Chicago’s Prewar PCCs

CSL 4040 is eastbound at Madison and Laramie on October 23, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4040 is eastbound at Madison and Laramie on October 23, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

Continuing on from our recent article Chicago’s Pre-PCCs (May 5), by 1936 the Presidents’ Conference Committee, by then renamed the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee (ERPCC), had developed a streamlined modern streetcar.

Chicago was very much involved in this, and ordered 83 PCC cars in 1936.  These were built by St. Louis Car Co. and were numbered 4002-4051 (owned by Chicago Railways) and 7002-7034 (for Chicago City Railway).  The split numbering was due to the Chicago Surface Lines being a unified operating association made up of constituent companies.

To give you some background information on Chicago’s first batch of PCCs, here is an interesting article from the December 1936 issue of Armour Engineer and Alumnus. The Armour Institute is now the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Author Ralph H. Rice was Principal Assistant Engineer in charge of the work of the Board of Supervising Engineers, a partnership between the City of Chicago and the Chicago Surface Lines.

According to the Wikipedia page on the Chicago Surface Lines:

The Settlement Ordinance of 1907 imposed various operating requirements on two of the underlying companies, the Chicago City Railway Company and Chicago Railways, and established a new bureau, the Board of Supervising Engineers (Chicago Traction), a board of engineers and accountants with responsibilities for assuring compliance with the ordinances, and setting standards for equipment and construction.

It is important to note the role played by the City of Chicago, working in partnership with the Chicago Surface Lines through the Board of Supervising Engineers, in developing the specifications for Chicago’s prewar and postwar PCC streetcars.

The Chicago cars were unique in that they were longer and wider than the standard single-ended PCCs used in other cities.  They were designed for two-man operation, and had three sets of doors.

They were initially put into service on CSL route 20 – Madison, which was considered representative and offered a wide variety of operating conditions.  It ran downtown and through the neighborhoods to the city limits, and also had a branch line (Madison-Fifth).  Even so, the 83 PCCs put into service in 1936-37 were not enough to handle the entire schedule on Madison, which to some extent actually competed with the nearby Garfield Park “L” rapid transit line.

The prewar PCCs were popular with the riding public, and as a result, ridership increased, and the cars ran faster than those they replaced.  By 1939, the City of Chicago, anticipating transit unification of the Surface Lines with the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, developed a modernization plan that called for a total of 1000 modern streetcars.

Over many years, Chicago’s trolley riders paid into a modernization fund, and by the start of World War II, millions of dollars were available for purchasing new streetcars.  However, wartime shortages made this impossible until 1945.

In anticipation of placing new orders for postwar PCCs, CSL experimented with different paint schemes, door arrangements, and with forced-air ventilation, before deciding on the specifications of the 600 new cars delivered in 1946-48.  (We will delve further into the postwar cars in our next installment in this series.)

With the delivery of more PCCs, the original 83 cars were shifted to other lines, ultimately running on Cottage Grove, 63rd, and Western, before being retired after nearly 20 years of service in 1956.

Could they have lasted longer?  A 1951 CTA (successor to the CSL) consultant’s report stated that the cost of maintaining these cars was increasing.  By the standards of the time, the CTA considered streetcars to be fully depreciated after 20 years’ use.

Although the 83 cars from 1936 had seen a lot of use, there is no doubt they could have continued in service if not for the fact that the CTA wanted to phase out streetcars as soon as possible.  Similar considerations were at work when the 100 CSL Sedans (aka “Peter Witts”) were retired and scrapped in the early 1950s, after little more than two decades of service.

Other cities such as Toronto managed to keep their streetcars running for a lot longer than 20 years, under hard use.

The only other possible use that CTA had for the prewar cars in 1956 would have been to put them in use between Forest Park and Wheaton, as a “light rail” replacement for a portion of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban.  Unfortunately, no funding to operate such a service was forthcoming (see our article The CTA, the CA&E, and “Political Influence”, February 18) and the CA&E was abandoned without replacement.  This plan, while stillborn, may have helped influence the Skokie Swift, which began service in 1964 over five miles of abandoned North Shore Line interurban trackage.

