Today’s post ties a number of photos together under the heading “Lost and Found.” There are images from the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin, the North Shore Line, and various early preservation efforts. Two of the three great Chicago-area interurbans are lost to history.
Interestingly, among the “saved” equipment shown in these early photos, none of these cars is still at the same location where the pictures were taken. In the case of Milwaukee Electric car 882, it was still in use at a Wisconsin electric power plant as late as 1961, three years after the last Milwaukee streetcar ran on the streets. Yet, oddly enough, it does not appear to have been preserved.
While many of these early museum-type operations such as Trolleyville USA* are no longer with us, they should not be regarded as failures. They played a crucial role in saving many electric railcars from the dustbin of history, and provided a “bridge” to a welcome home in some of today’s more durable institutions.
So, while much of our transit history has been lost, thanks to a few dedicated individuals, not all of it was lost. And despite all the travails and convoluted ways that various cars were saved, there is still a rich history that survives to be found by future generations.
PS- Trolleyville USA in Olmstead Township, Ohio, which I visited in 1984, was part trolley museum, and part common carrier. It provided much-needed transportation between a trailer park and general store, both of which were owned by the late Gerald E. Brookins. It is thanks to him that many unique pieces of equipment were saved.
Let me take this opportunity to clear up a Trolleyville “factoid” that has circulated.
Cleveland was where Peter Witt developed his namesake streetcar design, but it is one of the ironies of history that none were saved. A solitary Cleveland Peter Witt car lasted until 1962 before it too was unfortunately scrapped.
Don’s Rail Photos reports, “4144 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in August 1929, (order) #951. It was retired in 1954 and sold to an individual in Lorain. It was lettered as Arlington Traction Co 4144.” Owner Norman Muller had the car in his yard with an organ installed inside.
Some have pondered why Gerald E. Brookins did not save the car. Some have speculated that he was tapped out after purchasing four of the curved-side CA&E cars or that Mrs. Brookins would not let him buy another car.
In 2014, author Blaine Hays told me the real story. He says Brookins had plenty of money and could easily have afforded to purchase the 4144. However, in general his interest in trolley cars was limited to purchasing ones that could be readily run on his short railroad. By 1962, the 4144 did not fit into this category and after having been changed around and stored outside for years, would have required a substantial amount of restoration work, in any case a lot more than Brookins wanted to do.
Thanks to Brookins, four of the ten Ca&E St. Louis-built cars from 1945 were saved. But of fate had turned a different way, all ten cars might have ended up in service on the Cleveland rapid on the airport extension. In the early 1960s, Cleveland transit officials were planning to build this extension “on the cheap,” using local funds. If they had, the CA&E cars would likely have provided the original rolling stock. As things turned out, the project got put off for a few years until Federal funds were available. It opened in 1968 with new equipment.
Ironically, at least one CA&E car (303) did eventually run on the Cleveland system. The Lake Shore Electric Railway was a short-lived successor to Trolleyville that planned to operate in Cleveland. Ultimately, the effort failed due to lack of funding, and the cars in the Brookins collection were sold at auction. Some ended up at the Illinois Railway Museum and the Fox River Trolley Museum, but I have seen pictures of the 303 running in Cleveland in the early 21st century with a pantograph installed.
Who’da thunk it?
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American Streetcar R.P.O.s
Mainline Railway Post Offices were in use in the United States from 1862 to 1978 (with the final year being operated by boat instead of on rails), but for a much briefer era, cable cars and streetcars were also used for mail handling in the following 15 cities*:
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New York City
Rochester, New York
*As noted by some of our readers, this list does not include interurban RPOs.
Our latest E-book American Streetcar R.P.O.s collects 12 books on this subject (nearly 1000 pages in all) onto a DVD data disc that can be read on any computer using Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free software. All have been out of print for decades and are hard to find. In addition, there is an introductory essay by David Sadowski.
The rolling stock, routes, operations, and cancellation markings of the various American street railway post office systems are covered in detail. The era of the streetcar R.P.O. was relatively brief, covering 1893 to 1929, but it represented an improvement in mail handling over what came before, and it moved a lot of mail. In many places, it was possible to deposit a letter into a mail slot on a streetcar or cable car and have it delivered across town within a short number of hours.
