An Interurban Legacy

A modern EMU carries passengers on the CSS&SB while a vintage steeple cab hauls freight on the Iowa Traction.

(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by guest contributor Kenneth Gear, long a friend of this blog.)

The demise of America’s electric railways, its interurban and trolley lines, was swift and merciless. What the financial hardships of the Great Depression didn’t destroy, the automobile finished off by the end of the 1960s.

All that remains of some of these railways, if anything remains, is a bike trail on the right of way, some preserved equipment, photographs, or sound recordings on record albums.

In some cases, however, rail service managed to continue, where a few freight customers remained the railroad could survive on a starvation diet. Abandoning all but a few miles of track, deactivation of the electric traction system, and the use of diesel locomotives kept the railroad from completely disappearing.

This, with the exception of the South Shore Line for passengers and Iowa Traction for freight, is how most of the common carrier remnants of the age of electric railways look today.

In my railfan travels I have made an effort to seek out and photograph these survivors. While I haven’t gotten every one on my list I did visit a few and I’d like to share to the photos. In some cases I was only able to get a few locomotive roster shots but other times, I was lucky enough to find a moving train and follow to various places along the line. I also photographed railroads that were never part of an electric railway but, coincidentally or not, share their corporate title with some long gone traction company. I included these photos as well.

I have cobbled together (mostly from Wikipedia) a brief history of each the railways.

THE RAILROADS I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED:

Baltimore & Annapolis

Cedar Rapids & Iowa City

Chicago South Shore & South Bend

Greenville & Western

Piedmont & Northern

South Brooklyn

Southern Indiana

Tulsa Sapulpa Union

IN NAME ONLY

Western New York & Pennsylvania

Indiana Rail Road

Shore Fast Line

The Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad ran between Annapolis and Clifford Maryland.

B&A electric passenger operation between the two cities continued until 1950, at which time the rail line became solely a freight carrier, operating buses for passenger service. Freight service to Annapolis continued until June 1968 when the Severn River Trestle was declared unsafe. In the 1980s the line was completely shut down. The right of way now serves as part of the Baltimore light rail system and as the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.

I happened to stumble upon Baltimore & Annapolis SW-9 87 while railfanning the Carolina Southern RR at Chadbourn, NC. This locomotive was built by EMD in 1953. June 22, 1998.

The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway is also known as the Crandic. The Crandic began operations in 1904, providing interurban service between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa. While freight was important to the Crandic in the early years, it was better known for its passenger interurban operations. After passenger operations were discontinued in 1953, freight became the primary source of traffic for the Crandic. At the same time, the electric-powered locomotives were replaced with diesel models.

In August of 2006 while on my way to Mason City, IA to photograph Iowa Traction, I stopped off to see what I could find in Cedar Rapids. Near 8th Avenue SW I spotted Cedar Rapids & Iowa City SW-900 #99 switching the ADM plant.

Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, America’s last interurban, began in 1901 as the Chicago & Indiana airline railroad, a streetcar route between East Chicago and Indiana Harbor. By 1908 its route had reached South Bend via Michigan City. The company leased the Kensington & Eastern Railroad (an Illinois Central subsidiary) to gain access to Chicago. Passenger service between South Bend and Chicago began in 1909. The Lake Shore added freight service in 1916. It was renamed the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad in 1925 when Samuel Insull acquired it. The post-World War II decline in traffic hurt the company, and it was bought by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in 1967. In 1977 the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) began subsidizing the passenger operations and in 1984 the Venango River Corporation (VRC) purchased the South Shore from the C&O. Venango declared bankruptcy in 1989. In 1990 Anacostia & Pacific Company acquired the South Shore. The NICTD purchased the passenger assets.

Because the freight and passenger operations of this railroad are conducted (pun intended) by different entities, I think it is not off topic to include it on my list of former electric railway. after all, the freight trains are diesel powered.

CSS&SB South Shore Freight GP-38-2s 2004/2009 & 2003 at the Carroll Avenue shops in Michigan City IN. (10-15-09)

South Shore Freight GP38-2s 2002/2007 running lite on 11th Street in Michigan City IN on a rainy October 15, 2009.

The Piedmont & Northern Railway was a heavy electric interurban company operating over two disconnected divisions in North and South Carolina. Unlike similar interurban systems the Piedmont & Northern survived the great depression and was later absorbed into the Seaboard Coast line in 1969 and eventually absorbed by CSX. The North Carolina Department of Transportation bought 12 miles of the railroad from Mt. Holly, NC to Gastonia, NC in May 2010 and awarded a contract to Patriot Rail Corporation to restore the track and operate trains. Iowa Pacific took over operation of the line on August 1, 2015.

By the time I visited the P&N, Patriot Rail had already given up on the railroad and nothing was running. I found Piedmont & Northern GP-15-1s # 1434 & 1451 at Renlo, NC. The locomotives had no work to do but at least they were sitting in good sunlight in a wide open area and I was able to get good roster shots. Knowing the engines weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, I ventured back at nightfall with my night photo kit and popped off a few flashbulbs. (October 5, 2014)

Another short line operating on Ex-P&N tracks is the Greenville & Western.

The Greenville & Western Railroad operates on twelve miles of the former Southern division of the Piedmont & Northern Railway between Pelzer and Belton, SC. In 1910 the Greenville Spartanburg & Anderson Railway was formed to build an interurban railroad between its namesake cities. The Pelzer-Belton segment was built as part of its mainline from Greenwood to Greenville between 1910-1912. This line became part of the P&N in 1914, SCL in 1968 and CSX in 1986. CSX sought to abandon the line from Belton to Pelzer but the abandonment was rejected by the Surface Transportation Board. Effective October 21, 2006 GRLW assumed ownership and operation of the line.

