An early railfan photographer (probably armed with a folding or box camera) captures Gary Railways cars 9 and 17 passing each other, probably circa 1938-39. According to Mitch Markovitz, this is “45th on the Crown Point Line.”
This post features many classic railfan pictures of Gary Railways in the Hoosier State, generously shared from the collections of William Shapotkin.
While it only existed as electric transit from 1906 to 1948, what eventually got reorganized under the name Gary Railways had some interesting characteristics that were of great interest to some of the earliest railfans. The area around Gary developed rapidly into an industrial powerhouse as soon as U.S. Steel built the Gary Works steel mill there. A vibrant and growing city rapidly emerged, but there were many surrounding areas that were kept vacant for future industrial development.
Therefore, Gary Railways had both urban and interurban characteristics. It also had quite a variety of equipment. The system was part of the Samuel Insull empire during the 1920s, and various generations of lightweight, modern cars were purchased.
As with many other electric railways, the system went into a decline during the Great Depression. There was a gradual abandonment and bus substitution, starting with the interurban portions. This, in turn, attracted the attention of many Chicago area railfans who wanted to ride and photograph these lines before they faded into oblivion.
Gary was easily reachable by car and via the South Shore Line. Fans chartered a trip on Gary Railways on May 1, 1938, which was later regarded as the beginning date of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association (CERA). The group wasn’t organized much until later, but that came to be regarded as the start of it all.
The Gary system also had an interesting connection to what was envisioned as the Chicago–New York Electric Air Line Railroad. This “air line” did not involve airplanes, but was meant to be high-speed rail that would travel in a straight line between Chicago and New York City.
Ultimately, only about twenty miles of this Air Line were ever built, before the entire scheme collapsed due to the tremendous cost of actually building it. Portions of what did get built were used by Gary Railways up until 1942.
John F. Humiston (1913-2003) was one of the early railfans photographers whose excellent work is featured here, along with other luminaries as Malcolm D. McCarter, Robert V. Mehlenbeck, Gordon E. Lloyd, Donald Idarius, William C. Janssen, and Edward Frank, Jr.
We will feature more photos from Gary Railways in a future post. In addition, as usual, we have some interesting recent photo finds for your enjoyment.
Our friend Kenneth Gear now has a Facebook group for the Railroad Record Club. If you enjoy listening to audio recordings of classic railroad trains, whether steam, electric, or diesel, you might consider joining.
Our Annual Fundraiser
Since we started this blog in 2015, we have posted over 13,500 images. This is our 283rd post.
In just about three week’s time, we will need to renew our WordPress subscription, our domain registration, and pay other bills associated with maintaining this site, so it is time for our Annual Fundraiser.
The Trolley Dodger blog can only be kept going with the help of our devoted readers. Perhaps you count yourself among them.
If you have already contributed in the past, we thank you very much for your help. Meanwhile, our goal for this fundraiser is just $700, which is only a fraction of what it costs us each year. The rest is made up from either the profits from the items we sell, which are not large, or out of our own pocket, which is not very large either.
There are links at the top and bottom of this page, where you can click and make a donation that will help us meet our goal again for this coming year, so we can continue to offer you more classic images in the future, and keep this good thing we have going.
We thank you in advance for your time and consideration.
