Remembering Bradley Criss

Bradley Criss on March 3, 2012 at the end of the St. Charles Car Line at Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues in New Orleans. (Jeff Wien Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)

Bradley Criss on March 3, 2012 at the end of the St. Charles Car Line at Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues in New Orleans. (Jeff Wien Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)

As many of you may know, I was part of the creative team that produced CERA Bulletin 146*, along with Jeff Wien and Bradley Criss. For that book, I wrote a tribute to Jeff, who is 14 years older than I am and has long been a friend and a mentor to me in the railfan field.

Now, just one year after the book’s publication, I find myself unexpectedly penning a tribute to Bradley. Late last night I received the following note from Jeff:

It is with a sense of deep regret that I inform you of the death of BRADLEY CRISS on June 29, 2016 at 2:00am. Bradley died peacefully in hospice care at Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital where he had been hospitalized for a month’s time fighting off infections and other problems.

Bradley was a highly talented young man who will be missed by all of us.

Bradley’s passing was a great shock to everyone who knew him.  He was just 53 years old, and as he was the junior member of the B-146 troika, I had just naturally assumed that he would outlive the both of us.

That is just too young an age for someone as smart, funny, opinionated, and talented as Bradley to die. Let me tell you the story of how the book came about, and how crucial a part Bradley played in its creation.

B-146 was, somewhat improbably, the first CERA publication entirely devoted to Chicago streetcars since a roster had been put out in 1941. There were a variety of reasons why this was so, including the publication of Alan R. Lind‘s excellent book Chicago Surface Lines: An Illustrated History in 1974, the controversial demise of Windy City trolleys, and the immensity of the subject.

During my first term on the CERA board in the early 1990s, I suggested something like this, but the time was not yet ripe and nothing came of it.

About 10 years ago, Jeff and Bradley produced the Chicago Streetcar Memories DVD. Jeff provided the content, and Bradley did a terrific and very professional job putting it together. He had fantastic skills in video production, as anyone who has seen the North Shore Line program that Jeff and Bradley did a few years ago will attest.** The videos they made together are definitely the best of their type. If you have not seen them, they are highly recommended and should not be missed.

In particular, their North Shore Line video brings that storied interurban to life in a way that I would not have thought possible.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeff and Bradley had originally planned a CERA book to accompany the Chicago Streetcar Memories DVD. Some work was done then, including parts of the text that would later appear in B-146, but somehow it went onto the back burner in favor of other projects.

During my second stint at CERA a few years ago, I brought up the subject of a Chicago book again, and learned not only that there were tremendous resources available, but that a “head start” had already been made by Bradley and Jeff. The time was right this time, and the project received an enthusiastic green light.

Jeff had the knowledge and had collected a lot of information over the years. I rode a Chicago streetcar once in 1958 as a three-year-old, but Jeff was already a very active fan by that time, documenting the waning days of the PCCs with his hand-held 8mm movie camera.

Over the years, his own photographic collection, together with additional material such as the late Bill Hoffman’s movies, became what is now the Wien-Criss archive. This served, along with the PCC photos that were generously shared by Art Peterson from the Krambles-Peterson archive, as the cornerstone for our book.

Jeff knew his subject inside and out, and had lots of material, and it was my job to help him organize it and flesh it out with additional images. I was sort of a “hunter-gatherer” of Chicago PCC material, a habit that has continued to this day here on the Trolley Dodger blog.

Improvements in technology over the years made a book like this possible.  There is no way it could have been made in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s.  And in that regard, Bradley Criss was our computer technology “maven.”

Bradley’s role was much more than just being Photo Editor. The entire design and layout of the book was his work, and I believe it is one of the most attractive railfan books ever published.

It certainly has the best color photo reproduction of any such book I have seen. And again, this was Bradley’s work. He not only had to painstakingly match the colors of the various cars with the other photos, but had to remove thousands and thousands of blemishes from these photographs via Photoshop. Bradley wrote something at the end of the book about this, but in my humble opinion he greatly minimized the actual difficulty.

The ultimate goal, of course, was to make things look as they originally did in real life, to make up for 60 years of fading and hard knocks that our original source materials had in some cases suffered.

In this, Bradley had the highest possible standards for the work. He would not let it be published until it was absolutely perfect.

If you could see the “before” vs. the “after” of some of these pictures, you wouldn’t believe it.  Of course, when you see the book now, you don’t see all the hard work that went into it.  You can appreciate it as the seamless whole that it is.

It did not do him any favors when we decided that there was so much great material, that we ought to make it a double length book. This took an already impossible task, and multiplied it times two.  As a Chicago PCC book, it really is the “Big Enchilada.”