Photo Captions (numbered in upper left corner):

1. Greenville & Western GP-9s # 3751 & 3752 about to depart the ethanol plant at Cheddar and head to the CSX interchange at Pelzer, SC.

2, 3, & 4. Greenville & Western GP-9s # 3751 & 3752 power an ethanol train at Williamston, SC. October 8, 2014.

5. Not much of the Ex-P&N’s interurban past is evident today but at Belton, SC there is some side of the road running that harkens to the past. GRLW GP-9s are in the yard waiting for the next trip out.

6 & 7. Greenville & Western GP-9s # 3751 & 3752 at Belton. Both units are ex-B&O and look grand in GRLW’s classy paint scheme.

8. The Greenville & Western interchanges with the Pickens RR in the Belton yard. Here Pickens U18B # 9504 delivers a cut of cars late in the afternoon of October 8, 2014.

9. Greenville & Western GP-9 # 3752 was built by EMD in July of 1957 and is Ex-B&O # 6554.

10. Greenville & Western GP-9 # 3751 takes three cars to Cheddar as it passes through Belton.

11. Greenville & Western GP-9 # 3751 at Cheddar, SC This locomotive was built by EMD in May of 1957 and is Ex-B&O # 6513. (October 8, 2014)

12. On another day, Greenville & Western GP-9 # 3751 again passes through Belton on it’s way to Cheddar, SC. (October 9, 2014)

The South Brooklyn Railway started as The South Brooklyn Railroad and Terminal Company and was incorporated September 30, 1887 to build from the end of the Brooklyn Bath & West End Railroad (West End Line) at 38th Street and 9th Avenue northwest to the foot of 38th Street, and was leased to the BB&WE, allowing BB&WE trains to run to the 39th Street Ferry. Then the Prospect Park and South Brooklyn Railroad connected the Culver Line to the South Brooklyn Railroad in 1890, and the latter was bought by the Long Island Rail Road in 1893. The LIRR obtained the South Brooklyn Railway & Terminal Company lease on the land in 1897 and used steam powered locomotives. As these locomotives could not be used for freight operations, the line was electrified in 1899. After foreclosure of the South Brooklyn Railroad & Terminal Company in December 1899, the company was reorganized as the South Brooklyn Railway on January 13, 1900.

The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company acquired the railway on August 31, 1902, but the LIRR still ran the trains until 1903 or 1905. After the cessation of LIRR operations, the BRT started passenger service and transferred freight service to a subsidiary, Brooklyn Heights Railroad, which provided freight service with three locomotives, with a fourth delivered in 1907. It carried mail for the United States Postal Service, as well as lumber, cement, sand, stone, ashes, pipe, marble for headstones, and granite for curbstones. On February 28, 1907, the South Brooklyn Railway and the Brooklyn Heights Railroad were split from each other, but both were still owned by the BRT. The South Brooklyn Railway was a separate subsidiary company that carried both passengers and freight. In 1913, all of the BRT’s lines were reorganized, and all ownership of freight operations was transferred to the South Brooklyn Railway. The railway, along with the other non-rapid transit properties were transferred to the New York City Board of Transportation on June 1, 1940. In 1946 the railway purchased two Whitcomb ex-US Army diesel locomotives. Operations were transferred to the New York City Transit Authority on June 15, 1953. Passenger service ended on October 31, 1958, and thereafter the South Brooklyn Railway started using the surface trackage solely for freight. In 1960, two more diesel electric locomotives were bought. On December 27, 1961, the line was de-electrified, due to the high cost of refurbishing the overhead trolley wire. Electric locomotives #4, 5, 6, and 7, which had third rail conduction shoes, were given to the NYCTA for subway and elevated operation. In 1994, the last non-NYCTA customer on the line closed; the South Brooklyn Railway was then used almost exclusively for subway connections to the LIRR.

Photo Captions (numbered in upper left corner):

1, 2, & 3 When I took these photos of the South Brooklyn Railway they still had on line freight customers that needed service. GE 50T locomotives # N2 & N1 deliver one car to the Bush interchange yard for pick up by the New York Cross Harbor RR.

4. N2 has cut away from N1 while the NYCH crew, with Alco S-1 # 22, is in the background coupling up to the lone car that SBK delivered.

5, 6, & 7. SBK GE 50T N1 and NYCH Alco S-1 # 22 are side by side at the Bush interchange yard, Bush Junction, Brooklyn, NY in May of 1992.

8. SBK GE 50T # N1 at Bush Junction in Brooklyn, NY. Note the interesting array of trackage in the pavement of 2nd Avenue. The street trackage is used by the NYCH RR to return to Bush Terminal a few blocks away.

9. On June 5, 1993 the New York Cross Harbor RR held an open house and yard tour at Bush Terminal. South Brooklyn 50T N1 was on hand that day and was posed with freight cars (box cars for recycling materials) at the entrance of the yard.

10. SBK 50T # N1 takes the box cars a short distance and drops them at the recycling plant.

11. SBK N1 and N2 travel lite along the street trackage heading back to home rails. On the way the tracks cut through the corner of the Bush terminal building at 41st Street & 2nd Avenue. NYCH follows behind.

12. SBK 50Ts # N2 and N1 with a cut of NYCTA R30 subway cars heading for scrap. Bush interchange yard, Brooklyn NY 6-5-93.

