It’s July 1969, and the original Tower 18 at Lake and Wells is being demolished to permit a new track connection to be put in on the Loop “L”. This was necessary so the CTA Lake Street “L” could be through-routed with the new Dan Ryan line that opened on September 28 of that year. The new tower is at left and has itself since been replaced. Prior to this, trains ran counter-clockwise in the same direction on both sets of Loop tracks. Henceforth, they became bi-directional. This is a Richard Hofer photo, from the David Stanley collection. The view looks north, and that is a southbound Ravenswood (today’s Brown Line) train at left.
I recently traveled to Milwaukee and visited David Stanley, and while I was there, he generously allowed me to scan some of his extensive collection of traction slides. Today we are featuring a small part of that collection, some classic photos of the Chicago “L” system, taken by the late Richard R. Hofer (1941-2010). Many of you may recall him from railfan meetings in years past. These pictures show he was an excellent photographer.
You can read Mr. Hofer’s obituary here, and you will note he was a proud Navy veteran. There are also some pictures of him on his Find-A-Grave page.
Scanning a photo, negative, or slide is just the starting point in obtaining the best possible version of that image. Each of these images represents my interpretation of the original source material, which often exhibits a lot of fading or color shift. For many of these images, we are also posting the uncorrected versions, just to show the substantial amount of work that goes into “making things look right.”
In addition, we have some recent photo finds of our own, as well as picture from our Milwaukee sojourn. As always, of you can provide any additional information on what you see in these pictures, do not hesitate to drop us a line.
We also have a new CD collection of rare traction audio from a variety of cities. These were recently digitized from original master tapes from the collections of William A. Steventon, of the Railroad Record Club of Hawkins, WI. You will find more information about that towards the end of our post.
Richard R. Hofer Photos From the David Stanley Collection:
On April 20, 1964, CTA and local officials cut the ribbon at Dempster, commencing service on the new five-mile-long Skokie Swift line. This represented but a small portion of the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee interurban that abandoned service on January 21, 1963. The Chicago Transit Authority had to purchase about half of the Swift route anyway, as their connection to Skokie Shops went over NSL tracks. The CTA decided to offer an express service between Dempster and Howard stations, and put in a large parking lot. Service was put into place using existing equipment at the lowest possible cost. The late George Krambles was put in charge of this project, which received some federal funding as a “demonstration” service, at a time when that was still somewhat unusual. But CTA officials at the time indicated that they would still have started the Swift, even without federal funds. I was nine years old at the time, and rode these trains on the very first day. I can assure you they went 65 miles per hour, as I was watching the speedometer. Needless to say, the experiment was quite successful, and service continues on what is now the Yellow Line today, with the addition of one more stop at Oakton.
The Skokie Swift on April 20, 1964.
The Skokie Swift on April 20, 1964. Note the old tower at right near Dempster, which had been used when “L” service ran on the Niles Center branch here from 1925-48. This tower remained standing for many years.
The Swift on opening day, April 20, 1964.
The Swift strikes a dramatic post on May 10, 1965. The slide identifies this as Main Street.
This car sports an experimental pantograph in October 1966.
A 5000-series articulated train, renumbered into the 51-54 series, at Dempster in October 1966.
In October 1966, we see one of the four articulated 5000s (this was the original 5000-series, circa 1947-48) at Dempster, after having been retrofitted for Swift service, where they continued to run for another 20 years or so.
The Skokie Swift in September 1964.
From 1925 until 1948, the Niles Center line provided local “L” service between Howard and Dempster on tracks owned by the North Shore Line. There were several stations along the way, and here we see one of them, as it appeared in September 1964 before it was removed to improve visibility at this grade crossing. I would have to check to see just which station this was, and whether the third track at left was simply a siding, or went to Skokie Shops. Miles Beitler says this is the “Kostner station looking east. The third track on the left was simply a siding, a remnant of North Shore Line freight service.”
Here is a nice view of the relatively spartan facilities at Dempster terminal on the Skokie Swift in September 1964. Service had been running for five months. This has since been improved and upgraded.
In October 1966, a southbound Howard train has just left Howard terminal, and a single-car Evanston shuttle train has taken its place. After its riders depart, it will change ends on a siding just south of the station, and then head north after picking up passengers at the opposite platform.
A Skokie Swift single-car unit at Howard in December 1968.
An Evanston train of 4000s at Howard in December 1968.
Two Swift trains at Howard, December 1968.
At left, a northbound Skokie Swift car, and at right, a southbound Howard “A” train at the Howard terminal in October 1966.
Two single car units in October 1966, both equipped for overhead wire, but for different purposes. In the foreground, an Evanston shuttle car has trolley poles, while the Skokie Swift car at rear uses pantographs. Evanston was converted to third rail in 1973, and the Swift about 30 years after that.
Same as the previous picture, this overhead shot from the transfer bridge, taken in October 1966, shows the difference in current collection on two of the CTA’s 50 single car units.
A southbound Evanston shuttle train approaches the Howard terminal. Third rail was banned in Evanston by local ordinance until 1973.
