1. It was foggy in Emery, Iowa on the morning of August 22, 2006. As I arrived at the Iowa Traction shop and yard, only an indistinct orange blob gave any indication that any of the railroad’s ancient electric locomotives were present. As the fog lifted, little by little, IATR Baldwin-Westinghouse type B steeplecab # 50 came into view. Here it is pictured as the mist retreated into the background.
Today, we are featuring more fine photography from guest contributor Kenneth Gear, from a trip he took to Iowa in 2006. We thank him for this, and his many other contributions to this site.
Here is what the Wikipedia says about the Iowa Traction Railway, which is keeping a long tradition of electric freight alive:
The Iowa Traction Railway Company (reporting mark IATR), formerly the Iowa Traction Railroad Company, is an electrically operated common carrier railroad running between Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa, United States, and also serving Rorick Park near Mason City. It can trace its roots back to the Mason City and Clear Lake Railway, which was founded in 1896. The shops were situated in Emery, the midpoint between the two namesake towns. Passenger service began on July 4, 1897. Freight has been the major source of income since the beginning and has been the only source since the charter for trolley service in Mason City expired August 30, 1936. The Mason City and Clear Lake Railway’s name was revised slightly to Mason City and Clear Lake Railroad in 1950, when new owners took over.
The name was changed to Iowa Terminal Railroad in 1961 when new owners from Michigan took over. They acquired the Charles City Western on December 31, 1963. The Charles City Division was dieselized after a tornado destroyed much of the overhead wire on May 15, 1968. Several years later the remaining trackage at Charles City was abandoned. Meanwhile, the Mason City Division continued to operate as usual. The Charles City equipment was transferred to Mason City to replace equipment burned in the November 24, 1967 shop fire. On April 13, 1987, the Iowa Terminal Railroad was sold to Dave Johnson and renamed to Iowa Traction Railroad.
Today, the Iowa Traction continues to actively operate the track between its Emery headquarters (southwest of Mason City) and the Clear Lake Junction with Union Pacific Railroad. Though track exists beyond Emery to Interstate 35 in the west and from Clear Lake Junction to 15th Street Southeast in Mason City to the east, the active portion is Emery to Clear Lake Junction.
2. IATR # 51 with the car barn in the background.
3. Iowa Traction # 50 at Emery. It was built in 1920 for the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad.
4. Iowa Traction # 50 at Emery 8/22/06.
5. Iowa Traction # 51 in the Emery IA yard. #51 was built by Baldwin-Westinghouse in 1921 for the Northeastern Oklahoma Railway. 8/22/06.
6 & 7. Iowa Traction interurban coach # 727 (formerly Chicago North shore & Milwaukee # 102) is just inside the Emery Car barn on August 25, 2006.
8. IATR interurban car # 727 is all decked out with flags and marker lamps because it will be out and running the next day on a fan trip, the “Mason City Limited”. Unfortunately my travel plans did not allow for me to remain in Mason City for another day so I missed seeing this classic interurban running down the rails. August 25, 2006.
9. IATR # 54 was built in 1923 for the Southern Iowa Railroad. Here it is inside the Emery shop.
10. Iowa Traction Steeplecab # 51 and Interurban car # 727 inside the shop at Emery.
11, 12, & 13. Iowa Traction # 51 at night in the yard at Emery, IA The sky being illumined by bright flashes of lightning. Soon a thunder storm rolled through cutting short my attempts at night photography. 8/25/06
14. Iowa Traction flanger # 32 at Emery, IA
15. Iowa Traction snow plow # 40 at Emery, IA.
16. Iowa Traction Steeplecab # 60 is dwarfed by the silos at the AGP soybean processing plant. Mason City, IA. 8/22/06
17. IATR # 60 pulls a cut of hoppers away from the AGP plant at Mason City.
18. Iowa Traction Baldwin-Westinghouse type C steeplecab # 60 switching cars at the Mason City AGP plant. This locomotive was built in 1917 for the Youngstown & Ohio River as their # 5.
19. IATR # 60 moves light over the 19th Street SW crossing in Mason City. This locomotive remains in revenue service to this day and it was built in 1917. Next year it will be 100 years old and still going strong!
