the train is southbound, possibly entering the sidings that are just south of Oak. The Trolley turned south and paralleled the IHB down to the CB&Q tracks where it turned west along Hillgrove. The home under construction in the background is the second or third house north of Oak on the west side of Beach. "

One of our readers writes, “the 141 crossing the IHB tracks at Oak Street in LaGrange Park. The car is headed westbound, the train is southbound, possibly entering the sidings that are just south of Oak. The Trolley turned south and paralleled the IHB down to the CB&Q tracks where it turned west along Hillgrove. The home under construction in the background is the second or third house north of Oak on the west side of Beach. “

The Chicago & West Towns, while not an extremely large streetcar operator, played an important role in the development of many of Chicago’s western suburbs in the first half of the 20th century. You can see a map of the West Towns car lines here, and a list of important dates in its operations here.

Central Electric Railfans’ Association put out the best and most comprehensive history of the West Towns in 2006, and you can read more about it here.

We have written about the Chicago & West Towns Railways before on the CERA Members Blog (see these posts here and here) but nearly all those photos were in black-and-white. Since streetcar service was abandoned in April 1948, color pictures are scarce.

Color film was expensive in 1948, and most fans did not have a 35mm camera to shoot it with. So we can be thankful for those railfans who did have the wherewithal to shoot Kodachrome slides, which give us an idea of what life was like in an earlier and simpler time.

Today we offer you rarely seen color pictures of West Towns streetcars. Even better, several of them show car 141, the sole survivor of the fleet. You can read about how this car was preserved and lovingly restored here. The Electric Railway Historical Society bought the car body in 1959, after it had been used as a storage shed, and donated it to the Illinois Railway Museum in 1973. You can ride that car at the museum.

While we are not sure of all the exact locations in these images, most of them seem to be on the line that ran between LaGrange and Cicero. Perhaps our keen-eyed readers can help identify some of these areas.

In a few cases, we have presented “then and now” photos, so you can see that while a lot has changed in the nearly 70 years that trolleys have been gone, but there are still a few things that remain from the old days.

When the Chicago Transit Authority was just getting started, they looked into the possibility of purchasing the West Towns, and I believe they entered into negotiations, but it never happened. The West Towns completed its conversion to buses in 1948 and remained a private operator until 1981. These services are operated today as part of the Pace suburban bus system.

-David Sadowski

The corner of Lincoln and Beach as it looks today in LaGrange Park. Lincoln ends in a cul-de-sac near the railroad tracks at rear. We are not far from where image 471 was taken.

The corner of Lincoln and Beach as it looks today in LaGrange Park. Lincoln ends in a cul-de-sac near the railroad tracks at rear. We are not far from where image 471 was taken.

Chicago & West Towns Railways car 112 heads south at Harlem and Cermak on August 17, 1947.

Chicago & West Towns Railways car 112 heads south at Harlem and Cermak on August 17, 1947.

If the building at right is a car barn, this may be Harlem and Cermak. If so, car 112 would be turning east onto Cermak.

If the building at right is a car barn, this may be Harlem and Cermak. If so, car 112 would be turning east onto Cermak.

This may show the 111 heading west, preparing to cross First Avenue to reach the Brookfield Zoo.

This may show the 111 heading west, preparing to cross First Avenue to reach the Brookfield Zoo.

The 159 may be on on the LaGrange line, heading east towards Cermak and Kenton.

The 159 may be on on the LaGrange line, heading east towards Cermak and Kenton.

The 111 at the Brookfield Zoo parking lot.

The 111 at the Brookfield Zoo parking lot.

The 141 somewhere along the route between LaGrange and Cermak Road.

The 141 somewhere along the route between LaGrange and Cermak Road.

The corner of Lincoln and Blanchan in Brookfield as it looks today. This is the approximate location of image 466.

The corner of Lincoln and Blanchan in Brookfield as it looks today. This is the approximate location of image 466.

The apartment building at 9436 Lincoln in Brookfield. It can be seen in image 466 to the right of the West Towns streetcar.

The apartment building at 9436 Lincoln in Brookfield. It can be seen in image 466 to the right of the West Towns streetcar.

This house is visible in image 466. Our approximate location is 3528 Cleveland in Brookfield.

This house is visible in image 466. Our approximate location is 3528 Cleveland in Brookfield.

The 141 at Cermak and Kenton, the border between Cicero and Chicago. Here riders could change to the Chicago Surface Lines route 21 streetcar for points east. In the background, we see the Western Electric plant.

