Trolley Dodger Mailbag, 11-11-2015

A contemporary view of the former car barn at approximately 5834 North Broadway.

A contemporary view of the former car barn at approximately 5834 North Broadway.

On this Veterans Day we thank all those who have served their country to defend the freedoms that we all hold dear. While we pause to reflect on that, here is some recent correspondence from our readers that we would like to share with you.

John Smatlak writes:

David- love the Trolley Dodger blog, amazing stuff.

Regarding the recent post with all of the carbarns (Chicago Surface Lines Photos, Part One, November 3rd), a portion of the Ardmore/Broadway carbarn still stands in 2015. I recently posted a series of images taken in 1985 and 2003 of the building to my Flickr page.

You are welcome to use any of my images on the Trolley Dodger blog.

Keep up the good work!

Interesting pictures. Thanks for sharing them!

I just added three of John’s photos to our previous post Chicago’s Pre-PCCs.

Our recent tribute to Don L. Leistikow generated a lot of responses in various public forums, including the Facebook group Milwaukee Electric Lines:

Don Lenz writes:

Blessings and a peaceful journey for Don.

Reading some quotes attributed to Don in the “Trolley Dodger” today causes one to reflect on the 1950 Speedrail wreck. As I understand it, Speedrail president Jay Maeder, running the lightweight 39-40, allegedly ran a red signal and collided with heavyweight 1192-93 with the loss of 10 lives. The wreck was devastating for Speedrail and personally for Maeder.

The description attributed to Don is of the workings of the “Nachod” signals controlling the line on that day. “Not generally known, is that when a car enters a RED Nachod Block, a count must be entered. Physically, the RED aspect will drop out, a WHITE aspect will appear as the count was recorded. Then the WHITE aspect will drop out and the former RED aspect will return.” This sounds like a complicated system, but suggests that Maeder may have entered the block on a temporary “OK” white aspect, caused by the heavyweight entering the other end of the block. If the incorrect clear signal was caused by the somewhat primitive Nachod signal system, Maeder should have been completely cleared. I have read that he was “acquitted,” but there still seemed to be a cloud.

Jay Maeder particularly interests me as he left Milwaukee for his former home in Avon, Ohio, adjacent to Westlake, Ohio where I live. He brought along Speedrail (TM) 1138 and Birney 1545 – I have not been able to find any evidence remaining of the 1138, while the 1545 seems to be at the Ft. Smith museum.

Scott Greig continues:

This is in follow-up to Don Lenz’s prior post regarding Maeder and the Labor Day wreck. It’s very long, but there’s a lot involved.

The events of September 2, 1950 go far beyond the scapegoated Nachod signals. It’s vital to remember that, on a railroad, signals are not a primary system of control…at least, they’re not meant to be. They don’t work like the traffic signals we see on the street corner.

Primary control on a railroad was via a timetable; next on the list would be an instrument giving special instructions, such as a train order issued by the dispatcher, or a service bulletin issued by the transportation office. Either one will still reflect the needs of the existing timetable, because that special service is being fitted in between existing movements.

Signals basically indicate whether or not it’s safe to proceed, IF you *already* have authority to proceed, conferred by a timetable, train order, bulletin, or the like. If you bring your 1100 into Brookdale Siding, and your timetable requires you to wait there for a meet with an opposing move, or the dispatcher has told you to wait there as he expresses late trains past you, it doesn’t matter how green of a signal you’ve got at the far end of the siding…you sit and wait. You are one link in a chain, as it were, and you have to consider what’s ahead of you and behind you in the chain.

Ed Tennyson, Speedrail’s general manager and a veteran of Pittsburgh Railways operations, understood this. For that day, he had written up a bulletin to be issued to all crews for the day, detailing important things like how many NMRA extras were involved, departure times for the extras, and meeting points with other trains..and emphasizing that any train that fell behind schedule by more than five minutes needed to take the nearest siding and call in for revised orders. This was the kind of practice that TMER&L and its veteran employees would have understood. Maeder instead took back all the bulletins–without telling Tennyson–and instead told the crews to call in from every siding…something that TMER&L’s lineside phone system and dispatching policy were not set up to handle. If the dispatcher needed to hold a train somewhere, they could not contact a train out in the field unless they stopped and called in. There were no “train order boards”, and no way to set a red block in front of a motorman or indicate that he needed to call the dispatcher.

Service began breaking down from the start that morning as a result. Tennyson tried to salvage some order by asking the dispatcher to issue orders at the PSB before departure (in essence restoring his “service bulletin” strategy), but emphasized that any train falling behind schedule by more than five minutes needed to get off the railroad and call the dispatcher for new orders. Being out in the field, though, there wasn’t much he could do to put it into effect…especially with Maeder himself (who had been locking horns with Tennyson from the start of Speedrail) at the controls of one of the NMRA extras.

As it was, Maeder violated his own orders for the day; after leaving Hales Corners, he did not call the dispatcher at Brookdale Siding, Greendale (where he had to wait for a meet), or Oklahoma Avenue…he called from Hales Corners and that was it. At Oklahoma Avenue—the last point where he could have called the dispatcher before West Junction—veteran TMER&L motorman and instructor John Heberling had lined the switch for Maeder to take the siding, as per Maeder’s original orders, but Maeder told Heberling to let him through. After which came the infamous story of Heberling seeing the red signal after Maeder was on his way.

By following only the signal indications, not taking other moves into consideration, and not stopping to communicate with the dispatcher, Maeder was running wild on the railroad…and in the PSC hearings and court trial that followed the Labor Day wreck, he had the temerity to claim, contrary to his own orders that day, that he was not required to call in after leaving Hales Corners. Leroy Equitz, on the other hand, had called the dispatcher from West Junction, as he was supposed to, and had received permission to proceed south…the show must go on, after all, even as the dispatcher was probably grumbling “where the hell ARE those guys??” about Maeder’s train.