20. Number 60 takes yet another string of hoppers away from the AGP plant. 8/22/06
21. Steeplecab # 60 also worked for Iowa Traction predecessor Mason City & Clear Lake as # 52. In 1961 the MC&CL was sold and renamed Iowa Terminal. In 1987 abandonment was close at hand when it was purchased by local interests and renamed again, this time to Iowa Traction. The word “traction” was included in the new name so there would be no doubt that the line would remain electric
22. Here is one last shot of IATR # 60 hauling a cut of cars at AGP in Mason City on August 22, 2006.
23. August 25, 2006 was grey and overcast in Mason City but the sight of a 1917 built steeplecab electric locomotive in revenue service sure brighten up the day. Cloudy weather afforded the opportunity to get a shot of # 60 leaving AGP from the opposite side.
24. Steeplecab electric locomotives aren’t the only ancient pieces of railroad equipment used on the Iowa Traction. In Mason City this old semaphore signal protects the IATR crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad. 8/26/06.
New Book Project
We are now working on a new paperback book Chicago Trolleys, that we expect will be published in 2017. Original research does cost money, so please consider making a donation to cover our costs. We will keep you updated as we progress, and thank you in advance for your help.
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
This is our 169th post, and we are gradually creating a body of work and an online resource for the benefit of all railfans, everywhere. To date, we have received over 226,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.
You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store. You can make a contribution there as well.
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This 44-page brochure, issued by the Chicago Tunnel Co. in 1915, later provided some of the cover art for Bruce Moffat’s book Forty Feet Below.
For more than half a century, the Chicago Tunnel Company operated an extensive network of underground electric freight lines in Chicago’s business district. While their operations were crucial to Chicago’s Loop for much of the 20th century, they are still not widely known or appreciated, since they took place almost entirely out of sight to the average person.
By the 1890s, Chicago’s bustling downtown streets were crowded and congested by horse-drawn carts and wagons, as well as pedestrians, bicyclists, and cable cars. Eventually, much of this traffic was moved to underground tunnels that connected with the sub-basements of many buildings. Some Loop buildings had three levels of basements.
What eventually became 60 miles of tunnels was first authorized as a means of running telephone lines underground in 1899. Tunneling began surreptitiously, with workers digging through Chicago’s blue clay by hand using long knives. Within a few years, the tunnel’s main focus changed to moving freight, including merchandise, coal, and the resulting ashes.
You can read an early description of their operations here.
From photos, we can see that in some respects the tunnel operation was a very dirty affair. Since it hauled a lot of ashes, that should not be too much of a surprise.
One photo shows the sub-basement of the old Mandel Brothers department store, which was part of the rich history of retailing here. Chicago-style department stores eventually spread all over the world, as shown in the British-American television series Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven. The real Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr. (1858-1947) was Marshall Field‘s right-hand man before he went to London and opened a similar store there in 1909.*
This retail enterprise, which would become one of Chicago’s leading department stores, was founded in 1855 by Bavarian immigrants Solomon Mandel and his uncle Simon Klein. Their first store was located on Clark Street. In 1865, after Solomon’s brothers Leon and Emanuel joined the firm, its name became Mandel Bros. Purchasing in New York and Paris and selling in Chicago, the enterprise grew. By the 1880s, its new store on the corner of State and Madison Streets employed about 800 people. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the workforce had grown to over 3,000 people. Rebuilt in 1912 and renovated in 1948, the State Street store continued to operate into the 1970s, when the company folded amid State Street’s demise as a major retail center.
This description fails to mention that Mandel Brothers sold out to competitor Weiboldt’s in 1960. Their stores were converted to Wieboldt’s, which continued in operation until 1986.
Mandel Brothers was also notable as one of the very first American retailers to oppose Adolph Hitler in 1934:
Mandel Bros. Joins Boycott of Nazi Goods
CHICAGO (Apr. 4)
Mandel Brothers, largest Jewish-owned department store outside of New York City, has discontinued the buying of German goods owing to “customer resistance,” Leon Mandel, general manager of the store, announced today.
Mandel Brothers store is one of the six largest in the Chicago Loop district and the announcement created a sensation in retail circles.
“Mandel Brothers store announced today that owing to customer resistance to German goods, the firm has discontinued all purchases of German merchandise,” the statement issued by the concern read. “During the past six months Mandel Brothers placed no orders for merchandise in Germany. In line with the Mandel Brothers policy, every effort has been and is being made to develop successfully and feature American sources of supply of such merchandise.”
Decline and Fall
While never very profitable, the tunnel system managed to survive the Great Depression. But soon enough, forces converged that put it into an irreversible decline.
Chicago had been planning rapid transit and streetcar subways from the earliest days of the “L” in the 1890s. The franchises granted to the freight tunnel system allowed the City to displace them if and when such subways were built.
