1000 Words

1908chicagol

If a picture can be worth 1000 words, as the saying goes, then surely our lead image makes the grade. This is a vintage sepia-toned postcard of the Chicago “L” that recently sold on eBay for more than $125. The winning bid price is pretty far out of my league but clearly demonstrates how much value other people have put on it.

The date given is 1908 and while there are some guesses written on the back as to location, including Ellis or Lake Park, this is clearly an early view of the 63rd St. Lower Yard on the South Side “L”. When the Chicago’s first elevated railroad first opened in 1892, then powered by steam, it did not have a storage yard. Cars were stored on two tracks south of 39th, a rather inconvenient arrangement. Next came the elevated yard at 61st Street, starting in 1893.

According to Graham Garfield’s excellent web site:

In 1905, concurrent with the South Side’s last expansion of their 39th Street power house, the company purchased a large tract of land on the south side of 63rd Street at Calumet Avenue, adjacent to the 61st Street Yard. A large car storage yard was built at surface level and plans were developed for the construction of a shop to handle heavy repairs at a later date. (One was never built.) The 63rd Street Yard also used over head trolley wire for power until 1913. The yard included an interchange track with the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad (later part of the New York Central System, still later a part of Conrail, now owned by CSX). This gave the South Side a second place to take coal deliveries. A number of cars were actually delivered via this spur (including 5000-series cars 5001 and 5002 from Pullman on Chicago’s South Side), as were supplies. The 63rd Yard was connected to the 61st Yard via a long ramp that connected to the elevated main line tracks just north of 63rd Street and descended across the street and down into the yard.

Through-routing of Northwestern and South Side trains began in November 1913 and as a result, some Northwestern Elevated cars were occasionally stored in the 61st/63rd Yards. Overhead trolley operation in the yards was discontinued at that time; apparently, the engineers had determined that the chances of a car getting stranded were not as great as they had feared. By this time, an additional car inspection shop had been built on the two most eastern tracks in the 61st Yard. Constructed of wood, it was long enough to accommodate two 8-car trains side by side, whereas the 61st Shops could only take a few cars on each track.

Although the date given for the postcard is 1908, there is no evidence in the picture of any overhead wire operation as you would expect to have seen between 1905 and 1913. Instead of a conventional trolley pole, they apparently used a pan trolley that was permanently kept in a raised position.

Another clue in the picture is the roller coaster at right. Perhaps this may be an important clue in nailing down when this picture could have been taken.

Although this is a postcard, it still may be a unique photograph. In the early 1900s, you could make prints on postcard paper. Since this postcard appears to have been made as a contact print and does not show any signs of cropping, it may be the only one of its kind.

The Lower 63rd Yard continues to serve a vital function for the Chicago Transit Authority 110 years after it was built, mainly for materials storage and loading purposes.

If any of our eagle-eyed readers can shed any light on this subject, we would appreciate it.

1908chicagol2

A 2014 view of the ramp leading down to CTA's 63rd Street Lower Yard. The Jackson Park branch of the "L" veers off to the east at this point.

A 2014 view of the ramp leading down to CTA’s 63rd Street Lower Yard. The Jackson Park branch of the “L” veers off to the east at this point.

Another contemporary view of the ramp (background) to 63rd Lower Yard.

Another contemporary view of the ramp (background) to 63rd Lower Yard.


CSL 7001 in World's Fair service in 1934. (George Kanary Collection)

CSL 7001 in World’s Fair service in 1934. (George Kanary Collection)

George Kanary sent us another photo of CSL 7001, which we have added to our recent post 7001’s True Colors (October 20th).

I’ve been informed that the O scale brass model of 7001, the subject of that post, once belonged to John H. Eagle (1942-2014), late of Hilliard, Ohio.

We are saddened to hear of his passing. During the last year or so of Mr. Eagle’s life, we had a number of telephone discussions about traction matters. He was also a bus fan, and belonged to various railfan organizations, including CERA.

I am glad that I was able to help John H. Eagle complete his collection of Electric Railway Historical Society bulletins. He had purchased 47 out of 49 titles many years before from a book dealer for $60. It took him many years to track down the final two titles he needed and he was very pleased to have finally put together a complete set.

