The Sunset Lines

Chicago Aurora and Elgin car 453, which will soon find a new home at the Illinois Railway Museum. (William Shapotkin Collection)

Chicago Aurora and Elgin car 453, which will soon find a new home at the Illinois Railway Museum. (William Shapotkin Collection)

It is a shame that only four out of ten postwar interurban cars built in 1945 for the Chicago Aurora & Elgin were saved, after that railroad ceased operations in the late 1950s.

Having only been in service for a dozen years or so, these cars could have been a nice addition to the North Shore Line, but that interurban ceased operations in 1963. There was also an unrealized plan to use them on an extension of the Cleveland rapid transit line to the local airport. The extension was delayed for several years, and ultimately new cars were ordered.

That any of the ten were saved is due to Gerald E. Brookens, who bought them in 1962 for his Trolleyville U.S.A. operation in Ohio. They were cars that could be put into service right away, with minimal effort, on his new line serving a trailer park, where operations began in 1963. There they remained until the Brookens family decided to sell the trailer park. An attempt to use the collection, or parts of it, in Cleveland did not pan out, and the collection was put up for sale in 2009, ultimately dispersed among a consortium of railway museums.

Cars 451 and 460 went to the Illinois Railway Museum. 458 was purchased by the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin. The fourth car (453) traveled to Pennsylvania and the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. They originally planned to restore it as an ersatz Laurel Line interurban, since no cars from that line were saved after it quit in 1952.

Fortunately for us, the folks in Scranton changed their minds, and recently put the 453 up for sale instead. Thanks to a quick fundraiser, it will now be coming to the Illinois Railway Museum. All four surviving cars in the 451-460 series will be back in Illinois for the first time since 1962, with three of the four at IRM.

As the Hicks Car Works blog reported:

We are overjoyed to announce that the fund-raising drive has been successful in raising the money needed to purchase, transport, and store car 453! It will be coming soon to a museum near you!

A large number of people contributed to make this possible, and we thank you all. Two donors in particular gave substantial amounts. One of them came from a long-time member, who wishes to remain anonymous, in celebration of his 45th year since joining the Museum in 1974. The other came from Jeffrey L. Wien. Jeff comments: “I felt that I was playing the role of a White Knight in making my donation…. I donated to the 453 fund because the 450 class were the last interurbans built in the U.S. and to me were very aesthetically attractive. Now we will have 75% of the surviving 450 class! It should also be mentioned that as a former North Shore Line employee, that I have always favored North Shore equipment, but this time I wanted to make sure that a rare piece of CA&E history is preserved. Julie Johnson would be pleased.”

It has often been stated that the ten curved-sided CA&E cars were the “last” interurbans built in the United States. To accept this, some caveats come into play.

First of all, what constitutes an interurban? Depending on how you define this, why wouldn’t the PATCO Speedline, which runs between Philadelphia and Camden County, New Jersey qualify as an “interurban,” even though it did not begin service until 1969?

What about the double-ended cars built by St. Louis Car Company for the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. (aka Red Arrow) in 1949? They ran on the line between Philadelphia and West Chester, which is generally considered an interurban. But they resembled PCC cars, although they had conventional motors and were not “offically” considered PCCs.

Actual PCC cars were used in interurban service by Pittsburgh Railways, to Charleroi and Washington, PA until 1953.  Some of these cars were built in 1949.

The Norristown High-Speed Line in suburban Philadelphia has also at times been considered an interurban.  So when rapid transit cars from the Chicago Transit Authority were used there, in the 1980s and 90s, did they become interurban cars?

Perhaps it is fair to say that the CA&E cars were the last classic or conventional interurban cars built in the United States. There have been other interurban cars built since 1945 outside of the US, such as the cars operated on the South Shore Line.

An interurban is as much a sociological concept as anything, and has come to represent a particular era in American history. Pacific Electric ran an interurban between Los Angeles and Long Beach until 1961. But when service between those two cities was restored in 1990, via the Blue Line Metro, it was called light rail, even though much of the line runs in the same alignment that Pacific Electric used.

For that matter, is the South Shore Line, the so-called “last” interurban that survived, still an interurban?  Or would most of its riders today think of it as commuter rail?

To celebrate the return of car 453, we present many classic black-and-white views of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin from the collections of William Shapotkin, and as always, we thank him for his generosity in sharing them with our readers. These were scanned from small prints of the type once sold by the late Barney Neuberger and others, most of which did not have any information along with them.

