Reader Mailbag, 1-3-2016

CSL Brill 188 is southbound on Central Ave at North Ave, with a westbound streetcar in the background on North Ave. You can see that trolley buses shared wire on North with streetcars-- an unusual occurrence in Chicago, although it was common in other cities. Photo courtesy the Illinois Railway Museum Strahorn Library and the Scalzo collection, caption help courtesy of Roy Benedict.)

CSL Brill 188 is southbound on Central Ave at North Ave, with a westbound streetcar in the background on North Ave. You can see that trolley buses shared wire on North with streetcars– an unusual occurrence in Chicago, although it was common in other cities. Photo courtesy the Illinois Railway Museum Strahorn Library and the Scalzo collection, caption help courtesy of Roy Benedict.)

Chicago Trolley Buses and Shared Wire

One of our readers recently brought our lead photo (from to our attention:

Very good example of streetcars and trolley buses using a shared wire in Chicago. Not very common here.

My first thought was that this picture may have been taken in 1949, when CTA switched route 72 – North Avenue from streetcar to trolley bus.

North Avenue was converted to trolley bus between the west end and North and Clybourn in 1949. A streetcar shuttle continued between Clybourn and Clark until they extended the line to Clark with the loop by the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago History Museum).

The photo is not dated, so I can’t comment about what was going on at the time that it was taken. I only mentioned it because shared wire was not common in Chicago unlike other cities (i.e. Milwaukee). I believe that the CSL logo is on the Brill trolley bus, but we know that CTA was slow to apply their decals on various surface vehicles in their early years so it could be a 1949 photo. I believe the conversion was in December 1949.

I looked up the conversion date on and they give it as July 3, 1949. Having done additional research, it looks like the photo is most likely from the CSL era after all.

This enlargement (below) of part of a 1946 CSL supervisor’s map shows that trolley buses could run west on North Avenue from the garage at Cicero all the way to Narragansett, where they could then turn north. (The solid lines are streetcar routes, the dashed lines trolley buses, and the others represent gas buses.)

I am sure that most Chicago transit historians don’t know of that shared wire for 2 miles. In the past the only shared wire that I knew about was on Chicago Avenue from Larrabee to Halsted, a very short distance in comparison to what existed on North Avenue.

If you study those maps you might find other examples of shared wire.

Looking at this map, the shared wire on North Avenue was probably a matter of necessity in 1930, when CSL’s first trolley bus routes began service on Chicago’s northwest side. I suppose there was little choice but to string wire on two miles of North Avenue to connect the barn with these routes, even though North Avenue was not yet served by trolley coaches. It probably helped tip the scale in favor of the later conversion, since they had already done part of it.

Trolley buses ran on Narragansett between 1930 and 1953, when the line was consolidated with the one mile extension of the North Avenue route. Rather than extend wire to North and Harlem, CTA substituted gas or propane buses on all of route 86. (By then, Cicero Avenue was likely the preferred means of moving trolley buses north and south from the North Avenue garage, so Narragansett was superfluous.)

Starting in 1949, the 72 trolley bus used the wire between Narragansett and Cicero that had presumably been put up in 1930.

Interestingly, in 1959 Oak Park village officials wrote to the CTA requesting extension of trolley bus service on North Avenue between Narragansett and Harlem Avenue. While I have not read CTA’s reply, they probably said no funds were available for such an extension. By 1959, it would seem that a decision had already been made to gradually phase out trolley bus service as the fleet aged and reached the end of their service lives (although some of these buses ran for many additional years after 1973 in Mexico).

It would seem that 1958 was the pivotal year for CTA to decide that it was going to eventually do away with all surface electric vehicles. It probably was a subtle decision because of course the focus had been on the removal of streetcars entirely by 1957/1958. After the streetcars were gone, they came to the realization that a lot of the overhead infrastructure and substations would have to be upgraded to maintain trolley buses indefinitely. Always being the ones to cut costs without any concern for the environment except in the use of propane buses, CTA sought to trim everything to the best of their ability. It is interesting how different their approach was to surface electric transit than that of the Toronto Transit Commission which was already going full speed ahead with the building of subways while at the same time retaining streetcars and trolley buses.