Don clued me in to a partial explanation of how the Rapid Transit Line degenerated from a model of Teutonic control to something approaching anarchy on rails. Maeder did not understand the nature of the Rapid Transit’s operations under KMCL/Greyhound…he did not understand that TMER&T was acting as an operational contractor of sorts, and that many of the crewmen operating for KMCL/Greyhound were actually TMER&T employees. Following his acquisition of the line, many of his best crewmen left Speedrail to go back to TMER&T rather than lose their seniority and pension time. He thought he had a cadre of trained operators ready to go, and suddenly had to replace them. Some of the guys that followed (like Don, the late Doug Traxler, and an ex-Pacific Electric motorman) were very good, some were not, and the training they received was…lacking. Perplexed by how this breakdown had happened, and being familiar with railroad rules tests (both from IRM and having seen CNS&M and CRT rules tests of the day), I sent him an email asking how all of this was covered under Speedrail’s rule exam and training. His reply was quite illuminating…and jarring….

“I don’t remember any rules exam on Speedrail. We were out for three days operating 60’s and artic’s. In that process, we were constantly reminded of the location of three-color block signals and the operation of Nachod block signals was thoroughly explained by John Heberling. We even went into the ‘hole’ along the HC line and saw how the signals looked from the opposing end. Telephone booths were pointed out and we used them in the training. Significantly, we did not take written orders over the phone and written orders were not being issued from the PSB.”

One of the post-wreck findings of the Public Service Commission was that Speedrail’s personnel required a revised training program, and that the system of rules on file with the PSC (TMER&L’s rules) should be used. That made no sense when I first read it… after receiving Don’s comments, a lot of things regarding the breakdown of operations on Speedrail fell into place.

It’s been many years since I spoke directly with Don; in the time since, I had the chance to meet the late Ed Tennyson and spend about an hour getting his perspective on Speedrail, especially on the events of that day. I also became a transit employee, and got to see up close how mass-transit-oriented rail functions. I wish that I could have had the chance to talk to Don again, having those perspectives, and discuss further the events of that day.

FYI, there is also a Yahoo Group for the Wisconsin Electric Railway Historical Society that you might want to check out.

The aforementioned Facebook group also has some additional recollections of Don, including this photo of him in Speedrail days.

Interestingly, it looks as though Jay Maeder, Jr. (1947-2014) was the last writer for the comic strip Annie, which was an updating of Little Orphan Annie.

Joey Morrow writes:

I just recently saw on google earth that CTA is renovating their Wilson station. The old freight track has been demolished and there are only 3 tracks instead of 4. I was just curious how long the freight viaduct has been demolished.

My Mom told me she remembers the old viaduct, “I never thought much of it”, my Mom used to take the red line from Addison, change to purple at Howard, and get off at Davis, Noyes, or Central. She remembers how old the Red Line stops were and the wood planks they used. She told me when we were at the IRM at the “L” station, she always hated the ‘4 door cars’, the 2200 and 5-50 series cars. I was just curious about this viaduct.


I would guess the lower level freight tracks were removed around 1975 judging from this article.

Freight service on the CTA ended in 1973. Truman College opened its campus adjacent to the CTA at Wilson Avenue in 1976.


Joey Morrow continues:

I have also found a large remnant of the North Shore’s Upton Jct. On Rockford ave. there are many power poles, and one pole is not like the others.

It has 2 metal points jutting out on opposite sides, Instead of just 1 point jutting out on one side. I decided to do a full search using google maps/earth to find remnants. I found millions of cement blocks where power lines held up the over head wire on the Skokie line. I also may have found a platform next to the old Briargate station, I think the drive way is a platform. I’d love to check it out or even bike the entire Robert McClory bike path from Chicago to Milwaukee, but it’s kind of hard when you live in Massachusetts. I’m checking out the Shore Line and may have found a few cement blocks.

(Facing west toward Mundelein, near Green Bay Jct.)

(Facing west toward Mundelein, near Green Bay Jct.)

Great work, thanks! I think it’s important to encourage Joey and other young railfans, who represent the future of our hobby.

-David Sadowski

In the meantime, thank you for all those cards and letters!

Shore Line Dispatch #6

FYI, Shore Line Interurban Historical Society has announced the impending release of their sixth Dispatch, Chicago Surface Lines: The Big 5 Routes and 5 Others, by Richard F. Begley, George F. Kanary, and Walter R. Keevil. We are certain that this 100 page book will be an excellent and thoroughly researched addition to the Chicago streetcar canon, and one to really look forward to.

You can find more information about this publication here.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.

3 thoughts on “Trolley Dodger Mailbag, 11-11-2015

  1. A follow up to the comments about the freight connector between the CTA/CRT and the North Shore Line’s Buena Park Yards and the Nilwaukee Road’s Strawberry Line. The 100 foot long riveted steel plate girder bridge crossing Montrose Ave., built in 1916, is at the Illinois Railway Museum. The span is now in the corn field by the Car Line loop waiting to be used to extend the main line. The structural steel support bents are now the Pavilion at Central St.

  2. In 1950 the site of the unfortunate Speedrail wreck was “out in the sticks”. My grandparents (my Dad’s parents) lived at S. 98th and National Ave. at the time it was just outside West Allis city limits, Mom, Dad and I had lived there too some years earlier. Their house was about 1000 feet from the National Ave. (Fruitland) station which could be readily seen from their house which stood alone with no other houses nearby. That fateful Saturday morning my grandmother was outside in the yard hanging laundry to dry when she heard and saw this horrific event as it played out.

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