Recent Correspondence

George Trapp writes:

I wonder if there is any information out there regarding car barn assignments for particular cars and the run numbers used for the PCC routes by each depot. Pullman PCC’s 4062-415X were assigned to Kedzie for Route 20, although the number decreased as patronage fell. These cars were the first cars assigned to Route 22 upon delivery but as newer cars were delivered they were sent to Madison in early 1948.

This from Bill Wasik:

Does anyone know how or when “Railroad Roman” became the near-universal lettering font for trolleys and railcars? Thanks in advance for any info on this subject.

We also got a request a while back from someone who wants to know how many Chicago PCC’s were still in original livery at the end of service.

I don’t know offhand how many of the 26 or so remaining cars were in the original CSL paint scheme of Mercury Green, Croydon Cream, and Swamp Holly Orange. But I do know that 4391, the car at IRM, was not one of them. It had been repainted in the CTA colors with the dark green, and was painted back to the “as delivered” colors many years later (circa 1975) at the Illinois Railway Museum.

As you can see from these 1973 photos showing 4391 being moved from the ERHS site in Downers Grove to IRM, it was still in Mercury Green and Cream at that time.

-David Sadowski


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New From Trolley Dodger Records

Here are two new Compact Discs, continuing our efforts to digitize the entire collection of Hi-Fi vintage railroad audio put out in the 1950s and 1960s by the long-gone Railroad Record Club of Hawkins, Wisconsin.

You will find many additional traction and steam recordings in our Online Store.  If you can help us track down additional Railroad Record Club LPs, so that we may make them available once again, digitally remastered, please let us know.


RRC12.PNGRRC17

RRC #12 and 17
Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range R. R.
Soo Line (Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie R. R.)
# of Discs – 1
Price: $14.95

Record #12:
All trackside steam with ricocheting exhausts of air pumps and deep mellow whistles. No. 227 calls in the flag and whistles off, then loses her footing. No. 225 lifts a heavy train of empty ore cars out of the yard at Two Harbors.

Record #17:
Station scene with old-time flavor! The clatter of relays, sounder and the familiar tick of the huge clock on the wall. Side Two is an “on train” recording of steamer No. 2719 with the hiss of air, exhausts and slipping drivers.

Total time – 61:18


RRCSP2 WhistlesWest

RRC #SP-2 and WW
Northern Pacific 2626 Memorial Album
Whistles West
# of Discs – 1
Price: $14.95

Record #SP-2:
The 2626, with Timken roller bearings, brings you spine-tingling sounds of steam in action. Superbly recorded in the twilight of its existence this is a must for lovers of steam! Whistles and exhausts of one of the most discussed locomotives of our time.

Record #WW:
A pageant of Western steam locomotives in sound, featuring the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, Western Pacific, and Santa Fe. Perpetuating a chapter in Western steam railroading, this presentation is an outgrowth of several years of collecting steam and railroad sounds throughout the West by E. P. Ripley. The result is a blending of the best examples of Mr. Ripley’s efforts. (Originally released in 1958)

Total time – 66:30


9 thoughts on “1000 Words

      • Actually, the NYC Park Manor yard, which became an intermodal yard sometime in the 1980’s, at first went to CSX in the CR splitup, but per a deal struck at the time, went to NS five years later. The ex NYC and PRR line from Elkhart to Chicago however was always NS’s with CSX having trackage rights to get to Park Manor.

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  1. Note the new bridge over 63rd St for the Lower Yard ramp. One night in the late 1980’s or early 90’s crane S-361 almost landed in the street when the old bridge started collapsing under it. This was also when the ramp was changed from double track to single track.

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  2. Late to this party but will add what I know: that is indeed White City Amusement Park, which opened in 1905. The empty field to the right (east) of the track adjacent to the roller coaster was an open field , accessed through the amusement park, which was first used as baseball grounds where the Chicago Colts played for a time, then the launching field for the first generation of Goodyear blimps. Many of the aerial photos of White City were taken from the blimps.
    By the 1930s, much of the park had closed (fires, bankruptcies), with only a few ancillary buildings (the ballroom became a skating rink) surviving until after WWII.

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