13. SBK 50T N1 with scrap NYCTA R30 subway cars.

14. South Brooklyn 50Ts N2 & N1 at Bush interchange yard with the Manhattan skyline in the distance. Brooklyn NY.

15. SBK GE 50Ts N2 & N1 and NYCH S-1 22 at the Bush interchange yard Brooklyn NY. (6-5-93)

The Southern Indiana Railroad was once part of the Indiana Railroad. It started as the Indianapolis and Louisville Traction Company organized to build track between Seymour and Sellersburg as part of the Interstate Public Service Company interurban line which extended from Indianapolis to Louisville. The track was completed in 1907. It was the first railway in the country to operate on a 1200 volt high tension, direct current system. The Indiana Railroad abandoned operations and the last train operated on October 31, 1939. The Southern Indiana RR began operations the same year on the six miles of track between Speed and Watson, IN where an interchange is made with CSX. The Railroad is now owned by Essroc Cement Company. (From Lake Iola Interurban Site historic marker and THE AMERICAN SHORTLINE RAILWAY GUIDE)

Photo Captions (numbered in upper left corner):

1, 2, 3, & 4. When I arrived in Speed, Indiana early on the morning of October 7, 2015 the Southern Indiana Railroad was already hard at work switching the ESSROC Cement plant. SIND S-2M # 103 (Ex-Pickens RR # 7 and was repowered by GE with a Cummins engine) is looking great in it’s traction orange paint. The tracks being embedded in the pavement of the cement plant’s driveway almost gives the appearance of street tracks, another nod to this railroad’s interurban past.

5. On the road…SIND S-2M # 103 is crossing Utica Street in Sellersburg. The road’s enginehouse is located here a short distance away.

6. S-2M 103 is on the move near Jeffersonville, IN

7. Southern Indiana S-2M 103 travels through the back yards of Watson on it’s way to the CSX interchange.

8. Another view of Southern Indiana S-2M 103 at Watson.

9. To me this photo has a very strong traction “feel” to it. With the traction orange locomotive, pole line, and side of the street running all that is missing is over head wire and a trolley pole. S-2M 103 is arriving at the CSX interchange at Watson.

10. Southern Indiana S-2M 103 at Watson, IN 10-7-15.

11. Southern Indiana S-2M # 103 crossing Watson Depot Road in Watson, IN.

12. with the Interchange work is finished number 103 heads back to speed lite.

The Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway got it’s start in 1907 with the incorporation of the Sapulpa and Interurban Railway. The line operated as an interurban streetcar line using trolley cars around Sapulpa, Oklahoma. By 1917 the line underwent bankruptcy and reorganization, being incorporated as the Sapulpa Electric Interurban Railway. This same year the line was extended north to connect with the Oklahoma Union Railway out of Tulsa. In 1933 the railway once again hit upon tough times and was in receivership and operated under the name Oklahoma Union Salvage Company. The company was purchased in 1934 by George F. Collins who owned and operated a Sapulpa glass plant known as the Liberty Glass Company. The line has remained in the Collins family’s control since that time forward. It was at this time the line became a freight railroad operation only with the glass plant being one of its principal customers. The line continued to be powered by electric overhead wire using freight box motors for motive power. In 1934 the name was changed to the Sapulpa Union Railway Company and to the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway in 1943. The electric overhead wires came down in 1960 with the purchase of diesel electric locomotives. The line continues to operate serving industry between Sapulpa and Tulsa, Oklahoma. (condensed from the TSU Rwy. website)

Photo Captions (numbered in upper left corner):

1. Tulsa Sapulpa Union Railway sign at the enginehouse in Sapulpa, OK.

2. Tulsa Sapulpa Union SW-1200 # 108 switching the Sinclair refinery in Tulsa OK on September 26, 2008.

3 & 4. Tulsa Sapulpa Union SW-1200 # 108 is crossing 37th Street SW in Tulsa, OK.

5 & 6. A couple more shots of Tulsa Sapulpa Union SW-1200 # 108 switching the Sinclair Refinery.

7. Number 108 with the City of Tulsa in the background.

8, 9, & 10. Tulsa Sapulpa Union SW-7 1905 (formerly #107) at the engine house in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. (9-26-08)

Western New York & Pennsylvania

Although this ALCO powered railroad operates on former Erie and Pennsylvania railroad trackage, it bears the name of a former interurban line that once operated in the same area. The Western New York & Pennsylvania Traction Company began operations in 1894 and connected Olean, NY and Allegany, PA. The line ceased operation in 1921.

1. WNY&P M-630 # 631 at the Olean, NY locomotive facility.

2. WNY&P C-430 # 430 at Olean, NY

3. WNY&P C-630 # 630 Olean NY 10-3-09



Indiana Railroad

This railroad operates tracks once belonging to the Illinois Central and Milwaukee Road. Nonetheless its locomotives carry the name of that famous Midwest Interurban– the Indiana Railroad. IR hung on for a few years after the depression but in 1941 a wreck with fatalities south of Indianapolis put an abrupt end to the last operation of interurbans in Indiana (other than the South Shore Line).

1. Indiana Rail Road SD40-2 # 42 leads train HWPAT at Jasonville, IN. (6-7-09)

2. There is no missing the Indiana Rail Road name in logo on Indiana SD40-2 # 42.

3. An SD-9043MAC on a unit coal train is not what immediately springs to most railfan’s mind when interurban railways are mentioned. However, with the name of a former traction company emblazoned on the locomotive, that was exactly what I was thinking about while watching this train. Indiana Rail Road # 9005 and 9006 power a coal train at Switz City IN.

