Anthony Waller writes:
Re: The possible role played by the Sedans in the termination of Chicago streetcar operations
I was only seven when the Chicago streetcars quit, but I still have memories of riding them. Best of all was a 1957 excursion with my mother to Lincoln Park Zoo from 81st & Halsted. We came home via the 151 bus and the Rock Island commuter train, however.
While looking through the numerous Trolley Dodger photo sets, I came across one with several recently rebuilt and repainted Chicago “Sedan” cars sitting, apparently, at South Shops. Years ago I came across material whose source I can’t recall. It seemed to show that there was a battle within CTA between pro and anti-streetcar forces. I don’t know if you will have any of this material, but I’ll tell you here what I recall of it. I was reminded of it when I saw that photo of the Sedans rebuilt for one-man operations and painted Everglade green and cream.
The first point was the fact that some of the original CTA bond money went for new equipment for CSL in lieu of cash. This was for the 600 PCC cars and the simultaneous order of new motor and trolley buses. The thought that was expressed in my long-forgotten source was that CSL personnel moving into positions at CTA (remember this was pre-McCarter) were convinced that there was a future for streetcars to such an extent that they were confident that the entire rapid transit system could be replaced by fast-accelerating PCCs. Hence, very little new equipment for the Chicago Rapid Transit company was purchased with the bond money (only the four experimental articulated trainsets). The pro-streetcar people were proposing the “Social Good” of getting rid of the noisy, unsightly, blight-inducing elevated structure. That view of elevated structure was commonly held at the time.
The second point is more indicative of a battle within the CTA bureaucracy between McCarter and the pro-streetcar personnel. The source had stated that in addition to pre-and post-war PCCs, the Peter Witt cars or ”Sedans” as they were called in Chicago, also would have remained in service at least somewhat longer than all the pre-1929 red streetcars. They were shifted from Clark-Wentworth and Madison to Cottage Grove-Pullman when the first batch of post-war PCCs arrived (In James Johnson’s CSL book, there is a photo of one on Cottage Grove/South Chicago.).
The Sedans had leather seats inside, and much faster acceleration than the older red streetcars. Their only difference from PCCs was their noisier operation. The caption for the map on page 38 of the CERA book is in error, as there was no plan to put PCCs on Cottage Grove at that time (1950). The Sedans were regarded by CTA at the time as modern streetcars, having two of the three characteristics of a modern streetcar.
This source stated that it was a battle over the Sedans that held the fate of of Chicago’s streetcars! The conversion of the pre-war PCCs (and a few post-war cars) to one-man operation was a step embraced by the pro-streetcar people to reduce operating costs. Eventually, all of the post-war PCCs would have been rebuilt, as part of the program proposed by the Deleuw Cather consultant study.
However, the Sedans were included in the program by the pro-streetcar elements. They were to be assigned to 63rd St., which was being operated by old red streetcars after the pre-war PCCs were taken off to be rebuilt for one-man service. Reportedly there were howls from the community, first by the return of the old red cars after several years of modern service, and then seeing their PCCs assigned to Cottage Grove.
The conversion work on the Sedans began after they were replaced on Cottage Grove by the pre-war PCCs in May 1952. The caption on the photo said that 25 were so completed. The rebuild program halted after 25 or so had been so altered (the hand of McCarter?). Meanwhile the howls from the community along 63rd St. continued. Finally, CTA proposed a meeting with the 63rd St. businessmen’s group where they could vote on alternatives. The meeting was held in October of 1952.
Two Sedans thoroughly rebuilt on the interior, set up for one man operation, with additional seats replacing the conductor’s position and two of the center doors, and painted in CTA’s new darker Everglade green and cream color scheme were used to gather up all the members of the businessmen’s group in a special charter move. One car started at the east end of the route (Stony Island Ave.) and one from the west (Narragansett Ave.); picking up the business owners and bringing them to a private banquet hall centrally located along 63rd St. (Western Ave. is the central point, but it may have been in the then-busy 63rd & Halsted shopping district.)
At the luncheon meeting, the businessmen were offered the alternative of rebuilt Sedans similar to what they had ridden, or buses. PCCs were off the table. The businessmen voted for buses. No doubt Walter McCarter trumpeted the vote as a victory for his point of view.
The result of that October 1952 meeting was felt within CTA immediately. Two post-war PCCs were sent to Pullman and St. Louis Car Co. respectively; to determine if they could be directly rebuilt into rapid transit cars. An internal staff study at CTA commenced about the future of Chicago streetcars. Released in January 1953, it stated that street congestion was hampering streetcar operations and that buses replace them all as fast as possible. The 1,000 bus order was placed with Flexible for propane buses, and the back-up plan to use parts salvaged from the post-war PCCs for building new rapid transit cars was developed.