These operations present a very interesting history, but are not well-known to railfans. We feel they deserve greater scrutiny, and therefore we are donating $1 from each sale of this item to the Mobile Post Office Society, in support of their efforts.
# of Discs – 1
29 thoughts on “Lost and Found”
The “mystery” CNS&M car at the end of the lineup pictured above appears to be the 755, which is now at Seashore Trolley Museum. These were probably all cars bound for northeastern museums and moving as one consist.
Was this taken at 40th Street Shops in Chicago?
On the back it says Schenectady, 1968. Of course, that could be wrong.
If it is 755,
then 420 in also in that line-up
That would make sense, that these cars are all part of a line-up heading east. If we can pinpoint the location, I can naturally update the caption information, thanks.
The two pictures may have been taken at North Chicago prior to the move east.
I can’t picture where in North Chicago that might have been…certainly not at Pettibone Yard. OTOH, I can recall seeing pictures of other NSL cars, bound for other museums, that spent time at 40th Street. For cars departing the NSL via the C&NW (closest interchange to Pettibone Yard, where most of the cars purchased for preservation were staged), 40th Street would have been a logical stop-over point.
The photos of the 306 may say they’re from 1956, but the second one includes an automobile with a 1962 license plate. That’s pretty definite, and accords with what is generally known of the early years at Brookins. That seems much more likely for the start of electric operations.
Then the date on the envelope these negs came in must be wrong. I will make the necessary corrections, thanks.
One tends to believe the information written on the backs of photographs, on slide mounts, or the envelopes negs are stored in. But sometimes, it turns out to be inaccurate, such as this case.
I should hasten to add that I really appreciate all the photographs you’ve been posting that haven’t been seen before. These are a great contribution to the historical record. Please keep it up.
Thanks… we will do our best to keep up the good work as our time and financial resources permit. There is always a lot of great material out there to be had, but we have to try and get the most value out of every penny. That’s why we are very appreciative of the support we get from our readers.
I wish someone would write a comprehensive history of the Brookins operation while there are still people around who remember it. After all, he started buying trolleys around 1954, which is 62 years ago now.
Can the photo of CA&E 423 and 433 (have just passed each other just west of the Forest Park terminal at DesPlaines Avenue in October 1953. Concordia cemetery is to the left. This is now the site of I-290) be wrong in saying it is now the site of I 290? The ROW west of the present terminal is still there today and leads into the parking lot of the criminal courts building. I don’t think any of the CA&E ROW west of DesPlaines crossed what is now the I 290.
The CA&E right-of-way was vital to the construction of that portion of I-290 where is crosses the DesPlaines River, which is a few blocks west of DesPlaines Avenue at this point. The CA&E bridge over the river was moved north perhaps 100 feet or so as you can see in this picture from the Krambles-Peterson Archive:
The roadway now goes where the interurban once ran. Sadly, although the CA&E right-of-way was relocated by 1959, no trains ever ran there. Just west of the river the CA&E turned to the northwest at about a 45 degree angle, and where it crossed First Avenue it was still at a slight angle as can be seen in pictures from some of our earlier posts.
Ken, the former CA&E right-of-way is now specifically the westbound lanes of 290.
You can see an overlay of the right-of-way on google maps here: http://greatthirdrail.org/maps/maps.html
Great job, however the photo of the North Shore at Wilmette is looking north not south. I used to ride it as a childwith my mother getting off at Wilmette to walk to my grandmothers house on Park Av.
Isn’t it the opposite view from the one shown in one of our earlier blog posts?
Scroll down to misc288.jpg which was, after some research, identified as being the Wilmette station looking north. Note that the tracks ran straight at this point since they shortly joined up with the Chicago “L” system nearby. Meanwhile, at the north end of the station, the tracks curved to head west on Greenleaf.
I believe rpcosyn is correct. The tracks curved to head east, not west, on Greenleaf toward Linden (and the Chicago L system), as I understand it.
Yes, it’s definitely looking North. It is the same spot as misc210 on that other page you sent. If it was looking South at that location, you would be looking at the building on the other side of Greenleaf, not down the tracks (which run east towards Linden terminal).
Well, there were curved tracks at the north end of the station going east and west, while the tracks leaving the south end were more or less straight. Look at a map of the area around the CTA Linden terminal today. Then look at both sets of pictures, including the contemporary views, thanks.
