Chicago’s “L” Turns 125

Chicago’s famous “L” service first began on June 6, 1892, 125 years ago. The Chicago Transit Authority celebrated that anniversary this Tuesday with two special trains going around the Loop. A lucky few also received a commemorative poster (see above).

The event was well publicized. By the time I got to Clark and Lake around noon, there were hundreds of people waiting to ride historic cars 4271 and 4273, which were built in 1923. There was another train of 2400-series cars, which were retired a few years ago, but a lot fewer people were riding them.

In fact, some riders tried to board them without even realizing they were historic cars. They look very similar to current equipment.

This reminded me of stores I have heard about late 1950s streetcar fantrips here in Chicago. Although red cars were last used in regular service in 1954, they were such a familiar sight to Chicagoans that some tried to board the fantrip cars without realizing these type of cars were no longer being used.

On the way downtown via the Blue Line, I noticed a freight train running on the B&OCT, a rare occurrence nowadays. I also saw a work train, where a flatcar was being hauled by six 2400s. Using retired equipment in work service is a practice railroads have done for a long time.

When the CTA retired the last 4000s in 1973, only two cars were kept. In retrospect, it would have been preferable to have saved more, as evidenced by the large crowds yesterday. But at least something was saved.

Unfortunately, when the iconic 6000s were retired in the 1990s, none were retained as historic cars. The same is true of the 2200s, the last series with “blinker doors.” To see examples of these cars, you will need to visit a trolley museum.

I was one of the lucky few who snagged a poster, but there was no way I could get on the 4000s train at Clark and Lake. So I rode a few stops down, got some pictures, and crowded into the train, which had a “crush load.”

4271-4272 are part of a series of 455 “L” cars built between 1913 and 1924. In their time, they were “state of the art,” and provided good service for about 50 years.

To me, the best part of the 4000s is the gear noise they make when accelerating. While I did not shoot any video yesterday, figuring many other people would fill that gap, I did make some audio recordings, which I hope to post at a future date.

After riding to LaSalle and Van Buren, I got off for some more pictures, before riding the 2400s back to Clark and Lake. A fine, if crowded, time was had by all.

-David Sadowski

A rare freight on the B&OCT in Oak Park.

A rare freight on the B&OCT in Oak Park.

Clark and Lake.

Clark and Lake.

Hundreds attempt to board the special train at Clark and Lake.

Hundreds attempt to board the special train at Clark and Lake.

Clark and Lake.

Clark and Lake.

Clark and Lake.

Clark and Lake.

Between Clark and State.

Between Clark and State.

Randolph and Wabash.

Randolph and Wabash.

Randolph and Wabash.

Randolph and Wabash.

The interior of 4271.

The interior of 4271.

LaSalle and Van Buren.

LaSalle and Van Buren.

The 2400s train.

The 2400s train.

An out of service train passes while we wait for the 4000s.

An out of service train passes while we wait for the 4000s.

4000s between Library and LaSalle.

4000s between Library and LaSalle.

4000s between Library and LaSalle.

4000s between Library and LaSalle.

LaSalle and Van Buren.

LaSalle and Van Buren.

2400s interior.

2400s interior.

2400s at Clark and Lake.

2400s at Clark and Lake.

Riders on the historic train also received vintage paper transfers, which are no longer in use.

Riders on the historic train also received vintage paper transfers, which are no longer in use.

Omnibus Society Trolley Bus Fantrips, 1972-73

North Avenue at the Kennedy Expressway, April 1, 1973.

North Avenue at the Kennedy Expressway, April 1, 1973.

Here are some photos from the last Chicago trolley bus fantrips, sponsored by the Omnibus Society of America. The April 1, 1973 trip took place one week after the last regular trolley bus runs on the CTA. Immediately after this trip, the last two trolley buses to run in Chicago were towed to the Illinois Railway Museum, which now has an operating trolley bus loop. The buses used were all built by Marmon-Herrington.

According to one of the participants on the April 1, 1973 trip, in the week since regular TB service had quit, wires were already removed from a short stretch on North Avenue, near the Kennedy Expressway. Chances are, this was done to provide trucks with greater clearance.

Central at North, northbound, December 3, 1972.

Central at North, northbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Nagle westbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Nagle westbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Kimball eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Kimball eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Pulaski at Diversey southbound, December 3, 1972.

Pulaski at Diversey southbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Cumberland, eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Cumberland, eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Cumberland, eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Belmont at Cumberland, eastbound, December 3, 1972.

Central Avenue at North Avenue, northbound, December 3, 1972.

Central Avenue at North Avenue, northbound, December 3, 1972.

Pulaski Road, April 1, 1973.

Pulaski Road, April 1, 1973.

Pulaski Road, April 1, 1973.

Pulaski Road, April 1, 1973.

Pulaski Road at Diversey, with the old Marshall Fields man-made waterfall in the background, December 3, 1972.

Pulaski Road at Diversey, with the old Marshall Fields man-made waterfall in the background, December 3, 1972.

Central at North Avenue, December 3, 1972.

Central at North Avenue, December 3, 1972.

North and Narragansett, eastbound, April 1, 1973.

North and Narragansett, eastbound, April 1, 1973.

Wires down, at the Kennedy Expressway, April 1, 1973.

Wires down, at the Kennedy Expressway, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton at Parkside, April 1, 1973. This bus turnaround has since been removed.

Fullerton at Parkside, April 1, 1973. This bus turnaround has since been removed.

Belmont at Kimball westbound, April 1, 1973.

Belmont at Kimball westbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton at Orchard, westbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton at Orchard, westbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton at Orchard, westbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton at Orchard, westbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton Avenue eastbound, April 1, 1973.

Fullerton Avenue eastbound, April 1, 1973.

Chicago Trolleys

Work continues on our upcoming book Chicago Trolleys, which is now in the layout and proofreading stage. The expected publication date is September 25th of this year. We will keep you advised as things progress.

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11 thoughts on “Chicago’s “L” Turns 125

  1. Yeah, so many things we could wish had been saved by the CTA, besides more 4000’s. I’m surprised at neither 6000’s nor 2200’s being saved. It would have been nice if they had bought a couple of the CA&E 450’s, and a couple of CNS&M Silverliners. Space, time, and money are probably the constraints here, and who wants people to remember that the L led to a wider world, until it didn’t.

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  2. Belmont and Nagle is really Narragansett at that point. I love the Fullerton/Central turnaround with the Henry’s Hamburger Sign still visible in the upper left. I remember at this point if you wanted to travel West on Fullerton to Harlem you had to take a coach to get there. I never understood why they just didn’t extend the trolley line.

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  3. Agreed, it would have been wonderful if CTA had been in a position to save a full 8 car train set of the 6000s. However, such was not the case.

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  4. On the photo of the trolleybus with it poles down next the the Kennedy expressway, it appears that the bus is just sitting there. How was it towed beyond the wireless section? I presume that the fans riding on the bus didn’t just get out and push?

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