I think that you can pretty well establish the beginning of the end of the trolley bus era in Chicago when the streetcar wire on 79th Street and Halsted was taken down, I believe in 1958. Both lines had been converted to motor bus in the early 50s, but the overhead wire was kept up with the anticipation of converting them to trolley bus. Andre Kristopans, the source of unbounding transit trivia, might be able to tell you when those wires were finally taken down. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the wire on Halsted, but I do have photos of the 79th Street wire at Vincennes/79th where the Clark-Wentworth cars crossed 79th Street. CTA took out the crossing, but used the 79th Street wire to hold up the streetcar wire at the crossing on Vincennes.

The 1951 DeLeuw, Cather and Company consultant’s report for CTA recommended against buying any more electric surface vehicles, due to the high cost of power purchased from Com Ed. As it happens, CTA entered into a new 10-year contract with Com Ed in 1958, which went into effect just after the last streetcar ran. The rate was a small increase over the prior agreement.

One possibility is that the trolley buses were kept until they were fully depreciated. CTA got the streetcars off the books before they were fully depreciated through their PCC Conversion Program, where 570 of the 600 postwar PCCs were sold to St. Louis Car Company for scrapping and parts reuse in a like number of rapid transit cars.

These issues are discussed in detail in our E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available in our Online Store. You will also find CSL/CTA supervisor’s track maps from 1941, 1946, 1948, 1952, and 1954 in the same publication, along with the complete text of the 1951 DeLeuw, Cather consultant report and much more.

An enlargement from a 1946 CSL supervisor's map shows how streetcars and trolley buses had two miles of shared wire between Cicero and Narragansett.

An enlargement from a 1946 CSL supervisor’s map shows how streetcars and trolley buses had two miles of shared wire between Cicero and Narragansett.

More Grand and Nordica

FYI, we’ve added these two photos of trolley buses near Grand and Nordica to our recent post Chicago Surface Lines Photos, Part Five:

This image from, credited to the Scalzo collection, shows a Grand trolleybus, Marmon 9437, at Grand and Nordica on October 12, 1968. There was a grocery east of the loop, which later became a thrift store.

This image from, credited to the Scalzo collection, shows a Grand trolleybus, Marmon 9437, at Grand and Nordica on October 12, 1968. There was a grocery east of the loop, which later became a thrift store.

Marmon 9437 westbound on Grand at Newland on September 7, 1969, again from and the Scalzo collection. From 1954 to 1964, my family lived just south of here on Medill. The Rambler dealer later became AMC, then Jeep, Chrysler-Jeep and is now demolished. We are a short distance from the Grand-Nordica loop.

Marmon 9437 westbound on Grand at Newland on September 7, 1969, again from and the Scalzo collection. From 1954 to 1964, my family lived just south of here on Medill. The Rambler dealer later became AMC, then Jeep, Chrysler-Jeep and is now demolished. We are a short distance from the Grand-Nordica loop.

Thomas Wozniak writes:

Thank you for sending out your very informative DVD so fast. I’m really enjoying all the history and rare photos that are included in it. I wish there were more photos of the construction of the Congress St. Expressway and the dismantling of the West Side, Humboldt Park, Kenwood, Stock Yards, and Normal Park branches. Did you work for the CTA?

No, I never worked for the CTA, although I certainly have used it a lot my entire life. I guess I will just have to remain an “Ownerider,” thanks.

However, we have already posted lots of pictures of the Metropolitan and Garfield Park “L”s, as well as the construction of the Congress rapid transit line, on the previous blog we were involved with. You can use keyword searches to find those posts.

From a CTA brochure, distributed on October 1, 1947.

From a CTA brochure, distributed on October 1, 1947.

Chicago CB&Q Suburban Stations

Charlie Vlk writes:

While I am a CB&Q researcher I do have interest in Chicago Traction, having worked at All Nations Hobby Shop with “Traction Ted” Seifert and knew George Trapp, Joe Diaz, Rich Boszak, George Clark, Bob Kutella and other customers “back in the day”.

I am researching pre-1900 CB&Q Chicago suburban stations. I have shots of Millard Avenue/Shedd Park and Crawford Avenue. I would like an image of the Douglas Park Station and am hoping it might show up in construction photos of the Douglas Park “L” bridge over the Q or maybe during the track elevation raising of that bridge.

I am also interested in the Chicago (14th Street) Union Avenue, Ashland, Blue Island, and Western Avenue and Panhandle Crossing stations that existed before track elevation. Perhaps some of these were adjacent to streetcar lines and show up in pictures?

PS- I used to ride the North Shore Line from Milwaukee to Chicago and would connect with the Bluebird bus to Brookfield, 31st, and Prairie to get home on weekend leave from St John’s Military Academy 1958-1963. Of course, I never took even one picture in those five years!!!

