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.” (Or, perhaps the steam train is backing up and the trolley waited for it to clear the crossing, based on the lingering smoke near the streetcar.)
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.
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.
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.
The 159 may be on on the LaGrange line, heading east towards Cermak and Kenton.
The 111 at the Brookfield Zoo parking lot.
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 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.
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.
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.
This shows where the West Towns crossed the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem.
Car 128 in zoo service, heading south on Woodside at 31st in Riverside. Further north, this street becomes DesPlaines Avenue.
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.
I believe this view looks to the northeast along Woodside in Riverside, between 26th and 31st.
The 141 heading west, crossing Salt Creek.
An aerial view showing where the West Towns crossed the DesPlaines River (just north of Park Place).
Car 126 at an unidentified location.