Work on Chicago’s “Initial System of Subways” began on both State and Dearborn in December 1938, and while many of the tunnels in the system were cut off as a result, in the short run, the system probably benefited as it was used to haul out the clay from excavation– some of which was done, like the freight tunnels themselves, by workers armed with long knives.
The final blow to the tunnel company came in the 1950s, when Chicago homes, apartments and businesses shifted away from using coal for heating and replaced it with cleaner oil and natural gas. It’s hard to imagine now, but Chicago’s neighborhoods were once littered with various coal yards, and you can still see coal chutes on some older apartment buildings.
With the demise of coal, the Chicago Tunnel Company’s operations sputtered to a close in the late 1950s, including bankruptcy in 1956 and outright dissolution in 1959.
After the Fall
Chicago’s freight tunnels have largely remained under downtown streets and have had a very interesting and active “afterlife” following their 1959 abandonment. Here’s where the tunnel system has intersected with my own life.
In the late 1970s, I worked at the Field Museum of Natural History in Grant Park. This massive building opened in 1921 and was a customer of the Chicago Tunnel Company, although the connection was made via an elevator, since the depths of the various tunnels were not the same. The Field Museum building itself was built on landfill and rests on top of wooden pilings.
While nearly all the tunnel company’s locomotives and freight cars were scrapped upon abandonment, one train remained marooned in the Field Museum sub-sub-basement, cut off from the rest of the system. Norman P. Radtke, manager of the physical plant, took me down there in the late 1970s to have a look at the locomotive and its ash cars. It seemed at the time that they would remain there forever.
I made an offhand suggestion that there was plenty of room on the other side of the museum to relocate the northbound lanes. I left the museum’s employ in 1983, and as we now know there was no Chicago World’s Fair in 1992. However, due in large part to the efforts of Sandy Boyd, the idea of shifting half of LSD took hold.
The northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive were relocated to the east side of Field Museum and the new alignment opened in the late 1990s. As Mr. Boyd has remarked, even though there was no world’s fair, Chicago got its intended legacy anyway, in the form of an unbroken lakefront Museum Campus.
Ironically, work on the relocation project created a unique opportunity to remove the Chicago Tunnel Company locomotive and ash cars from their prison. This involved a tremendous effort put forth by volunteers at the Illinois Railway Museum, which you can read about here. These cars were saved and are now preserved at IRM, where they can be enjoyed by future generations.
In the Spring of 1992, I attended a private slide presentation Bruce gave about the Chicago freight tunnels at a friend’s house. Little did any of us know that less than a week later, the long-forgotten system would suddenly be thrust into the headlines.
On April 13, 1992, what some have called the Great Chicago Flood began, as a contractor inadvertently disturbed the clay surrounding one of the freight tunnels near the Chicago River by the Kinzie Street Bridge. The leak, which was not taken seriously at first, eventually turned into a breach, and eventually hundreds of millions of gallons of water flowed into the tunnel system, and into the sub-basements of many Chicago buildings. Even Chicago’s downtown subways were affected.
Instantly, Bruce Moffat had a well-deserved “15 minutes of fame,” to paraphrase Any Warhol. As the only recognized expert on the tunnel system, Bruce was all over the media in the days following the flood. The great majority of people had no idea such a thing existed, and Bruce was practically the only person who understood it and explain it.
The flood had a negative economic impact on the Chicago area that extended beyond downtown. I was involved in a Lincoln Park photo lab at the time, and our business suffered as a result. Thinking about this period has brought back a flood of memories.
I had an idea for a humorous radio ad to promote our business that would have played off the flood. The press had reported that City inspectors had taken pictures of the area where water was leaking into the tunnel, but instead of sending them to a one hour photo lab, they dropped them off at a store where it took a week to get the film back.
In my radio ad, two city workers would be looking at the tunnel leak, and you would have heard the sound of dripping water. One would have said that he was going to take the film to a place where he would get it back in a week, while the other would have suggested taking it to our lab, where you could get it developed and printed in as little as 30 minutes.
Before they could do so, however, the wall of the tunnel would have burst and both people would have been engulfed by the sound of water rushing in. Then, at the end, the narrator would have used this as a cautionary tale, telling people to bring their film to us “before it’s too late.”
Unfortunately, the radio station refused to make this spot, telling me that the administration of Richard M. Daley would not like it. The Great Chicago Flood, it turns out, was no laughing matter.