Only one of the 83 prewar cars has been preserved.  4021 is now on static display at the Illinois Railway Museum.  For many years, it was stored as part of the CTA’s Historical Collection, but the body was damaged when it was improperly handled while being moved from one location to another.  Since arriving at IRM in the mid-1980s the car has been repainted and made to look a lot more presentable  from the outside.

El Paso has put out a request for proposals to rebuild several prewar PCCs of about the same vintage as Chicago’s.  These have been stored in the desert for 40 years.

This may present a unique opportunity to help restore the last remaining prewar Chicago PCC.  Since it is likely that the El Paso cars will receive all new mechanical parts, it is hoped that some of the original parts, rather than simply being discarded, could be used to help bring CSL 4021 back to operating condition in the future.  Or, at least, that is my hope.

Meanwhile, I hope that you will enjoy seeing these classic pictures of Chicago’s prewar PCCs in action.

-David Sadowski

CSL 4002 and crew at Madison and Austin on July 16, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4002 and crew at Madison and Austin on July 16, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4005 at Fifth Avenue and Jackson Boulevard and Christiana in August, 1946. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4005 at Fifth Avenue and Jackson Boulevard and Christiana in August, 1946. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4015 at Central Park and 63rd. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CTA 4015 at Central Park and 63rd. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

According to Bob Lalich, CTA 4013 is "under the Grand Trunk Western overpass at 63rd and Central Park." (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

According to Bob Lalich, CTA 4013 is “under the Grand Trunk Western overpass at 63rd and Central Park.” (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CTA 4026 is eastbound at 115th and Cottage Grove on June 6, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 4026 is eastbound at 115th and Cottage Grove on June 6, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CSL 4009, in "tiger stripes," at West Shops. These were meant to alert motorists that the streetcars were wider than they might think. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4009, in “tiger stripes,” at West Shops. These were meant to alert motorists that the streetcars were wider than they might think. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4022, with "handlebar mustache," at Madison and Austin on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1945. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4022, with “handlebar mustache,” at Madison and Austin on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1945. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4035, in experimental colors, at Madison and Austin on November 2, 1946.

CSL 4035, in experimental colors, at Madison and Austin on November 2, 1946.

CSL 4020, in experimental decor, at Madison and Austin. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4020, in experimental decor, at Madison and Austin. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4018, in experimental paint, at Kedzie Station (carhouse) on February 9, 1946. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4018, in experimental paint, at Kedzie Station (carhouse) on February 9, 1946. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4028 on the Madison-Fifth branch line, here at Fifth Avenue and Harrison, with a Harrison car at right. (Edward Frank Jr. Photo)

CSL 4028 on the Madison-Fifth branch line, here at Fifth Avenue and Harrison, with a Harrison car at right. (Edward Frank Jr. Photo)

CSL 4022 at Kedzie and Van Buren. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4022 at Kedzie and Van Buren. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4027, eastbound on Madison near Canal, on May 6, 1937. (George Krambles Photo)

CSL 4027, eastbound on Madison near Canal, on May 6, 1937. (George Krambles Photo)

CSL 4051 at Madison and Austin, sporting an experimental door arrangement . (Robert W. Gibson Photo)

CSL 4051 at Madison and Austin, sporting an experimental door arrangement . (Robert W. Gibson Photo)

CSL 7011 at Madison and Austin on July 16, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 7011 at Madison and Austin on July 16, 1938. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 7017 at Madison and Austin in 1938.

CSL 7017 at Madison and Austin in 1938.

CSL 4003 at Madison and Lavergne. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4003 at Madison and Lavergne. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4022 in experimental colors at Madison and Austin.

CSL 4022 in experimental colors at Madison and Austin.

CTA 4010 at 63rd and Central Park. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CTA 4010 at 63rd and Central Park. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

Circa 1945, we see CSL 7026 fitted with experimental forced-air ventilation of the type used in some Boston PCCs. It was not used on the postwar Chicago cars.

Circa 1945, we see CSL 7026 fitted with experimental forced-air ventilation of the type used in some Boston PCCs. It was not used on the postwar Chicago cars.