Gary Railways snow sweeper 4 on November 21, 1927. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways Valparaiso Division train 12, car #1, at the Pine Street Siding alongside Central Avenue in East Gary, Indiana on July 24, 1938. Don’s Rail Photos: “1 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in May 1924, (order) #825, as Gary & Valparaiso Ry 1. It became GRy 1 in 1925 and retired in 1947.” (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 11, going eastward, meets car 14 heading in the opposite direction, on the Hammond Division at Kennedy Siding along 165th Street in Hammond. This picture was taken at 11:40 am on Friday, May 6, 1938. Don’s Rail Photos: “14 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was scrapped in 1946.” (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 11 at Sibley and Oakley at the Hammond city street terminal in 1942. The view looks west from Oakley. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 9 is on 11th Avenue, just west of Rutledge Street on the Hammond line on July 7, 1946. Don’s Rail Photos: “1st 9 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was wrecked on 5th Avenue on April 28, 1927, colliding with 201. It was scrapped. 2nd 9 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1927. It replaced 1st 9 and retired in 1946.” (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19 on an early CERA fantrip. This date might be March 19, 1939. The well-known CERA drumhead is not yet in evidence. According to the late John Marton, it was first used on a June 25, 1939 sojourn. Don’s Rail Photos: “19 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1927. It was retired in 1946 and the body was acquired by Illinois Railway Museum in 1989.” (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 8 in storage in the yard east of the Gary car barn, on January 18, 1941. Don’s Rail Photos: “8 was built by by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was retired in 1946.” (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 6 is heading west on 5th Avenue at Clarke Siding in Gary, IN on March 18, 1939. This was the last day of service on the Indiana Harbor Division. Don’s Rail Photos: “6 was built by by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was retired in 1946.” (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
It’s a bit blurred, but this looks like Gary Railways 12. Don’s Rail Photos: “12 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was scrapped in 1946.” (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
(Edward Frank, Jr. Photo, William Shapotkin Collection) Mike Franklin: “This is looking west on Sibley St. across Oakley Ave. Oakley Hotel is on the corner to the right.”
The interior of Gary Railways car 18. Don’s Rail Photos: “18 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1927. It was scrapped in 1946.” (Gordon E. Lloyd Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19 at 145th and Main in Indiana Harbor on Sunday, March 19, 1939 (the day after this line was abandoned). The view looks northwest, with St. Catherine’s Hospital in the distance. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Broadway looking north from 9th Avenue in Gary on July 8, 1909. This was the “state of the art” in streetcar and roadway construction at that time. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 18 is on Bridge Street in Gary, IN, crossing the South Shore Line, on Sunday, June 5, 1938. (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways 207 exiting the gate at the Tube Works onto 2nd Avenue in Gary on Saturday, June 18, 1938. Don’s Rail Photos: “207 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in 1918, #681, as GSRy 207. It was rebuilt by Cummings Car Co in 1927 and scrapped in 1946.” (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways 19, as a Glen Park local. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 120 at the Gary carbarn on May 1, 1938. I assume it was built by the McGuire-Cummins Manufacturing Company in 1911. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 8 at 5th Avenue and Broadway on May 8, 1932. (Robert V. Mehlenbeck Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 14 at the Mill Gate in Gary, working the Hammond route, on August 18, 1946. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 16 in Hammond on August 18, 1946. Don’s Rail Photos: “16 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was scrapped in 1946.” (William C. Janssen Photo, William Shapotkin Collection) Mike Franklin adds: “This is looking east on Sibley St toward Oakley Ave. Oakley Hotel on the corner, the Labor Temple next to the east, and the First Baptist Church (larger dome) further down. All is gone except for the white building, once the Federal Building of Hammond, in front of the car located on NE corner of State St & Oakley Ave.”
Gary Railways 17 at Mill Gate on March 19, 1939. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 121. Don’s Rail Photos: “121 was built by McGuire-Cummings Mfg Co in 1911 as G&IRy 121. It got a new roof in 1922 and retired in 1940.” (William Shapotkin Collection)
West 5th Avenue in Gary in 1924. That looks like Gary Railways car 206. If so, it was was built by Kuhlman Car Company in 1918. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 203. Don’s Rail Photos: “203 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in 1918, #681, as Gary Street Ry 203. It was rebuilt by Cummings Car Co in 1927 and scrapped in 1946.” (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 1 is turning into the carbarn off of 22nd Avenue on October 24, 1940. The view looks north from the apron of the car barn. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19, likely on one of those early late 1930s fantrips. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 15 in storage at the Gary car barn on January 18, 1941. This car was likely built by Cummings Car Company in 1926. (Malcolm D. McCarter Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