Now, Chicago’s old system of freight tunnels continues to benefit the downtown, with various communications cables running through them. On September 1, 2000, Central Electric Railfans’ Association hosted a rare inspection tour of parts of the underground tunnel system. Unfortunately, this is not likely to be repeated any time soon, in the wake of post-9/11 security concerns. The old tunnel system, a vital part of Chicago’s infrastructure even in the 21st century, is now closed off from public access.
*There is another Chicago-London connection. The underground freight tunnels here helped inspire the London Post Office Railway, which operated from 1927 to 2003.
PS- This information has been added to one of our E-books, which reproduces a 1928 book put out by the Chicago Tunnel Company:
Now Updated with 46 Pages of New Material:
Lifting the Lid in the Loop, 1915
The Chicago Freight Tunnels, 1928
Chicago Elevated Railroads Consolidation of Operations, 1913
The Chicago Tunnel Company (1906-1959) operated an elaborate network of 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge track in 7.5-by-6-foot (2.3 m × 1.8 m) tunnels running under the streets throughout the central business district including and surrounding the Loop, delivering freight, parcels, and coal, and disposed of ash and excavation debris.
Our E-book collection includes two short books issued by the Tunnel Company, detailing their operations. Lifting the Lid in the Loop is 46 pages long, has many great illustrations, and was published in 1915. To this we add a different 32-page illustrated book from 1928.
The third volume in this collection, Chicago Elevated Railroads Consolidation of Operations (60 pages) was published in 1913 to help facilitate the through-routing of the South Side and Northwestern elevated lines. As Britton I. Budd wrote in the introduction, “This book of instructions is issued for the purpose of familiarizing the employees of the South Side Elevated Railroad with the character, service, track arrangement, and general features of the system of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad, and to familiarize the employees of the Northwestern elevated Railroad with the same details of the South Side Elevated Railroad, before through-routed operation of cars is begun.”
Now The Trolley Dodger is making all three of these long-out-of-print works available once again on a single DVD data disc. Includes a Tribute to the late bookseller Owen Davies, who reprinted the “L” book in 1967, a 1966 Chicago Tribune profile of Davies, and reproductions of several Davies flyers. 177 pages in all.
This collection is a tremendous value, since an original copy of Lifting the Lid in the Loop alone recently sold for over $200 on eBay.
# of Discs – 1 Price: $14.95
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
This is our 133rd post, and we are gradually creating a body of work and an online resource for the benefit of all railfans, everywhere. To date, we have received over 147,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.
You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store.
As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”
We thank you for your support.
This junction of three different freight tunnel lines reminds me a bit of Marshfield on the old Metropolitan “L”, where three lines came together.
A 1913 Baldwin builder’s photo of locomotive 534, which had 28″ wheels, two 25 hp motors, and weighed 14,000 lbs.
In this November 17, 1904 view, we see a four-way intersection with 56 lb. rail, a three-way switch, telephone cable, trolley wire, and a permanent lighting system.
A train curving around a four-way intersection.
A builder’s photo of freight loco 207, renumbered to 501 before delivery, built by Baldwin-Westinghouse in 1907. Weight: 5 1/2 tons.
Trains at an intersection.
Cars being shifted on warehouse tracks.
Until the 1950s, coal was widely used for heating in Chicago.
Loading and unloading freight in the Murdock Company sub-basement.
A Chicago Tunnel Company steam locomotive and cars at the lakefront, creating landfill.
Collecting mail at the Post Office station.
A 1906 Baldwin builder’s photo of freight loco 173.
Merchandise rack car 5000, built by Bettendorf Car Co.
An ash car train in the Marshall Field & Co. boiler room on February 16, 1915.
Coal delivery at the Mandel Brothers department store building.
The entrance to Mandel Brothers department store at State and Madison in downtown Chicago. They were bought out by Wieboldt’s in 1960. Wieboldt’s went out of business in 1986 but the building is still standing.
Tracks and train cars in Chicago freight tunnel. (Bain News Service photo, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
A 1915 map of the very extensive Chicago freight tunnel system.
Not all was sweetness and light in Chicago’s freight tunnels, as this press account of a 1937 sit-down strike indicates.
Chicago Tunnel Company locomotive 508 at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2008. (John McCluskey Photo)
Work car AA59 at Devon Station (car house) on November 15, 1953. Andre Kristopans gives a scrap date of 1956 for this car. Don’s Rail Photos says, “These cars were built by St. Louis Car in 1903 and 1906 for Chicago Union Traction Co. They are similar to the Robertson design without the small windows. Cars of this series were converted to one man operation in later years and have a wide horizontal stripe on the front to denote this. A number of these cars were converted to sand and salt service and as flangers.” The “Matchbox” 1374 at IRM is part of this same series (1101-1425). Looks like a Postwar PCC behind it.