There are a few things we can do know, however. The two pictures of crossings on the ground-level tracks west of Laramie, at Oak Park Avenue and Ridgeland in suburban Oak Park, were taken in 1935. The pictures of street running are most likely in Aurora. In 1939, the Aurora terminal was relocated to off-street trackage. The pictures of two wood cars while it is snowing were most likely taken during the final passenger fantrip in December 1958.

There are a couple wreck pictures. We don’t know the circumstances, or even if they are from the same incident. Someone on Facebook was recently wondering if the CA&E had any fatal accidents. We know that the employees were very conscientious, and had an admirable safety record, but I am sure there were some.

There was only a brief period of time (1953) when the picture showing CA&E cars on the Met main line at Halsted, next to the newly completed bridge over the Congress Expressway construction site, could have been taken.

When we scanned these prints, there were a few duplicates. If we did not weed out all of these, we hope you will forgive us.

If you do have useful information to add, you can make a Comment on this post. Be sure to refer to the pictures by their file names, which can be found by hovering your mouse over the image. For example, the fist picture in this post is img989. That will be more helpful to us than just saying, “the third picture down,” or some such.

As you enjoy your Labor Day holiday weekend, we hope you will appreciate all the labor that has gone into preserving the memory of the Sunset Lines, as the CA&E was once fondly named.  Thanks to the work of many dedicated volunteers, we hope the sun will never truly set on the Sunset Lines.


-David Sadowski

From the Collections of William Shapotkin:

Now Available On Compact Disc
Railroad Record Club – North Shore Line Rarities 1955-1963
# of Discs – 1
Price: $15.99

Railroad Record Club – North Shore Line Rarities 1955-1963
Newly rediscovered and digitized after 60 years, most of these audio recordings of Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee interurban trains are previously unheard, and include on-train recordings, run-bys, and switching. Includes both Electroliners, standard cars, and locomotives. Recorded between 1955 and 1963 on the Skokie Valley Route and Mundelein branch. We are donating $5 from the sale of each disc to Kenneth Gear, who saved these and many other original Railroad Record Club master tapes from oblivion.
Total time – 73:14

Tape 4 switching at Roudout + Mundeline pic 3Tape 4 switching at Roudout + Mundeline pic 2Tape 4 switching at Roudout + Mundeline pic 1Tape 3 Mundeline Run pic 2Tape 3 Mundeline Run pic 1Tape 2 Mundeline pic 3Tape 2 Mundeline pic 2Tape 2 Mundeline pic 1Tape 1 ElectrolinerTape 1 Electroliner pic 3Tape 1 Electroliner pic 2Notes from tape 4Note from tape 2

Railroad Record Club Traction Rarities – 1951-58
From the Original Master Tapes
# of Discs- 3
Price: $24.99

Railroad Record Club Traction Rarities – 1951-58
From the Original Master Tapes

Our friend Kenneth Gear recently acquired the original Railroad Record Club master tapes. These have been digitized, and we are now offering over three hours of 1950s traction audio recordings that have not been heard in 60 years.
Properties covered include:

