Chicago Trolley Buses and Shared Wire
One of our readers recently brought our lead photo (from http://www.trolleybuses.net) 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 http://www.chicagorailfan.com 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
PS- Please note that Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.
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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 WordPress.com 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.