The former Gary Railways car 50 in service as a diner at 63rd Street and Central Avenue in Chicago on March 8, 1947. Don’s Rail Photos: “50 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1929. It was scrapped in 1946.” (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary, IN. The Central Electric Railfans’ Association day-after abandonment fantrip on March 19, 1939. The view looks west on 37th Street at Michigan Central Crossing (Mississippi Street). (Gordon E. Lloyd Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 3 at Mill Gate on May 1, 1938. Don’s Rail Photos: “3 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in February 1925, #851 as Gary & Hobart Traction Co 3. It became GRy 3 in 1925 and scrapped in 1947.” (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 5 is on a CERA fantrip, in front of the Hobart car barn on March 19, 1939, the day after regular service here ended. The Nickel Plate’s tracks are visible at rear. Don’s Rail Photos: “5 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in February 1925, #851, as G&HT 5. It became GRy 5 in 1925 and scrapped in 1947.” (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 12 at Mill Gate (Gary) on May 1, 1938. The EJ&E embankment is visible at rear. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 9 at Mill Gate terminal in 1942, about to pull a trip to Tolleston. (Malcolm D. McCarter Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways 213 at 45th and Grand on July 21, 1946. Don’s Rail Photos: “213 was built by Kuhlman Car Co in 1919, #658, as Buffalo & Lake Erie Traction Co 231. It was sold as G&I 213 in 1923 and rebuilt by Cummings Car Co in 1927. It was scrapped in 1947.” (Gordon E. Lloyd Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19. According to Bob Lalich, the location is Cline Avenue at the Grand Calumet River. He adds, “Photo 889 is looking south. The railroad crossing in the distance is the South Shore.” I assume this photo was taken on the same day as Shapotkin875, also in this post, on March 19, 1939. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
The idea behind the “New York Air Line” was simple– build a track in a straight path between Chicago and New York, reducing the distance traveled by a considerable amount, and use electric vehicles to compete with the steam railroads. It would have been an early form of high-speed rail. But engineering and fundraising challenges proved insurmountable, and the venture collapsed after only about 20 miles of track were built in the vicinity of Gary. Parts were incorporated into the Gary streetcar system. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary in the early 1900s. I believe this is a part of the New York Air Line. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary was a boom town that sprung up practically overnight in the early 1900s. New roads and streetcar lines sprung up along with it. (William Shapotkin Collection)
A streetcar line under construction in Gary in the early 1900s. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 6 on the Indiana Harbor Division, west on Fifth Avenue at Colfax Siding in Gary, IN on Saturday, March 18, 1939. (John F. Humiston Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Breaking ground for grading at East Gary, five miles from Gary, on June 16, 1909. From the Air Line News, July 1909. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Union Atation. Chris Cole says this “the former NYC/AMTRAK station in Gary. It still stands although in a derelict condition between the railroad tracks and the Indiana Toll Road.”(William Shapotkin Collection)
(William Shapotkin Collection)
Railroad dignitaries at Air Line Park. From the Air Line News, July 1909. (William Shapotkin Collection)
(William Shapotkin Collection)
The Lake Shore Depot in Gary in the early 1900s. (William Shapotkin Collection)
(William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways 109 in storage at the Gary car barn in September 1938. Don’s Rail Photos: “109 was built by McGuire-Cummins Mfg Co in 1910 as G&I Ry 109. It was made one man in 1927 and scrapped in 1939.” (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 102. According to the caption, street railway service in Gary was inaugurated with this car. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 17 at the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing in Tolleston on July 21, 1946. Don’s Rail Photos: “17 was built by Cummings Car Co in 1926. It was scrapped in 1946.” (Gordon E. Lloyd Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19 on a trestle along a highway. This was a CERA Railfan Special on March 13, 1939 (IMHO, this date may actually have been the 19th, in which case the late Mr. McCarter had a typo in his photo database). According to Bob Lalich, the location is Cline Avenue at the Grand Calumet River. He continues, “Photo 875 is looking north. The factory on the left was a Cudahy soap plant that made Old Dutch Cleanser. I believe there was a car shop located there as well to service Cudahy’s refrigerator fleet. The first railroad crossing near the factory is the EJ&E line between Shearson and Cavanaugh. The distant crossing is the B&OCT/SLIC joint line.” (M. D. McCarter Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Air Line car 102. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Looking west along the Air Line toward Monon Crossing on October 17, 1908. From the Air Line News, November 1908. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Laying track west of the Monon Railroad crossing on July 22, 1908. From the Air Line News, August 1908. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19 in downtown Gary, on one of those early fantrips, circa 1939. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 128 at the Gary car barn on May 1, 1938. (Donald Idarius Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 22 at the Mill Gate terminal in Gary on May 1, 1938. (Malcolm D. McCarter Photo, William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19 on a fantrip, circa 1939. (William Shapotkin Collection)
Gary Railways car 19, likely also on a 1939 CERA fantrip. (William Shapotkin Collection)
South Side Elevated locomotive #22 on April 17, 1898, just as this “L” was converting from steam to electricity (note the third rail). This was scanned from a second-generation negative. The original was a 5×7 glass plate neg, and I believe this one was contact printed from that. Now, I took out some of the most obvious imperfections with Photoshop, and the result is probably the best you could hope for, from an image that is 123 years old. (Ralph D. Cleveland Photo)
The North Shore Line’s massive Zion station, as it looked in the early 1960s. The elders in what started out as a religious community insisted that the railroad build a station this size, anticipating rapid growth in their community that did not materialize. The station was torn down within a few years of the interurban’s 1963 abandonment. The current population is about 23,500.