As for the Sedans? The 25 rebuilt for one-man operation never ran a mile in revenue service. Amazingly, some of the non-rebuilt cars were taken out of their five-month storage and placed in service on 63rd St.; running alongside Red Pullmans and a few post-war PCCs diverted from Western Ave. after peak periods (with buses taking over on weekends and holidays). They were used there until full bus service on the route began in May, 1953.
Thank you for your very interesting and detailed query. I actually have a lot of thoughts, and will try to respond point-by-point. There are things you say that I agree with, some I disagree with, and others that cannot be proven definitively one way or the other.
The map you refer to in CERA B-146, in the “key,” states correctly that Cottage Grove did not get PCCs until 1952. We wanted to choose a date that would still show a lot of the red car lines, so we chose 1950 as being representative with that caveat. However, as it turns out, the map shown is accurate as of early December 1949 and not 1950. It is a color-coded version of one found in the 1949 CTA Annual Report.
A Note on Source Documents
I did some additional research to check the facts, in order to establish a timeline for events. I studied contemporary newspaper articles and Chicago Transit Board minutes, and then compared these to various photographs from the period.
Having been on some boards myself over the years, I realize that there is a lot that does not appear in such minutes. In general, board minutes cover resolutions, and, if there are dissenting voices, may or may not document some of the discussion.
In the case of the CTA, much went on behind the scenes. Boards, generally speaking, set the policy and direction that management puts into practice. Oftentimes, the board was considering motions in light of management recommendations that are not always detailed in these minutes.
In particular, there is a reference to a CTA Five Year Plan that most likely covered the years 1953 through 1957. It is implied that this was something developed by General Manager Walter J. McCarter. It would be very interesting and informative to read this document, but I have not found a source for it at the present time.
If there were disagreements, these were almost always worked out behind the scenes. Most votes by the Chicago Transit Board in this era were unanimous. Even the most contentious issues CTA dealt with at these board meetings were generally resolved by a unanimous vote, although some members offered reservations before doing so.
There are two such instances from the 1950s that come to mind. First, there was the very controversial and much criticized CTA purchase of the Chicago Motor Coach Company assets in October 1952. Then, there was the rather rushed decision to cut the Broadway-State streetcar line in half in 1955 and substitute buses for the southern portion.
Now, it may be that the change in Broadway-State was rushed through intentionally, in order to stifle potential opposition. Board Chairman Virgil Gunlock stated that the employee “pick” for the revised route had already been made. A City of Chicago spokesman said that they had not been given enough time to properly study the issue.
Since Gunlock estimated that as many as 5,000 riders would have to transfer daily as a result of the elimination of the through-route, some board members were uneasy about the change. In fact, some claimed not to know very much about the so-called “PCC Conversion Program” that made the change necessary.
In 1960, there was an even more contentious internal debate on the CTA board regarding the relative merits of propane buses versus diesel. This actually spilled out into the public, as board members took sides. Although the cost differences between these types of fuels were small, CTA ultimately decided to abandon propane, and began purchasing “New Look” GM diesel buses.
Purchase of Postwar Cars
The Chicago Transit Authority was created in 1945 by an act of the Illinois legislature, and passage of a referendum. Although the CTA did not purchase the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago Rapid Transit Company until October 1, 1947, the fledgling Chicago Transit Board felt that it had been given a mandate to hit the ground running and make transit improvements immediately.
Therefore, the period from June 1945 through September 1947 can best be considered a transition period between private and public ownership. I have seen references to a CTA-CSL “joint operating committee,” and for all I know, there may have been one for CRT as well.
CSL management knew that a purchase was inevitable and thus cooperated with the CTA and the courts (they were under bankruptcy protection) to coordinate their efforts.
While the 600 postwar PCC streetcars were technically ordered by CSL, with judicial approval, it and other 1945-47 equipment purchases were “stage managed” by the CTA. Over the years, CSL had accumulated a large modernization fund, and the Chicago Transit Authority wanted to put it to use immediately. The CTA assured CSL that such purchases would have no effect on the buyout price ($75m) eventually paid. (In other words, the new cars were counted as assets for the purposes of the CTA buyout.)
In the mid-1950s, CTA board member Werner W, Schroeder, in his 12-chapter Metropolitan Transit Research Study, pointed out that the actual purchase price was far less than $75m, because it included $30m in cash (or the equivalent) that CSL had. It was some of this cash that was used to leverage the purchase of 600 postwar PCC streetcars that were delivered in 1946-48. (This cash amount had been reduced to about $25m by the October 1, 1947 takeover.)
Although the rapid transit system had needs of its own that were as great, or even greater than CSL’s, they were a financial basket case by 1945 and thus could not afford to buy large numbers of new all-steel rapid transit cars. As it was, four sets of articulated cars were ordered (the equivalent of about eight individual cars) at a cost of about $100,000.