Shore Fast Line Railroad

This New Jersey short line started running trains on former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines and Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks owned by NJ Transit and Conrail in 1983. Interestingly, the management decided to name the railroad for, and paint the locomotives in the paint scheme of, the Atlantic City & Shore Railway known as the Shore Fast Line. The Shore Fast Line was an electric interurban railroad running from Atlantic City to Ocean City, NJ, by way of the mainland communities of Pleasantville, Northfield, Linwood and Somers Point. The line ran from 1907 until 1948. The Shore Fast Line short line railroad changed ownership and its corporate name in 1991 becoming the Southern Railroad of New Jersey.

1. Shore Fast Line SW-1200 # 1145 at Winslow Junction, NJ. (5-30-90)

2, 3, & 4. Shore Fast Line U30B # 2884 at Winslow Junction, NJ. 5-15-91 The triangles on the nose of the 2884 are the same as the ones that were painted on the ends of the AC&S Railways streetcars!

Bob Reuter adds:

The B&A engine shown (#87) was only used for a very short time, the number of the unit is actually the year it was acquired. Attached is a photo of unit #50 which was used for almost the entire time the B&A used diesel. This photo was taken in 1977 as it rolled out of the shop in its brand new paint scheme. (This engine is currently at the B&O railroad museum.)

Photo credit: Bob Reuter

Former employee of the B&A RR

Recent Correspondence

Dan Bosque writes:

I am researching a family group that lived at the intersection of Larretta Ct (aka Loretta Ct) and Tilden Street (later renamed Carpenter) in Chicago. This area was surrounded by Aberdeen, Van Buren, Morgan and Congress (now the Eisenhower Expressway).

The time period of interest is 1900 to 1940 during which the Garfield Park branch of the L train ran along Tilden, perhaps along properties on the south of Tilden Street.

Would someone have photos of the tracks in this area that might show buildings in the background?

Beside an image, I’m trying to get a sense of living along narrow streets with lots of residents and a train going through the neighborhood repeatedly.

I did find a photo showing the end to Tilden at Racine with a streetcar on Rancine going under the elevated tracks. It showed a Tilden street sign but not anything for Tilden street. If the Google car was there, I’d move it’s position ahead and point it left.

We have (in previous posts) run various pictures of the Metropolitan “L” on the near west side. If you type “Garfield” in the search window at the top of this page, these should come up. Otherwise, we’ll see if our readers have more pictures to share, thanks.

Miles Beitler writes:

I just found these 1950s railfan videos. They include action shots of CTA 6000s, 4000s, wood cars, PCC streetcars, Red Rocket streetcars, buses, North Shore Line and CA&E trains, Diesel and Steam locomotives, Illinois Central and South Shore trains. Also you can see the CTA yards at Laramie, Logan Square, and Wilson.

Thanks very much. These videos should be of particular interest to our readers.

Some of these films were made circa 1952-54, since red Chicago streetcars are seen running in service. The CA&E portions were taken prior to September 20, 1953, when service was cut back to Forest Park. There are also shots of Milwaukee streetcars.

The South Shore Line video includes film of East Chicago street running, which was relocated adjacent to the Indiana Toll Road in 1956. You can tell this is East Chicago, because it’s double-tracked. The South Shore’s other street running in Michigan City and South Bend was almost entirely single-track.

Alan R. writes:

I was wondering if you had any information or photos concerning the Grand Trunk Western Railroad that ran commuter service within Chicago up until at least 1935. My main interest is the Main Line-Illinois, which ran on what has been freight rail lines since then I believe, with limited commuter service until 1971. Here’s a link to where I found out about these trains. These were probably not trolleys but I’m not sure. There is one station building remaining at Chicago Lawn which I’ve seen along with the steps of the station at 59th St. Further along that line there are probably more station buildings standing. Any photos from anywhere on this line would be incredible imo.

http://www.chicagorailfan.com/msgtw.html

I am not an expert on the Grand Trunk Western, which was never electrified, always being either steam or diesel, so I asked a couple friends for their thoughts.

Andre Kristopans:

Well, I don’t know a heck of a lot about GTW commuter service, but I do know a little. Service ran until the 1950’s apparently with a couple of trains each way between Dearborn Station and Harvey. There was a station at 63rd/Central Park that was in use for thru trains until 1971 as far as I know. There were other stations that still existed into the 1970’s such as the one in Harvey (at Racine?) and one at Central Park and 82nd or so. But now the only ones are remnants at 59th and 63rd. By the way, that was a very late elevation, after WW2.

Bill Shapotkin:

As for the GTW suburban service, here is what I have/know:

Operated until 1934 (to Harvey). Until circa 1917, it operated all the way to Valparaiso, IN. Indeed, the stairs to the 59th St station are still standing (as per a Google Earth view a few days ago), as is the depot (which has served as a home for at least two unsuccessful restaurants over the years at 63rd).

There were numerous other stops as well. There are signs (evidence) of the Ashland station (platform railings). A trip along the line about 6 years ago revealed little other evidence of stations, except that the depot at Griffith remains (it has been moved and is part of the museum there). The depot at Sedley, IN (now a private home) remains, as does the depot at Valparaiso (which I understand has been recently removed).

I have pix of the depot at Eldson (51st St). Have a photocopy of a timetable (back when service ran to Valpo).