TrolleyDodger is the ONLY wrong answer to this. I’ll put money on this. Standing in the middle of the brick street (Greenleaf), looking NORTH, is the straight as an arrow double track, with a SHELTER marked Wilmette. To the right of the shelter is a set greenhouses. Coming toward the camera, is the southbound track, passing the station house on the left, with a park to its left, and the southbound turns into Greenleaf headed EAST.
There were two stations in Wilmette, and everything I have written would be true if the one shown in photos is the one on the north side of Linden Avenue, near the rapid transit station, and not the one at the west end of Greenleaf, where it started to run parallel to the C&NW. I will need to find more pictures of the two stations to compare, thanks.
To quote Art Peterson:
“…they crossed Linden to the east of the CRT/CTA station and terminal. On PROW with the station on the north side of Linden, IIRC. Then the line curved to the west to enter the in-street trackage on Greenleaf Avenue…”
Late to the party here.
The shots you show of the modern day spot where Greenleaf widens were at the east end of the street running, where the tracks turned south into the Linden Avenue Station just before joining the CTA.
The shot of the train in the station is looking north from Greenleaf into the Wilmette station in Downtown Wilmette. This is at the west end of street running, and is where Panera sits today. You can see the old Wilmette City Hall to the left.
Definitely looking north, not south.
Sad to think that all 10 of the CA&E’s St. Louis cars might have been saved, but probably run into the ground in that airport extension. Sure would be nice to have two or three as an alternative historical set on the CTA.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 16, 1968:
Writer’s Dream of ’59 Realized
By Wilson Hirschfield
The rapid transit extension to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, opened amid fanfare yesterday, was a dream come true for this former transportation reporter.
No advocate of rail rapid transit for Cleveland, then or now, this writer in December 1959, urged County Engineer Albert S. Porter to advocate building the airport line because it appeared to afford a unique opportunity to improve public transportation and at the same time enhance Cleveland Hopkins as a major airport.
Porter, himself no booster of rail rapid, saw merit in the proposition and was the first to publicly espouse the project. Within a few weeks, this reporter was able to convince Gaspare A. Corso, a
Cleveland Transit Board member, to get behind the proposal. He took it up like a crusade.
At the beginning, the project was supported only by Porter, Corso, and The Plain Dealer. Once it started to get off the ground, there was strong behind-the-scenes opposition, particularly from the parking, taxi and limousine interests at Cleveland Hopkins. There was even some activity against the extension by Playhouse Square realty and business interests that did not want to see Public Square win another transportation benefit.
Foes of the airport extension managed to throw many a roadblock in its path. Corso worked out a plan whereby CTS could have paid for most of the project out of the farebox, with the help of two bond issues that the voters approved in 1960 for $5.8 million.
Part of the program was to defer bus purchases, and to renovate old buses as has been done by successful transit systems in other cities. Another step to be taken was to retain for several years service, the comfortable, fume-free trackless trolleys that still were operating on a number of lines.
This writer and Corso worked together in planning these moves, along with Harry Christiansen, a transit expert and executive assistant to Porter.
Another proposal from this reporter was for the rapid to cross the Berea Freeway at grade at the entrance to Cleveland Heights, with use of flasher lights and traffic signals. Two lines of the Shaker Heights rapid transit had been crossing busy Shaker Square at grade for years with no safety problems.
The idea was put both to Porter and to William B. Henry, then division engineer here for the State Highway Department, and both of them said it would be feasible- and safe. All of us agreed that when money would become available, the extension could be tunneled under the freeway and into the airport terminal.
It was Christiansen who came up with the news that some former high-speed interurban cars were available in Wheaton, Ill., that could be renovated for the extension. Corso went there and came back with some cost figures to purchase the cars- at about scrap price- and renovate them. Of course, they wouldn’t have been glamorous like the shiny new Airporter cars, but they would have done for a while.
But CTS management insisted that the 48-foot long interurban cars could not negotiate the curves in Union Terminal and therefore were out of the question. Incidentally, the shiny $175,000 Airporters are 70 feet long.