Eventually, under the crushing weight of such a project, he had to ask for additional help with the daunting task of “spot removal.” Some of the images we used had as many as a thousand such imperfections that had to be fixed one at a time in Photoshop, looking at a very small part of each scene under 200% magnification or more.

Along with Jeff, John Nicholson, and Diana Koester, I did some of this work myself. After spending eight hours a day on spot removal, I could barely see straight. But to take nothing away from the contributions made by other people, Bradley did most of it himself.

There were many things that could have gone wrong and derailed this book. The combination of very high standards and the sheer number of images that were used, created a daunting task, and it was only by pulling together as a team and persevering that we scaled this Mt. Everest of a book and planted our flag on the summit. All this work took longer than anyone could have anticipated at the outset.

Bradley not only had to make the pictures look good; he had to make the entire book look good, and it had to “flow” for the reader, and he had to squeeze a tremendous amount of material into a limited number of pages.  But when you read the book, to quote The Wizard of Oz, you “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Even if I had written a tribute such as this to him for the book, there is no way he would have wanted it printed. He was, to use a restaurant analogy, a “back of the house” sort of guy, who jealously guarded his privacy. His work was integral to making the book a reality, and helped shape it in many ways, but he was not the type of person who would stand at the front of the line and accept praise from the people who have the book and appreciate it. It wasn’t easy for me to even persuade him to sign someone’s copy.

However, in the one year since the book came out, it has been warmly and enthusiastically received. It has also sold a lot of copies, and I am sure that it will eventually sell out and join the long list of other collectible CERA publications. If you do not yet have a copy yourself, I urge you to consider it while new copies are still to be had. There will come a time when the situation will be different.

When we were working on the book, I thought of it as Jeff’s legacy to the world, which of course it is. I had no way of knowing then that it would also become, all too soon, an important part of Bradley’s legacy as well.

This is to take nothing away from the many people who contributed to the book in one way or another. I thank all of them, and am also very grateful to CERA for publishing it.

But on this day, as we mourn the passing of Bradley Criss, I am especially appreciative of what he accomplished, in spite of health issues that he had even at that time. Who knows what he could have achieved in the future.

Bradley was someone who did not suffer fools gladly. But I am glad that I could call him a friend, fortunate to have known him, and even more fortunate to have worked with him on the definitive Chicago PCC book, which may very well gain in stature as the years go by.

I will miss him greatly, miss hearing him laugh, and miss his jokes. I regret that we will never be able to share another deep dish pizza at Gulliver’s on the north side of Chicago, as it was his favorite. Now that he is gone, there is a gap in our lives that cannot be filled.  I loved him like a brother.

So I thank him for everything he did, and I apologize to him for making him, for this one moment, a “front of the house” guy.  I am happy that at least he lived to see the fruits of his labor.

My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, and everyone who knew him.

-David Sadowski

You can read CERA’s tribute here.

Here is Bradley’s Chicago Tribune obituary.

Bradley’s obituary from the Illinois Valley News Tribune is here.

*Full title: Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, available from CERA and their dealers.  Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with Central Electric Railfans’ Association.

**The North Shore Line video is not commercially available at present, but is occasionally shown at January CERA meetings. Chicago Streetcar Memories is included with B-146 and can also be purchased separately here from Chicago Transport Memories (again, not affiliated with us).


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Badger Traction, 2016

The Minneapolis car at East Troy.

The Minneapolis car at East Troy.

Badger Traction is alive and well in Wisconsin, the Badger State. Although the Interurban era ended when the last North Shore Line train crossed the state line into Illinois in 1963, interesting things are happening here, with more to come. The new Milwaukee “starter” streetcar should be up and running in a few years.

Electric trains have run continuously between East Troy and Mukwanago, more or less, since 1907, although it was freight only from 1939 until 1973. Soon after, a museum operation began*, which unfortunately had its problems and got replaced with the current incarnation, the East Troy Electric Railroad. This is the last remaining original remnant of what was once a vast Wisconsin interurban network.

It’s been a few years since I went to East Troy, but I made the trip last weekend and as usual it was very enjoyable. The people are friendly, as they are all over Wisconsin, and the museum is headed in the right direction. Restoration work continues on various cars in their roster, their facilities have recently been improved, and they have a group of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.

Our the way north, we made a short stop for lunch at the historic Franks Diner in Kenosha, where we spotted the Chicago tribute car out on the two-mile long loop. (See the video at the end of this post.)