You might find the attached pdfs from the Chicago Tribune about the Suburban Railroad and Chicago, Hammond & Western disputing their crossing at the Brookfield/La Grange Park border interesting.

Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1897
Chicago Tribune, July 13, 1897

We’ll see what our readers might know, thanks.

Book Review


Chicago Surface Lines: The Big 5 Routes and 5 Others
by Richard F. Begley, George E. Kanary, and Walter R. Keevil
Dispatch Number 6 of the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society

While I certainly do appreciate full-length railfan books, I am also very much in favor of shorter ones, such as this new 100-page volume from the Shore Line group. The Chicago Surface Lines is a vast subject, since it was, in its heyday, the largest and most extensive street railway system in the world. Here, the focus is on the five biggest CSL routes, plus five small ones.

This book is a welcome addition to the admittedly slim shelf of Chicago streetcar tomes. The three authors are all very experienced, and their reputations precede them. They are that rare combination, being both gentlemen as well as scholars.

While there is a goodly amount of informative text herein, for most readers, the main interest will be in the photographs, almost all of which are in classic black-and-white. The overall format should be familiar to anyone who has read previous CSL articles in First & Fastest, Shore Line’s quarterly magazine. If the result here seems like several such articles strung together, there’s nothing wrong with such an approach. I have enjoyed those articles too.

As far as I know, most of the pictures here have not previously appeared elsewhere. Many are from collections acquired by the authors over the years, and are reproduced from the original negatives, often from film formats larger than 35mm. The photos themselves are excellent, as is the quality of their reproduction.

The general approach is not altogether different from our own CSL posts. Naturally, in our case, when we get things wrong, our readers help point out these mistakes (sometimes within a few hours) and we make the necessary corrections.

In the case of a printed book, such an approach is impossible. Everything needs to be corrected and fact-checked ahead of time. Since the authors are seasoned veterans of this sort of thing, the chance of finding any factual errors is very slim indeed.

Of course, the three authors have an advantage in years over this writer. They experienced many of these things first-hand, while we merely strive to learn about them after the fact. We are doing our best to educate ourselves and get caught up.

There is value in both approaches, the permanence of a book, and the immediacy of a blog.

Any criticisms I might make would be very minor in nature and would seem like nit-picking. I won’t even bother mentioning them.

It’s safe to say that anyone who appreciates seeing Chicago streetcar pictures on this blog would also like this book, which is available directly from Shore Line using the link given above. It is highly recommended.

-David Sadowski

PS- Please note that Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.

Help Support The Trolley Dodger


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2015 Annual Report

We thank our readers for making our first year such a success. We received 107,460 page views in all, from 30,743 individuals.

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The back cover of Shore Line Dispatch Number 6.

The back cover of Shore Line Dispatch Number 6.

Trolley Dodger Mailbag, 11-11-2015

A contemporary view of the former car barn at approximately 5834 North Broadway.

A contemporary view of the former car barn at approximately 5834 North Broadway.

On this Veterans Day we thank all those who have served their country to defend the freedoms that we all hold dear. While we pause to reflect on that, here is some recent correspondence from our readers that we would like to share with you.

John Smatlak writes:

David- love the Trolley Dodger blog, amazing stuff.

Regarding the recent post with all of the carbarns (Chicago Surface Lines Photos, Part One, November 3rd), a portion of the Ardmore/Broadway carbarn still stands in 2015. I recently posted a series of images taken in 1985 and 2003 of the building to my Flickr page.

You are welcome to use any of my images on the Trolley Dodger blog.

Keep up the good work!

Interesting pictures. Thanks for sharing them!

I just added three of John’s photos to our previous post Chicago’s Pre-PCCs.

Our recent tribute to Don L. Leistikow generated a lot of responses in various public forums, including the Facebook group Milwaukee Electric Lines:

Don Lenz writes:

Blessings and a peaceful journey for Don.

Reading some quotes attributed to Don in the “Trolley Dodger” today causes one to reflect on the 1950 Speedrail wreck. As I understand it, Speedrail president Jay Maeder, running the lightweight 39-40, allegedly ran a red signal and collided with heavyweight 1192-93 with the loss of 10 lives. The wreck was devastating for Speedrail and personally for Maeder.