An early postcard view of the Chicago Stock Yards and the “L” branch by the same name.
Did Not Win
Our resources are always limited, and therefore we do not win the auctions for everything we think will interest our readers. Still, these items we did not win are definitely worth a second look:
This early image of Chicago Aurora and Elgin cars 24, 10, and 20 recently sold for $100.99. It was described as being the original 4×5″ negative, not a copy.
A North Shore Line blueprint recently sold for $122.50 on eBay. Don’s Rail Photos: “410 was built as a trailer observation car by Cincinnati Car in June 1923, #2640. It was out of service in 1932. It was rebuilt on December 31, 1942, as a two motor coach by closing in the open platform and changing the seating.”
Here is a really nice slide that I unfortunately did not win. Lehigh Valley Transit’s Liberty Bell Limited, picking up passengers in Allentown, PA. This interurban quit in 1951.
A Guide to the Railroad Record Club E-Book
William A. Steventon recording the sounds of the North Shore Line in April 1956. (Kenneth Gear Collection)
Our good friend Ken Gear has been hard at work on collecting all things related to the late William Steventon’s railroad audio recordings and releases. The result is a new book on disc, A Guide To the Railroad Record Club. This was quite a project and labor of love on Ken’s part!
Kenneth Gear has written and compiled a complete history of William Steventon‘s Railroad Record Club, which issued 42 different LPs of steam, electric, and diesel railroad audio, beginning with its origins in 1953.
This “book on disc” format allows us to present not only a detailed history of the club and an updated account of Kenneth Gear’s purchase of the William Steventon estate, but it also includes audio files, photo scans and movie files. Virtually all the Railroad Record Club archive is gathered in one place!
$10 from the sale of each RRC E-Book will go to Kenneth Gear to repay him for some of his costs in saving this important history.
Now Available on Compact Disc:
RRC08D Railroad Record Club #08 Deluxe Edition: Canadian National: Canadian Railroading in the Days of Steam, Recorded by Elwin Purington The Complete Recording From the Original Master Tapes Price: $15.99
Kenneth Gear‘s doggedness and determination resulted in his tracking down and purchasing the surviving RRC master tapes a few years back, and he has been hard at work having them digitized, at considerable personal expense, so that you and many others can enjoy them with today’s technology. We have already released a few RRC Rarities CDs from Ken’s collection.
When Ken heard the digitized version of RRC LP #08, Canadian National: Canadian Railroading in the Days of Steam, recorded by the late Elwin Purington, he was surprised to find the original tapes were more than twice the length of the 10″ LP. The resulting LP had been considerably edited down to the limited space available, 15 minutes per side.
The scenes were the same, but each was greatly shortened. Now, on compact disc, it is possible to present the full length recordings of this classic LP, which was one of Steventon’s best sellers and an all-around favorite, for the very first time.
Canadian National. Steaming giants pound high iron on mountain trails, rumble over trestles, hit torpedos and whistle for many road crossings. Mountain railroading with heavy power and lingering whistles! Includes locomotives 3566, 4301, 6013, 3560.
Total time – 72:57
$5 from the sale of RRC08D CD will go to Kenneth Gear to repay him for some of his costs in saving this important history.
Chicago’s Lost “L”s Online Presentation
We recently gave an online presentation about our book Chicago’s Lost “L”s for the Chicago Public Library, as part of their One Book, One Chicago series. You can watch it online by following this link.