Have been at virtually all the station locations along the line…with pix at each (as they exist today). For whatever reason, the station at Harvey (which I understand stood until the early 1970s) managed to be very camera-shy (interestingly, pix of the nearby B&OCT station is Harvey do exist).

The GTW intercity trains (which made their last trips on Friday, April 30, 1971 (Amtrak eve) did serve both the stations at 63rd (known as “Chicago Lawn”) and Valparaiso.

We thank both Andre and Bill for sharing this.

One of our regular readers writes:

Here is a four minute clip of an action sequence from the 1953 film “City That Never Sleeps” which was mostly filmed on location in Chicago. I thought you might be interested since the action takes place on the L tracks with two 4000-series trains traveling in opposite directions.

In this scene, gangster Hayes Stewart — who has just murdered Chicago Police detective John Kelly — is pursued by officer John Kelly, Jr., the victim’s son. The part of Hayes Stewart was played by actor William Talman. He started his career playing criminal types, but is best known for his portrayal of district attorney Hamilton Burger in the “Perry Mason” TV series. The part of patrolman John Kelly, Jr. was played by Gig Young, a charismatic actor who unfortunately never achieved his true potential.

In the film, the dispatcher gives the location as “between Kinzie and the river just east of Wells” which would indicate the old North Water Street terminal or possibly the Merchandise Mart. However, that was artistic license; the actual spot where this was filmed was between Grand and Division on the “Evergreen Connector” portion of the Logan Square line. With the opening of the Milwaukee-Dearborn subway in 1951, this portion of the L was no longer used in revenue service, but it was retained for equipment transfers since it was the only connection between the Logan Square route and the rest of the L system.

I continue to enjoy your website. Keep it up.

I assume that when this was filmed, the third rail was turned off. When actor Bill Talman fell onto the third rail, it looks like he was holding some sort of prop in his hands which made it look like an electric spark. Perhaps if he had given up smoking sooner, he might have been able to outrun the policeman.

Thanks… and thanks also to Kenneth Gear for another great post! Keep those cards and letters coming in.

-David Sadowski

PS- Work continues on our upcoming book Chicago Trolleys, which is now in the layout and proofreading stage. Lots of work has been done on the text, and the final selection of photos has been made. We will keep you advised as things progress.

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Ringing “The Bell”

LVT interurbans 1006 and 702 at Perkasie on February 11, 1951. 702 was in fantrip service.

LVT interurbans 1006 and 702 at Perkasie on February 11, 1951. 702 was in fantrip service.

Lehigh Valley Transit

Today, we review a new book about the Liberty Bell Limited, a classic Pennsylvania interurban line that carried passengers between Philadelphia and Allentown until abandonment in the early hours of September 7, 1951. President George H. W. Bush once mistakenly referred to September 7th as Pearl Harbor Day, but to Keystone Traction enthusiasts, it will always be a day that will live in infamy.

Along with our book review, we offer a generous selection of classic Lehigh Valley Transit photos from our own collections– mostly from the Liberty Bell route, but with a few from the Easton Limited, LVT’s “other” interurban, and even a city car to boot.

P1060347

Riding the Bell: Lehigh Valley Transit’s Liberty Bell Route by Ron Ruddell
Bulletin 147 of Central Electric Railfans’ Association

There have been many books written about the famed Liberty Bell Limited over the years, including some excellent ones, but Riding the Bell, available now from Central Electric Railfans’ Association* and their dealers, is sure to stand the test of the time as the best and most comprehensive of the lot.

This is not the first time that the “Bell Route” has been covered in a CERA publication, of course. A roster appeared during World War II, and a 1000-series lightweight graced the cover of Trolley Sparks, the organization’s newsletter, when the line was still running.

The late author Ronald DeGraw included much information about LVT in his excellent book Pig & Whistle: The Story of the Philadelphia & Western Railway, published by CERA in 2007 as their 140th bulletin. However, that coverage only pertained to LVT’s use of the P&W line to Norristown, which became the Bell’s main route to Philadelphia in the early 1900s.

Author Ron Ruddell headed up a group of Pennsylvania traction historians, who labored for ten years to create a book equal to their subject. I am glad to say they have succeeded in spades. A tremendous amount of information has been put into Riding the Bell‘s 224 pages, and it would be hard to put anything else into it without needing to take out something just as important.

The 1950s were the twilight years of Keystone Traction, at least outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The LVT Liberty Bell Limited was, in some ways, the last great interurban in the eastern United States. It has been gone for 64 years now, meaning you would have to be a few years older than that to have ridden it, even as a youth.

Many Chicago-area railfans made a pilgrimage to ride it, but not all were so lucky. Ray DeGroote, still going strong at 85, did not get there until a few weeks after the interurban quit in 1951. He was able to ride and document the still-extensive LVT city streetcar system, and he saw the interurban cars in dead storage, but could not ride them. It was “one that got away.”

The Bell line is fondly remembered and riding it must have been, in some ways, like riding the world’s largest roller coaster. The area between Allentown and Philadelphia is not flat, with grades that certainly put a strain on LVT’s traction motors. It also included quite a lot of variety, with burst of high speeds, followed by numerous stops in many small towns. Several of the station buildings in these towns still exist.

Luckily for us, Lehigh Valley Transit must be about the most well-documented operation ever, perhaps even more so than the Pacific Electric or the three great Chicago-area interurbans. When it comes to photographs, there is literally an embarrassment of riches, and as a result, the book is full of fine photos, some in color. An attempt has been made not to duplicate ones that were already featured in previous LVT books.