In September 1964, a four-car Evanston Express train approaches (I think) the old station at State and Van Buren. All four cars are single car units equipped with trolley poles, for use in Evanston where local laws did not permit use of third rail for current collection. In the early 1970s, this station was closed and removed, but was eventually put back, to serve the Harold Washington Library. This leg of the Loop “L” had a continuous platform for some time, which is visible here. George Trapp: “The September 1964 photo of four single unit cars 25-28, 39-50 on the Evanston Express are at Madison & Wells not State & Van Buren. Note crossover at Washington where non rush Ravenswood and late AM Evanston Expresses crossed over to the Inner Loop after stopping at Randolph & Wells on the Outer Loop. There was also a long continuous platform from Randolph to Madison.”
In September 1964, at a time when the Loop “L” had uni-directional service (counter-clockwise), a Ravenswood “A” train approaches Clark and Lake. On the other hand, George Trapp says we are “at Madison & Wells, notice the clocktower for Grand Central Station with B&O in distance. At that time many more cars is series 6001-6130 still had their original headlight arrangement.”
Logan Square yard in December 1966.
The tail end of a Congress-Milwaukee “A” train at the Logan Square terminal in September 1964. As you can see, space here was at a premium. George Trapp adds, “Tail end of freshly painted 6592-6591 at Logan Square in Sept. 1964. This set was in builder’s photos by St. Louis Car around June 1957. When new were originally assigned to North-South route as were all high 6000’s until mid 1960, although some 6600’s were on Ravenswood in 1959-60. I always though the old Logan Square terminal was neat, certainly had more character than present one.”
A southbound Howard “A” train is on the center track. and served stations that either had a center platform or (like Wilson) had two sets of platforms. “B” trains (and the Evanston Express) used the outer tracks and served stations with side platforms. This picture was taken in May 1968. Note the southbound outer track has overhead wire in addition to third rail, for use by freight trains that ran at night until 1973. George Trapp: “Southbound Howard to Englewood “A” train has two cars of 6511-6550 series on head end. This series was split between the North-South and West-Northwest in the 1960’s with cars up to 6550 and 6551-6558 from next series being on North-South in winter months. Note that track 4 was being redone at that time and is missing.”
In August 1963, a four-car Douglas-Milwaukee “B” train prepares to leave Logan Square terminal. Until 1970, this was as far into the northwest side of the city that “L” service went. By 1984, the “L” had been extended all the way to O’Hare airport. This train sports a fire extinguisher on its front, a practice that did not last, apparently because some of them were stolen. While this elevated station was replaced by a nearby subway, the building underneath the “L” actually still exists, although it has been so heavily modified that you would never know it is the same structure. The Logan Square terminal was always my favorite “L” station when I was a kid.
Workers are removing the old Tower 18 structure in this July 1969 view. When service on the Loop “L” was made bi-directional, due to the through-routing of the Lake Street “L” and the new Dan Ryan line, the old tower was in the way of new tracks that needed to be installed.
The same basic scene as the last photo, from July 1969. We can tell that this picture was taken prior to the opening of the Dan Ryan line (September 28, 1969) because the train making the turn here is simply signed for Lake. Prior to the through-routing, Lake Street trains went around the Loop, and all traffic went counter-clockwise. The new track connection that allowed bi-directional operation had not yet been installed here.
A Lake-Dan Ryan train in October 1969, and what appears to be left-hand running.
It’s October 1969, and this westbound Lake-Dan Ryan train appears to be running on the “wrong” track, perhaps due to weekend track work on the Loop. This train has just left State and Lake and is heading towards Clark and Lake. Through-routing Lake and the new Dan Ryan line, which happened in September 1969, meant the end of unidirectional operations on the Loop.
Track work near Tower 18, July 1969. A work train of 4000-series “L” cars is most likely parked here.
This picture was taken in April 1973 at one of the Howard line stations near the north end of the line. The two outer tracks are used for express trains, and the inner tracks for locals.
The southbound express track on the northern portion of the Howard line had overhead wire equipped, for use by freight trains that the CTA was obliged to operate for customers along this line north of Irving Park Road. This was a holdover of service that originally had been offered by the Milwaukee Road, which leased this line to the Chicago Rapid Transit Company. The Chicago Transit Authority purchased it in the early 1950s, and freight service ended right around the time this picture was taken.
Wilson Avenue, April 1973.
An Englewood-Howard train at Wilson Avenue in April 1973. This station has since been completely redone.
In the late 1950s, a fourth track was added to a small portion of the Howard line that previously only had three tracks. This platform was added at that time, and was used by southbound North Shore Line trains. I was actually on a southbound Howard train one day when it unexpectedly stopped here, so I got off and took a look around, just to see what it was like. This has all been removed now, of course. The overhead wire was used by freight trains that ran at night. This picture was taken in April 1973.
The view looking the other way from the platform at Wilson that opened around 1960 (this picture taken in April 1973).
CTA’s Tower 18 at Lake and Wells in July 1971, looking north.
A work train of 4000s is southbound just north of the Loop in July 1971.
Here, we are looking north from the old Randolph and Wells station in May 1971, looking to the junction of Wells and Lake. This station has since been replaced by Washington and Wells.
In May 1971, we see the rear of a northbound Evanston Express train of 4000s, just leaving the old Randolph and Wells station.