The Trolley Dodger On the Air
We appeared on the Dave Plier Show on WGN radio on July 16, 2021, to discuss Chicago’s Lost “L”s. You can hear that discussion here.
Our Latest Book, Now Available:
Chicago’s Lost “L”s
From the back cover:
Chicago’s system of elevated railways, known locally as the “L,” has run continuously since 1892 and, like the city, has never stood still. It helped neighborhoods grow, brought their increasingly diverse populations together, and gave the famous Loop its name. But today’s system has changed radically over the years. Chicago’s Lost “L”s tells the story of former lines such as Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Kenwood, Stockyards, Normal Park, Westchester, and Niles Center. It was once possible to take high-speed trains on the L directly to Aurora, Elgin, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The L started out as four different companies, two starting out using steam engines instead of electricity. Eventually, all four came together via the Union Loop. The L is more than a way of getting around. Its trains are a place where people meet and interact. Some say the best way to experience the city is via the L, with its second-story view. Chicago’s Lost “L”s is virtually a “secret history” of Chicago, and this is your ticket. David Sadowski grew up riding the L all over the city. He is the author of Chicago Trolleys and Building Chicago’s Subways and runs the online Trolley Dodger blog.
The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.
Title Chicago’s Lost “L”s Images of America Author David Sadowski Edition illustrated Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2021 ISBN 1467100007, 9781467100007 Length 128 pages
Chapters: 01. The South Side “L” 02. The Lake Street “L” 03. The Metropolitan “L” 04. The Northwestern “L” 05. The Union Loop 06. Lost Equipment 07. Lost Interurbans 08. Lost Terminals 09. Lost… and Found
Each copy purchased here will be signed by the author, and you will also receive a bonus facsimile of a 1926 Chicago Rapid Transit Company map, with interesting facts about the “L” on the reverse side.
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
For Shipping to US Addresses:
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A Tribute to the North Shore Line
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the demise of the fabled North Shore Line interurban in January 2013, Jeffrey L. Wien and Bradley Criss made a very thorough and professional video presentation, covering the entire route between Chicago and Milwaukee and then some. Sadly, both men are gone now, but their work remains, making this video a tribute to them, as much as it is a tribute to the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee.
Jeff drew on his own vast collections of movie films, both his own and others such as the late William C. Hoffman, wrote and gave the narration. Bradley acted as video editor, and added authentic sound effects from archival recordings of the North Shore Line.
It was always Jeff’s intention to make this video available to the public, but unfortunately, this did not happen in his lifetime. Now, as the caretakers of Jeff’s railfan legacy, we are proud to offer this excellent two-hour program to you for the first time. The result is a fitting tribute to what Jeff called his “Perpetual Adoration,” which was the name of a stop on the interurban.
Jeff was a wholehearted supporter of our activities, and the proceeds from the sale of this disc will help defray some of the expenses of keeping the Trolley Dodger web site going.
Total time – 121:22
# of Discs – 1 Price: $19.99 (Includes shipping within the United States)
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
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CSL 3375 northbound on Clark just south of Wacker Drive in 1934. In fact, that’s a 1934 Ford, possibly a V-8, at left. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
Thanks to the generosity of George Trapp, here is a Christmas Eve helping of classic Chicago Surface Lines streetcar photos from his wonderful collection. (To see additional photos he has already shared with us, just type “George Trapp” into the search window at the top of this page. Several other posts will come up.)
Today we feature the 100 “Sedans” (aka Peter Witts) that ran in Chicago from 1929 to 1952.
As always, if you can help identify locations, or have interesting facts or reminiscences to add, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. You can leave comments on this post, or write us directly at:
FYI there will be additional posts in this series coming up in the near future, so watch this space.
The Peter Witts in Chicago
A Peter Witt streetcar (also known here as a “Sedan”), a very popular car type, was introduced in many North American cities around 1915 to 1930. Peter Witt himself (1869-1948) was a commissioner of the Cleveland Railway Company, and developed the design of these cars there.
The advantage of the Witts was to reduce dwell time at stops. Passengers boarded at the front of these two-man cars and exited at the center door after paying on their way out. Peter Witt received U. S. Patent 1,180,900 for this improvement in streetcar design.