Corso, board member Allen J. Lowe and former member Charles P. Lucas were a majority bloc on the transit board for about two years. Then the majority fell apart and Corso was left by himself. The project was shelved, to be revived when the Federal Mass Transportation Act became law in 1964.
Had it not been for all the opposition, the airport extension probably could have been opened five years ago. But in Cleveland, public improvements don’t come easily.
(PS- Here is a timeline from the same issue showing when certain decisions were made.)
Dec. 21, 1959- County Engineer Albert S. Porter proposes rapid transit extension to airport.
Jan. 7, 1960- Transit Board member Gaspare A. Corso endorses idea and becomes its champion at CTS.
April 21, 1960- Board votes 5-0 to build airport rapid. Management still cool to idea.
May 6, 1960- Board votes 4-1 against Corso to spend $1 million for buses, using money intended for rapid extension. Order trimmed 25% a month later.
Nov. 8, 1960- Voters of city and county approve by wide majorities $5.8 million in bonds to build extension.
Sept. 6, 1962- Board members Allen J. Lowe and Charles A. Lucas desert Corso’s pro-extension majority to endorse management’s request to purchase 60 new buses with funds being held for rapid extension. This meant death of locally-financed airport rapid.
regarding Milwaukee Electric 882. When the Lakeside Power plant opened in the 1920’s few employees had there own automobiles and the nearest streetcar line, route 40 ran on Kinnickinnic Avenue a good half mile or more away through the coal storage yards. As a result the powere plant operated a shuttle car for employees between the plant and streetcar, later bus line. Over the years a wide variety of surplus streetcars provided this service. 882 was the last one and by 1961 most employees had cars and the need for the shuttle service ended. The body of 882, cut in half, servived in a junk yard under the east side of the 27th street viaduct in Milwaukee for quite a few years. Interestingly only a few hundred feet away at Wisconsin Ice and Coal there was a coal bridge with a hopper type contraption that ran along the top that was powered by a set of trucks from a Milwaukee streetcar. I took pictures of the 882 in the junk yard as a boy and if I can find them I will send them in. It had been pretty much stripped by railfans over the years but I did find a sleet cutting troley shoe which I still have.
The 36 and 303 were the only CA&E cars to operate in public service on the Cleveland Rapid. However, all of the CA&E interurban cars operated on the rapid. The pantograph on the 303 provided power through jumpers to the wood cars, and the pantograph on the 460 provided power to the steel cars. Both trains were operated from Terminal Tower where they were stored, to Brook Park shops near the airport where they were prepared for loading onto trucks. The 303 was used as the “shop switcher” for the wood cars, and the 460 for the steel cars, shoving cars in and out of the shop. The 460 was the last CA&E car to run there under its own power, as it ran itself into the shop building. The roof appliances were then stripped, and motor leads disconnected and stepwells removed for shipping.
A couple more quick comments:
The picture of CNS&M car 158 is indeed looking north at the main Wilmette station. That building was a wood-frame structure with a peaked roof (barely visible to the left); the CNS&M station at Linden Avenue was a brick storefront structure. Also, in the distance to the right of the train, one can see the old Wilmette city hall, which was replaced in the early 1970s due to structural issues.
As to the issue of “no surviving Peter Witt car from Cleveland”…I once believed that too, but apparently that is not the case. Somebody else will have to fill in the details, but there was a subgroup of Peter Witt cars delivered to Cleveland around World War I, that immediately fell out of favor…I think they were underpowered compared to the rest of the fleet. They were sold off fairly quickly to other properties, and the body of one of those cars exists at a museum either in the northeast or in Canada. Frank Hicks, do you know the rest of the story?
I have family in Berea, been there many times. I was there w/my parents in the 80’s, I had seen Trolleyville on a map and convinced them to go there with me. We took a ride through the trailer park, I have no idea which car we rode, no pics either. My parents had a look like what the …. is this, I had a great time. It was full of older gentlemen who were very knowledgeable and friendly, it’s a shame it’s gone. I had a wonderful time talking with them, I didn’t want to leave! They asked if I was interested in volunteering but I explained I lived in Chicago. I don’t know who was more disappointed, me or them.
They had a large framed picture of an elevated line and they asked me if I knew what it was. I guessed (correctly) that it was the old Met main line before the expressway. They were very impressed, it was the first pic of it I’d ever seen.
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