The description attributed to Don is of the workings of the “Nachod” signals controlling the line on that day. “Not generally known, is that when a car enters a RED Nachod Block, a count must be entered. Physically, the RED aspect will drop out, a WHITE aspect will appear as the count was recorded. Then the WHITE aspect will drop out and the former RED aspect will return.” This sounds like a complicated system, but suggests that Maeder may have entered the block on a temporary “OK” white aspect, caused by the heavyweight entering the other end of the block. If the incorrect clear signal was caused by the somewhat primitive Nachod signal system, Maeder should have been completely cleared. I have read that he was “acquitted,” but there still seemed to be a cloud.

Jay Maeder particularly interests me as he left Milwaukee for his former home in Avon, Ohio, adjacent to Westlake, Ohio where I live. He brought along Speedrail (TM) 1138 and Birney 1545 – I have not been able to find any evidence remaining of the 1138, while the 1545 seems to be at the Ft. Smith museum.

Scott Greig continues:

This is in follow-up to Don Lenz’s prior post regarding Maeder and the Labor Day wreck. It’s very long, but there’s a lot involved.

The events of September 2, 1950 go far beyond the scapegoated Nachod signals. It’s vital to remember that, on a railroad, signals are not a primary system of control…at least, they’re not meant to be. They don’t work like the traffic signals we see on the street corner.

Primary control on a railroad was via a timetable; next on the list would be an instrument giving special instructions, such as a train order issued by the dispatcher, or a service bulletin issued by the transportation office. Either one will still reflect the needs of the existing timetable, because that special service is being fitted in between existing movements.

Signals basically indicate whether or not it’s safe to proceed, IF you *already* have authority to proceed, conferred by a timetable, train order, bulletin, or the like. If you bring your 1100 into Brookdale Siding, and your timetable requires you to wait there for a meet with an opposing move, or the dispatcher has told you to wait there as he expresses late trains past you, it doesn’t matter how green of a signal you’ve got at the far end of the siding…you sit and wait. You are one link in a chain, as it were, and you have to consider what’s ahead of you and behind you in the chain.

Ed Tennyson, Speedrail’s general manager and a veteran of Pittsburgh Railways operations, understood this. For that day, he had written up a bulletin to be issued to all crews for the day, detailing important things like how many NMRA extras were involved, departure times for the extras, and meeting points with other trains..and emphasizing that any train that fell behind schedule by more than five minutes needed to take the nearest siding and call in for revised orders. This was the kind of practice that TMER&L and its veteran employees would have understood. Maeder instead took back all the bulletins–without telling Tennyson–and instead told the crews to call in from every siding…something that TMER&L’s lineside phone system and dispatching policy were not set up to handle. If the dispatcher needed to hold a train somewhere, they could not contact a train out in the field unless they stopped and called in. There were no “train order boards”, and no way to set a red block in front of a motorman or indicate that he needed to call the dispatcher.

Service began breaking down from the start that morning as a result. Tennyson tried to salvage some order by asking the dispatcher to issue orders at the PSB before departure (in essence restoring his “service bulletin” strategy), but emphasized that any train falling behind schedule by more than five minutes needed to get off the railroad and call the dispatcher for new orders. Being out in the field, though, there wasn’t much he could do to put it into effect…especially with Maeder himself (who had been locking horns with Tennyson from the start of Speedrail) at the controls of one of the NMRA extras.

As it was, Maeder violated his own orders for the day; after leaving Hales Corners, he did not call the dispatcher at Brookdale Siding, Greendale (where he had to wait for a meet), or Oklahoma Avenue…he called from Hales Corners and that was it. At Oklahoma Avenue—the last point where he could have called the dispatcher before West Junction—veteran TMER&L motorman and instructor John Heberling had lined the switch for Maeder to take the siding, as per Maeder’s original orders, but Maeder told Heberling to let him through. After which came the infamous story of Heberling seeing the red signal after Maeder was on his way.

By following only the signal indications, not taking other moves into consideration, and not stopping to communicate with the dispatcher, Maeder was running wild on the railroad…and in the PSC hearings and court trial that followed the Labor Day wreck, he had the temerity to claim, contrary to his own orders that day, that he was not required to call in after leaving Hales Corners. Leroy Equitz, on the other hand, had called the dispatcher from West Junction, as he was supposed to, and had received permission to proceed south…the show must go on, after all, even as the dispatcher was probably grumbling “where the hell ARE those guys??” about Maeder’s train.

