Progress is our most important product, or so the saying goes:
In engineering, in research, in manufacturing skill, in the values that bring a better, more satisfying life, at General Electric, progress is our most important product.
This was G.E.’s postwar slogan, and here, at the start of a new decade, it’s worth considering how much progress we have, or have not made.
Some of our pictures in this post show progress. It was better to eliminate numerous grade crossings on our transit lines, that much is clear. But was it really better to eliminate entire lines, such as the Chicago Aurora & Elgin interurban? Did that represent progress? Perhaps not, but there are those who think its demise was inevitable.
On the other hand, there are things that have survived in spite of all odds, like Chicago’s Loop “L”, or the former Red Arrow Lines in suburban Philadelphia. The Norristown High Speed Line never offered a one-seat ride to downtown Philly, and yet it continues today, under the auspices of SEPTA, a public agency, while loss of a one-seat ride is widely cited as causing the demise of CA&E. In part, luck and local circumstances are involved in what survives, and what does not.
Do highways represent progress? Some would say no, but it would be difficult to imagine modern life without them. I don’t think we are about to tear up our highways and plant flowers where they once were.
Progress often takes two steps forward, and one step backwards. We may yet see a time when all autos run on electricity, but that does not explain why the Chicago Transit Authority phased out electric trolley buses in 1973.
I’m sure there were those who thought it progress at the time, of a sort. Progress is often in the eye of the beholder.
Here at the Trolley Dodger, we have our own notions of progress. In our case, progress can mean making this blog sustainable, financially and otherwise. It can mean offering something new. It can mean doing a better job of restoring old images.
Understanding the past makes it possible to envision the future. That’s a form of progress we are engaged in.
As we start our sixth year, our motto might as well be, progress is our most important project, for it is something always to strive for, even if it is a project that can never be finished.
In addition to some great recent photo finds, both ours and from the William Shapotkin Collection, we have lots of great new Milwaukee material courtesy of Larry Sakar. As always, many thanks go out to our contributors.
Our annual fundraiser continues. We are close to reaching our goal. However, we are also very close to our deadline for needing it. We hope to continue this resource for you in 2020.
We have received contributions from several of our readers, for which we are very grateful. Should you consider helping us with a financial contribution of your own, however modest, there are links at the end of this post you can follow.
We will continue to do our best for you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
From the Collections of William Shapotkin:
From Larry Sakar:
I was going thru various pocket folders looking for something totally unrelated to traction when I ran across this. It’s a photocopy of the picture Al Buetschle had taken of him, holding on to the trolley rope on the 978 somewhere on the MUNI property in the summer of `983.
If the orange on 978 doesn’t look quite right, it isn’t the photo or my scanner. 978 had been in Appleton, WI for the Festival of Light. I do not recall what that was all about. 978 ran on temporary track along the Fox River with an electric generator on a flat car to provide the electric power to run the streetcar. There was no trolley wire. By the time of the festival the 978 was owned by a group called “Streetcar ’86 Inc.” I know absolutely nothing about them.
They repainted 978 but had, apparently, never seen a color photo of a Milwaukee streetcar. Consequently, they used a much darker shade of orange than what TM used. They also painted on large numbers for the car’s number which were totally wrong. TM never put on such large car numbers.
That classic T-Bird in front of 978 was Al’s car. I believe I told you that it was destroyed in an accident when he was hit by a bunch of teenagers cruising around who failed to stop and broadsided him. And of course, they were uninsured! To 978’s right are a group of Boeing LRVs, the worst streetcars MUNI ever purchased, I don’t think the MBTA in Boston fared too well with theirs either! It’s been said that this was proof that an airplane manufacturer could not build a streetcar. Boeing proved that was true. I do not recall any other properties who mad the mistake of buying these cars.
The MKE Rapid Transit Line
I though it might be interesting to Trolley Dodger readers to take a photographic ride over the Milwaukee Rapid Transit line between the Public Service Building and the Honey Creek Pkwy. overpass.