Witt cars were popular in large cities like Cleveland and Toronto. They are still in use in Milan, Italy.
The Chicago Surface Lines Peter Witt cars were known locally as “Sedans” and were 49′ long. These 100 cars were numbered 3322-3381 and 6280-6319. They had three folding doors at the front and three sliding doors, separated by a window for the conductor’s station, at the center. The front-end dash was rounded.
The Chicago order was split between Cummings, Brill, and CSL as follows:
3322-3341, 6280-6293 – CSL (34 cars)
3342-3361, 6294-6306 – Brill (33 cars)
3362-3381, 6307-6319 – Cummings Car (33 cars)
I’m not sure whether all three batches had the same trucks and motors. A list of Brill work orders indicates theirs had Brill 76E2 trucks.
It wasn’t that unusual back then for transit operators to build some of their own cars. Starting in 1929, CSL was a very active participant in the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee, whose work developed the standardized PCC car, which soon dominated the industry.
The PCC patents were assigned to the Transit Research Corporation, whose stock was owned by the various transit operators who took part in the program. CSL apparently owned the largest amount of stock, which in turn was owned by the Chicago Transit Authority starting in 1947. Eventually Walter J. McCarter, first general manager of CTA, became the head of TRC, which I think has since been disbanded.
The Witts were speedy and attractive cars with leather seats, certainly the most modern things CSL had prior to the two experimental units and the PCCs. When considered with these, Chicago had a total of 785 modern cars.
The Sedans were mainly used on the busy Clark-Wentworth line. After the 83 prewar PCCs came on the scene in 1936-37, they also helped fill out schedules on Madison. After World War II, they eventually made their way to Cottage Grove before being retired in 1952.
They certainly could have been used longer than 23 years. Toronto had 350 Witts, built between 1921 and 1923, and the last of these was retired in 1965– more than 40 years of service.
Once the Chicago Transit Authority took over the surface and rapid transit lines in 1947, the mantra became, “get rid of all the old red streetcars.” And since the Witts were not PCCs, they got lumped into that category as well. Some were slated for conversion to one-man around 1951, but I am not certain whether any were operated in this way prior to retirement. I have seen photos showing how the door configuration on at least one car was so changed.
All 100 Sedans were scrapped in 1952. None were saved for museums, which is a real shame. Unfortunately, the Sedans were scrapped just before a museum movement started here. The Illinois Electric Railway Museum was founded in 1953, and their first purchase was Indiana Railroad car 65. The first Chicago streetcar acquired by the museum was red Pullman 144.
Likewise, the preservation efforts of the Electric Railway Historical Society did not begin until a few years later. Ultimately, ERHS saved several Chicago trolleys, all of which made their way to IRM in 1973. Additional cars were saved by CTA and made their way to IRM and the Fox River Trolley Museum in the mid-1980s.
J. G. Brill was the preeminent American streetcar manufacturer before the PCC era. While they were involved in the development of the PCC, and built experimental car 7001 for Chicago in 1934, they made a fateful decision not to pay royalties on the PCC patents, and their attempts to compete with the PCC were largely a failure. Fewer than 50 “Brilliners” (their competing model) were built, the last in 1941.
Around 1930, Brill promoted another type of standardized car called a Master Unit. However, as built, I don’t believe any two orders of Master Units were exactly the same.
There is some dispute as to whether Baltimore’s Peter Witts also qualify as Master Units. However, what defines a Witt is the manner of fare collection, and not the overall style of the car or its mechanical equipment.
As the same magazine referenced above explains:
Peter Witt was the very efficient city clerk in the administration of Cleveland, OH mayor Tom Johnson in the 1900s. In 1912, subsequent mayor Newton Baker appointed him as Street Railway Commissioner. Witt became concerned with the inefficiencies of fare collection in streetcars. Many systems still relied on the old horse car era scheme of having the conductor squeeze through the crowded car to collect fares from newly boarded passengers. After 1905, many systems adopted the “pay-as-you-enter” (PAYE) car design, with the conductor stationed at a fixed location on the rear platform to collect fares as passengers boarded and moved forward to find seats in the car interior. On busy lines, this resulted in delays while enough new passengers paid their fares to allow the last waiting passenger to find room on the rear platform so the doors could be closed and the conductor could give a two-bell signal for the motorman to proceed.