While the PCC streetcar had been around for nearly a decade when the postwar order was made in November 1945, and specifications for the Chicago cars had been finalized in 1941 (and delayed by the defense buildup to WWII), the situation was different with regard to rapid transit cars.
By 1945, the only rapid transit cars that used PCC technology were the six sets of “Bluebird” compartment cars for the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit), circa 1939-40. And while these were the “state of the art” for their time, once the BMT came under municipal ownership in 1940, the order was truncated and the cars were never utilized to their full potential on the New York system. They quickly became orphans.
Since there was no standardized PCC rapid transit car available, it is just as well that the Chicago order was limited to a small number of experimental cars. As it was, the CTA’s experience with these cars led to numerous improvements (including a change from articulated cars to “married pairs”) that were incorporated into the 6000s that were first ordered in 1948.
Various civic groups in Chicago had been pushing for a unified transit system since the World War I era. Although transit was provided by private companies, which by the 1920s included the Chicago Motor Coach Company, there was substantial involvement by the City of Chicago. The City and CSL jointly ran the Board of Supervising Engineers, Chicago Traction. During the 1930s the BoSE was very much involved in the development of the PCC streetcar.
The Chicago City Council passed a transit unification ordinance in 1930, and work nearly began on the State Street subway at this time, but this and other attempts to form a new private company (to be called the Chicago Local Transportation Co., and later the Chicago Transit Co.) were stillborn. Once it became clear that the Illinois Commerce Commission would not approve such an arrangement, since it did not make financial sense, the City decided that municipal ownership was the choice of last result in 1943.
Once the CTA became a reality in 1945, Philip Harrington, principal author of the 1937 “Green Book” plan to improve Chicago’s transportation system, became the first chairman. At first, the CTA was an offshoot of the city’s Department of Subways and Superhighways, and rented office space from them.
When the takeover finally did become a reality on October 1, 1947, the CTA had its own bureaucracy and management in place. It wasn’t simply a matter of using the existing CSL and CRT management.
As this was municipal ownership, the CTA’s interests were, in the beginning, pretty much the City of Chicago’s interests. The City Council was, for a time, micro-managing transit, voting on ordinances for things like converting a streetcar line to bus.
Things changed over time, with the CTA flexing its muscles and taking on more of an independent role. Eventually, local politicians found they could adopt a sort of “good cop, bad cop” stance towards the CTA, taking credit for themselves when things went right, and blaming the authority when things went wrong.
Mayor Martin H. Kennelly‘s response to the CTA’s impending purchase of the Chicago Motor Coach Company assets in 1952 is instructive. Privately, Kennelly is said to have supported the buyout. But he feared the GOP would try to use it against the Democrats in the upcoming elections, so he wrote a highly critical letter to the CTA just before the takeover became official, suggesting they were paying too much. Of course, the letter was widely reported in the newspapers, but came much too late to have any effect in stopping the sale.
The CTA hired Walter J. McCarter to be their first general manager on June 27, 1947, a few months prior to the operations takeover. He had been general manager of the Cleveland streetcar system when it became publicly owned in 1942. A 1947 Chicago Tribune article said he had been hired here because of his success in “rubberizing” the Cleveland system. In the same article. McCarter stated his opposition to any additional streetcar purchases.
This was at a time when only about 1/3rd of the 600-car order had been delivered.
Much of the CTA’s original Modernization Program originated years earlier. As far back as 1930, it anticipated buying 1000 new streetcars and 1000 new rapid transit cars. By the early 1940s, this amount was reduced to 800 streetcars, which is the number used in the 1947 CTA Modernization Plan. 600 cars were delivered in 1946-48 and an additional 200 were supposed to be purchased a few years later.
The same CTA 10-year plan, which covered the years 1946 through 1955, called for continual conversions of streetcar lines to bus, so that by 1955 only three PCC lines would still be operating. Presumably, even these were to be phased out eventually. For purposes of depreciation, the CTA assumed that streetcars had a 20-year useful life. Even without the PCC Conversion Program, this time would have been up by 1966-68.
The wholesale scrapping of PCCs speeded up the trolleys’ demise by about 8-10 years. But many American cities have gotten way more than 20 years of life out of their PCCs, and some are still in daily use.
The CTA’s First Five Years
As I mentioned, the CTA’s Modernization Program had largely been developed some years before it was implemented. Meanwhile, due to the Great Depression and the war years, there was a lot of pent-up need for change in the system.
If not for these factors, it is likely that Chicago’s transition from streetcars to buses would have been more gradual than what did take place. But these types of changes were already occurring and had started as far back as 1930, when the Surface Lines established several successful new lines in Chicago’s northwest side using trolley buses.
At first, the CSL said these lines would eventually be converted to streetcars, but this never happened.
During the years 1947-52 the CTA attempted to put the Modernization Program into effect, and this included the 600 new PCC streetcars. However, with the end of the war, certain trends started to take place that would undermine their use here.