Service at East Troy is usually two different trains running on an hourly basis, meeting up at a passing siding in the middle of the main line between the power house and the Elegant Farmer. This year, they are operating on an additional two miles of trackage east of the Elegant Farmer to a local park, near a lake. It’s a nice addition and makes for a picturesque ride, and the track is actually in better shape than the regular main line. (I was told they are replacing 250 ties on the main line this year.)

The day we were there, they were running the former Minneapolis car 1583, and a two-car train made up of 4000-series Chicago “L” cars. South Shore Line interurban car 30 was parked at the East Troy depot but did not operate. Still, I took a look inside and marveled at the new bucket seats that were recently installed.

The only trackage that they do not regularly operate now is a spur line to an industrial park in East Troy. I was told that this is operational, and was used last year to shuttle people back and forth when a new plant opened.

This is not a high-speed operation, being limited to 15 miles per hour. As our conductor explained, it’s more about the trip than how fast you get there.

Here’s what Don’s Rail Photos says about Twin Cities Rapid Transit Co. car 1583:

1583 was built at Snelling Shops in May 1913 as Class L-8. It was rebuilt in 1921, one-manned in 1928, and rebuilt in 1948. In 1954 it was retired and sold for use as a cottage in northwest Wisconsin. In 1981 it was acquired and rebuilding began by Paul Averdung as Duluth-Superior Transit 253 which was an almost identical car. It now operates on the East Troy Electric Ry.

One interesting feature of the 1583 is its air horn. This sounded different depending on which direction the car was going, more like a horn one way, and a whistle the other. Yet I was told the same horn is used in both directions, although I did not try to confirm that. I made sure to record several horn blasts on the videos at the end of this post.

While in Wisconsin, we spotted some interesting vintage cars, including a 1929 Ford Model A (a “Fordor,” natch), a 1938 Pontiac Touring Sedan, and a 1953 Studebaker (see pictures below).

After our train rides, we bought an apple pie that was baked in a paper bag at the Elegant Farmer, always a good place to stop by, and then had some great burgers at Fred’s Parkview in Burlington.

However, there was one more bit of railfan serendipity on our way back south, although we did not manage to snap a picture. We drove past a steam excursion train in Fox Lake, Illinois, headed up by Nickel Plate Road 765, with an impressive array of passenger cars, including some dome cars behind it. It was just leaving town as we got there.

Here’s what I found about this steam trip:

CHICAGO, May 4, 2016 – The second weekend in June will mark an historic occasion for rail fans with the return of the Nickel Plate Road’s locomotive No. 765 to the Chicago region.

On Saturday, June 11, this 400-ton historic steam locomotive will make an appearance at Franklin Park’s annual Railroad Daze festival followed by its first public excursion trip in the Chicago region in more than 20 years on Sunday, June 12.

Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765 will be on live-steam display for visitors to Franklin Park’s Railroad Daze from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 11. On Sunday, June 12, No. 765 will pull “The Varsity” an exclusive roundtrip excursion train between The Glen of North Glenview stop on Metra’s Milwaukee North Line and Janesville, Wis. The train will also stop for passengers at Metra’s Fox Lake Station.

“The Varsity” will feature vintage passenger cars from the 1930s-1950s and will include accommodations in standard coach, deluxe coach, and first class and dome car. Tickets can be ordered online or by calling 888-718-4253. Additional information and frequently asked questions can be read at fortwaynerailroad.org/faq.

“We are thrilled to bring the dramatic sights and sounds of no. 765 to the region,” said Bill Otter, president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS). “We could not be more fortunate to be working with Metra, the Village of Franklin Park, the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad and the Iowa Pacific to bring this type of experience to thousands of area residents.”

Owned and operated by the FWRHS, no. 765 has operated passenger excursions and public exhibitions throughout the Midwest since 1979. The locomotive and train attract passengers from around the world for numerous sell-out excursions throughout the year. No. 765 was originally built in 1944, restored in 1979 and completely rebuilt in 2005 and is maintained by an all-volunteer crew.

“There is nothing like the sights, sounds and mechanical marvels of a steam locomotive in mainline service! Please join us as we relive a past era of railroading in the Chicago area, and throughout America. Welcome aboard!” stated R.R. Conway, Senior Trainmaster, Metra.

“The Varsity” will operate over the route of its Milwaukee Road namesake train, which originally ran between Chicago and Madison, Wis., until 1971. The No. 765’s excursion June 12 will be the first by a steam locomotive over portions of the route since 1953.