If I had to guess the location of this July 1971 picture, taken on Chicago’s north side, it would be between Wilson and Sheridan.
This Howard “A” train is heading southbound in July 1971, under a section that still had overhead wire for use by freight trains that ran at night. The Howard train, of course, used third rail for current collection exclusively. Perhaps one of our readers can help identify which station this is.
This picture was taken at Granville on the Howard line in May 1971.
Again, Granville on the Howard line in May 1971.
The rest of the work train, in July 1971.
This July 1971 photo shows either the Halsted or Racine station on the Congress line. The train is heading west, away from the photographer. In those days, many stations had these “pay on train” signs, and when illuminated, that meant there was no ticket agent on duty, and the conductor would collect your fare on the train. There are no more conductors now, so this practice ended a long time ago. There were large grassy areas on each side of the tracks along portions of the right-of-way, because plans originally called for four tracks here. There had been four tracks when this was part of the Metrolpolitan “L” main line. In the new arrangement, two tracks would have been used by Lake Street “L” trains, which were at one time intended to be re-routed onto the Congress line.
If this is the same location as the last picture, this is the Racine station, this time looking to the east. Again, this is July 1971. This is a westbound Congress-Milwaukee “A” train.
Finally, here is the uncorrected version of the picture at the top of this post.
Here are some photos I took in Milwaukee on May 3rd. They show the new Milwaukee streetcar circulator line, which began service last November, and memorabilia from the Dave Stanley collection. On the way up, I stopped in Kenosha and snapped a few pictures of the tourist PCC line there.
Two CTA “L” trains pass each other at Wabash and Lake in April 1975. At left, we see a Loop Shuttle made up of 6000s; at right, a Lake-Dan Ryan set of 2000s. The Loop Shuttle was intended to make it easier to get from one downtown station to another, but was not really necessary and was eventually discontinued. It originally came about in the wake of the 1969 changes, whereby the Loop was made bi-directional. At rear we see the old Sun-Times/Daily News building, which stood at 401 N. Wabash from 1958 until 2005. It is now the site of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Just over two years after this picture was taken, part of an “L” train fell off the structure at this curve.
On March 2, 1980, photographer Arthur H. Peterson snapped this picture of CTA Historic Cars 4271-4272 at the Dempster terminal in Skokie. The occasion was a fantrip.
In February 1977, a two-car CTA Ravenswood train of “flat door” 6000s is about to stop at the old Clark and Lake station in the Loop, on its way towards Kimball and Lawrence on Chicago’s northwest side. This station has since been replaced by a more modern one, with entrances connected to nearby buildings.
Chicago & North Western steam locomotive 511, a 4-6-2, is northbound at the EJ&E (Elgin Joliet & Eastern Railway) overpass in North Chicago, IL on the afternoon of July 13, 1955. In the foreground, we see the tracks of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee, the North Shore Line. North Chicago was also the original home of the Illinois Electric Railway Museum, which relocated to Union in the early 1960s. (Robert Selle Photo)
Miles Beitler writes:
This may be of interest to the history buffs — just before the opening day of Skokie Swift revenue service in 1964, the CTA ran free demonstration rides between Dempster and Howard. I was with a group of people on the Chicago Avenue bridge watching the trains coming in and out of Howard. I overheard a conversation among several of them, possibly CTA officials or workers, to the effect that the CRT/North Shore had originally planned for the tracks to run under Chicago Avenue and the C&NW but then to immediately rise and pass through the rest of Evanston on an embankment. However, this would have required the closing of Custer Avenue, which the City of Evanston refused to do. So the open cut was continued past Asbury, and the embankment did not begin until just east of Dodge.
Dave, you know much more about the Lake Street line than I do. How was the transition from 3rd rail to trolley poles done on Lake? Did they raise or lower the poles at Laramie, or was it done on the fly between Laramie and Central?
On Lake, the transition point was originally at Laramie, but some time prior to the 1962 changeover to the embankment, this was moved further west, to a point closer to Central, most likely to facilitate construction. This may have been done in 1961. I believe we have posted pictures in the past showing both changeover points.
Miles Beitler, again (in reference to some of the comments at the end of this post):
I want to clarify an earlier comment regarding when the Evanston Express began using track 1 between Howard and Granville. Andre Kristopans claimed that it wasn’t until the late ’60s, but I’m sure it was before that based on my personal knowledge and information from Graham Garfield. I mentioned that in my earlier comment — see the paragraph below — but let me expand on that.
Graham Garfield states on his website “No gauntlet track was needed for third rail clearance on Track 1 between Howard and Granville because there was no third rail there until November 1964, this section instead being solely powered by overhead wire.” Garfield also states that this is when SB afternoon Evanston Express trains began using track 1 out of Howard, but this may only be an assumption.
Why do I say that this may only be an assumption? Because elsewhere on his website, Garfield says:
“The year 1955 brought a new express service. On November 28th, the Shoppers Special service was reinstated on an experimental basis. The service ran Monday through Friday midday to the Loop using 6000-series cars 6123-6130 (specially equipped with trolley poles) and 5000-series cars 5001-5004. The Shoppers Special made all stops between Linden and South Boulevard, then Fullerton, the Merchandise Mart, and the Loop.”
