Now here’s something you don’t see every day… the 69th Street station on the Normal Park “L”, in color. This short branch closed in 1954.
For most Chicago-area railfans, January 21, 1963 is a day, to paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt, that will “live in infamy,” for that is when the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee, the North Shore Line, breathed its last.
But January 21 is also the date when we started this blog in 2015. This is our seventh anniversary, and I think we have had seven full years of good luck.
In that time, our posts have received 841,000 page views, and over time we have become more and more of a resource for those who are interested in the history of electric traction.
As this is our anniversary post, we pulled out all the stops, and have lots of classic images for you to enjoy. As the 21st is also the 59th anniversary of the North Shore Line abandonment, we have plenty of pictures that pay tribute to that lost interurban.
As we have shared our images with you, you in turn have shared many things with us. We have learned a lot by working together. It has been a great ride here so far, and we can only hope that the next seven years will turn out as well.
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 Next Book
FYI, I recently made a new book proposal to my publisher and it has been accepted. I signed the agreement on the 18th, and with any luck, it will come out later this year.
There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but I will do my best to produce something that is new and different than that which is already out there, and makes a real contribution to our understanding of the past.
One thing working in my favor is there are plenty of great pictures to choose from, and the subject is already legendary.
Here is a summary:
The North Shore Line
As late as 1963, you could take a high-speed streamlined train from Chicago’s Loop elevated, 90 miles north to Milwaukee. This was the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee, commonly known as the North Shore Line.
From humble beginnings in the 1890s, as a streetcar line in Waukegan, Illinois, the North Shore Line grew to become, in the words of historian William D. Middleton, a “super interurban.” It reached its peak in the 1920s, under Samuel Insull, when the railroad won the prestigious Charles A. Coffin medal no less than three times.
Besides connecting Milwaukee and Chicago, the North Shore Line served Racine, Kenosha, Waukegan, Lake Bluff, Winnetka, Wilmette, and Evanston. A new Skokie Valley Route, built by Insull, opened in 1926 and helped establish Skokie, Glenview, Northfield, and Northbrook.
The railroad had a branch line serving Libertyville and Mundelein, city streetcars in Waukegan and Milwaukee, and was a pioneer in offering “piggyback” freight service.
Hobbled by the Depression and forced into bankruptcy, the North Shore Line rebounded during the war years with two fast new trains called “Electroliners.” It was finally done in by the automobile, highways, and a lack of government subsidies—but it left a remarkable legacy.
Our Annual Fundraiser
Since we started this blog in 2015, we have posted over 13,500 images. This is our 284th post.
Each year, around this time, we must 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. To date, we have raised $350, which is halfway to our goal. We will also have considerable expenses coming up relating to research for our next book.
On May 11, 1958, William C. Hoffman took this picture looking north along Halsted at the (then) Congress Expressway. Service on the Garfield Park “L” would continue until June 22nd, when it was replaced by the new Congress rapid transit line at left. A passerby admires the new, as-yet unopened station entrance. The Met “L” here had been four tracks, but two were removed by the time this picture was taken, as they were in the highway footprint. The expressway opened in late 1955 in this area.
The old and the new are on display in this 1958 view of the Halsted station on the CTA’s Congress median line. In the background, the old Met “L” is still standing, but would soon be demolished.
North Shore Line 458 heads up a southbound freight train, probably in the early-to-mid 1950s. At first, I thought this location was in Skokie, from the sign on the building. But further research shows this picture was taken in Waukegan, between Washington and Cornelia Streets. The building at right was a former North Shore Line merchandise dispatch (they spelled it “despatch”) station, by this time being rented out to a produce dealer. Don’s Rail Photos: “458 was built by the Spokane Portland & Seattle in January 1941 as Oregon Electric Ry. 50. It was purchased by the North Shore in December 1947 and was completed as 458 on January 27, 1948.”
A northbound Electroliner heading away from the photographer in Waukegan, most likely in the early-to-mid 1950s. In the distance, you can see another North Shore car on a side track.
A close-up of the previous image. Zach E. writes: “Regarding the two photos of 458 and the Electroliner at Washington St. in Waukegan. The cars in the background are standard coaches, not MD cars. There was a storage track there often occupied by cars laying over on the east side of the mainline there between Cornelia and Brookside Ave.”
CTA PCC 4057 is heading northbound on Western Avenue near Roscoe in June 1956, passing by the entrance to Riverview Park, shortly before the end of streetcar service on Route 49. (Robert Selle Photo)
The Chicago and Milwaukee Electric was the predecessor of the North Shore Line. Car 133 is at the Kenosha station in this early 1900s view.
The Chicago Aurora and Elgin began using this off-street terminal in Aurora in 1939. This picture was taken from a nearby bridge in 1951.
Look at what we have here– the Turtle Wax Turtle, a local landmark that stood on top of a building at Madison, Ogden, and Ashland from 1956 to 1963. The slide mount dates it to the late 50s, probably 1956-58. And which “L” is this taken from? Well, since it is daylight and it is 9:13, I would say that is AM, and we are looking south from the Lake Street “L” at Ashland. It would have been visible from the Paulina “L”, which had closed in 1951, and from the Garfield Park “L”, but that structure had already been torn down by 1956. I remember seeing this thing any number of times when I was a kid.
The Turtle Wax Turtle.
One of the two Liberty Liners (ex-Electroliners) on the Norristown High-Speed Line, where they ran from 1964 to 1976.
Britton I. Budd (1871-1965) was a talented and able executive who held many responsible positions in the transit industry, including president of the North Shore Line. When Samuel Insull took over the North Shore Line, he tapped Budd to implement a modernization program. And when the line fell into bankruptcy in 1932, Budd became one of the receivers, a position he held until 1937.
The North Shore logo from a 1942 timetable.
This appeared on the cover of a 1921 issue of the North Shore Bulletin, a small magazine given out to riders.
This is part of a number of photos someone took out of the front window of a CTA “L” train in the 1950s, along the Garfield Park line. We have published some of these in previous posts. Not all of them seem to have been taken at the same time. This one appears to be circa 1957, and the location is along the temporary right-of-way in Van Buren Street.
Here, the “L” train the photographer was riding in was descending a ramp towards the ground-level trackage in Van Buren Street. The cross street in the distance is California Avenue. There is a sign on the front of the oncoming train, which I believe indicates which Chicago Aurora and Elgin connecting train riders could catch in Forest Park.
The Garfield Park “L” on Van Buren Street at California Avenue, but this time, circa 1954. The old “L” has already been removed, except for the bridge over a nearby railroad.
A close-up of the previous image, showing construction on the nearby railroad embankment that crosses the highway at 2600 West. The old Met “L” bridge had not yet been dismantled.
On the Illinois Railway Museum main line, North Shore Line cars can operate in something approximating their former lives in revenue service prior to the 1963 abandonment. We see car 251 in February 1991. (Mike Raia Photo)
Lehigh Valley Transit ran freight as well as passenger service between Allentown, PA and Philadelphia. Even after passenger service was cut back to Norristown in 1949, they continued to operate freight via the Philadelphia and Western. Here we see car C16 in 1950, near the end of its days. Interurban service was abandoned the following year. Don’s Rail Photos: “C16 was built by Jewett Car in 1912 as 800. It was rebuilt as C16 in 1935.”
Lehigh Valley Transit car 1002, circa 1950. Don’s Rail Photos: “1002 was built by Cincinnati Car in June 1930, #3050, as C&LE 126. It was sold to LVT as 1002 in 1938 and scrapped in 1952.”
A pair of Lehigh Valley Transit cars meet a Philadelphia Bullet car at the Norristown terminal, circa 1951. LVT ceased running their Liberty Bell Limited cars there in 1949, for a variety of reasons. It reduced their expenses, but it probably also reduced revenues as their riders now had to change trains at Norristown. But the LVT cars were getting worn out and there were problems with the motors on the lightweight high-speed interurban cars LVT had acquired from the Cleveland and Lake Erie in 1938. Towards the end, LVT had to rely more and more on their older cars, such as the 700-series ones seen here. To the left (north), there was a ramp descending to ground level. This terminal has since been replaced by a newer one nearby.
The Chicago and North Western station in Evanston, during steam days in the early 1900s.
We ran another picture of this scene in a previous post, taken from a different view. The occasion was a Chicago streetcar fantrip using car 2802, and the location is at 63rd and Halsted on the Englewood branch of the “L”. There was an off-street area where riders could change for buses to different locations and, in an older era, interurbans as well. I do not know precisely when this picture was taken, but if I had to guess, I would say sometime in the 1940s.
Here is the other picture we previously ran of car 2802:
CSL 2802 on a charter, possibly a July 4, 1949 fantrip held by the Electric Railroaders’ Association on various south side lines. Bill Shapotkin writes: “Believe this pic is in the streetcar terminal next to the 63/Halsted ‘L’ station (where the C&IT cars and later busses of South Suburban Safeway and Suburban transit began their runs). View looks east.” M. E. adds, “Bill Shapotkin is correct. This view faces east along 63rd Place on the south side of the 63rd and Halsted (Englewood) L station, which was east of Halsted. One small nit about Bill’s text: The bus lines were named Suburban Transit System and South Suburban Safeway Lines.” C&IT stands for the Chicago & Interurban Traction Company. Don’s Rail Photos says, “The Chicago & Interurban Traction Company was incorporated in February 1912, taking over all trackage outside Chicago in March 1912 (all trackage in the City of Chicago went to the Chicago City Railway Company). C&IT interurban service continued from the south side Engelwood Elevated Station at 63rd and Halsted (trackage in Chicago was leased along with the shops at 88th and Vincennes) to Kankakee.” Samuel Insull took over the C&IT in 1922 and tried to revive the line, but when the competing Illinois Central elevated much of their line and electrified, the C&IT could not compete and interurban service was abandoned in 1927.
A Wabash Railroad display at the 1948-49 Chicago Railroad Fair along the lakefront.
The Chicago and Eastern Illinois exhibit at the 1948-49 Chicago Railroad Fair.
North Shore Line combine 255. Don’s Rail Photos: “255 was built by Jewett in 1917. It had all of the seats removed in the 1920s to provide a full length baggage car which ran in passenger trains. It was used for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to move equipment to Ravinia. On July 2, 1942, the 40 seats were replaced. Then on December 1, 1946, the seats were again removed. In addition to the Symphony, the car was used for sailors’ baggage from Great Lakes.” As there are seats visible, this picture dates to circa 1942-46.
Atlantic City Brilliner 215 at a traffic signal, while on private right-of-way, on October 13, 1955, which must be shortly before streetcar service ended there.
Pittsburgh Railways PCC 1262 is on Wood Street in downtown Pittsburgh on September 19, 1962.
Chicago Transit Authority PCC 4321 is on 77th Street on July 30, 1948.
This is the Ballston Terminal Railroad, which Frank Hicks calls “a fairly unusual little interurban in upstate New York,” in the early 1900s. More info here.
Here, we see Frank Cheney on CA&E car 434 at the Seashore Trolley Museum on October 12, 1963. From their web site: “No. 434 of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin – “The Great Third Rail” – was outshopped by the Cincinnati Car Company in 1927 as one of a group of 15 ordered shortly after Insull acquired control of the railway. Of all steel construction, the car is 55 feet long overall, is powered by four 140 horsepower motors, and has a seating capacity of 52, including 10 in a smoking compartment. Interior appointments include rotating bucket seats, toilet facilities and neatly finished paneling. The car is equipped with trolley poles that were primarily for yard service and limited street running on the CA&E, since the line used third rail current collection not only on the elevated, but on its own cross country surface routes as well. Moved on its own wheels coupled in a freight train from the CA&E shops in Wheaton, Illinois, to Kennebunk in the fall of 1962, No. 434 was trucked to the Museum in the spring of 1963 and was quickly readied for operation, given its good condition.”
North Shore Line car 168 is in North Chicago, being stored after abandonment, on October 19, 1963. It was built by Jewett in 1917. It did not survive.
Some of these interurban cars sure got around after they were retired from their original roads. Here we see North Shore Line car 411 on the Long Island Railroad. Don’s Rail Photos: “411 was built as a trailer observation car by Cincinnati Car in June 1923 #2640. It was out of service in 1932. 411 It was rebuilt as a two motor coach by closing in the open platform and changing the seating on February 25, 1943, and sold to Trolley Museum of New York in 1963. It was sold to Wisconsin Electric Railway & Historical Society in 1973 and sold to Escanaba & Lake Superior in 1989.”
An 0-series Shinkansen “Bullet” train in Tokyo, Japan in June 1968. The North Shore Line’s Electroliners influenced the design of these high-speed trains.
This is the Downey’s station (West Great Lakes) in October 1961.
I assume this may also be at Downeys, in October 1961.
Sailors and others aboard a North Shore Line train in October 1961.
A builder’s photo of Chicago and Milwaukee Electric (later the North Shore Line) car 305. Don’s Rail Photos: “303 thru 305 were built by American Car in 1910 and were almost identical. In 1939 they became sleet cutters and were retired and scrapped in 1940.”
North Shore Line streetcar 510. Don’s Rail Photos: “510 and 511 were not really city cars, but were purchased for use on the Mundelein line. They were typical Cincinnati Car lightweights built in 1922. After more of the steel interurbans were received in the next few years, they were replaced by the heavy cars which were thru routed to Chicago. The cars were stored until they were scrapped in 1940.”
North Shore Line wood car 301 at the Highwood Shops in the 1930s. Don’s Rail Photos: “300 thru 302 were built by Jewett in 1909 as mainline coaches. As the steel cars arrived, they were downgraded to local and school tripper service. In 1936 they became sleet cutters. 301 and 302 were retired in 1939 and scrapped in 1940.” (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
North Shore Line Birney car 334 in Milwaukee. Don’s Rail Photos: “334 was built by Cincinnati Car Co in December 1922, #2625. It was retired in 1947 and scrapped in April 1948.” (Donald Ross Photo)
North Shore Line electric loco 458 at the Highwood Shops on September 3, 1963, several months after abandonment. None of the NSL locos were saved, due to the high scrap value they had. (Bill Volkmer Photo)
Chicago Aurora & Elgin wood car 137 at the Wheaton Shops on August 6, 1939, during which time it was leased from the North Shore Line. There were several such cars that were purchased by the CA&E in 1946, making them the last passenger cars acquired by the interurban. It was built by the Jewett Car Company in 1907. (La Mar M. Kelley Photo)
Doug Iverson writes:
David, just heard about your latest adventure into the publishing arena. Hope everything goes well. I would be honored and extremely pleased if you could use this photo of my dad heading to board the North Shore in Racine in the 1940s.
My dad’s name was Nathan Norman Iverson. He was born in Forks, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula and traveled to Racine on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad better known as The Milwaukee Road. As he did most of his traveling during the depression he “rode the rails” trying to cure his wanderlust. In Racine he met my mother and she calmed his wandering spirit. He loved to travel. He always said “Traveling was always more fun than being there.”
I grew up in Racine with The North Shore flying through town in both directions every hour on the half hour.
Thanks for sharing! A remarkable story.
Marty Robinson writes:
Thanks David for your anniversary post. It elicited several memories for me: riding the North Shore Line from Downey into Chicago numerous times while at Great Lakes in 1950/51 at boot camp and electronics school. And a mention of the Railroad Fair, where I worked as a 16-year-old as a conductor on the Deadwood Central.
Glad you enjoyed it, thanks! Marty is front row, center in this 1948 photo from the Chicago Railroad Fair.
Did Not Win
Resources are limited, and we can’t win all the auctions for interesting pictures. Here are some that are still worth another look:
The interior of a Silverliner in 1963.
This is apparently a Chicago area train, but which one? The type of slide mount would indicate a date in the range 1955-58. But the headline visible, on a copy of the Chicago Daily News, refers to the selection of a site for the University of Illinois campus in Chicago. That determination was not made final until 1961. It’s been suggested that this may be the GM&O, but it could also be a Chicago & North Western train known as The 400, which ran between Chicago and Minneapolis. The 400 got its name because the travel time between cities was about 400 minutes. At any rate, it’s an air conditioned car. Mitch Markovitz: “Regarding the parlor car interior. It’s definitely the interior of GM&O parlor “Bloomington,” and not a C&NW parlor. C&NW parlors had parlor chairs from Coach and Car, and the chairs seen in the photo are those from Heywood-Wakefield, in the “Sleepy Hallow model.””
The original Kedzie Avenue station on the Ravenswood “L” (today’s CTA Brown Line) in the early 1970s, not long before it was damaged by fire. We are looking west.
Trolleys to Milwaukee by John Gruber
A copy of this long out-of-print 32-page book is being offered for sale on eBay for $50. One of the fans on the Facebook North Shore Line group lives in Australia and is interested in this book, but international shipping is expensive. So I offered to scan my copy for their benefit. You might enjoy it too.
John E. Gruber (1936-2018) was a notable and very talented photographer, as evidenced in these very striking pictures.
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:
For Shipping to Canada:
For Shipping Elsewhere:
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
This is our 284th 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 841,000 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.”
We thank you for your support.
In order to continue giving you the kinds of historic railroad images that you have come to expect from The Trolley Dodger, we need your help and support. It costs money to maintain this website, and to do the sort of historic research that is our specialty.
Your financial contributions help make this web site better, and are greatly appreciated.
You probably have not ever heard of Guy J. Wicksall before, but he has been shooting movies of trains for a long time now. He recently had some of his rare 16mm color films converted to video. By special arrangement with the photographer, we are now able to offer our readers The Guy Wicksall Traction Collection (1963-1975) on DVD (details below, at the end of this post).
All the photos in this post are screen grabs from the Wicksall Collection. We figured the best way to introduce these films to you would be to go to the source, and discuss them with Guy himself.
Here is an edited transcript of my conversation with the man behind the movies from October 10, 2016. Mr. Wicksall is now 81 years old and lives in the Finger Lakes area in upstate New York.
How long have you been making movies?
I started making movies in 1960. I have right now, some 59 DVDs. If I could ever get the money together, I have enough material for another 30 or 40.
That’s pretty incredible. What subject matter would most of them be?
Most of it is anything that ran on steel rails (laughs), there are a few exceptions, I have a few of the aerial cable ways in Switzerland. I have a real short piece, a 15-minute piece, on the Minnesota Transportation Museum trolleys.
And what percentage of your film footage would you say is devoted to electric traction?
Oh, probably 5 percent, maybe as much as 10 when you count in the European stuff.
And was it all 16mm that you shot?
Not all of it. The first few years I was shooting 8mm. When Kodak came out with their Super 8, my local photo shop loaned me a sample of Kodak Super 8 film, and I looked at that, and compared it with the 8mm, and decided that the 8mm wasn’t suitable, and the Super 8 wasn’t any better, so I changed at that time to 16mm.
(Editor’s note: Kodak introduced Super 8 in 1965, but some of Mr. Wicksall’s 16mm films date back to 1963. You can read more about these film formats here.)
And how much larger is the 16mm film area that the 8mm?
Oh, well, it’s at least four times the area.
That makes a tremendous difference as far as the quality is concerned. I’m very pleased with the excellent quality of the films that you made, because I am used to seeing videos made up from 8mm, where the picture is so fuzzy that if you made a screen shot of it, you’d hardly know what it was a picture of.
Right. I know what you mean. And, talking with people, it seems that the Super 8 got worse as the years went by. They tried to push the speed, it hurt the quality of the image.
Was it Kodachrome or Ektachrome, or both?
What was the film speed back then?
Well, I started out with 25 ASA, and I think I got to 64 at some point.
And what kind of film was available for 16mm? Was it also Kodachrome?
Yes. I always shot Kodachrome on the 16mm.
And then, at some point, did you switch over to using video?
Yes, I got pushed into it by the cost, when I started shooting 16 it was about $9 for a 50-foot reel, and it went to $70, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to go to something that was a little more reasonable. Unfortunately, I lost a little quality on the early Hi8 camera I used.
Sure. But now they keep coming up with new formats for the video, they’ve got this new one called 4k, which is the best one yet.
Well, the big problem is they keep changing formats so quickly. Now I’ve had three different video cameras with three different setups. A couple used Hi8, and the last one is digital video on SD cards, and things keep changing.
Regarding some of the film on the two traction discs, I could ask you a few questions. You made some business trips to Chicago, is that how you ended up making some films around Chicago?
Some of it was business trips to Chicago, and some of it was just plain vacation. I didn’t get a lot of business trips. The stuff shot in New York was on business trips, and some of the stuff shot in Chicago was on business trips, but not all of it.
In ’63 or so, you took some film on the “L”. It looked like you were at what they now call Adams and Wabash station, watching some trains come around into the station, and you’ve got some footage where you rode out on the Lake Street “L” to Oak Park.
That was the year after they had elevated that one section, the outer end of the Lake Street “L”, it ran on the ground for 2 ½ miles on the west end, and I saw that you had a glimpse there showing the track was still in place, even though you were up on the embankment. But it looks like they had paved over the grade crossings.
I was wondering a little bit what that track was.
Until October 28, 1962, the west end of the Lake Street “L” ran on the ground, west of the Laramie station. There was a ramp that went down to ground level and it ran parallel to the Chicago and North Western embankment there, using overhead wire. They had trolley poles on the trains, and clearances were very tight. There were something like 22 grade crossings, blind crossings, where you could easily have an accident where a vehicle would run under that viaduct and run right into a train. It was kind of dangerous. These were manually operated gates, so there was a lot of manpower involved.
The CTA wanted to reduce expenses, improve the running time, and safety, so they made a deal with the Chicago and North Western in the 1950s to relocate the tracks onto the embankment, which had probably been put up sometime around 1910. It was a big project which involved a variety of different government bodies, the Village of Oak Park, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority, the State of Illinois, and it was a “win-win” situation, because everybody benefited from the relocation of the tracks. When they got rid of those tracks, that made the street wider, and it allowed for more parking, and of course there were a lot of improvements based on the quicker running time for the trains, and since it was grade separated, there weren’t going to be any more accidents with pedestrians and vehicles.
I grew up in the area around Oak Park, so we rode those trains many times when they ran on the ground. The clearances were so tight that they couldn’t run the 6000-series “L” cars, which had curved sides, and just that little bit of extra room was enough that they couldn’t run those cars on that part of the line. I noticed also that you had taken some film showing trains going up the ramp out of the old Hamlin Yard, which was near Lake and Pulaski.
You remind me of what was in that video. A lot of it, I’ve forgotten. Of course, it’s been a few years, I’ve had some time to forget stuff.
Yeah, for car storage then, they really didn’t have a proper yard as such at the end of the line, which was in Forest Park, just west of Harlem Avenue. For car storage, they had this Hamlin Yard, across the street from West Shops, used by the Surface Lines. They had streetcar trackage running in and out of there, where they had overhead wire. They also had a third track on the Lake Street “L” where they stored some cars. You had some great shots of all of that.
And then you had shots of the South Shore Line and the Illinois Central Electric, showing the old IC cars from 1926, plus the Highliners, the bi-levels that were replacing them back in the ’70s.
All great stuff. Those first generation Highliners have now been retired, just within the last year or so, and they’ve been replaced by something very similar, but more modern.
That’s the thing about a lot of this railfanning. I’ve been at it long enough that sometimes, the things have been replaced, and sometimes the replacements have been replaced.
Right. And on the South Shore Line, all those old cars have been replaced. I think that many of them have been saved, by many railway museums, and there are a few of them that actually operate some, like the Illinois Railway Museum, and the East Troy Electric Railroad in Wisconsin. I did ride those cars a few times in their twilight years. Those cars were replaced by some Japanese-made vehicles around 1981, and now they even have some bi-levels of their own. They piggybacked on an order of cars for the Metra Electric, which runs the service now that used to be the Illinois Central suburban. They just use them during weekday rush hours. There is even now some talk of double-tracking the rest of the line out to South Bend.
It’s been a lot of changes.
Your first shots there of the South Shore Line were taken in 1971 or so. Up until the summer of 1970, they ran all the way into downtown South Bend. They had some street running there, which they cut back to the outskirts of town. Since that time, they built some new track to a nearby airport. There’s always been talk about grade separating the track that runs on the streets through Michigan City, but they haven’t done that yet. They keep arguing over which route they would use. So, at the moment, all those South Shore trains run right down the street through Michigan City, like they have for many, many decades.
You had some great footage in other places too, like in San Francisco, amazing shots of all that wonderful old equipment. Fortunately, they still have some old equipment running, on those historic lines they’ve come up with, and then Red Arrow, some great footage there of the Red Arrow Lines. Do you have some memories of those visits?
Oh yes. I have some memories, but I don’t have the details. I have to watch the videos to see what I saw.
There’s a lot out east, New York and New Jersey.
I’ve got a lot of, oh dear, Conrail. I was looking here, I’ve got Minnesota Transportation Museum, September ’74, that’s 11 minutes. There’s another one that’s about 15 minutes, that shows the same stuff years later.
Some of the east coast stuff would be interesting to many people. There’s a friend of mine who lives in New Jersey. I’m sure he would love to see your footage of the Gladstone Branch, the Erie Lackawanna. Some of that reminds me of, the old cars there, reminds me a lot of the ones that were used on the Illinois Central.
Trains have changed so much in the last 50 years.
Sure, those lines are running too, but they’re all NJ Transit.
Now, the Como-Harriet trolley (Minneapolis-St. Paul), I have the one reel from 1974, and another one that shows the same thing in 1998, with expansion and so on. Anyway, I’ve got these two, which add up to another oh, 26 minutes. They might be of some small interest too.
I used to show my movies to the Syracuse chapter of the NRHS. I wore out a projector doing that. Now I’ve gotta get off the phone. My wife is calling me for supper.
I have no objection to your making copies of these DVDs, and to sell them. I am quite happy with it. My thought is, it does no good sitting on my shelf. I would rather have it spread as widely as possible, and you look like you might be a good person to do that.
It’s been so nice talking to you. We’ll be in touch. Thanks so much. Take care.
The original Illinois Central Electric trains, which were built in 1926.
4000s pass the old Tower 12 at Wabash and Van Buren in Chicago’s Loop.
A Lake train of 4000s approaches Adams and Wabash in 1963, when the Loop was single-directional.
A two-car CTA Ravenswood train approaches Adams and Wabash in 1963.
In 1963, the old Lake Street Transfer station had not yet been torn down. It was removed the following year. Logan Square and Humboldt Park trains stopped running on the other level here in 1951.
A quick glimpse of CTA trolley bus 9649.
A Milwaukee Road train in the early 1960s. Not sure if this is inter-city or commuter service. Bi-levels were being phased in on the MR commuter lines. David Vartanoff adds: “The Milw Road train is a commuter run. By the time he was filming, intercity cars had been repainted to UP as the E-7 was.”
The photographer was on a northbound Evanston train that was pacing a Howard train of 6000s.
4000s pass the old Tower 18 in Chicago’s Loop. It was torn down and relocated in 1969 so that Lake Street trains could go directly east at this point, when that line was paired with the new Dan Ryan service.
CTA single-car units under wire in Evanston in 1963.
A Pennsy GG1.
A New Haven train emerges from a tunnel in Manhattan.
A New York rapid transit train on the 7 line in 1964.
The New York Central in Manhattan.
To this day, San Francisco operates trolley buses as well as PCCs.
SF Muni PCC 1021 and a 1955-57 two-seater Thunderbird roadster.
SF Muni double-end PCC 1015.
A San Francisco cable car in the late 1960s.
Red Arrow Strafford car 163 on a curve.
Red Arrow Strafford car 164.
A Strafford car with a Liberty Liner (ex-North Shore Line Electroliner) behind it at 69th Street.
A Bullet car on the Norristown High-Speed Line.
A train of Philadelphia “Almond Joys” at 69th Street Terminal.
St. Louis-built double-end car 16 (not an official PCC, although it certainly looks like one) on the Red Arrow.
Red Arrow Brilliner #1 at 69th Street.
David Vartanoff: “PRR never had RDCs. That is an NYC (New York Central) car.”
David Vartanoff: “The PRR EMU you show is NYC (New York Central). The under running third rail is the clue.”
A Penn Central train.
An Erie Lackawanna train in New Jersey.
700-series electric freight locos.
The South Shore Line shops in Michigan City.
The South Shore Line in Indiana.
South Shore Line car 108 in Chicago.
An Illinois Central bi-level whose end has not yet been repainted in brighter colors.
IC Highliners downtown.
Illinois Central bi-levels in Chicago, with the old Central Station in the background.
Father Thomas Nagle writes:
Hello…hope you can point me in the right direction. I remember seeing CTA wreck wagons as a kid and was always fascinated by them. They looked like CFD rigs to me with Mars lights, gongs and sirens and even red and green headlights. Are there any photos of them available anywhere? I’ve googled them and come up empty. Thank you.
Fr Thomas Nangle CPD chaplain retired
Perhaps our readers may have some pictures, thanks!
One of our regular readers writes:
Why didn’t the CSL/CTA ever install Post War PCC cars on Ashland Avenue? The street was as wide as Western Avenue from the north end to the south end. All that would have been necessary would have been the construction of an off street loop (such as Western and Berwyn) at 95th Street and a connecting track off of northbound Clark to southbound Southport at the north terminal.
PS: Is it possible that Ashland and Milwaukee might have been slated for PCCs if they had ordered 1,000 as had been originally thought?
In 1937, when the “Green Book” plan was issued, the City of Chicago envisioned replacing half the existing streetcar fleet with PCCs, and the other half with buses (some of which would have been trolley buses). But the report noted that at some future date, buses might be able to handle all the traffic.
Half the fleet, at that time, would have been something more like 1,500 PCC cars. That the number was soon reduced to 1,000 probably reflects the continuing trend toward buses.
Milwaukee would have to be a candidate for PCCs, since one PCC (4051) was operated there in 1940-41, on a test basis with the altered door configuration that CSL adopted for the postwar cars.
On the other hand, arguing against that is the plan, formulated in 1939, for the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway. Only the outer portion of Milwaukee truly made sense to run PCCs if you were going to have a greatly improved, more direct rapid transit service running in a subway on Milwaukee. PCCs would have done well in feeder service between the Imlay Loop at the city limits and the Logan Square terminal.
Offhand, I don’t know where Ashland would stack up in a list of the heaviest lines. But certainly the prevailing wisdom at CSL in the 1930s and 40s was to use streetcars for the heaviest lines, trolley buses for the medium ones, and gas or diesel buses for the rest. I assume that Ashland had plenty enough ridership to be considered for PCCs, though, and it would have been an excellent choice.
Ridership in the WWII era was heavy enough that CSL and the City planned to assign the 600 postwar PCCs to just four major lines. But by the time the deliveries were complete, this had been expanded to six lines, since ridership was declining.
What we don’t know is how strategic these assignments were, with the thought of creating an ongoing streetcar system for Chicago that could have continued into the future. One thought is that perhaps the CTA and the City felt that they had to spread the new cars around, so that more neighborhoods would benefit from the new service.
If that was a consideration, it would argue against Ashland, since it ran parallel to Western and went to many of the same parts of town. It would argue in favor of choosing a street like 63rd, which ran east-west on the south side and therefore served different neighborhoods.
In any event, by 1947 the CTA, even as it was still taking deliveries on the postwar order, seems to have planned for the gradual phasing out of streetcars, even the PCC ones. The 1947 CTA modernization plan (which you can read in my E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story), which covered the years 1946-1955, anticipated having only three streetcar lines left by 1955, which is pretty much what actually did happen. Presumably, they would have phased those out in the years following 1955, if another such plan had been published.
Furthermore, it was not always possible for CTA to put turnback loops where they wanted them. The area around 95th and Ashland was built up and who knows what locations would have been available.
There were plans to build a loop for the 36-Broadway at 115th that never materialized, due to neighborhood opposition. And the Grand-Nordica trolley bus loop for route 65 – Grand could only be put a couple blocks away from Harlem, which would have been much the preferred location.
Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks. You can always reach us at:
New From Trolley Dodger Press
VIDEOS ON DVD:
South Shore Line car 102 in downtown Chicago.
The Guy Wicksall Traction Collection (1963-1975)
Our latest release, by special arrangement with Guy Wicksall, features video transfers of rare, high quality 16mm color films of electric railroads taken across the country between 1963 and 1975. These are much better quality than the more typical 8mm films railfans used back then. If you like classic railfan videos, you are sure to enjoy this collection, which features narration by the photographer. Mr. Wicksall receives a royalty on each disc sold.
Disc 1: 38 Chicago and New York Commuter Trains, 1963-1964 (18:24)
Includes Illinois Central Electric, South Shore Line, Chicago Transit Authority “L” trains in the Loop, on Lake Street, Howard, and Evanston lines, Chicago & North Western and Milwaukee Road commuters, Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, Long Island Rail Road, New Haven, and New York elevated trains.
Disc 2: 48 Commuter Trains, 1968-1975 (57:22)
Includes San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni)PCCs (some double-ended), trolley buses, and cable cars, Philadelphia Suburban (Red Arrow Lines), including Straffords and Bullets), Penn Central,New Haven, Erie Lackawanna, South Shore Line, Illinois Central Electric, and more.
Total time – 75:46
# of Discs – 2 Price: $24.95
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
This is our 161st 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 206,000 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. You can make a contribution there as well.
As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”
Getting the 48,469,227 fair visitors back and forth to the lakefront site was a tremendous undertaking, and the Chicago Surface Lines played an important role. The fair opened on May 27, 1933, and it quickly became apparent that transportation needed improvement.
Two streetcar line extensions, among the last ones in Chicago, were hurriedly undertaken. The Roosevelt Road extension was the more elaborate of the two, since there were more obstacles in its path, namely the Illinois Central train station and tracks. The IC tracks were below grade, since they were built at the original ground level Downtown, which was raised several feet after the 1871 Chicago Fire.*
Chicago’s new Mayor Edward Joseph Kelly (1876-1950) took the controls of the first streetcar over the viaduct on August 1st, and posed for a good many press photos along the way. The two line extensions, from Roosevelt and Cermak, were retained for about 20 years, and continued to serve the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and Soldier Field. They both had turnaround loops, to permit the use of single-ended as well as double-ended cars.
CSL had two modern experimental streetcars built, and used them to shuttle visitors to and from the fair. Of the two, at least part of car 4001 has survived to this day, while 7001 was perhaps more influential on the eventual design of the highly successful PCC cars, starting in 1936. The general configuration of this single-ended car, and its door arrangement, were followed on Chicago’s 683 PCCs.
Today, we present a Chicago Surface Lines brochure touting their service to the World’s Fair and all parts of Chicago. Along with this, we have some additional photos showing the Roosevelt Road extension. You can find some additional pictures of this operation in later days in one of our earlier posts. There is also a photo showing car 7001 on State Street in 1934, in World’s Fair service.
After the CTA converted the Roosevelt Road streetcar line to bus, the extension to the “Museum Loop” operated as a shuttle between August 12, 1951 to April 12, 1953, when it was abandoned, and eventually demolished. There’s a picture of the route 12A shuttle operation on the CERA Members Blog, here. (The same blog also shows the last known picture of car 7001, shortly before it was scrapped in 1959.)
The last route 21 – Cermak streetcar ran on May 30, 1954.
PCCs occasionally did run to the Museum Loop during special events, for example, on April 26, 1951, when General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) made a personal appearance after his dismissal by President Harry S Truman. You can read more about that historic event here.
Northerly Island, the site of A Century of Progress, was built on landfill. After the fair, it was used as Meigs Field, an airport for small planes, from 1948 to 2003.
Now that planning is underway for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to be built in the “Museum Campus” area, various ideas have been floated for improving transit in this area. These proposals include a streetcar line.
So, when it comes to Chicago’s lakefront, what goes around may yet come around- especially if it’s a streetcar.
*This is approximately correct. It would be difficult to determine what “ground” level truly was when the City was first settled, since Chicago was built on a swamp. Ground level was raised 10 feet downtown in the 1860s to permit the easy installation of a sewer system, and there have been numerous additions via landfill, especially east of Michigan Avenue, which was originally the shoreline. You would apparently have to go as far south as Jackson Park before the Lake Michigan shoreline is in its pre-development location.
For more information, go here.
1939-40 New York World’s Fair
It’s worth mentioning that when New York put on their World’s Fair in 1939-40, they built a rapid transit extension of the IND subway system to reach the south end of the site. This operation was called the World’s Fair Railroad, and required payment of a second 5-cent fare. This branch line was constructed at a cost of $1.2m.
This extension ran partly through Jamaica yard, and went 8,400 feet beyond it, for a total length of just under two miles.
The privately owned BMT and IRT subway/elevated systems shared service on what is now the 7 line, and fairgoers could get there via the Willets Point station, which now serves Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. The regular fare was charged, and these trains reached the north end of the site.
After the fair closed, the World’s Fair Railroad spur was dismantled and removed, the only such IND service to suffer this fate. During the course of the fair, New York City took over operation of both the IRT and BMT, unifying the three subway operations under municipal ownership.
No rapid transit extensions were provided for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which took place on the same location. However, there was a monorail for moving people around within the fair site itself.
A CSL map showing how the Roosevelt Road and Cermak Road streetcar lines were extended to new loops serving A Century of Progress.
The Roosevelt Road extension to the World’s Fair site is under construction in this June 24, 1933 view. The Illinois Central station lies between here and what we now call the “Museum Campus.”
From the looks of things, this picture was also taken on June 24, 1933.
It’s August 1, 1933. The World’s Fair extension along Roosevelt Road is now completed, and Mayor Edward Kelly (posing for pictures) is at the controls of the first service car. Kelly had succeeded Anton Cermak as mayor earlier that year after the latter was assassinated in Miami.
A close-up of the previous scene.
The first service car over the Illinois Central viaduct, with Mayor Kelly at the throttle, in a picture taken at 9:30 am on August 1, 1933.
An artist’s rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 4001, built by Pullman. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. Its body shell is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.
An artist’s rendering of CSL experimental pre-PCC streetcar 7001, built by Brill. It entered service in 1934 and was retired in 1944. It was scrapped in 1959. Note that the car is signed for Clark-Wentworth, the busiest line on the Chicago system. Ironically, while this design resembles the PCC car of 1936, Brill refused to license the patented PCC technology, and as a result, was driven out of the streetcar market within a five years, after building but a few dozen “Brilliners.”
A side view of pre-PCC car 7001, showing how the general arrangement of doors was quite similar to that used on the later Chicago PCCs. (CSL Photo)
CSL 7001, as it appeared on March 18, 1939.
Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly presides over the opening ceremonies for A Century of Progress at Soldier Field, May 27, 1933.