CSL 4020 in experimental colors at Madison and Austin in February 1946. (James J. Buckley Photo)

CSL 4020 in experimental colors at Madison and Austin in February 1946. (James J. Buckley Photo)

CSL 4028 and 4010 pass at Madison and Hamlin in early 1937, shortly after entering service. We are at the west end of Garfield Park.

CSL 4028 and 4010 pass at Madison and Hamlin in early 1937, shortly after entering service. We are at the west end of Garfield Park.

CSL 4009 at West Shops. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4009 at West Shops. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4007 at Madison and Austin in 1939. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4007 at Madison and Austin in 1939. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 7016 and a line truck at the Madison and Austin loop. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 7016 and a line truck at the Madison and Austin loop. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4008 eastbound on 63rd Street in 1947.

CSL 4008 eastbound on 63rd Street in 1947.

Superman in the Subway

Superman vs. third rail.  Guess who wins?  Special effects here are some squiggly lightning bolts painted onto the film.

Superman vs. third rail. Guess who wins? Special effects here are some squiggly lightning bolts painted onto the film.

I have enjoyed watching the 1951-57 Adventures of Superman TV series since I was a small child in the late 1950s, and for me and millions of other people my age, there will never be a better Superman than actor George Reeves.

While Superman co-creator Joe Shuster apparently based the fictional city of Metropolis on Toronto, where he lived as a child, the TV Metropolis looked a lot like Los Angeles, where the series was filmed.  The iconic LA City Hall stood in for the Daily Planet building, and exterior scenes were filmed throughout the area, and also on the RKO Forty Acres back lot later used as Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show.

In episode 30 (“Jet Ace”), first aired on October 10, 1953, the Daily Planet crew make a short trip to an Air Force base in the vicinity of Metropolis, where there is a large map of California on the wall.  So, as far as the TV series was concerned, it looks like Metropolis was located in California.

That is, except for the Metropolis subway, as featured in episode 31 (“Shot in the Dark,” October 17, 1953).  That looks just like the New York City subway.

Truth be told, in 1953 there were hardly any subways west of the Mississippi.  The only US cities with rapid transit subways were New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Rochester, NY (which shut down in 1956).  Newark had its streetcar subway and there were short stretches in San Francisco.

Los Angeles had about a half-mile of subway downtown for the fast-disappearing Pacific Electric interurban network.  The old Subway Terminal, which operated from 1925 to 1955.

I have always found the depictions of transit systems in movies and TV shows to be quite interesting and informative, in part because they reflect the public perceptions of their time.  For example, streetcars are quite commonly seen in movies made prior to World War II, but rarely seen afterwards.

By the time they started appearing in films again, such as Avalon (1990) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), a streetcar/light rail renaissance was well underway.  But trolleys were so unusual that these films sometimes got the technical details wrong- the ersatz PE cars in Roger Rabbit had both trolley poles up at the same time.

It’s as if people had forgotten what streetcars were like, just as America had apparently forgotten how to build streetcars after 1952.

Chances are, the producers of the Superman TV series could just as easily filmed scenes in at the PE subway terminal, so why didn’t they?  That would have involved the use of streetcars and interurban cars, which were considered old fashioned in 1953.  Public officials in Los Angeles desired a new rapid transit system for the region, and figuring the Pacific Electric could not easily be upgraded into one, they were content to simply let it die.

Los Angeles now has Metro Rail, an extensive and growing network of rapid transit subways, first opened in 1990.  These function as indirect descendants of the former PE and LA Railways lines.  In some places, rail transit has been put back where it once had been before, as in the case of the old PE line from LA to Long Beach, now the Blue Line.

Getting back to “Shot in the Dark,” the writers and producers apparently did not know a lot about actual rapid transit operations, since the story has a few mistakes in it.  In this episode, the “Valley Local” and the “Valley Express” are apparently running on the same set of tracks, whereas in New York, they would likely be relegated to different ones.

In the plot, Jimmy Olsen runs away from a crook holding a valuable photograph that turns out to be evidence that a crook, thought to have died, is still alive.  He gets on a subway train, and the doors close just ahead of his pursuer.

Clark Kent overhears the telephone conversation between the criminals, who decide to take over the following local train and have it smash into the express train that Jimmy is on.  Then, in the confusion, they plan to steal the photograph.

Oddly enough, subway trains in 1950s Metropolis seem to have two sets of streetcar-type K-controllers, one for the motorman and one for the conductor.  One crook knocks out the motorman and pushed the controller handle, after giving two rings to the conductor.  The other crook pushes forward a second K controller, which then makes the train go.

After Clark Kent thinks up a way to ditch Lois Lane, he changes into Superman and flies ahead of the out of control train, where he smashes the third rail and saves the day.  While the special effects in these shows look pretty hokey today, reliving these “thrilling days of yesteryear” is something I hope to do long into the future.

-David Sadowski

The 1951-57 Adventures of Superman TV series was shot in Hollywood and used the Los Angeles City Hall building at right as the Daily Planet building.  Unfortunately, there's no rapid transit line in the median of this freeway.

The 1951-57 Adventures of Superman TV series was shot in Hollywood and used the Los Angeles City Hall building at right as the Daily Planet building. Unfortunately, there’s no rapid transit line in the median of this freeway.

In the Superman episode "Jet Ace," aired just before "Shot in the Dark," the Daily Planet crew are shown at a California air base that is supposed to be in the general vicinity of Metropolis.

In the Superman episode “Jet Ace,” aired just before “Shot in the Dark,” the Daily Planet crew are shown at a California air base that is supposed to be in the general vicinity of Metropolis.

The "M" train approaches.

The “M” train approaches.

A rather basic subway set was built for this episode, with a small stairway, a vending machine, a phone booth, and some subway tile. Looks like Metropolis has a 34th Street station just like Manhattan does

A rather basic subway set was built for this episode, with a small stairway, a vending machine, a phone booth, and some subway tile. Looks like Metropolis has a 34th Street station just like Manhattan does.

The doors are closing... and the camera is panned to simulate the movement of a subway train.

The doors are closing… and the camera is panned to simulate the movement of a subway train.

Jimmy Olsen gets away on the "Valley Express."

Jimmy Olsen gets away on the “Valley Express.”

Lois detains Clark Kent and keeps him from chasing the bad guys.

Lois detains Clark Kent and keeps him from chasing the bad guys.

The Valley Local, after being sabotaged, is supposed to catch up to the Valley Express and crash into it after about three stops, meaning they are traveling on the same set of tracks.

The Valley Local, after being sabotaged, is supposed to catch up to the Valley Express and crash into it after about three stops, meaning they are traveling on the same set of tracks.

The first crook konks the motorman, then throws the K-type controller forward before leaving the train.

The first crook konks the motorman, then throws the K-type controller forward before leaving the train.

The second crook pushes forward a second K-type controller. Apparently the Metropolis subway cars do not have a "deadman switch."

The second crook pushes forward a second K-type controller. Apparently the Metropolis subway cars do not have a “deadman switch.”

Apparently, Metropolis has a subway system that looks just like New York's, as this picture of an "M" train shows. (I guess the M here is supposed to stand for Metropolis, although the trains in this episode are called the Valley Express and the Valley Local.)

Apparently, Metropolis has a subway system that looks just like New York’s, as this picture of an “M” train shows. (I guess the M here is supposed to stand for Metropolis, although the trains in this episode are called the Valley Express and the Valley Local.)

To simulate flight, actor George Reeves would jump on some sort of springboard just out of view at the bottom of the screen, then leap over the camera and land on some mattresses. He got very good at this sort of thing.

To simulate flight, actor George Reeves would jump on some sort of springboard just out of view at the bottom of the screen, then leap over the camera and land on some mattresses. He got very good at this sort of thing.

Due to the limitations of 1950s special effects, here Superman is literally "flying by wire." Two wires holding up actor George Reeves are visible against the dark background of Superman's cape.

Due to the limitations of 1950s special effects, here Superman is literally “flying by wire.” Two wires holding up actor George Reeves are visible against the dark background of Superman’s cape.

Superman lands in the subway tunnel.

Superman lands in the subway tunnel.