Potomac Edison (Hagerstown & Frederick), Capital Transit, Altoona & Logan Valley, Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, Pennsylvania Railroad, Illinois Terminal, Baltimore Transit, Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto, St. Louis Public Transit, Queensboro Bridge, Third Avenue El, Southern Iowa Railway, IND Subway (NYC), Johnstown Traction, Cincinnati Street Railway, and the Toledo & Eastern
$5 from the sale of each set will go to Kenneth Gear, who has invested thousands of dollars to purchase all the remaining artifacts relating to William A. Steventon’s Railroad Record Club of Hawkins, WI. It is very unlikely that he will ever be able to recoup his investment, but we support his efforts at preserving this important history, and sharing it with railfans everywhere.
Disc One
Potomac Edison (Hagerstown & Frederick):
01. 3:45 Box motor #5
02. 3:32 Box motor #5, May 24, 1953
03. 4:53 Engine whistle signals, loco #12, January 17, 1954
04. 4:13 Loco #12
Capital Transit:
05. 0:56 PCC car 1557, Route 20 – Cabin John line, July 19, 1953
06. 1:43
Altoona & Logan Valley:
07. 4:00 Master Unit car #74, August 8, 1953
Shaker Heights Rapid Transit:
08. 4:17 Car 306 (ex-AE&FRE), September 27, 1953
09. 4:04
10. 1:39
Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1s:
11. 4:35 August 27, 1954
12. 4:51
Illinois Terminal:
13. 5:02 Streamliner #300, northward from Edwardsville, February 14, 1955
14. 12:40 Car #202 (ex-1202), between Springfield and Decatur, February 1955
Baltimore Transit:
15. 4:56 Car 5706, January 16, 1954
16. 4:45 Car 5727, January 16, 1954
Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto:
17. 4:19 Interurbans #83 and #80, October 1954
18. 5:20 #80, October 1954
Total time: 79:30
Disc Two
St. Louis Public Service:
01. 4:34 PCCs #1708, 1752, 1727, 1739, December 6, 1953
Queensboro Bridge Company (New York City):
02. 5:37 Cars #606, 605, and 601, December 31, 1954
03. 5:17
Third Avenue El (New York City):
04. 5:07 December 31. 1954
05. 4:47 Cars #1797, 1759, and 1784 at 59th Street, December 31, 1954
Southern Iowa Railway:
06. 4:46 Loco #400, August 17, 1955
07. 5:09 Passenger interurban #9
IND Subway (New York City):
08. 8:40 Queens Plaza station, December 31, 1954
Last Run of the Hagerstown & Frederick:
09. 17:34 Car #172, February 20, 1954 – as broadcast on WJEJ, February 21, 1954, with host Carroll James, Sr.
Total time: 61:31
Disc Three
Altoona & Logan Valley/Johnstown Traction:
01. 29:34 (Johnstown Traction recordings were made August 9, 1953)
Cincinnati Street Railway:
02. 17:25 (Car 187, Brighton Car House, December 13, 1951– regular service abandoned April 29, 1951)
Toledo & Eastern:
03. 10:36 (recorded May 3-7, 1958– line abandoned July 1958)
Capital Transit:
04. 16:26 sounds recorded on board a PCC (early 1950s)
Total time: 74:02
Total time (3 discs) – 215:03

The Trolley Dodger On the Air
We appeared on WGN radio in Chicago last November, discussing our book Building Chicago’s Subways on the Dave Plier Show. You can hear our 19-minute conversation here.
Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 1938-- Secretary Harold Ickes, left, and Mayor Edward J. Kelly turn the first spadeful of earth to start the new $40,000,000 subway project. Many thousands gathered to celebrate the starting of work on the subway. Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 1938– Secretary Harold Ickes, left, and Mayor Edward J. Kelly turn the first spadeful of earth to start the new $40,000,000 subway project. Many thousands gathered to celebrate the starting of work on the subway.
Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways

There were three subway anniversaries in 2018 in Chicago:
60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958)
75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943)
80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)
To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.

While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!

Bibliographic information:
Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Edition illustrated
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages
Chapter Titles:
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
06. Displaced
07. Death of an Interurban
08. The Last Street Railway
09. Subways and Superhighways
10. Subways Since 1960
Building Chicago’s Subways is in stock and now available for immediate shipment. Order your copy today! All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
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Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo) Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

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18 thoughts on “The Sunset Lines

  1. Regarding the claim of the 450 series being the “last interurbans built in the U.S.”, in addition to the possible exceptions you cite I believe there is one very obvious (or should be obvious to those from Illinois) other group of cars. This would be the Illinois Terminal streamliners built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1948-9.
    You could still call the 450s the last “classic” interurbans if you need to give them a special title.

  2. Thanks to Bill Shapotkin for a treasure trove of CA&E photos. It’s no secret that the Sunset Lines is my favorite railway. A lot of photos are roster shots; many defy identifying location. I’ve made the following notes.
    img790 – 406 at Villa Avenue with Wander Co. (makers of Ovaltine) in the background
    img797- Not sure, Main St. Glen Ellyn ? Note the boxy-looking bus.
    img801 – Met”L” bridge looking southwest
    pic048 – Collingbourne on the Elgin branch
    img976 – Milwaukee Road interchange, Elgin. The gas tank, now demolished, was a local
    img983 – Marshfield Junction
    img987 – Aurora terminal
    img999 – Laramie Avenue, Chicago
    img998 – Halsted curve
    img999 – Batavia terminal
    img967 – Wells St. terminal, before final station
    img969 – 411 Wheaton station
    img973 – Broadway, Aurora, street running
    img975 – Aurora terminal
    img904 – Glen Ellyn? Same boxy-looking bus as img797
    img906 – Marshfield Junction looking east
    img908 – Canal St. Chicago looking east
    img935 – Wells St. terminal original station
    img940 – Batavia Junction
    img940 – Broadway, Aurora, south end-of-line point
    img951 – Glen Oak, presumably a fantrip
    img954 – Bellwood station on Westchester “L”

    Anyone, additions and corrections?