So according to Garfield, these trains came from Evanston with their poles raised, and they breezed right through Howard without stopping. Were the poles quickly lowered while the train was passing Howard on track 2? It would seem more logical for the train to pass Howard on track 1, keeping its poles raised, and lower the poles at Granville instead. But then Garfield mentions that Howard was added as a stop the following year, and he displays a photo of a Shoppers Special stopped at Howard with its poles down. So I just don’t know which track these trains used, and perhaps Garfield isn’t sure either.
One point I’m absolutely clear on: I vividly recall watching from the Chicago Avenue (Evanston) bridge as North Shore trains approached Howard while the conductors or trainmen stood outside the cars and raised the trolley poles. Andre Kristopans confirmed this as well.
Prewar Chicago PCC 7010 is at the western terminal of Route 63 – 63rd Street, located at 63rd Place and Narragansett Avenue. After streetcars were cut back to this loop in 1948 (double-ended cars had previously gone a half mile west to Oak Park Avenue) this became a transfer point for buses heading west. This bus is heading to Argo, which is not the name of a suburb, but the name of a factory in suburban Summit that produced Argo corn starch. If you could see the front of the PCC, there were “tiger stripes,” intended to make the cars more visible to motorists and pedestrians. PCCs ran on 63rd Street from 1948-52. (William Hoffman Photo, Wien-Criss Archive)
I remember using the names interchangeably. There was, and still is, Argo Community High School. But Amtrak and Metra call their station Summit.If you Google “Summit Illinois”, up comes another possibility: Summit-Argo. If you go to http://www.usps.com/zip4 and enter the address 6400 Archer Av, which is where Corn Products (maker of Argo Starch) is located, up comes “6400 S Archer Rd, Summit Argo IL 60501-1935”. Finally, if you google “Corn Products Illinois”, up comes that same street address, but in Bedford Park.
All of which means the area southwest of 63rd and Archer is sort of in no-man’s-land.
OK, here’s a nit comment about the picture itself. The bus headed for Argo may have said Argo rather than Summit because there is no place to turn around at 63rd and Archer. So the bus probably had to turn left onto Archer and proceed to Corn Products’ parking lot in order to turn around.
There is no town called Argo… the entire area is Summit. The Argo name comes from the factory, which has led locals to nickname it “Summit-Argo.” Here is a map, which shows the area in question is Summit, even though there is an Argo High School:
M. E. replies:
If there is no town called Argo, wherefore cometh the name Summit Argo? Why not just Summit?
The only current pure use of the name Argo is for the high school. But why did that name originate? Might the town have been named Argo when the school began?
Here’s something interesting I just discovered at http://www.usps.com/zip4 . There, you can look up a ZIP code and see which cities have that ZIP code. For 60501, I see:
Recommended city name SUMMIT ARGO
Other city names recognized for addresses in this ZIP code ARGO BEDFORD PARK SUMMIT
This tells me some people still use Argo as the town name.
Back to the CTA bus sign 63A ARGO. Why would the CTA do that? They could just as easily have accommodated 63A SUMMIT. I contend they used ARGO because the locals in that area called the town Argo. And I contend the town was called Argo because its largest employer, Corn Products, manufactured Argo Starch.
I have yet another source: A book titled “Train Watcher’s Guide to Chicago”, authored by John Szwajkart, dated 1976. It is accompanied by a map of railroad tracks in the entire Chicago area. The map shows two separate stations: Argo and Summit. The Argo station is south of Summit, around where Corn Products is located.
Finally, I fall back on what I remember calling that area when I was a kid. I called it Argo. Anecdotal, of course.
So it boils down to this: We can agree to disagree.
But isn’t this fun?
The town of Summit was founded in 1890, and the Argo factory was started in 1907 in an unincorporated area to the south of Summit. Summit annexed it in 1911.
The USPS will accept names for areas that are not, strictly speaking, the actual municipal names. I can think of numerous instances of this happening. Sometimes, these are neighborhood nicknames. Such is the case with “Summit Argo.”
Interestingly, there is a film called Argo, which has nothing to do with Summit or Argo in Illinois.
Now Available On Compact Disc
Railroad Record Club Traction Rarities – 1951-58
From the Original Master Tapes
# of Discs- 3
Railroad Record Club Traction Rarities – 1951-58
From the Original Master Tapes
Our friend Kenneth Gear recently acquired the original Railroad Record Club master tapes. These have been digitized, and we are now offering over three hours of 1950s traction audio recordings that have not been heard in 60 years.
Properties covered include:
Potomac Edison (Hagerstown & Frederick), Capital Transit, Altoona & Logan Valley, Shaker Heights Rapid Transit, Pennsylvania Railroad, Illinois Terminal, Baltimore Transit, Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto, St. Louis Public Transit, Queensboro Bridge, Third Avenue El, Southern Iowa Railway, IND Subway (NYC), Johnstown Traction, Cincinnati Street Railway, and the Toledo & Eastern
$5 from the sale of each set will go to Kenneth Gear, who has invested thousands of dollars to purchase all the remaining artifacts relating to William A. Steventon’s Railroad Record Club of Hawkins, WI. It is very unlikely that he will ever be able to recoup his investment, but we support his efforts at preserving this important history, and sharing it with railfans everywhere.