Surface system ridership declined as automakers began producing new cars in large quantities. The five-day workweek became standard, which reduced weekend ridership, as did increased automobile use.
The CTA was under a lot of pressure to increase wages, and fares doubled during the first five years, which further depressed ridership. One of the main ways that CTA tried to keep expenses down in this period was by reducing the number of employees.
This was largely done by replacing two-man streetcars with one-man buses. It is a process that was largely completed in 1954, when the last red streetcar ran. At that point, CTA estimated that there were no more such savings to be had– by then, some PCCs had already been converted to one-man, and the two-man cars were on the busiest lines, where they were still advantageous.
CTA estimated that it took 1.5 buses to replace each streetcar. The 600 postwar PCCs were eventually replaced by 900 buses, but as funds were tight, CTA ended up leasing 100 of these instead of outright purchase.
When a two-man streetcar was replaced by 1 1/2 buses, that was a labor savings, but when a one-man car was replaced by bus, that was a labor loss. In many cases, CTA could profitably replace streetcars with buses on the weekends, as they had surplus buses available then, and ridership was much reduced. The PCCs, with their higher capacity, were not needed as much.
The 1951 Consultant’s Report
In 1951, CTA retained the respected consulting firm of DeLeuw, Cather & Company to do a thorough review of the entire agency and its operations. Among their recommendations were the conversion of all PCC streetcars to one-man operation, and their indefinite retention.
On the other hand, the report argued against purchasing any additional electric vehicles, due to the high cost of electric power. According to documents associated with the 1952 CTA $23m bond sale, most of which went to purchase the Motor Coach, Commonwealth Edison had increased the cost of electricity by about 35% between 1948 and 1952.
During this same period, the CTA enthusiastically embraced propane as a very cheap fuel for buses. Many streetcar lines were replaced by propane buses, but their performance was poor and the buses were very much under-powered.
CTA ordered 349 trolley buses in 1951, the largest single order of its kind at the time, but those were the last such buses ordered. The trolley bus system began to be phased out starting in 1959 and the final such bus ran in 1973.
By October 1, 1951 CTA had purchased 551 propane buses, the largest fleet in the nation.
In line with the 1951 consultant’s report, CTA began converting streetcars to one-man. The Chicago Transit Board authorized conversions of potentially all 683 PCCs and the 100 1929 Sedans in early 1952, although the actual numbers of cars converted was actually much less than this.
In early 1952, the CTA proposed converting both the Cottage Grove and 63rd Street car lines to one-man. The City of Chicago requested that public hearings be held. This is most likely due to the influence of 13th ward Alderman John E. Egan, whose territory covered a large part of route 63 (the entire portion west of Kedzie). He appears to have mobilized the business community against the conversion on the grounds that it would be ponderously slow and unsafe.
The Chicago Tribune reported on February 7 and 8 on community opposition to one-man PCCs on 63rd Street. In spite of this, CTA GM McCarter stated in the March 4th Trib that they still intended to convert both lines. He also said that about 110 cars would be needed, which works out to the 83 prewar PCCs and 25 of the 100 1929 Sedans. (Andre Kristopans has done some research, which you can read in the Comments section of this post, indicating this was the number of cars needed on Cottage Grove only.)
Similar opposition does not seem to have materialized along the Cottage Grove line. The public hearings were closed as of April 30, 1952, and the CTA board approved conversion of Cottage Grove the following day. No action was taken at the time regarding 63rd.
While I did not find any record of an October businessmen’s meeting with CTA, as described by Mr. Waller, there is nothing I found that would prevent such a meeting from having taken place. It’s very possible it did happen, as he described, and that local leaders were given the choice of one-man streetcars, or one-man buses. If so, they chose buses, perhaps Egan had feared that one operator would be hard pressed to handle fares, transfers, unruly passengers, and safely handle the very fast PCCs.
Another factor may have been the change in routing between Central and Narragansett that buses made possible. The streetcars ran on private right-of-way for the westernmost mile of the route via 63rd Place, the next block south of 63rd Street. The trolley line had been built at a time when the area was largely undeveloped, as numerous pictures show.
By 1952, development was underway, and once the bus began operating the following year, the route was shifted over to 63rd Street for this last mile, which would have been advantageous to local businesses. 63rd Place became a quiet residential street, which it remains today.
As it was, CTA took no further action until they had enough buses on hand to operate the replacement service. This was approved by the board on April 13, 1953 and went into effect on May 24th the same year.
By then it would seem that CTA was afraid of negative public reaction if the fast PCCs were replaced by slow propane buses. Therefore, it should perhaps be no surprise that PCCs were withdrawn months earlier and replaced by slower, much older red streetcars.