For those who may not know of its existence, and those who have knowledge of it, here is a little bit of background information about it. The Milwaukee Rapid Transit Line ran between N. 8th and W. Hibernia Sts to West Jct. This is where the line heading west to Waukesha, Oconomowoc, and Watertown (westbound) split off from the lines to Hales Corners, Burlington & East Troy.
The line was constructed in 5 Phases as follows:
Phase 1: The Town of Wauwatosa Rapid Transit Line
Phase 2: The Cut-off for the East Troy and Burlington lines which linked those lines to the Rapid Transit Line eliminating street running on National Ave.
PHASE 3: The Fairview Ave. Grade Separation Project
Phase 4: The Local West Side Milwaukee Rapid Transit Line (8th to 40th Sts.)
Phase 5: The Rapid Transit Subway: 8th & Hibernia Sts. to the Public Service Bldg. (NEVER COMPLETED).
Phase 1 was completed and opened for business on June 26, 1926. The remaining phases followed in order with Phase 4 completed and opened for business on September 22, 1930. Work on Phase 5 the subway continued until the Depression brought a halt to all construction in 1932. No more than half a block was ever built.
In addition to the lines to Burlington, East Troy, and Watertown, which used the Rapid Transit Line, TM also operated a Local West Side Rapid Transit Service between the PSB and West Jct. Interurbans made the 8 1/2 mile journey in 15 minutes or less.
The Rapid Transit was abandoned on June 30, 1951 under the management of The Milwaukee Rapid Transit & Speedrail Company. The city of Milwaukee purchased the 4 1/2 miles between 8th St. and Soldiers Home station (start of the Calvary Cemetery cut) in 1952 for $1,000,000,800, supposedly the price paid by TM when the land was acquired in 1925. The line had been in receivership since November, 1950 and was being managed by a Trustee, Bruno V. Bitker.
The 4 1/2 miles purchased by the city were subsequently used for the East-West Freeway I-94. In addition to the over one million dollar purchase price, the city had to pay WEPCO an additional $500,000 to move the electric transmission towers off the right-of-way. According to trustee Bitker, a minimum of $250,000 in new capital was needed to keep the Rapid Transit in business.
Today, very few traces of the Rapid Transit Line exist. The high tension electric transmission lines, seen west of the Red Star Yeast Co. plant at 28th St. to almost N. 40th St., were moved to the section of the r.o.w adjacent to (south), where an additional 2 tracks could have been laid but never were. That is what motorists traveling on the East-West Freeway see today but chances are few if any know their history or that they are traveling over the former Milwaukee Rapid Transit Line.
We begin our journey at the Public Service Building on W. Michigan St. between N. 2nd and N. 3rd St. The building’s first floor housed the train shed (12 tracks) as well as the waiting room (west wing). For anyone wanting a bite to eat there was the Electric Grill, also in the first floor west wing.
After the demise of Speedrail on 6-30-51 Greyhound Buses and buses of Wisconsin Coach lines (formerly Waukesha Transit Lines) continued using the train shed until February, 1965 when Greyhound opened a new station and 20 story office tower. The office tower faces W. Wisconsin Ave from N. 6th to about 1/2 block west of N. 5th St. The one-story bus terminal was on the NE corner of N. 7th & Wisconsin Michigan Sts and had a two-story parking garage on top of it.
In 2006, Greyhound and WCL moved their terminal to the new Milwaukee Intermodal terminal adjacent to the Amtrak station at N. 5th St. and W. St. Paul Ave. A few years later, Badger Bus Company, whose terminal was across N. 7th St. also moved to the Intermodal station. Since November, 2018 “The HOP” Milwaukee’s new streetcar circulator lays over at the corner of N. 4th & W. St. Paul. The line operates between here and Burns Commons at E. Ogden and N. Prospect Aves.