The visit to Railroad Daze and the excursion trip to Janesville are operated in partnership with Metra, the Village of Franklin Park, Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, Iowa Pacific and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS). In addition, the Indiana Harbor Belt and Norfolk Southern Corp are assisting in the logistics and transportation of No. 765 to and from the events.

The operation and ongoing maintenance of No. 765 is supported by donations, ticket sales and a membership base of around 1,000 supporters.

“These types of operations are incredibly complex, involving countless parties, organizations, railroads and individuals. All of them prove crucial to inspiring people with the power of the 765,” added Otter.

Additional excursions for No. 765 will be announced later this season.

Another Chicago-area trip using NKP 765 is planned for June 25 and 26.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t been to East Troy, or haven’t gone in a while, take my advice and make the trip. You’ll be glad you did.

The only thing that could have made our trip even better would have been to ride the Milwaukee car, which I still haven’t done. But as the Brooklyn baseball fans used to say, “wait ’til next year.”

-David Sadowski

PS- All the photographs in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

*The original operation was called the East Troy Trolley Museum, and was run by the Wisconsin Electric Railway Historical Society. Upon leaving East Troy, their collection was dispersed and some cars went to the Illinois Railway Museum. I don’t believe there is any overlap with the current roster.

The Minneapolis car at the Elegant Farmer.

The Minneapolis car at the Elegant Farmer.

The Minneapolis car at the Elegant Farmer.

The Minneapolis car at the Elegant Farmer.

The main line runs southwest from Mukwonago to East Troy.

The main line runs southwest from Mukwonago to East Troy.

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The old station in East Troy serves as a museum.

The old station in East Troy serves as a museum.

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South Shore Line 30, which was built in 1926. In museum service, its pantograph has been replaced by a pole.

South Shore Line 30, which was built in 1926. In museum service, its pantograph has been replaced by a pole.

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Car 30 has new seats. I don't recall it ever looking this good on the South Shore Line.

Car 30 has new seats. I don’t recall it ever looking this good on the South Shore Line.

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The proprietor of the local ice cream parlor in East Troy is an avid supporter of the museum.

The proprietor of the local ice cream parlor in East Troy is an avid supporter of the museum.

A nice looking 1953 Studebaker at East Troy.

A nice looking 1953 Studebaker at East Troy.

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The 4000s head into a siding so we can proceed on the single track line.

The 4000s head into a siding so we can proceed on the single track line.

The Beulah stop once led to a popular resort that burned down in 1911.

The Beulah stop once led to a popular resort that burned down in 1911.

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A visitor from Scotland helps change the poles.

A visitor from Scotland helps change the poles.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

The new end of the line.

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At the Elegant Farmer.

At the Elegant Farmer.

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Chicago Rapid Transit 4420 and 4453 at the Elegant Farmer.

Chicago Rapid Transit 4420 and 4453 at the Elegant Farmer.

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The Elegant Farmer is always a good place to stop for a homemade apple pie, baked in a paper bag.

The Elegant Farmer is always a good place to stop for a homemade apple pie, baked in a paper bag.

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A stunning 1929 Ford Model A at Kopp's Custard in Greenfield, Wisconsin. (Diana Koester Photo)

A stunning 1929 Ford Model A at Kopp’s Custard in Greenfield, Wisconsin. (Diana Koester Photo)

(Diana Koester Photo)

(Diana Koester Photo)

The dog makes this picture. I think the owner said his names is Johnny. (Diana Koester Photo)

The dog makes this picture. I think the owner said his names is Johnny. (Diana Koester Photo)

A 1938 Pontiac Touring Sedan in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

A 1938 Pontiac Touring Sedan in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Fred's Parkview in Burlington, Wisconsin has great hamburgers.

Fred’s Parkview in Burlington, Wisconsin has great hamburgers.

NKP 765 at the Edgebrook Metra station on June 12, 2016. (Melvin Bernero Photo)

NKP 765 at the Edgebrook Metra station on June 12, 2016. (Melvin Bernero Photo)

In this mid-1950s view, Village of East Troy Railway freight motor M-15 is shown here in East Troy, Wisconsin, near the power station which now serves as the waiting room for the East Troy Electric Railroad museum operation. It was built by TMER&L in 1920 and is now preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. (Walter Broschart Photo)

In this mid-1950s view, Village of East Troy Railway freight motor M-15 is shown here in East Troy, Wisconsin, near the power station which now serves as the waiting room for the East Troy Electric Railroad museum operation. It was built by TMER&L in 1920 and is now preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum. (Walter Broschart Photo)


Help Support The Trolley Dodger

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This is our 141st 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 169,000 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.”

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