Although Mr. Waller says that some of these replacement cars were two-man Sedans, I was unable to find a picture showing any. All the pictures I have seen of this late trolley service show Pullmans. That does not mean, of course, that this did not happen.
In similar fashion, PCCs were later withdrawn from the busy Halsted line and replaced temporarily by older red cars before bus substitution went into effect on May 30, 1954. Likewise, red cars temporarily replaced PCCs on the Madison-Fifth portion of route 20 in December 1953 before that service was terminated the following year, a victim of expressway construction.
Effect of the Motor Coach Purchase
With the CTA’s controversial purchase of the Motor Coach lines, effective October 1, 1952, its first five years of operations came to an end. By then, the agency was awash in red ink and had to take drastic action to increase revenues and reduce expenses.
Buying out their only remaining competitor was seen as a necessary move, whatever the cost. Motor Coach was profitable, and its ridership was increasing, at a time when CTA’s was decreasing. It was natural that CTA would claim that CMC was siphoning off profits that should have been CTA’s. However, the privately owned Motor Coach balked at selling, and only agreed to it after getting CTA to substantially increase their offer.
As a result, the agency’s intended $20m bond issue was increased to $23m at the last minute.
The Motor Coach purchase was not popular with the general public, mainly because it meant an instant fare increase to CTA’s higher levels. That a public entity would put a profitable competitor out of business was also bothersome to many. Yet CTA had little choice, and previous transit unification plans had always anticipated including the Motor Coach along with CSL and CRT.
Perhaps because of this criticism, the CTA was very much in need of a public relations “coup,” one that would show the agency could achieve millions of dollars in future savings to atone for the CMC acquisition.
This is the climate in which the so-called PCC Conversion Program was hatched. In fact, the beginnings of this plan became the Chicago Transit Board’s first order of business after approving the Motor Coach purchase.
The February 1951 opening of the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway had been very successful in speeding up service and increasing ridership. Meanwhile, even with modern, fast PCC equipment on the streets, CTA operations were hampered by traffic congestion that it could not control.
This brought about a “sea change” in the agency’s priorities. From this point forward, with their last remaining competitor out of the way, CTA devoted 70% of their investments towards the rapid transit system, which had only represented about 15-20% of overall system ridership in 1947.
The agency became convinced that the best way for transit and traffic to coexist was via low-cost rapid transit lines in the medians of the new expressways that were then being planned. The Congress line was already under construction, and such lines were eventually opened in the south and northwest side expressways in 1969-70, once Federal funding became possible.
Once CTA had made this change in priorities, the surface system was downgraded, relatively speaking, in the overall scheme of things. After all, it no longer had any competitors, and the public would have no choice but to accept whatever type of service that CTA would offer. This had been upheld by the courts when activists had protested the CTA’s abandonment of the Humboldt Park “L” branch. If the CTA wanted riders to use trolley buses on North Avenue instead of the “L”, they were within their rights and the courts did not want to interfere. If transit problems were really a concern, the voters had remedies through their elected representatives and the legislature.
Once the cost of electricity increased, and propane became a cheap alternative, PCC cars were no more attractive to CTA than the old red streetcars were. Their days were numbered, since CTA did not have any taxing power and had to live out of the farebox.
A noted transit historian once pointed out to me that in the 1950s, the CTA did everything possible “on the cheap.”
This is the context in which CTA Chairman Virgil Gunlock’s 1959 statement should be viewed, when he remarked on a radio program that the PCCs were the finest transit vehicles ever to operate on the city streets, but they “cost too much to operate.”
While these were the motivations that led to CTA’s decision, starting in October 1952, to abandon streetcar service as soon as possible, there were unintended negative consequences that undermined any advantages that might have been realized as a result.
From a labor standpoint, CTA knew that it would not realize any additional savings by eliminating PCCs, once the last of the two-man red cars was retired in 1954. In fact, if a one-man car was replaced by a one-man bus, that was a net loss in labor cost, since it took 1.5 buses to provide the same capacity.
I have analyzed the Conversion Program in great detail in my E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available through our Online Store. But whatever grandiose claims were originally made for the $20k or $25k in savings per car that was originally claimed, in all likelihood little if any money was ultimately saved.
Numerous problems came up almost immediately. Two PCCs were sent out for potential conversion to “L” cars in late 1952, but when only St. Louis Car Company wanted to continue with the project, it was no longer being done on a competitive bidding basis.
Soon, CTA found out that the bodies would have to be scrapped, since floor heights were different, and there would be costs of $3,000 per car to modify controller equipment. Over the life of the program, costs rose due to the need to refurbish parts that had received more use, so that by 1958, when the last such order was placed, CTA was receiving just about scrap value for each PCC turned in.