It is only appropriate that we begin our trip at the Public Service Bldg. Trains exited the trainshed onto N. 3rd St. Those headed for Watertown, East Troy, Burlington or West Jct, then turned left (west) at N. 3rd and W. Michigan Sts. In those days there were no stop and go lights. A traffic policeman controlled the intersections of 2nd, 3rd and 6th & Michigan Sts. At 6th & Michigan Sts. trains turned left (south) again in front of the station of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee RR. Operating on N. 6th St for just one block, trains made a right turn onto W. Clybourn St. and followed it for 1 1/2 blocks west between N. 7th & N. 8th Sts. where they turned south (left) onto the private right-of-way. This was the first stop. The line went slightly downhill toward W. St. Paul Ave., but turned west on a sharp curve before reaching it. From here, many fans have said that it was like riding a roller coaster. Trains made a safety stop, and boarded passengers at N. 8th Sts. which was crossed at grade.
Because the planned subway was never completed, a “temporary ramp” was built over the subway portal beneath 8th St. Trains scooted down the ramp, and almost at once made a climb and a sharp turn. Over to the left stood the Rapid Transit Freight Terminal at 940 W. St. Paul Ave. A deck, even with the second floor of the building, was constructed to facilitate the loading and unloading of interurban freight. Railfans dubbed it “the shelf.” Passing the shelf trains entered the one block long Hibernia St. ‘L’ and rounded a curve to immediately dip back into a cut. Between 12th & 40th Sts. all streets passed over the Rapid Transit Line. In a minute’s time came the first of the three “Valley” (Menomonee River Valley) station stops -16th St.
All 3 valley stops, 16th, 27trh & 35th St. were beneath the viaducts that cross the valley from north to south. As we will see in the photos, getting to and from the stations required being able to navigate several sets of stairs. In 1926, there was no such thing as the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning anyone wheel chair-bound or on crutches was out of luck when it came to riding the Rapid Transit. The same would hold true for the stations along the Town of Wauwatosa Rapid Transit Line which crossed over all streets. The station stops were on the Rapid Transit Line embankment well above street level by 12 or more feet and also required being able to go up or down stairs.
Continuing west, stops were made at 27th & 35th Sts. At 40th St. the line went around a sharp curve to the southwest and scooted across the Menomonee Valley and Bluemound yards of the Milwaukee Road on a long steel bridge. The bridge would become the subject of a fight between two Milwaukee County agencies after abandonment. The Freeway people wanted the bridge removed because they claimed it was in the way of construction of the Stadium Interchange (I-94 and the never completed Stadium Freeway). But the Parks people who were overseeing the construction and eventual operation of Milwaukee County Stadium (at the site of the Story Quarry near 44th St.) wanted it kept and converted into a pedestrian bridge to provide closer and easier access to the new ball park from areas to the east. The bridge, sans decking, track and trolley wire stood as a silent reminder of what Milwaukee once had and had so foolishly thrown away. It was removed in 1954 and the surplus steel used for making repairs to the Holton St. viaduct over the Milwaukee River.
Next up was the stop for National Soldiers Home at 52nd St. Here, Rt. 10 streetcars coming from West Allis or heading to it joined the Rapid Transit line on two tracks of their own, along the north side of the Rapid Transit r.o.w. The Calvary Cemetery cut, as it was called, started at 62nd St. and ran to the west end of the cemetery just east of S. 60th St. Trains (both Rapid Transit and streetcar) now climbed a very steep grade to cross over 60th St. Streetcars made stops at 60th, 62nd & 65th Sts. before descending to street level at 68th St. 68th St. was the next stop for the Rapid Transit and was the first of two stations where passengers wishing to go to West Allis boarded a streetcar at 68th St. or a bus at 84th St.
At 68th St., the Rapid Transit line swept around a broad northwesterly curve that placed the r.o.w. on an alignment between W. Stevenson and W. Adler Sts. At 70th St. motormen had to shut off, so as not to carry current over the circuit breaker located there. Stops from this point west were 73rd, 76th, 79th, 84th & 92nd Sts. Like 68th St. the 92nd St. station was located on a curve this one going southwest. Stations west and south of 92nd St. were Schlinger Ave. also known as Greenfield Jct. This was the place where the Rapid Transit interchanged freight with the Milwaukee Road’s “Air Line.”