Don clued me in to a partial explanation of how the Rapid Transit Line degenerated from a model of Teutonic control to something approaching anarchy on rails. Maeder did not understand the nature of the Rapid Transit’s operations under KMCL/Greyhound…he did not understand that TMER&T was acting as an operational contractor of sorts, and that many of the crewmen operating for KMCL/Greyhound were actually TMER&T employees. Following his acquisition of the line, many of his best crewmen left Speedrail to go back to TMER&T rather than lose their seniority and pension time. He thought he had a cadre of trained operators ready to go, and suddenly had to replace them. Some of the guys that followed (like Don, the late Doug Traxler, and an ex-Pacific Electric motorman) were very good, some were not, and the training they received was…lacking. Perplexed by how this breakdown had happened, and being familiar with railroad rules tests (both from IRM and having seen CNS&M and CRT rules tests of the day), I sent him an email asking how all of this was covered under Speedrail’s rule exam and training. His reply was quite illuminating…and jarring….

“I don’t remember any rules exam on Speedrail. We were out for three days operating 60’s and artic’s. In that process, we were constantly reminded of the location of three-color block signals and the operation of Nachod block signals was thoroughly explained by John Heberling. We even went into the ‘hole’ along the HC line and saw how the signals looked from the opposing end. Telephone booths were pointed out and we used them in the training. Significantly, we did not take written orders over the phone and written orders were not being issued from the PSB.”

One of the post-wreck findings of the Public Service Commission was that Speedrail’s personnel required a revised training program, and that the system of rules on file with the PSC (TMER&L’s rules) should be used. That made no sense when I first read it… after receiving Don’s comments, a lot of things regarding the breakdown of operations on Speedrail fell into place.

It’s been many years since I spoke directly with Don; in the time since, I had the chance to meet the late Ed Tennyson and spend about an hour getting his perspective on Speedrail, especially on the events of that day. I also became a transit employee, and got to see up close how mass-transit-oriented rail functions. I wish that I could have had the chance to talk to Don again, having those perspectives, and discuss further the events of that day.

FYI, there is also a Yahoo Group for the Wisconsin Electric Railway Historical Society that you might want to check out.

The aforementioned Facebook group also has some additional recollections of Don, including this photo of him in Speedrail days.

Interestingly, it looks as though Jay Maeder, Jr. (1947-2014) was the last writer for the comic strip Annie, which was an updating of Little Orphan Annie.

Joey Morrow writes:

I just recently saw on google earth that CTA is renovating their Wilson station. The old freight track has been demolished and there are only 3 tracks instead of 4. I was just curious how long the freight viaduct has been demolished.

My Mom told me she remembers the old viaduct, “I never thought much of it”, my Mom used to take the red line from Addison, change to purple at Howard, and get off at Davis, Noyes, or Central. She remembers how old the Red Line stops were and the wood planks they used. She told me when we were at the IRM at the “L” station, she always hated the ‘4 door cars’, the 2200 and 5-50 series cars. I was just curious about this viaduct.


I would guess the lower level freight tracks were removed around 1975 judging from this article.

Freight service on the CTA ended in 1973. Truman College opened its campus adjacent to the CTA at Wilson Avenue in 1976.


Joey Morrow continues:

I have also found a large remnant of the North Shore’s Upton Jct. On Rockford ave. there are many power poles, and one pole is not like the others.

It has 2 metal points jutting out on opposite sides, Instead of just 1 point jutting out on one side. I decided to do a full search using google maps/earth to find remnants. I found millions of cement blocks where power lines held up the over head wire on the Skokie line. I also may have found a platform next to the old Briargate station, I think the drive way is a platform. I’d love to check it out or even bike the entire Robert McClory bike path from Chicago to Milwaukee, but it’s kind of hard when you live in Massachusetts. I’m checking out the Shore Line and may have found a few cement blocks.

(Facing west toward Mundelein, near Green Bay Jct.)

(Facing west toward Mundelein, near Green Bay Jct.)

Great work, thanks! I think it’s important to encourage Joey and other young railfans, who represent the future of our hobby.

-David Sadowski

In the meantime, thank you for all those cards and letters!

Shore Line Dispatch #6

FYI, Shore Line Interurban Historical Society has announced the impending release of their sixth Dispatch, Chicago Surface Lines: The Big 5 Routes and 5 Others, by Richard F. Begley, George F. Kanary, and Walter R. Keevil. We are certain that this 100 page book will be an excellent and thoroughly researched addition to the Chicago streetcar canon, and one to really look forward to.

You can find more information about this publication here.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.