Disc One Potomac Edison (Hagerstown & Frederick): 01. 3:45 Box motor #5 02. 3:32 Box motor #5, May 24, 1953 03. 4:53 Engine whistle signals, loco #12, January 17, 1954 04. 4:13 Loco #12 Capital Transit: 05. 0:56 PCC car 1557, Route 20 – Cabin John line, July 19, 1953 06. 1:43 Altoona & Logan Valley: 07. 4:00 Master Unit car #74, August 8, 1953 Shaker Heights Rapid Transit: 08. 4:17 Car 306 (ex-AE&FRE), September 27, 1953 09. 4:04 10. 1:39 Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1s: 11. 4:35 August 27, 1954 12. 4:51 Illinois Terminal: 13. 5:02 Streamliner #300, northward from Edwardsville, February 14, 1955 14. 12:40 Car #202 (ex-1202), between Springfield and Decatur, February 1955 Baltimore Transit: 15. 4:56 Car 5706, January 16, 1954 16. 4:45 Car 5727, January 16, 1954 Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto: 17. 4:19 Interurbans #83 and #80, October 1954 18. 5:20 #80, October 1954 Total time: 79:30
Disc Two St. Louis Public Service: 01. 4:34 PCCs #1708, 1752, 1727, 1739, December 6, 1953 Queensboro Bridge Company (New York City): 02. 5:37 Cars #606, 605, and 601, December 31, 1954 03. 5:17 Third Avenue El (New York City): 04. 5:07 December 31. 1954 05. 4:47 Cars #1797, 1759, and 1784 at 59th Street, December 31, 1954 Southern Iowa Railway: 06. 4:46 Loco #400, August 17, 1955 07. 5:09 Passenger interurban #9 IND Subway (New York City): 08. 8:40 Queens Plaza station, December 31, 1954 Last Run of the Hagerstown & Frederick: 09. 17:34 Car #172, February 20, 1954 – as broadcast on WJEJ, February 21, 1954, with host Carroll James, Sr. Total time: 61:31
Disc Three Altoona & Logan Valley/Johnstown Traction: 01. 29:34 (Johnstown Traction recordings were made August 9, 1953) Cincinnati Street Railway: 02. 17:25 (Car 187, Brighton Car House, December 13, 1951– regular service abandoned April 29, 1951) Toledo & Eastern: 03. 10:36 (recorded May 3-7, 1958– line abandoned July 1958) Capital Transit: 04. 16:26 sounds recorded on board a PCC (early 1950s) Total time: 74:02
Total time (3 discs) – 215:03
The Trolley Dodger On the Air
We appeared on WGN radio in Chicago last November, discussing our book Building Chicago’s Subways on the Dave Plier Show. You can hear our 19-minute conversation here.
Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 1938– Secretary Harold Ickes, left, and Mayor Edward J. Kelly turn the first spadeful of earth to start the new $40,000,000 subway project. Many thousands gathered to celebrate the starting of work on the subway.
Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways
There were three subway anniversaries in 2018 in Chicago: 60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958) 75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943) 80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)
To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.
While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!
Title Building Chicago’s Subways Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages
Chapter Titles: 01. The River Tunnels 02. The Freight Tunnels 03. Make No Little Plans 04. The State Street Subway 05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway 06. Displaced 07. Death of an Interurban 08. The Last Street Railway 09. Subways and Superhighways 10. Subways Since 1960
Building Chicago’s Subways is in stock and now available for immediate shipment. Order your copy today! All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
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Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)
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I have been interested in historic preservation for a long time, and it’s not every day that anyone comes across original material such as this. Suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, previously unknown, unissued audio recordings have emerged for some long-vanished steam and electric railroads, along with 16mm motion picture film, and various artifacts related to the Railroad Record Club’s 42 issued LPs, in their various forms. It seems like a miracle that somehow, it all survived to be rescued from oblivion.
Getting this done involved a tremendous financial sacrifice on Ken’s part, as he is of modest means. I hope that he will be able to recoup at least some of his substantial investment in the future. I am sure he will appreciate any contributions you may be able to offer him, towards the cost of transferring some of these reel-to-reel tapes and 16mm movie films to digital.
PS- Our new book Building Chicago’s Subways is now available for immediate shipment. If you already pre-ordered it, your copy is already on its way to you. We are excited to have had the opportunity to tell the story of this exciting chapter in Chicago history. Details on how to order are at the end of this post.
Railroad Record Club Treasure Hunt, Part 2
It’s been over a year since I acquired a large portion of the William Steventon estate. The Railroad Record Club items that I purchased last year have enabled David and I to piece together a fairly complete history of the RRC and to more fully appreciate the time and effort Mr. Steventon put into producing these records. The homemade 78rpm records alone proved to be an invaluable resource. Not only did they provide us with some wonderful recordings, most of which hadn’t been heard in over fifty years, they revealed the pre-history of the club and offered a glimpse into the infancy of railroad field recording.
We were able to hear the very first railroad recording Steventon made– B&O trains at Riverdale, Maryland in 1953. We also finally completed our quest to get a copy of every single released RRC record digitized and put on CDs. We are now only in need of two samplers, the 5th and 6th years. More interesting information was garnered from examining original record jacket artwork and paste up boards, as well as the metal print blocks. We were also able to compile a list of records re-issued on 12″ stock and find out what was necessary for it to happen and the cost of doing it.
Photographs from his personal collection were scanned and published in the Trolley Dodger for all to enjoy. I think the effort that went into keeping all this material from ending up in a dumpster was well worth the time and expense and I’m happy to have been involved.
In spite of this, I knew the job was only half finished. There was much more that needed to be saved and time was running out. Those tapes I wrote about under the heading “what I left behind” in the first treasure hunt story needed to be preserved. There were still a big box of photos, reams of correspondence, the metal master discs for the 12″ reissues and lots and lots of sealed records.
The estate dealer was quite adamant that this stuff had to go…and quickly! I purchased all that I could, but I certainly could not afford to buy anything else and asked for some time to raise the money. As I tried to come up with the extra cash needed, months went by and the emails ceased. For a while it seemed that all this great material would be lost. Still, I squirreled away what money I could when I could and slowly, much too slowly, I approached his asking price. With the funds in hand, I emailed the estate dealer putting in the subject line that I HAD the money for the remaining Steventon estate items. Even as I composed that email I couldn’t be sure that the entire lot wasn’t already in some land fill rotting away. He answered me the next day, but it seemed a lot longer then that to me. His first two sentences were a relief:
Ken, good to hear from you. Yes, it is all as we left it a year ago.
There was one complication that needed to be addressed. I could not make the trip up to him in Wisconsin this year as I had done before. All the items would have to be shipped to me in New Jersey.
The estate dealer was agreeable to packing up the items and doing the weighing and making the transportation arrangements, but again there was a complication. This was his busy season and he would be working extensively out of town. He would not be able to devote much time to this effort for the next few weeks. A little progress was made here and there through the rest of June and I purchased boxes and packing material in July. I was a little apprehensive about shipping old open reel tapes and vinyl records during the hottest part of the summer anyway, so I just had to be patient. In early August progress was made and on the 13th I received the long-awaited email:
The last box is packed. You’ll have a pallet coming that’s right around 400 pounds, perhaps a touch over. Nine boxes to be delivered to the YRC terminal.
Several more delays would still be encountered, not the lest of which was the local hardware store’s forklift needing repairs. The hardware store, for a $20 fee, would be used to lift the pallet onto the truck. At last, in early September, with all hurdles cleared, a newly-repaired forklift placed the shipment on to the truck. Finally, the second half of the Steventon estate’s Railroad Record Club items were on their way to me.
A few days later I heading to the local YRC terminal to receive the long-awaited shipment. After some paperwork in the office, I backed a borrowed ¾-ton pick-up truck to the indicated bay. Soon a forklift lowered the last of the Railroad Record Club items from the Steventon estate into the truck bed. I now had a night of treasure hunting to look forward to!
I had sort of “cherry picked” the first half of the estate, so I knew that a great unexpected find was rather doubtful, but I did come across a few surprises.
2 Tapes appear to be in good condition
3 Tape with hand written track listing
4 More unreleased Steventon audio
5 Lots of interesting material on these tapes
6 Still more intersting tapes
7 Unreleased audio this is why I bought the whole lot
8 Steventon tapes
9 More Stevnton tapes
10 Even more tapes
11 Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records
12 Another view of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records
13 A box full of the Small reels -the master tapes for the 78rpm records
14 Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes
15 Another Close up of the 78rpm record master tapes
16 78rpm master tapes showing condition of tapes-not too bad
17 close up of 78rpm master tape showing condition
18 BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes with Steventon letter
19 Montreal & South Counties tape with Steventon letter
20 BC Electric tape with Steventon letter
21 Close up of the BC Electric and Montreal & South Counties tapes
22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes
23 Master tape for record 26
24 A stack of 22 Railroad Record Club Master tapes
25 master tape Railroad Record Club number 16
26 master tape Railroad Record Club number 15
27 master tape Railroad Record Club with memo
28 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17
29 master tape Railroad Record Club number 18
30 Note on box containing master tape Railroad Record Club number 18
31 Two master tapes for record number 3
32 Two master tapes for record number 3 showing condition
33 master tape Railroad Record Club number 7
34 master tapes Railroad Record Club number 10
35 master tape Railroad Record Club number 23 with memo
36 master tape Railroad Record Club number 17
The reel to reel tapes that I had left behind last year were the real reason I went to all this trouble and expense to acquire the rest of the estate. I’m sure I did not get any of the tapes that were actually in Steventon’s recorder when he was trackside, but they may no longer exist. Perhaps he transferred these “field tapes” to newer tape stock, in an effort to preserve them and some of these duplicates are what I received. There is at least one recording I know he made that is not among my tapes. In the liner notes of Record Number 20, Steventon writes that the cab ride onboard NYC # 1441 with his father at the throttle was edited down from over two hours of tape. I would have been very happy to find 4 or 5 reels of tape marked “cab ride with Dad” but it was not to be. What I did find, however, is some very good and interesting stuff, most of which has never been released on a Railroad Record Club LP.
One tape that was a bit of a surprise was a 4″ reel of tape marked NYS&W. Of all the railroads in the New York area, why the Susquehanna? If he recorded this tape while in New York to ride and record the Queensboro Bridge trolley, which had to be prior to April 1957 when that line shut down, then why not record PRR K-4s on the New York & Long Branch which lasted until October of that year? Or all those electric locomotives on the NYC and NYNH&H? Perhaps he did record some or all these railroads and I just don’t have the tapes. Anything is possible, but I have found no evidence that he ever did. I’ll just have to wait until I have the NYS&W tape put on CD to find out just what the attraction may have been.
Other interesting finds include three 5″ reels of a fan trip operated by the Northern Pacific Railroad on June 20, 1957. 4-8-4 # 2686 pulled the train from St. Paul, MN to Staples. One tape is labeled “NP 2686-LV MPLS,” the second NP 2686 coal dock stop,” and the last, “NP 2686 LV Staples.” There was also a negative of the NP 2686 at Staples found among the photographs. Other steam and/or diesel tapes are labeled “CPR,” “NKP Ft. Wayne,” “N&W,” and “Soo Line.”
The traction fans among us will be happy to know there is plenty for them. The CNS&M has several tapes devoted to it. One tape is marked “CNS&M switching at Rondout and Mundelein”. There is a cut on Record 26 of locomotive # 459 switching at Rondout, but not at Mundelein. Another North Shore tape is marked “Mundelein Run” and another simply ” Mundelein”. One more CNS&M tape has “Electroliner” written on the box.
There is a tape marked “ITS 202”, apparently Steventon preferred Illinois Traction System to Illinois Terminal. On Record 25 Steventon wrote in the liner notes, “We had just arrived (at Harristown, IL) on interurban No. 202 where we had made an “on train” recording east from Springfield. We alighted and watched the 202 fade into the distance. This was the last sight and sound we had of the Illinois Terminal as an interurban. The “on train” recording of 202 and a streamliner is scheduled for release at a later date.” It never was. I don’t know about the streamliner recording, I may or may not have it, but I will consider it a privilege to be involved with releasing the 202 recording for him.
There are also tapes of the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City (CRANDIC), Charles City Western, Toledo & Eastern, and Capital Transit. Canadian traction fans are not overlooked either. There is a 5″ reel of the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. There are also two 5″ reels, one each, of the BC Electric and the Montreal & Southern Counties. These two tapes were recorded by Eugene Van Dusen, and the accompanying letter to Steventon, plus a copy of it sent to Elwin Purington, were found among some RRC papers I have. Another reel of tape not recorded by Steventon is “Cincinnati Street Railway Car 187 12/13/51.” Finding this was a nice surprise. I don’t know who did record it, but Steventon did not start making recordings until 1953.
Here is the entire list of the tape reels, excluding 21/2″ reels which I’ll list separately, and the master tapes for the LPs,
REEL TO REEL TAPES
INFORMATION MARKED ON TAPE BOXES
1. CPR-J. Van Brocklin 2. Soo Line 3. T&E NKP Diesel-NKP Ft. Wayne 4. N&W 5. N&W from Salem 6. N&W Billy + Larry on end 7. NP 2686 Lv Mpls-6/20/57 8. NP 2686 coal dock stop 9. NP 2686 Lv Staples 10. B. C. Electric 11. Montreal & Southern Counties 12. Potomac Edison #5 13. Potomac Edison H&F last run radio program 14. CNS&M -switching at Rondout and Mundelein 15. Mundelein Run 16. Capital Transit co 1151 17. ITS car 202 18. Cedar Rapids and Iowa City 5/31/53 19. CCW 5/18/54* 20. CCW CC to Colwell 21. Toledo & Eastern 22. PRR GG-1s
1. Railroading in Spooner Wisconsin 2. CNS&M Electroliner 3. N. St. C & Toronto 4. Johnstown Traction and Altoona & Logan Valley 5. Cincinnati Street Railway car 187 12/13/51
The next bunch of tapes are smaller reels. These 21/2″ reels are in their original manufacture’s boxes and are marked only with a Railroad name and a catalog number. The catalog numbers correspond with the catalog numbers on the 10″ 78rpm acetate records that I acquired with the first half of the estate. As producing these records was a very time-consuming task, Steventon saved time by making a master tape for each record. The master tape would contain his spoken introductions followed by the train sounds. I bought over sixty of these small master tapes, and a large number have never been put on the regular Railroad Record Club releases. They contain sounds of railroads I was completely unaware Steventon ever recorded, such as L&N, Southern, and Virginian. This collection also contains the Queensboro Bridge trolley, the IND subway, and the Third Avenue EL recordings Steventon made in New York City.
This is not a complete set of all the master tapes made for the 78rpm records to be sure, but it’s most of them. I consider it a small miracle that any survive at all! I am not an audio expert, but in my opinion, uninformed as it may be, these tapes appear to be in reasonably good condition. I would think that the tapes would be able to withstand a few more plays, enough to be digitized at least. Neither David nor I have the equipment to attempt this and I think it would be ill advised of us to try anyway. The tapes are old and were not stored in archival conditions. I’m sure the prudent course of action is to entrust any work on them to a professional.