Peter Witt’s innovation was the “pay-as-you-pass” fare collection system, using a front entrance and center exit streetcar configuration. The section of the car forward of the center doors had longitudinal “bowling alley” seats to allow abundant space for newly boarded standees. The conductor was stationed just ahead of the center exit doors, and collected fares while the car was in motion either as patrons prepared to exit the car, or as they moved aft to find more comfortable seating in the rear section of the car. This greatly expedited the loading process at busy stops, and improved efficiency. The first Cleveland cars modified to Witt’s design entered service in December 1914, and were an immediate success, resulting in orders for new cars built to this design in Cleveland and in many other cities. The Peter Witt type of car remained very popular until the advent of the PCC streetcar in the 1930’s. The standard PCC used the same proven front entrance-center exit configuration, and many two-man PCCs used the Peter Witt fare collection scheme.
Before the PCC, most streetcar systems ordered unique cars specified to meet local needs and traditions. While many cities used Peter Witt type streetcars, the cars were not of the same design from city to city…
In doing the research for this review, one question remains unanswered: were the Baltimore Peter Witts Master Units? The Seashore Trolley Museum website describes the Baltimore #6144 in their collection as a “Brill Master Unit Peter Witt”. In “PCC – The Car That Fought Back”, Carlson and Schneider describe the 90 Indianapolis cars as Master Units. The Brill Master Unit was intended to be a flexible design based on standardized components, including single or double-ended single or double truck cars. The Master Unit product line also included a double truck front entrance-center exit design shown in an artist’s illustration in a Brill advertisement in the February 9, 1929 Electric Railway Journal. On the other hand Debra Brill in her History of the J.G. Brill Company states that only 78 Master Units were constructed (20 for Lima Peru, 20 for Brazil, 20 for Lynchburg, 13 for Youngstown, 3 for Yakima, 1 for Louisville, and 1 single trucker for TARS in New York). Ms. Brill does not count the 32 similar cars for Wilmington ordered before the official introduction of the Master Unit, or the single car built for a cancelled Lynchburg order and used by Brill for testing. She recognizes that the TARS and Louisville cars were the only ones that fully conformed to Brill’s Master Unit design.
Likewise, the definition of what constitutes a PCC streetcar is also a bit fluid, as detailed by noted transit historian Dr. Harold E. Cox in this article.
Each year, the holiday season creates a warm and generous feeling towards other people, and this year is no exception. Now that we are truly at our “Witt’s End,” we hope that you will enjoy these photographic gifts in the spirit in which they are intended.
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Our E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available through our Online Store, has been updated with the addition of about 12 minutes of public domain color video showing Chicago PCCs in action. These films were mainly taken on route 36 – Broadway, with a date of October 9, 1956. However, some portions of the film may have been shot earlier, since there are a couple of prewar cars seen. These were last used on route 49 – Western on June 17, 1956.
This video portion can be viewed on any computer using media player software.
Fred J. Borchert (1889-1951), some of whose work appears on this blog, was an early railfan photographer in Chicago. His work predated other early fans such as Edward Frank, Jr. (1911-1992). There are Ed Frank pictures here from as early as 1934, but Borchert’s work goes back even further than that.
I haven’t been able to find much information on Borchert, but I do know that during WWI, he drove a taxicab, and later, worked for the US Post Office. Ed Frank must have acquired at least some of Borchert’s negatives after his death, since he made prints. If anyone can provide further information on either of these gentlemen, I would appreciate it. I did at least meet Ed Frank since he used to sell his black-and-white photos at CERA meetings many years ago.
CSL Sedan 6315 is southbound on Clark at Wells on January 21, 1945. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CTA 6309 is southbound on Cottage Grove at Cermak on August 1, 1950. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CSL 6307 and crew at the Clark-Devon loop. (Krambles-Peterson Archive) One of our readers writes, “Where was this photo taken? It says Clark-Devon Loop. That was the designation for the Clark-Arthur Loop, but this photo does not appear to be taken there. The reason that I say that is because of all of the tracks in the foreground. Too many to be Clark-Arthur Loop. My guess is that it really was taken at the back of the 77th Street Station (west end of the barn) because the tracks are set in paving blocks and appear to be curved for entering the bays of the barn. The street was called “Wentworth Avenue” even though it was not a dedicated street to the public.”