One of the main benefits of the program, from the CTA’s viewpoint, was to take the only partly depreciated cars off of the books, and this is spelled out in Chicago Transit Board documents of the period. Once it became obvious that this was no “magic bullet” with $20k or $25k in savings per car, the goal changed to selling each car to St. Louis Car Company for the estimated depreciated value, and allowing the additional costs of parts reuse and conversion to simply be added in turn to each new rapid transit car purchased.
Since the 570 cars involved were purchased on a non-competitive basis, with specifications written so that St. Louis Car Company would be the only bidder (each bidder on the new car order was required to also be the purchaser of used PCCs, whih only SLCC would do), there is no way to know just how much additional cost was buried in the price of each car, but it was substantial.
Another unintended consequence was that, by offering a lesser quality service on city streets, and paving over the streetcar tracks, CTA actually made the streets more inviting to cars and trucks, which created more traffic congestion in turn, thus reducing ridership even more.
In retrospect, CTA’s best bet might have been to continue using PCCs on the major lines, with all cars converted to one-man. Additional standard PCC cars were readily available in the 1950s in good condition from other cities.
This is the approach that Toronto took, and it has served them well. Meanwhile, Chicago’s non-standard PCCs, the largest and widest single-ended cars of their type, were prescient of the changes in streetcar technology since their 1958 demise.
They are now small in comparison to the Flexitys that are gradually being introduced to Toronto streets.
Meanwhile, in some ways Chicago’s surface system has never recovered from being downgraded in 1952 at the expense of the rapid transit system. “L” ridership continues to grow while bus ridership continues to shrink.
To this day, the years of greatest decline in Chicago’s surface transit system are from 1947 to 1958, when Chicago’s once mighty streetcar system was dismantled bit by bit.
If Chicago had kept its PCCs, proposals such as the “bus rapid transit”line planned for Ashland Avenue might not be necessary, as there would still be effective crosstown transit that does not operate in a hub and spoke pattern with the center city, but instead would have helped keep Chicago’s many neighborhoods strong and vibrant.
PS- To see more pictures of Chicago’s Peter Witts, see our previous post The CSL Sedans (December 24, 2015).
The entire 48-page prospectus for the CTA’s 1952 $23m bond issue, and much more, has been added to our E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available through our Online Store.
M. E. writes:
Observations about 63rd St. Rumble from someone who lived half a block from 63rd St.:
I don’t remember ever seeing a sedan car on 63rd St. The 63rd St. line migrated from red cars to the pre-war PCCs that came from Madison St. Although my memory isn’t precise, I believe there were still red cars during rush hour to augment the PCCs. All of this was two-man service. To my knowledge there were never any one-man cars on 63rd St. because it was a very busy line.
I do remember seeing lots of two-man sedans on the 4 Cottage Grove Ave. line. In 1952 the 63rd St. PCCs were moved to Cottage Grove as one-man cars. I’m unsure whether sedans augmented PCC rush-hour service on Cottage Grove. The CTA would not have mixed two-man and one-man cars on the same line, so any rush-hour sedans on Cottage Grove would have had to be one-man. Ergo, if one-man sedans were actually used someplace, it would have been on Cottage Grove.
When the pre-war PCCs moved from 63rd (two-man) to Cottage Grove (one-man), two-man red cars once again had to cover 63rd St. service. This lasted until 63rd was converted to a bus line in the spring of 1953. The one-man PCC service on Cottage Grove lasted until mid-1955, when the line was converted to bus.
I do not recall seeing post-war PCCs on 63rd St., although you have photos to prove it. Because the 69th and Ashland carbarn served both 63rd (pre-war PCCs) and Western (post-war PCCs), perhaps an occasional post-war PCC was sent to 63rd.
Excerpts from Chicago Transit Board Meeting Minutes:
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15 thoughts on “The 63rd Street Rumble”
Remember, that if CTA wanted to be really hard-nosed about it, they could have simply driven CMC out of business by operating their buses on streets that CMC ran on, which they had the right to do from 1947. That they even bothered to buy out CMC instead was a political decision, more based on getting the 500 buses that CMC already had instead of having to buy almost that many new to operate the “replacement” service. Plus, it would look bad for a governmental agency to drive a private company out of business and force its employees into unemployment.
As for the L, in 1945 there was a lot of questioning whether there was any point in keeping the L at all. The L was in abominable condition, with equipment that was super-annuated, stations that were at best described as mostly firetraps and rattraps, and service described as “a conglomeration moving at slow speed”, in many cases slower than the paralleling streetcar lines. What kind of forced the issue was the existence of the two subways, both built during the Depression, and in the case of Dearborn, sitting mostly complete and unused for lack of cars to run in it since the city would not allow wood cars to be used in subways.
