Chicago once had the largest street railway system in the world, and, as such, you would expect it to have a complicated roster. This is certainly true, but there is an additional complicating factor, in that the Chicago Surface Lines was an operating entity or association, a “brand” that functioned as the public face of several smaller constituent companies.
According to the Wikipedia:
Four companies formed the CSL: the Chicago Railways Company, Chicago City Railway, Calumet and South Chicago Railway, and Southern Street Railway. (The Chicago City Railway had a subsidiary, the Chicago & Western Railway, and 95% of the stock of the City Railway and all of the stock of the Southern, Calumet, and Western were in a collateral trust, to secure certain bonds.)
Of these, Chicago Railways and Chicago City Railway were by far the most important. Rolling stock was about 60% CRYs and 40% CCRY. As far as the public was concerned, however, everything was CSL.
In anticipation of the creation of CSL in 1914, the various rosters of its underlying companies were rationalized, and in many cases, cars were renumbered so as to avoid duplication. It also seems as though blocks of car numbers were reserved for the four firms.
New cars ordered after 1914 were, generally speaking, split 60-40 between CRYs and CCRY. This often meant that there were at least two sets of numbers assigned to one type of car, as was the case with the 1929 Sedans and 1936 prewar PCCs.
The same car order might be split between different builders. The 100 Sedans were divided up three ways, between J. G. Brill, the Cummings Car Company, and CSL itself. The groups of car “types” used by CSL did not always imply one particular builder, although they often did.
Things got even more complicated with the 600 postwar PCCs. The 310 Pullmans were technically owned by CRYs, while the 290 St. Louis Car Company cars were split into three different number groups. In part, this was due to CRYs having 60% of the order (360) and CCRY 40% (240), meaning that the St. Louies had to be split between the two companies.
I used to think that perhaps the fans had sorted out the all-time CSL roster into various car types, with nicknames for each. Interestingly, the CSL roster in Central Electric Railfans’ Association bulletin 27, issued in 1941 at the peak of the streetcar system, did not use any of these group names.
Turns out the nicknames originated within CSL, and appear on lists of car assignments used over the years. This includes the “Odd 17,” which lumped together a few small batches of cars that did not fit easily into other categories.
Even then, there were “oddball” series that weren’t even put into the Odd 17 (which actually turns out to have been 19 cars for some reason). 1424-1428, five cars built by Brill but with St. Louis Car Company trucks, are not in the Odd 17, and neither were 5701-5702.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in his essay on Self-Reliance:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
With that in mind, we have put together a short guide, that can be used to identify CSL car types by number. Since the numbers were, to some extent, related to the underlying ownership, we have also included the company names.
A few things are worth noting. There were no regular cars numbered 1-99. This was probably due to the joint operation of the Hammond, Whiting, and East Chicago service between Chicago and Indiana.
As Don Ross writes:
HW&EC was formed in 1892 in Hammond where 2 miles of track were built. It was then extended through East Chicago and Whiting to the state line and a connection to the South Chicago City Railway. It came under SCCRy control and service was extended to 63rd and Stony Island. In 1901 a fire destroyed the Hammond Packing Co which caused such a financial impact that all but 12 cars were sold. In 1908 the SCCRy merged with the Calumet Electric Street Ry as the Calumet & South Chicago Ry which retained control of the HW&EC. Joint service was maintained using cars of both companies. After World War I the line was plagued by private auto and jitney competition and finally filed for abandonment in 1929. A new company, Calumet Railways was formed, but it failed and was replaced by C&CDT. The Indiana Harbor line was abandoned in 1934 and the remainder of the system on June 9, 1940.
The Calumet & South Chicago, which controlled the HW&EC, was one of the constituent companies of CSL and therefore, it seems an effort was made to avoid car number duplication between the HW&EC, which had cars numbered between 46 and 80, and CSL.
Here’s how the Hammond, Whiting, and East Chicago cars break out by manufacturer:
These cars were very much like Chicago Surface Lines equipment, which caused some consternation among our readers a while back, when trying to figure out a couple of “mystery photos” showing HW&EC cars in action.