Celebrating Labor Day, here is the second in a two-part series featuring Chicago Surface Lines work cars. You can find part one here.
Much of what we know about these cars comes from Don’s Rail Photos, a very comprehensive source of information.
As always, if you know more than we do, please share it with us, so we can improve our efforts. You can leave a comment on this post, or e-mail us directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We asked Andre Kristopans if it might be possible that CSL streetcar RPO (railway post office) car H2, shown in our previous post, may be the same car also pictured later as money car M201.
Here is his reply:
CSL did a lot of scrapping in the late 30’s, partially in order to “balance the books” after the pre-war PCC’s came. They had to retire an “equivalent value”, which is why a lot of Matchboxes (1100-1400’s) were scrapped around then, along with old work cars, and interestingly some old single-truckers that had been in storage since about 1918 as what would now be called a “contingency fleet”. More than likely H2 went in that purge, though I can’t say for sure.
Sometimes the Surface Lines kept cars in storage for decades, just in case they might be usable for some purpose in the future.
Sweeper E223 is one of the very few pieces of CSL work equipment that have survived. It was purchased by Dick Lukin in 1956 and eventually made its way to the Illinois Railway Museum.
You can help support our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store. You can make a donation there as well.
As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”
We thank you for your support.
This former mail car ended its days as a CSL supply car. Not sure if this is the same car as H201 in our previous post. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)
SS1 appears to be a portable substation. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)
Don’s Rail Photos says, “S3 was built by Chicago Rys in 1911 as 3. It was renumbered S3 in 1913 and became CSL S3 in 1914.” Note the trolley coach at rear.
Don’s Rail Photos says, “L202 was built by Chicago City Ry in 1909 as CCRy C50. It was renumbered L202 in 1913 and became CSL L202 in 1914. It was rebuilt as S343 in 1959 and acquired by Railway Equipment Leasing & Investment Co in 1979. It was acquired by Fox River Trolley Museum in 1983 and restored as L202.”
Sweeper E18 in action. From the Park Theatre in the background, we can tell that this is Lake Street at Austin Boulevard, the west city limits and end of the #16 Lake Street route. There are a couple more photos of the same movie theater in our earlier post West Towns Streetcars in Black-and-White.
E304 at work.
E209 at 69th yards in January 1941. (Vic Wagner Photo)
Sweepers E8 and E7. (Stephen D. Maguire Photo)
Plow E6 on January 9, 1954. (Gordon E. Lloyd Photo)
CSL 701, built by the Pressed Steel Company in 1909. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “These cars were built to the same design as the Pullmans.” (Earl Clark Photo)
Snow plow F305.
Sand car/snow plow D212 at 70th and Ashland.
Home-made snow plows F301 and F304. Chances are these were scrapped prior to the 1947 CTA takeover of CSL.
Don’s Rail Photos says , “E57 was built by Russell in 1930.” (Stephen D. Maguire Photo)
Sweepers E27, E221, “Matchbox” 1362, and sprinkler/plow D4. Don’s Rail Photos says, “E27 was built by McGuire-Cummings as CRys E27. It became CSL E27 in 1914.”
Sweeper E227 in action.
Apparently this photo, which was mis-marked as Chicago, must be from somewhere else. As Andre Kristopans points out, Chicago’s sweepers were all in an E or F series, and the paint scheme of the streetcar at right is not CSL. Perhaps one of our readers can help us figure out where this is from. (Roy Bruce Photo)
Heavy duty sweeper E18 in action. (Stephen D. Maguire Photo)
Sweeper E25 in action on February 5, 1942. (Robert S. Crockett Photo)
Sand car R202 at South Shops in March 1948. (C. Edward Hedstrom, Sr. Photo)
Sweeper E40 awaiting scrapping at South Shops, with L201 at rear, on February 22, 1955. (C. Edward Hedstrom, Sr. Photo)
Sweeper 0103 on Sloane Avenue in 1941.
While not Surface Lines equipment, electric loco S-104, which CTA inherited from the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, does fit in with the overall theme of this post (labor). Don’s Rail Photos says, “S-104 was built by Baldwin-Westinghouse in August 1920, #53555, as Northwestern Elevated RR S-104. In 1923 it became CRT S-104 and CTA S-104 in 1948. In 1978 it was sold to Toledo Edison Co as 4. It was sold to Rail Foundation in 1996.” This photo was taken in April 1955.