So quite early in the game (1948) CTA management, which by the way included a lot more CRT holdovers than many think, as CRT apparently had a better engineering department than CSL did at the time, decided to start cleaning up the L by speeding it up and basically ceding the local business to the streetcars and buses and concentrating on the longer-hauls to downtown from the outlying districts. By 1950, however, it was obvious that new cars were needed, and initially 75 articulateds, like 5001-5004, were planned. However, engineering got the point across that Skokie and the other L inspection sheds were geared to 50-foot cars and artics would cause all sorts of problems, especially in moving cars around at Skokie, where the transfer table was about 50 foot long. The result was 6001-6130 being built as pairs. Once these 130 cars came online allowing the Dearborn subway to finally be opened, people living along other lines started demanding something be done there, too. Remember that by 1951, Dearborn was being run with much older 4000’s, which were “compliant”, while the 200 new cars were on Douglas and Garfield, where many more people saw and rode them. The 6201-6600 group was then used to modernize the main trunk, the North-South, with the 4000’s displaced from there being used to get rid of all remaining wood cars in Evanston and on Lake St. 6601-6670 were then used to finish off modernizing Ravenswood, which did keep rush hour 4000’s. However, circa 1959 there was a major car shift, where the 6001-6200 series, which had been on the now West-Northwest were sent mostly to Ravenswood and some to North-South, while 65-6600’s off NS and Ravenswood replaced them on WNW, with the new 6671-6720 and 1-50 series finishing off many of the remaining 4000’s on Douglas-Milwaukee.
On the surface system, the single biggest moves involving CMC buses was when many of the 500-600 series TDH5502’s went to Archer Garage for 62-Archer service, and 601-700 series TDH5103’s went to Limits for 8-Halsted service. Otherwise, most CMC diesels stayed at CMC garages until those were closed. Then many 1200-1400’s landed at Kedzie, and later at Archer and at Lawndale.
Thanks for this great information.
Another condition against streetcars (and to some extent, trolley buses) was the evolution of Federal traffic signal requirements, where at least two far-side signals within a 40° cone from the stop bar, practically calling for mast arms that would intrude in the overhead space. Many streets are really too narrow for effective streetcar operation, especially after the war when personal auto purchases skyrocketed. I picked these observations up working for the City as a traffic engineer for 27+ years.
I’m also dubious about ever seeing the BRT being installed on Ashland: the street is two lanes too narrow for it, and the only close-in alternate route for local traffic, Damen Avenue, was hamstrung by removal of the 10-block long viaduct over the railroad tracks serving the Central Manufacturing District. These, plus the fight the CTA is now engaged in to get funding for ,and start construction of, the Lakeview Flyover will probably put BRT on the back burner for some time, if not cancel it outright. Just my 2 cents…
I would really doubt any Sedans ever ran on 63rd. 63rd was operated from 69th Carhouse, and there has never been any indication of Sedans being there. As of January 1951, 69th had 33 New Pullmans, 97 52-5600’s, 31 MU’s, 75 prewar PCC’s (the other 8 were at Kedzie), and 50 postwar PCC’s. The Sedans were 60 at Cottage Grove and 30 at 77th. As of May 1953 (actually dated 6/4/53, the day I was born!), the list is 150 Old Pullmans, 13 169 cars, 14 23 cars, 41 postwar PCC’s. All 83 prewar PCC’s were at Cottage Grove. Note that this is an almost total replacement of 69th fleet. By March 1954 all that is left is 38 postwar PCC’s. (Unfortunately, CTA assignment sheets of that period only show how many of a type are where, not which numbers are where).
Here is some more info on the Sedan one-manning:
There were 21 (not 25) cars done on Authorization for Expenditure 14001: 3325, 3347-3349, 3351,3352,3354,3355,3357,3360-3363,3368,3372,3378,3379,6303,6305,6310,6319
The next previous AFE (14000) was for one-manning the 83 prewar PCC’s. Shortly thereafter, AFE 14011 was issued for one-manning of postwar cars 4052-4061, 7035-7044. This shows that while the Sedans were in fact done, the idea was given up on very quickly, and 20 postwar cars were quickly one-manned as replacements.
3325,3347-3349 (4 cars) were retired under Authorization for Retirement 14375. The remaining 17 were all under AFR 14492. Since there are no other Sedans under either of these AFR’s, this is pretty well confirmation of what the 21 cars were.
So this would suggest, though it would not be provable at this time, that the one-man Sedans were in fact intended for Cottage Grove, as Cottage needed about 104 cars at the time, and ended up with the prewars plus 20 postwars. as the 6/4/53 list clearly shows.