The 141 at Cermak and Kenton, the border between Cicero and Chicago. Here riders could change to the Chicago Surface Lines route 21 streetcar for points east. In the background, we see the Western Electric plant.

Car 128 near Cermak and Kenton.

Car 128 near Cermak and Kenton.

Cermak and Kenton as it looks today.

Cermak and Kenton as it looks today.

The 141 may be heading east, crossing the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem. The streetcar briefly diverted from the roadway to make this crossing.

The 141 may be heading east, crossing the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem. The streetcar briefly diverted from the roadway to make this crossing.

This shows where the West Towns crossed the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem.

This shows where the West Towns crossed the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem.

Car 128 in zoo service, heading south on DesPlaines at 31st.

Car 128 in zoo service, heading south on DesPlaines at 31st.

DesPlaines and 31st as it looks today, looking north. The West Towns streetcar ran where the grassy median is today, and continued a few blocks further south, before turning west to cross the DesPlaines River and First Avenue before reaching the Brookfield Zoo.

DesPlaines and 31st as it looks today, looking north. The West Towns streetcar ran where the grassy median is today, and continued a few blocks further south, before turning west to cross the DesPlaines River and First Avenue before reaching the Brookfield Zoo.

This may be Harlem and Cermak, looking north, with the car barn to the left.

This may be Harlem and Cermak, looking north, with the car barn to the left.

This photo may show a southbound car on Harlem Avenue between 22nd and 26th.

This photo may show a southbound car on Harlem Avenue between 22nd and 26th.

The 141 heading west, crossing Salt Creek.

The 141 heading west, crossing Salt Creek.

An aerial view showing where the West Towns crossed the DesPlaines River (just north of Park Place).

An aerial view showing where the West Towns crossed the DesPlaines River (just north of Park Place).

15 thoughts on “West Towns Streetcars in Color

  1. The top photo is in La Grange, where the line crossed the Indiana Harbor Belt. The photographer is facing NE, and the line is curving across the IHB, soon to run in center reservation down Oak in La Grange Park and then Lincoln in Brookfield.

    Great job on this!

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  2. The bottom photo shows a WB car crossing Salt Creek, not the Des Plaines River. This is just east of the intersection of Monroe and Prairie in Brookfield. The cement footings for this bridge still stand. You can tell this is Salt Creek because this bridge was curved and shorter. The bridge across the Des Plaines was long and straight.

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  3. Sorry for the numerous posts here… The 2nd to last pic is SB on Harlem Ave, south of 22nd St.

    The one south of the zoo lot photo looks to be an EB car along Lincoln in Brookfield.

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  4. The top picture shows the 141 crossing the IHB tracks at Oak Street in LaGrange Park. The car is headed westbound, the train is southbound, possibly entering the sidings that are just south of Oak. The Trolley turned south and paralleled the IHB down to the CB&Q tracks where it turned west along Hillgrove. The home under construction in the background is the second or third house north of Oak on the west side of Beach. You can see it today on Google StreetView.

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  5. Never rode the system and only have read about it in my CERA book. This has been a great insight to this little known, to many of us, system. It gives a great meaning to the railfan/s among us. Many thanks for sharing.
    Jerry Kelly

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  6. 2nd streetcar pic at top: The building on the NW corner of Harlem and Cermak was not the carbarn. I can’t remember what it was. A power station? The carbarn was a little bit further north of Cermak on the west side of Harlem. This shot is looking west. Car 112 is turning off of Harlem and about to be EB on Cermak.

    3rd picture (the caption says 141, but it’s car 111): Definitely WB at 1st Ave.

    4th picture: Car 159 is EB. I believe this shot is between Salt Creek and the zoo stop because of the fence on the right side of the shot. It’s also possible that this was between the zoo stop and 1st Ave. I’m not sure.

    9th streetcar picture shows 141 EB crossing the IC. Note that to the right of the IC’s Harlem Branch spur, there is a C&WT spur buried in the weeds with overhead strung. I believe this went to a location that sold fresh flowers.

    The 11th streetcar picture shows 112 crossing Cermak SB on Harlem. This car is likely to be just entering service, as it is not turning off of Cermak. The C&WT carbarn (aka Siberia) is seen behind the car on the right.

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  7. I remember vividly the thrill of taking the streetcar with my mother from 22nd & Laramie to Eight Corners in Brookfield every day during Sept and Oct 1944, my first days in Kintergarten at Gross School. Our Brookfield house wasn’t ready for us until Nov so it was an exciting two month commute from Cicero for me.

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