As a subject, LVT operations covered so much ground that this book does not even attempt to document their extensive city lines or the Easton Limited, LVT’s shorter interurban. Those are wisely left to future authors and future books.

Faced with a need to either modernize or abandon rail service in 1938, LVT took the daring step of updating the Liberty Bell fleet. This task was made even more daunting due to a very constrained budget, which meant buying new PCCs or other such equipment was out of the question.

Fortunately, some relatively new (circa 1930) lightweight high-speed interurban cars were available at a relatively low cost, as the Cincinnati & Lake Erie had just been abandoned. 13 cars were purchased for the Bell, along with four Cincinnati curved-side cars for the Easton Limited, and LVT attractively modernized them.

The new cars were a hit with the public, and ridership increased. The facelift was never intended to be permanent, but was hoped to buy the interurban another five years of usefulness before the inevitable switch to bus. It ended up lasting for 12, a testament to the build quality and durability of these cars.

There were many unfortunate problems along the way. The ex-C&LE lightweights could not be coupled together. More passengers meant running additional trains in second and third sections. Inevitably, this led to a horrific accident in 1942, which was not the only such collision.

After one of the C&LE cars was destroyed in a fire, LVT purchased one additional lightweight car, which had been built for the Indiana Railroad. This was rebuilt into club car 1030, which became the standout of the fleet and one of the few Liberty Bell cars that has been preserved.

Wartime rationing of gasoline and tires also increased ridership. The wear and tear of all that hill climbing really did a number on those traction motors. Schedules had to be adjusted in the interest of safety, and running times between Allentown and Philadelphia increased.

What really would have helped LVT would have been some more of those ex-Indiana Railroad cars, which were very similar to the C&LE “Red Devils” but could be coupled together in as many as three cars at a time. More than two dozen of these cars were available circa 1940-41 but ended up being unsold and were scrapped just prior to the outbreak of World War II. They would have been quite useful to LVT.

Only two such Indiana Railroad lightweights were saved– car 55, which became LVT 1030, and car 65, which was sold to CRANDIC (Cedar Rapids and Iowa City) and eventually made its way to the Illinois Railway Museum, its first acquisition. Oddly enough, they were made by two different builders.

The end of the war in 1945 meant a steep drop-off in interurban ridership. By then, the handwriting was really on the wall for the Bell line, but the end did not come for another few years yet.

There was a piecemeal abandonment. For a variety of reasons, well covered in this book and in Pig & Whistle, service was cut back to Norristown. The Liberty Bell Limited never had a direct route to center city Philadelphia throughout its history.

Consideration was given to cutting service back to Lansdale, where the Bell could connect to Reading (now SEPTA) suburban commuter trains to Philadelphia, but this would have necessitated building a turnaround loop for the single-end cars. Since the Bell’s days were numbered anyway, LVT decided to simply let service continue as far as Norristown and the P&W.

By 1951, LVT had really let maintenance slide, to the point where, in September, only a few of the lightweight interurban cars were still operable. As soon as they could get approval for abandonment, the end was swift. Fortunately, the fans caught wind of it and the railroad allowed them to ride one last time. The rails began to come up the very next morning.

In some ways, this abandonment has some parallels in what happened a few years later to the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin. They decided not to continue running trains to Chicago’s downtown over the CTA Garfield Park “L” temporary trackage in 1953, due to expressway construction. In CA&E’s case, however, they kept up the equipment right to the end, as did the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee, which quit in 1963.

When CA&E got a local judge to allow their “temporary” abandonment of passenger service on July 3, 1957, they ceased operations immediately, stranding thousands of riders who had to scramble for a way home.

In LVT’s case, they offered a replacement bus service. Unfortunately, while the interurban could run in a straight line between towns, the bus had to follow a more convoluted path at right angles. As more and more highways were built in Pennsylvania, even the bus ridership evaporated, and the interurban bus quit without any fanfare in 1956.

While electric rail transit is undergoing a renaissance in many places around the world today, the chance that anything like a Liberty Bell service might return to the Lehigh Valley is very slim indeed. The cost would simply be too great, compared to the number of potential passengers.

But until it does, the spirit of this historic interurban is conjured up very well  in this great new volume by Ron Ruddell. Hats off to him, and to the team that worked so long and hard to make this book possible. I would also like to single out John Nicholson, who acted as project coordinator for CERA in bringing this very worthy book over the finish line. Publishing any book like this is a very complicated effort.

The layout, by the veteran team of Jack and Ad Sowchin, is handsome and attractive. CERA merits a lot of credit as well for publishing this wonderful addition to the historical record.

Even if you do not live in Pennsylvania, the book may interest you. The Bell was one of the classic interurbans and, in one way or another, it had many connections to the Midwest.

It is highly recommended, and I urge you to purchase a copy if you have not done so already. Only limited quantities of such books are made, and once they run out, the prospect of them being reprinted is unlikely for a variety of reasons.

Many previous CERA books have become collector’s items and cost more to buy used than they did when new. I will not be surprised when this book sells out and if you don’t purchase your copy today, you may have difficulty picking one up in the future.

In addition to this book, there are also some excellent Liberty Bell videos on the market, and those will really give you an idea of what the line was all about, after you have whetted your appetite by feasting on Riding the Bell.

-David Sadowski

PS- You can also experience some of the twilight of Keystone Traction via one of our recently released audio CDs, featuring 1950s-era Hi-Fi recordings of Johnstown Traction, Altoona & Logan Valley, and Scranton Transit, available from our Online Store.  Just look for the Railroad Record Club disc with LPs 23 and 30 on it.

*Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with Central Electric Railfans’ Association.


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LVT 812 at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby on August 12, 1934. Most people refer to this as Philadelphia, but it is just outside the city limits. Don's Rail Photos says, "812 was built by St Louis Car in 1901 as 159. It was rebuilt as 999 in 1914 and rebuilt as 812 in 1921. It was scrapped in November 1951."

LVT 812 at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby on August 12, 1934. Most people refer to this as Philadelphia, but it is just outside the city limits. Don’s Rail Photos says, “812 was built by St Louis Car in 1901 as 159. It was rebuilt as 999 in 1914 and rebuilt as 812 in 1921. It was scrapped in November 1951.”

LVT 808 in Allentown on April 22, 1934. Don's Rail Photos: "808 was built by Jewett Car in 1913. It was rebuilt as C15 in 1935." The C-series cars were used for interurban freight.

LVT 808 in Allentown on April 22, 1934. Don’s Rail Photos: “808 was built by Jewett Car in 1913. It was rebuilt as C15 in 1935.” The C-series cars were used for interurban freight.

LVT 805 at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby. This car was built by Jewett circa 1912-13. Apparently this car has been preserved and is privately owned but not operable.

LVT 805 at 69th Street terminal in Upper Darby. This car was built by Jewett circa 1912-13. Apparently this car has been preserved and is privately owned but not operable.

LVT 812 in the Easton town circle on June 30, 1947, making a rare appearance on LVT's "other" interurban, the Easton Limited by way of a fantrip. (James Maloney, Jr. Photo)

LVT 812 in the Easton town circle on June 30, 1947, making a rare appearance on LVT’s “other” interurban, the Easton Limited by way of a fantrip. (James Maloney, Jr. Photo)

LVT 812 on Broad Street in Bethlehem on June 30, 1947. The occasion was a fantrip. Many fans considered it a real shame that the 812 was not saved. Other than the 1030, it was the "jewel of the fleet." (James Maloney, Jr. Photo)

LVT 812 on Broad Street in Bethlehem on June 30, 1947. The occasion was a fantrip. Many fans considered it a real shame that the 812 was not saved. Other than the 1030, it was the “jewel of the fleet.” (James Maloney, Jr. Photo)

LVT 1007 at Perkasie on November 12, 1939.

LVT 1007 at Perkasie on November 12, 1939.

LVT 1020 at 69th Street terminal in 1939, shortly after being modernized. Don's Rail Photos: "1020 was built by Cincinnati Car in April 1930, #3055, as C&LE 113. It was renumbered 413 in 1932 and sold to LVT as 1020 in 1938. It was scrapped in 1951."

LVT 1020 at 69th Street terminal in 1939, shortly after being modernized. Don’s Rail Photos: “1020 was built by Cincinnati Car in April 1930, #3055, as C&LE 113. It was renumbered 413 in 1932 and sold to LVT as 1020 in 1938. It was scrapped in 1951.”

Another view of 1020 taken at the same time as the previous photo. Jim Boylan adds, "Location is the wye where the Victory Ave. bus garage is now, across the tracks from the P&W's 72nd St. Shops."

Another view of 1020 taken at the same time as the previous photo. Jim Boylan adds, “Location is the wye where the Victory Ave. bus garage is now, across the tracks from the P&W’s 72nd St. Shops.”

LVT 702, 704, and 710 are southbound on a fantrip at West Point on April 15, 1951. This was the first and only time a matched set of three 700-series cars were operated as a multiple unit. Shortly after this, the 710, looking pretty shabby here, was scrapped.

LVT 702, 704, and 710 are southbound on a fantrip at West Point on April 15, 1951. This was the first and only time a matched set of three 700-series cars were operated as a multiple unit. Shortly after this, the 710, looking pretty shabby here, was scrapped.

LVT 702 at Locust Siding on February 11, 1951.

LVT 702 at Locust Siding on February 11, 1951.

LVT 1009 at Hatfield on May 9,1951. (William D. Slade Photo)

LVT 1009 at Hatfield on May 9,1951. (William D. Slade Photo)

From this scene, it would appear that a Liberty Bell Limited lightweight is backing up to the LVT downtown terminal in Allentown. Meanwhile, LVT city streetcar 900 passes by. Don's Rail Photos says, "900 was built by Brill Car Co in February 1917, (order) #20206. It was (later) rebuilt." Looks like an LVT employee is crossing the street.

From this scene, it would appear that a Liberty Bell Limited lightweight is backing up to the LVT downtown terminal in Allentown. Meanwhile, LVT city streetcar 900 passes by. Don’s Rail Photos says, “900 was built by Brill Car Co in February 1917, (order) #20206. It was (later) rebuilt.” Looks like an LVT employee is crossing the street.

An LVT 1100-series lightweight interurban, still looking shiny, in the Easton town square circa 1939. These Cincinnati curved-side cars were built in 1929 for the Dayton & Troy. They were repossessed in 1932 and remained at the Cincinnati Car Company plant until sold to LVT in 1938. After the Easton Limited was bussed in 1949, two of the four cars were sold to Speedrail in Milwaukee, where one operated briefly as car 66. Unfortunately all four cars were scrapped.

An LVT 1100-series lightweight interurban, still looking shiny, in the Easton town square circa 1939. These Cincinnati curved-side cars were built in 1929 for the Dayton & Troy. They were repossessed in 1932 and remained at the Cincinnati Car Company plant until sold to LVT in 1938. After the Easton Limited was bussed in 1949, two of the four cars were sold to Speedrail in Milwaukee, where one operated briefly as car 66. Unfortunately all four cars were scrapped.