Now heading south, stops were made at Adler St., Greenfield Ave. and finally West Jct. Trains headed west to Watertown went down a ramp that swept them due west to come parallel with the Chicago & Northwestern RR. lines to Madison and Butler, this line going up and over the Watertown line on a bridge. Trains bound for Burlington or East Troy crossed over the C&NW on a high, steel bridge and continued southward. West Jct. trains entered the West Jct. loop for the return trip to Milwaukee.
Now that I’ve described the line in words I will continue with photos of many of these locations. These photos will be a mix of owners from TM to Speedrail.
A quick note re: the 16th St. station. That little square bldg. seen perched above the r.o.w. was a new substation built solely to feed the Rapid Transit line and was decommissioned and removed after abandonment.
I’m including this color shot by the late Lou Martin (below). This is what the Honey Creek Parkway bridge looked like. I think it was the best looking of all the TM bridges, especially with the stone abutments. Something you might find interesting: post WWII, there was a housing shortage in Milwaukee and its surrounds. Temporary barracks were set up in Honey Creek Parkway to house returning veterans especially those who were newly married and didn’t care to live at what had been home.
Take a close look at the photo of 70th St. You can see the warning flag about the circuit breaker hanging from the wire.
More trivia concerning the Rapid Transit line bridges from 68th St. west. When the Rapid Transit line was completed in 1930 ,TM decided to do what they’d already done on several bridges on the MRK-Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha line– advertise the “product.” Five bridges were chosen for this purpose, starting with Schlinger Ave. Each bridge had the word “Rapid” in that special font I like to call “Rapid Transit” followed by the number of minutes the Rapid Transit took to reach downtown from that point, and then ending with the word “Transit”. Schlinger was 18 minutes. The last one chosen – 68th St. was 11 Minutes to Downtown. The other 3 bridges were 92nd St., 84th St. and 76th St. Try getting to downtown Milwaukee from 68th St. in 11 minutes on the East-West Freeway (I94). GOOD LUCK!!!
The tanks in the background at 25th St. belonged to the Milwaukee Gas Light Company at 2400 W. St. Paul Ave. They were removed when the expressway was built. Post abandonment, the 1100 series single and duplexes were placed in storage at 25th St. Lightweight cars (the 30 and 40 series articulateds and the 60 series curved side cars) were stored on the tracks that lead into the never completed subway. Cars 300 & 301 were stored on the “shelf”.
Cars were moved to the Waukesha Gravel pit (still owned by Jay Maeder) on 2-29-52. Scrapping began the next day. By mid-October it was all over. The gravel pit was filled in around 1978 and today you’d never know it had been there. Gravel pit substation stood until 11-11-63 when it was torn down to make way for the new County Trunk Highway A bypass around downtown Waukesha. It was a little 2 lane highway when I saw it for the first time in 1967. Today, it is the very busy and very big Highways 59 & 164 bypass. The Waukesha loop and station are both gone.
I also forgot to point out in my commentary that Wisconsin Coach Lines was originally Waukesha Transit Lines, which became a thorn in Speedrail’s side when the PSC and its ever so “honest” chairman John C. Doerfer allowed WTL and Cardinal Bus Lines to continue operating even after the 12 hour service shutdown in February, 1951. Today WCL is part of the big bus conglomerate Coach USA, as is United Limo which operates the line to O’Hare from S. 13th & W. Edgerton almost directly east of me by 42 blocks. (I’m 2 blocks from 55th & Edgerton.) in the Heritage Village Apt. complex.
Rumor has it that when Greyhound pulled out of the PSB for the last time in early February of 1965 WEPCO employees sick of the noise and diesel fumes of the buses repunctuated Greyhound’s famous slogan of “Thank you for going Greyhound” to “Thank you for going, Greyhound!”
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 in November 2018, 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.
For Shipping to US Addresses:
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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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