CSL 6308 southbound on Clark at Armitage. (Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CSL 6297 at Vincennes and 78th.
CSL 6296 on Vincennes at 79th. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
CSL 6295 at Vincennes and 80th. (Fred J. Borchert Photo, Edward Frank, Jr. Collection)
CSL 6301, southbound on Clark Street north of Randolph. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
From the numbers on this photo, I’d say it shows one of the CSL Sedan frames at the J. G. Brill factory in 1929.
The interior of CSL 6294 as new, in a 1929 photo at the J. G. Brill plant. Brill built 33 of the 100 “Sedans,” aka Peter Witts.
Presumably another interior photo of 6294. These cars had leather seats. The “bucket” seats remind me a bit of those on Indiana Railroad lightweight high-speed interurban car 65, built two years after this car.
CSL 6305 shiny and new at the Brill plant in Philadelphia. (J. G. Brill Photo, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection)
As delivered, the 33 Sedans made for Chicago by J. G. Brill came with 76E2 trucks. However, that was job #22768, which does not match the number in this photo. The Brill list of work orders I consulted does not have a job #22770 on it.
CSL 6294, built for the Chicago City Railway, at the Brill plant in 1929. Surface Lines was an “umbrella” that presented a unified transit operator to the public, but it was actually made up of constituent companies. Of the 33 Brill Sedans, 20 were purchased by Chicago Railways and 13 by the Chicago City Railway. This balkanized arrangement continued until the Chicago Transit Authority took over in 1947.
CSL 6280 southbound at Clark and Southport. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 111th, near the south end of route 4, on February 2, 1952. The landmark Hotel Florence is in the background, in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 115th, south end of route 4, on April 2, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CSL 3377 is southbound on Clark north of Huron in the 1936 scene. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
A southbound Sedan has just passed CSL car 5250 on Clark just south of Wacker Drive in 1935. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “1st 5201 thru 5250 were built by Brill-American Car Co in 1906, #15365, for CCRy as 5201 thru 5250, but it was shipped to United Railroads of San Francisco due to the earthquake. 2nd 5201 thru 5250 were built by Brill-American Car Co in 1906, #15365, to replace the orignal order. They were rebuilt in 1909 to bring them up to the standard of the later cars.”
CSL 3375 at Kedzie Station on February 14, 1946. Besides Clark-Wentworth, the Sedans helped fill out schedules on Madison, since the 83 prewar PCCs were not enough for the route, which probably needed about 100 cars at the time. The speedy Witts were able to keep up with the PCCs. (Robert W. Gibson Photo)
CSL 3371. (Krambles-Peterson Archive)
Clark Street north of LaSalle circa 1930. (Fred J. Borchert Photo, Edward J. Frank Collection)
CSL 5209 and 3367 pass on Clark just north of Madison in 1935. That is the famous Clark Theatre in the background, later made famous in the song “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
CSL 3365 in the “open air” portion of Devon car barn, which was damaged in a 1922 fire. They never did put a roof back on. (Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CSL 3367 on Clark at Armitage. (Krambles-Peterson Archive)
CSL 3356 at the Devon car barn (station). (Krambles-Peterson Archive)
Here we have a real difference of opinion. On the back of this photo, it says that CSL 3354 is at Wentworth and 65th. We have another opinion that says it’s Devon and Ravenswood. (Krambles-Peterson Archive) One of our readers writes, “The reason that this is Wentworth & 65th rather than Devon and Ravenswood is for two reasons. The first is because the railroad viaduct in the background is at an angle as it passed over the street which was the Rock Island RR, probably looks the same today although now Metra. Also, the curb on the west side of the street is raised, whereas Devon is flat at Ravenswood with no raised curbs.”
Wentworth and 65th today. As you can see, this matches the view in the previous picture.
A southbound Sedan at Clark and Rogers. (George Krambles Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)
But Philadelphia had a larger fleet. Philadelphia also had 535 Peter Witt cars purchased in three orders during the 1920s, which were locally known as Eighty Hundreds. The last PTC 8000s ran in December 1957. More on the Philadelphia orders: