October 1st was the 72nd anniversary of when the Chicago Transit Authority took over operating the elevated and most of the surface transit lines. To celebrate this milestone, the CTA held a Customer Appreciation Day event in the Loop, using newly repatriated historic “L” cars 6711 and 6712. Built in 1959, this pair had been at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis since the 1990s.
This type of “L” car was once synonymous with the CTA, as these are part of a series of all-new rapid transit cars introduced in the 1950s. There were a total of 770 such cars built in various configurations and delivered between 1950 and 1959. They replaced wooden “L” cars, many of which were half a century old upon retirement.
Being metal-bodied, the 6000-series cars were designed to operate in Chicago’s new subways as well as its famous elevated lines. The first batch of such cars finally made it possible to open the Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway in 1951. The State Street Subway had opened in 1943, prior to the creation of the Chicago Transit Authority, using existing steel cars built in the early 1920s.
While October 1, 1947 is the date when the CTA finally took charge of local transit, its origins naturally go back further than that. The City of Chicago was always intimately involved in local transit matters, even in the era of private ownership which came crashing down into bankruptcy during the Great Depression.
Then-Mayor Edward J. Kelly spearheaded efforts to build Chicago’s first subways, and his “go-to guy” in this regard was Philip Harrington (1886-1949). In the late 1930s, he became head of the City’s Department of Subways and Superhighways, and was also the principal author of a comprehensive transportation plan known locally as the “Green Book”. (One thing that is not certain, is whether there is any connection between the green binding of this book, and the later adoption of green as the more-or-less official CTA color in early days.)
When the Chicago Transit Authority officially came into being on June 28, 1945, Harrington was unanimously chosen as its first Chairman. What followed was a two-year transition period, where the CTA became a functioning entity and prepared for the official takeover which eventually came, after, under the management of the courts, the existing private owners of the Chicago Rapid Transit and Chicago Surface Lines companies were bought out. (CTA purchased the assets of the Chicago Motor Coach Company five years later, completing the process of transit unification.)
During this time, while CRT and CSL were still in charge, the CTA, operating in an unofficial capacity, was really calling the shots, deciding what new equipment would be ordered, and where it would run once delivered.
Given that Philip Harrington died 70 years ago, it is remarkable that his son Michael is still with us (I believe he is about 84 years old), and took part in the first trip on these historic cars. I spoke briefly with him, and promised to send him copies of my two Arcadia books, which deal with the turbulent times when his father played such an important role. As a child, Michael Harrington was a witness to events such as the opening of Chicago’s first subway in 1943.
You can read an appreciation of Philip Harrington here.
WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, was on the scene talking to people who came out to ride this special train. I was interviewed by a reporter for a few minutes and answered various questions.
I was asked what was so special about the 6000-series cars. They were state of the art when new, and had advanced technology for their time, including improved acceleration and braking, and were quieter than what they replaced, even though the old stuff made “all the right noises.” (The older 4000-series cars have a very distinctive sound, which many people find pleasant and comes from the gearing.)
They had comfortable seats, especially compared to some of today’s equipment, but one thing they did not have was air conditioning. You had to open the windows, and if the weather was right, a nice refreshing breeze wafted through. A trip through the subway, however, was very LOUD with the windows open, an experience that thankfully modern riders don’t get to have.
As light-weight cars, though, the 6000s did “shake, rattle, and roll” and their riding qualities led some fans to dub them “Spam Cans.” But for various reasons, the final cars in this series, of which 6711-6712 are examples, were a bit heavier than the first ones, and hence rode better also.
Andy Warhol famously said that “In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.” But while I did end up on the radio yesterday, I’m not even sure I got 15 seconds out of the segment on these rides, which totaled less than a minute. You can hear it here.
I applaud the CTA for expanding their collection of historic railcars by bringing some of them back from museums. New York City has several entire trains of older cars it can run, and events such as these are very popular and create tremendous goodwill. It’s important that organizations have a sense of the history that has made them great.
The 6000s were always my favorite “L” cars, and riding them once again brought back many memories. Some people were probably riding them for the first time, based on the looks of various people on our train. I hope you will enjoy our short photo essay, followed by a few of our recent photo finds.
PS- We regret to report the recent passing of Father Philip F. Cioffi at age 63. Father Phil, as we all knew him, was widely known as one of the “nice guys” in the railfan field, and had served on the boards of various organizations over the years. He will be missed. You can read his obituary here.
Lake and Pine
As the years go by, there are fewer and fewer places where you can see Chicago streetcar tracks. One such place is the viaduct at Lake and Pine. This is where Route 16 streetcars of the Chicago Surface Line (and later, Chicago Transit Authority) crossed over from one side of the Chicago & North Western viaduct to the other. There were many pictures taken at this location, where Lake Street “L” trains also ran on the ground. Streetcar service here ended in May 1954, and the “L” was relocated onto the embankment in October 1962.
We have published numerous pictures taken at this location, and a few years ago, we even went back and shot some pictures of rail. You can see those here.
Recently, the tracks were removed from the eastern half of the viaduct. Here’s how things looked as of September 25th.
Now Available On Compact Disc
Railroad Record Club – North Shore Line Rarities 1955-1963
# of Discs – 1
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
Railroad Record Club Traction Rarities – 1951-58
From the Original Master Tapes
# of Discs- 3
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.
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
05. 0:56 PCC car 1557, Route 20 – Cabin John line, July 19, 1953
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
Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1s:
11. 4:35 August 27, 1954
13. 5:02 Streamliner #300, northward from Edwardsville, February 14, 1955
14. 12:40 Car #202 (ex-1202), between Springfield and Decatur, February 1955
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
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
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
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)
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.
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!
Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
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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For Shipping Elsewhere:
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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