We generally don’t feature buses on this blog, since our main interest is in streetcars, light rail, and electric rail transit. But we do get requests to post more bus photos, and we are fortunate to have some excellent ones to show you today, thanks to the incredible generosity of George Trapp. Mr. Trapp has been collecting these type of pictures for nearly the last 50 years, and we thank him for sharing them with us.
We featured some of Mr. Trapp’s PCC pictures in our last post, and there will be several more such posts to come in the near future. Watch this space for more great Chicago PCC pictures.
From 1930 to 1947, the Chicago Surface Lines had an operating philosophy called “Balanced Transit,” whereby streetcars were for the ehaviest lines, trolley buses for the medium-sized routes, and gas or diesel buses for the lightest lines. Trolley buses were first used on new routes that went into the northwest side of Chicago, which was then developing rapidly.
There had been a competition between CSL and the Chicago Motor Coach Company to see which firm would get these routes, and CSL won out. While it may be that their intention was to eventually convert trolley bus lines to streetcar once they had developed sufficient ridership, in actual practice, this never happened.
The Chicago Transit Authority took over from CSL on October 1, 1947, and converted some additional streetcar lines to trolley bus. But the last such vehicles were purchased circa 1951 and by 1959, one year after streetcar service ended in Chicago, began a gradual phase-out of trolley buses in Chicago. The last one ran in 1973.
A 1951 CTA consultant’s report, the full text of which is included in out E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story (available in our Online Store), recommended that the agency not purchase any more electric vehicles, due to the cost of electric power purchased fro Commonwealth Edison. A 1954 study by CTA Board member Werner W. Schroeder (which is also included in our E-book) said that trolley buses were the most profitable vehicles used by the CTA, but explained this away by saying they were being used on the cream of the routes.
During the 1950s, CTA’s preferred type of surface vehicle was the propane-powered bus. Propane was very cheap for most of the decade, but by 1960 costs had risen to the point where there was no cost advantage over diesels. There were many operational problems with propane buses, which were underpowered, sluggish, and had difficulty maintaining schedules. There were also a few spectacular fires and explosions involving propane.
The propane vs. diesel debate prompted a rare public spat between Chicago Transit Board members, which was settled when the CTA began purchasing GM diesel buses in 1961. The heyday of the propane bus, once the CTA’s darling, proved to be much shorter and less successful than that of the trolley bus (aka trolley coach or trackless trolley), which was fast, quiet, efficient, and very popular with the riding public.
Trolley buses are still being used in a half dozen North American cities, more than 40 years after Chicago stopped using them. Today, the only electric buses on the CTA system are a couple of battery-powered ones recently put into use.
Most of today’s pictures feature buses purchased by the Chicago Surface Lines prior to the 1947 CTA takeover.
As always, if you have any interesting tidbits of information to share about the photos you see here, don’t hesitate to let us know, either by making a comment on this post, or by dropping us a line to:
PS- Today (September 30th), The Trolley Dodger blog reaches another milestone with 75,000 page views, and has been read by over 22,000 individuals. We thank you for your continued support.