As a follow-up, this is why I think the Sedans were for #4 and not #63: Up until 1953, Cottage was operated with the 100 Sedans from Cottage Grove depot, with probably about 85 actually needed in the rush. When the decision was made to one-man the route, it would have been recognized that 83 old PCC’s would not have been enough to do it with and still have some spares. In fact, the car requirement most likely would have gone up by a couple on June 29th, 1952 when the downtown end of the route was extended from State/lake to State/Grand. So instead of retiring all the Sedans, the idea was to keep 21 cars and one-man them, so the fleet would remain the same numerically. However, this presented a problem. Sedans were substantially slower than PCC’s, especially accelerating away from a stop. This becomes a much more important issue with one-man service, as dwell times increase as without a conductor to collect fares while car is moving, it will take more time to load same amount of passengers. There is also another issue at play at this time. By 1952, passenger counts on CTA are plummeting systemwide. So somebody at the staff engineers office looked this situation over and decided that 20 postwar PCC’s could be spared from Limits (4052-4061) and 69th (7035-7044) carhouses where they had been used on Broadway-State and 63rd Street respectively, so that Cottage Grove would have all “compatible performance” cars, and the Sedans, even though a fair amount of money had already been spent on conversions, were never used.
I’m sure you are right. What I wrote about the 110 cars was based on the following article in the March 4, 1952 Chicago Tribune:
So, the number of cars referred to must have been the ones needed for Cottage Grove, and it got somewhat garbled in the report.
I hung around a lot at the wye on 63rd St. and Central Park Aves when I was young as I attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine school on 62nd and Lawndale beginning in 1948. The article states that Sedans ran tripper service on 63rd st. I never saw them running on 63rd,but I don’t dispute that they may have. I lived at 61Pl. and Kedzie so I traveled along 63rd quite a bit since me and my friends liked to beg transfers from the crews wyeing their cars on Central Park. We also liked to hang around the GTW RR station and watch trains. I also recall seeing the 59th st cars in the wye on Central Park, which was their terminal. Even before I started school we would walk to church on Sunday and I could see the car in the wye. In fact, today, the intersection is still skewed to allow for the wye track to be installed. I also remember seeing the work cars pulling up the rail on 59th st. So many memories.
Thanks for sharing that.
Tribune article brings up some interesting points. In January of 1951, 69th had 75 prewar and 50 postwar PCC’s (125 total) assigned for use on both Western and 63rd St. While the breakdown by route is unknown to me, likely Western had the 50 postwars and 63rd the 75 prewars. So in order to convert 63rd to one-man streetcars, 75 or so additional postwar cars would have had to be found for 63rd, and this was not possible at least until Madison was converted to bus in December of 1953, and by that point 63rd had been bus for six months already. So one-manning 63rd quite obviously never went beyond the talking stage.
Now here is another question to ponder: 63rd was bussed May 24th, 1953, with Cottage Grove getting one-man cars May 11, 1952. Given how CTA does things, while obviously for its last year 63rd used standard cars, how was the transition in early 1952 handled? One can assume Cottage Grove was 2-man Sedans one day and one-man with an all-new PCC fleet the next. But how was 63rd dealt with? Did the number of PCC’s dwindle over several months and standard cars increase? Note that the board ordnances are dated May 1, 1952, so they are obviously ex post facto.
There is also some reason to believe that in early 1952 Cottage Grove might have used a few standard cars from Cottage Grove’s fleet to replace the 21 Sedans that were taken out for conversion. Is there any photographic evidence?
Did you mean to say Cottage Grove used a few standard cars from 63rd’s fleet?
No – Cottage Grove carhouse had several other routes. such as 43rd-Root and indiana, for which they still had 91 standard cars assigned in May of 1953. Until May of 1951 they also had 47th and 35th, and 132 standard cars, including 86 751-1100 New Pullmans, 10 of 6138-6154, 18 of 3179-3201, and 17 of 3202-3321 and 6199-6279 groups. By May of 1953, the New Pullmans were retired, but 4 1721-1785, 29 3119-3178, 29 6155-6198 types had been transferred in as replacements. So Cottage Grove in late 1951-early 1952 had plenty of spare standard cars.
I have been digging through the several Trolley Dodger photo sets. I know I saw a photo of what looked like the blind side (non-door side) of a sedan sitting in the layover track at 64th and Stoney Island. Considering that if Sedans did briefly work 63rd St., it would have been weekdays only for 7 or 8 months, there would not have been much opportunity for photographing them.
I did some keyword searches through the photos we have posted, and came up with a few possibles for the photo you recall, although none actually show Sedans:
I found photo118 which shows CSL 144 and 272. This was in More CSL and C&WT Photos. Interestingly, even at this stage the side of 144 (flat) looks different than that of 272 (curved). Can it be that steel replaced wood on this car even before it was purchased by IERM?
In More Chicago PCC Photos – Part Four, there is a photo of car 6202 on 64th Street (misc644). This may be a layover track, as you say. Don’s Rail Photos says this was a Multiple Unit car: “6202 was built by CSL in 1924. It was rebuilt as one man service in 1932.” Not a Sedan, but perhaps this is the photo you remember.
In the same post, misc643 shows car 5324. This was a Brill-American-Kuhlman car circa 1907, so again, not a Pullman.