    • 904 and 797 look like Oak Park Avenue on the ground level portion of the Met Garfield Park line. That station had two side platforms on opposite sides of Oak Park Avenue; therefore, only the westbound platform (from which the people are exiting, probably having just left a westbound train) is visible. The eastbound platform would be out of the picture on the right. The set of tracks closer to the photographer are for freight and are still present, next to the current Blue Line on the south side of the Eisenhower Expressway. Most of the buildings in the background are still there today. Finally, it appears that 904 was taken shortly before 797 based on the position of the bus in both photos.

  3. Anyone add any more info about the head on collision between two steels shown in two of the photos? Never heard of CAE having any serious head ons.

    • On April 24, 1924, there was a serious crash in Maywood when a westbound local rear-ended a stalled limited. At least 20 were injured, three critically, and the motorman of the local escaped death by jumping from his cab just before the impact. The description of the damage fits the photos.

  4. Hello David,

    I always enjoy reading the posts that I get from you and seeing the great photographs that you include..

    I am a long time volunteer at the Rockhill Trolley Museum where we are restoring car 315 from the CA&E. We are taking the car back to it’s 1909 condition as closely as we are able to. I’ve enclosed a current photograph of the car.

    I don’t know if I have ever asked this of you. but I am wondering if you have any photographs or information regarding car 315 that you would be willing to share with us for details of the car as we proceed with the restoration. We are especially looking for photographs of the car in the green original colors. Photos of the car as it was being moved off the CA&E would be interesting as well. Our car was apparently stored in a C&NW railroad roundhouse for one year before being moved to Pennsylvania. unfortunately we have very little information about this part of the cars history.

    We’re also seeking information about the car during its service on the CA&E. There are mysteries with the car as in the smoker section. Plywood has replaced the mahogany panels in some areas. We feel that there must have been a fire in that portion of the car and I have a photograph of the car that shows fire damage on the side of the car, but not at the smoker section. There must have been multiple fires. If you would be willing to share any large resolution photos of the car or information we be most grateful. Thank you Joel

    Joel Salomon 610-428-7200 cell Rockhill Trolley Museum

    • I located photos of Kuhlman 311-315 series, including 315. CERA Bulletin 105 (1961) has four photos of the five, including a builder’s photo of 314 (with non-continuous window sash under window pairs only) and a beautiful interior described as with “meticulous attention to detail” on pages III-37 and 38. On page III-35 is a scale drawing of 315, with a side elevation as built and a half elevation showing the rebuilding in the 1940s with the covered upper sash.
      Hopkins Peffers Volume 3, The Third Rail Line, (1993) page 30 , contains three photos of the series, including 315 as it looked pre-rebuilding. All photos cited are black-and-white. The original color scheme must remain a mystery.

    • So far, I believe we have run 11 pictures of car 315, which you can find using the search window on our main page. Chances are, you have already seen them before. All are exterior shots.

  5. outstanding pictures, thank you so much.
    I adored the CA&E as a very small child. my parents, who were NOT railfans, took me for short rides on it. I have been taking train pictures since I was 17, have amassed a considerable collection, 84,000+, in 50 years. the very first picture I ever took was of the famous CA&E board on the old dispatchers building, too bad the board wasnt saved

    if i had been around to take pics of the CA&E, i would have it

    extraordinary railroad

    dave carlson

  6. img797 is at Oak Park Ave., looking north. The apartment and bank buildings up front are still there.
    Chuck Amstein

  7. pic001 is at West Chicago, looking south on Main St., just south of Washington. Most of the buildings on the right side of the street are still there although some have been modified.
    pic002 is in Aurora, looking northeast at Broadway & Galena. Most of the buildings are still there.
    Chuck Amstein

  8. Information on CA&E accidents is hard to come by. While not pictured here, I did run across a short write-up in (of I remember correctly) a 1920s-era Railway Age of a fatal accident on the Elgin Branch near Prince Crossing. A CGW boxcar derailed off the bridge over the CA&E and fell to the ROW. Heading northwest around the curve in the dark, the motorman didn’t see it until it was too late. I believe the motorman was killed in the collision.

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