Still, there are various anomalies. Even in a small batch of cars, such as the 10 single-truck Birneys CSL had, there were variations. CERA B-27 says that 2000-2005 were Birney safety cars, 2006 was “modified” (but does not say how), and 2900-2903 were “similar” to Birneys, but does not call them such, even though they were part of the same order. The 2006 was built by Chicago Surface Lines, while the other nine cars in the series were built by Brill.
Here is what Dr. Harold E. Cox wrote about them in his classic work The Birney Car (copyright 1966):
What about something like CSL mail car 6? This operated as a streetcar RPO (railway post office) for about a year into the CSL era. The car itself has been preserved and is now at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, Illinois. Where does that fit into the CSL numbering system?
Well, the work cars had their own number sequences, preceded by a letter. So, for example, you could have car S-201, a supply car, and also have Big Pullman 201. There were many instances where work cars had the same number, but they were preceded by different letter designations, as they were in different classes.
As we have recently discussed in the Comments section of our post Chicago Surface Lines Photos, Part Eleven (September 2, 2016), CSL had a habit of storing unused cars around, often for decades. (When new equipment arrived, such as the 83 prewar PCCs, the City of Chicago mandated that an “equal value” of older equipment be scrapped.)
In some cases, this means there were cars in storage well into the CSL era that still had their old, pre-CSL numbers. We have included a picture of just one such example here, taken nearly 20 years after the creation of CSL.
In at least one other case, parts of the numbers actually fell off a car, giving the impression that it had a different number than was actually the case.
Car 2859 is another oddity. This was a replacement car, built by CSL in 1924. It was owned by the Calumet and South Chicago Railway, yet it was a “169” or Broadway-State car. Curious indeed!
Don’s Rail Photos has an excellent page for CSL car information. This has a lot more information than can be presented here, and often includes details about individual cars. Although naturally there are going to be typographical errors on such a huge and complex web site, I hope you will join me in saluting Don Ross for creating such an invaluable resource.
Here is my own modest contribution to the subject. If there are any errors, or if you can think of some way to improve this chart, please let us know. Consider this a “finding aid” for CSL car types. If you can see the car number in a photo, you can easily look up which type it is using this chart.
To create this, we have consulted not only Don’s Rail Photos, but CERA bulletins 27 (1941) and 146 (2015), The Birney Car by Dr. Harold E. Cox (1966), and Electric Railway Historical Society bulletin 8, The Hammond Whiting and East Chicago Ry. by James J. Buckley (1953).
You can even extrapolate a few things from this exercise. If more postwar PCCs had been ordered, as was originally planned, the first new Chicago Railways car would have been 4412, and 7275 for the Chicago City Railway.
Likewise, there is a large unused block of numbers after the Chicago Railways Birneys. Does this mean there were hopes to order more Birneys, which were not realized, since they proved too small for such a big city?
I guess, when there are so many factors involved, it’s too much to expect that you can make all the numbers add up, all the time. This way lies madness.
To paraphrase Emerson, since the Surface Lines was perhaps the greatest streetcar system of all time, it can also be the most misunderstood. I hope that we have made that a little easier.
Tony Zadjura writes:
In need of a little advice. I am the Chairman of the Jefferson Township Historical Society, Lackawanna County PA. Our area includes Moosic Lake, which at one time had trolley service to the lake and amusement park (Gateway to the Clouds). We have recently been given a photograph of # 409 which shows Moosic Lake as its destination. A question has been raised as to whether the Moosic Lake destination sign has been added.
The trolley service to Moosic Lake terminated in 1926.
Is it possible to give a date of this car being built or first being available for use by STC in service. I am enclosing the photo in question, cropped to show the front of the car a little better. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Thanks for writing. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “409 was built by Osgood-Bradley Co. in 1925” for the Scranton Transit Company.
So, it is possible that this car could have operated to Moosic Lake, but not for very long.
Hope this helps.
Tony Zadjura replies:
Thanks for the quick reply. According to accounts, the trolley ride over the Moosic mountain must have been a thrill!
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