LVT 812 heading towards Allentown on the Liberty Bell Limited.

LVT 812 heading towards Allentown on the Liberty Bell Limited.

An LVT 1000-series car delivers newspapers (probably dailies from Philadelphia) in Allentown.

An LVT 1000-series car delivers newspapers (probably dailies from Philadelphia) in Allentown.

LVT 1030, the so-called "Golden Calf" of the fleet, on a National Railway Historical Society fantrip on September 28, 1941. This club car was just being introduced into regular service at this time, and had been extensively rebuilt from Indiana Railroad car 55. Don's Rail Photos: "1030 was built by American Car & Foundry in 1931, #1203, as Indiana RR 55. It was rebuilt in 1934 (as a club car) and rebuilt as C&LE 1030 in 1941. It was acquired by Seashore Trolley Museum in 1951."

LVT 1030, the so-called “Golden Calf” of the fleet, on a National Railway Historical Society fantrip on September 28, 1941. This club car was just being introduced into regular service at this time, and had been extensively rebuilt from Indiana Railroad car 55. Don’s Rail Photos: “1030 was built by American Car & Foundry in 1931, #1203, as Indiana RR 55. It was rebuilt in 1934 (as a club car) and rebuilt as C&LE 1030 in 1941. It was acquired by Seashore Trolley Museum in 1951.”

LVT 1103 on the Easton Limited interurban. From the looks of the cars, this picture probably dates to around 1939. (Larry Gaillard Photo)

LVT 1103 on the Easton Limited interurban. From the looks of the cars, this picture probably dates to around 1939. (Larry Gaillard Photo)

LVT 1007 making a fantrip photo stop on the Liberty Bell Limited. A fan with a box camera is jumping off.

LVT 1007 making a fantrip photo stop on the Liberty Bell Limited. A fan with a box camera is jumping off.

CRANDIC 111, shown here on June 10, 1953, was another ex-Cinicinnati & Lake Erie lightweight interurban car. While all the ones that went to LVT were scrapped, some of the ones that went to CRANDIC were saved. Don's Rail Photos:"111 was built by Cincinnati Car in 1930, #3055, as C&LE 111. It was sold to Crandic in 1939 and kept the same number. In 1954 it was sold to an individual and stored at Emporia, KS, until 1973. It was then donated to the Bay Area Electric Railway Association at Rio Vista, CA. It has been restored as Crandic 111."

CRANDIC 111, shown here on June 10, 1953, was another ex-Cinicinnati & Lake Erie lightweight interurban car. While all the ones that went to LVT were scrapped, some of the ones that went to CRANDIC were saved. Don’s Rail Photos:”111 was built by Cincinnati Car in 1930, #3055, as C&LE 111. It was sold to Crandic in 1939 and kept the same number. In 1954 it was sold to an individual and stored at Emporia, KS, until 1973. It was then donated to the Bay Area Electric Railway Association at Rio Vista, CA. It has been restored as Crandic 111.”

One other Indiana Railroad high-speed car had a second life, in addition to 55. Car 65 became Cedar Rapids and Iowa City 120, shown here on June 10, 1953. From Don's Rail Photos: "120 was built by Pullman in 1931, #6399, as Indiana Railroad 65. It was sold to the Crandic as 120 in 1941. In 1954 it was purchased as the first car of the Illinois Electric Railway Museum and restored as IRR 65." The last official run of a CRANDIC passenger train occurred on May 30, 1953.

One other Indiana Railroad high-speed car had a second life, in addition to 55. Car 65 became Cedar Rapids and Iowa City 120, shown here on June 10, 1953. From Don’s Rail Photos: “120 was built by Pullman in 1931, #6399, as Indiana Railroad 65. It was sold to the Crandic as 120 in 1941. In 1954 it was purchased as the first car of the Illinois Electric Railway Museum and restored as IRR 65.” The last official run of a CRANDIC passenger train occurred on May 30, 1953.

LVT 1001, 701, 1008 and 702 at Fairview car barn in Allentown on January 6, 1952, shortly before being scrapped.

LVT 1001, 701, 1008 and 702 at Fairview car barn in Allentown on January 6, 1952, shortly before being scrapped.

LVT 1006 in the scrap line at Bethlehem Steel on January 23, 1952.

LVT 1006 in the scrap line at Bethlehem Steel on January 23, 1952.

LVT 1030 loaded on a flat car at Riverside Yard on January 30, 1952, headed to Boston, and, eventually, the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine, where it remains today in operable condition.

LVT 1030 loaded on a flat car at Riverside Yard on January 30, 1952, headed to Boston, and, eventually, the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine, where it remains today in operable condition.

Machine-generated Liberty Bell Limited tickets.

Machine-generated Liberty Bell Limited tickets.

Lehigh Valley Transit's Liberty Bell Limited lightweight high-speed car 1001 (ex-Cincinnati & Lake Erie 128) at the 69th Street Terminal on the Philadelphia & Western, September 21, 1949. Soon after this picture was taken, LVT passenger service was cut back to Norristown.

Lehigh Valley Transit’s Liberty Bell Limited lightweight high-speed car 1001 (ex-Cincinnati & Lake Erie 128) at the 69th Street Terminal on the Philadelphia & Western, September 21, 1949. Soon after this picture was taken, LVT passenger service was cut back to Norristown.