The last batch of tapes are the master tapes made for the released Railroad Record Club LPs. There are different size reels, some tapes are only of one side of the LP while others have both sides on the same reel. Some are in good condition and some are not. Some I have multiple copies of and a few of the LPs I have no tapes for, Rather then make a complete list of every reel I will simply list the few LPs I have NO master tapes for.
Most of these reels are 7″ with only a few smaller or larger. The most interesting master tapes are the reels for RRC 3 EBT/D&RGW. There are two 7″ reels that most likely have the original release version of the record, the one with William Steventon’s narration. There are also two 5″ reels, one marked “sounds only” and the other labeled “Narrative.” Since Steventon removed his voice from the 12″reissue of the record, the “Narrative” tape must contain just the voice of Elwin Purington doing the new narration.
I’m not sure just what to do with these master tapes. Some are in rough shape and all these sounds are on the released Railroad Record Club LPs. It certainly would be a considerable expense to digitize them all and no new sounds would be gained. For now, I’ll store them in the best possible conditions that I can provide and perhaps one day a clear path of action will present itself.
1 Steventon Film that should be all trains
2 Capital Transit B&W Night Film
3 Steventon film
4 Pennsy and B&O film
5 Back of Kodachrome box
6 Front of kodachrome box
I found several rolls of 16mm movie film within the boxes of audio tapes. Fortunately, Steventon was very good at labeling everything. He inserted little slips of paper into the film boxes listing the contents of the films. Unfortunately, the majority are family home movies. Most are of Steventon’s son Seth. His first day of school, Christmases, and birthday parties. There were six 100-foot reels that should be all trains.
1. 100-foot reel but only about 50 feet of film. Labeled “Pennsy Fan Trip and B&O near Riverdale.” 2. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “Canada Term”. I’m not sure what that is supposed to indicate. I unspooled a few feet of film and the first few frames are without a doubt a steeple cab locomotive. 3. 100-foot reel, full, B&W, labeled “Cap Transit Night Film.” 4. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “EBT Reel 1.” 5. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “EBT Reel 2.” 6. 100-foot reel, full, labeled “Negative 1R Freight” Also written on box “bad footage.”
1 Selection of print blocks
2 More print blocks
3 Still more print blocks
4. Print block for very early RRC traction logo
5. Railroad Record Club logo print block
6 Another style Railroad Record Club logo print block
7 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction
8 Interurban car fron LP Sound Scrapbook-Traction in two sizes
9 PRR steamer from 1st edition of RRC 10 in two sizes
10 D&RGW locomotive from the 1st edition of the LP the Siverton Train
11A Print block for NKP LP
12 Ad for RRC 25
13 Ad for RRC 25 reversed
14 Print block for large ad
15 Print block for large ad reversed
16 Ad for traction watch fobs
17 Ad for steam LPs
18 Ad for steam LPs reversed
19 Strange RRC ad
20 Strange RRC ad printed version
I also acquired a good number of print blocks, which are mostly quite small and were used in the RRC advertisements. I have a bunch of print blocks of the LP covers, all about the size of a postage stamp. They were used in ads and in the catalogs. There are a few complete ads that mostly feature a single record release. One large ad of interest is a very 1960’s, almost psychedelic illustration of a steam locomotive looming over a record player. Smoke is shooting from it’s stack and entwined within the billows of smoke are such things as a whistle blowing, a box cab electric locomotive, and a steam train. LPs are seen flying through the air and the words “steam and electric recordings” in twisted snake-like lettering fills the upper portion. Wild and unexpected. I would certainly like to know if this ad ever appeared anywhere in print.
I did not make a list of these small print blocks, there are just too many. I did photograph a representative selection of them. These photos will give a good idea of what is in the collection.
1 41 copies of RRC 3
2 18 copies of RRC 5
3 RCA test pressing for Sound Scrapbook Steam showing notation on upper left of sleeve
4 RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal one of only 3 good discs
5 Back of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal
6 Close up of RCA test pressing for Illinois Terminal
7 Close up of RCA test pressing for NKP
8 RCA test pressing for CN showing damage
9 Metal press stamp
10 Metal press stamp with cardboard sleeve
11 RRC Nashville Metal press stamp
12 Metal press stamps in cardboard sleeves for RRC4 B&O
13 3 RRC Nashville Metal press stamps
14 Metal press stamp for RRC LP
15 Railroad Record Club SP-4 boxes and sleeves
16 Record jackets for each of the 3 records in the SP-4 set
17 Label for 1st edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4
18 Label for 2nd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4
19 Label for 3rd edition of record 1 side 1 of RRC-SP4
Since the estate dealer would only sell me the tapes unless I bought the entire lot, including the remainder of the RRC LP stock, I had no choice but to buy them. I’ll admit I would not have wanted to see all these mint condition, still sealed LPs go in the trash, but what am I going to do with them and where am I going to store them? These questions I’m still contemplating. However, these concerns are secondary to preserving and digitizing the tapes. I have a few options, I can rent a table at a few railroadiania swap meets, contact a few local hobby stores and see if they are willing to sell some, and David and I have been thinking of making them available through the blog.
I’ll have to carefully consider my options. It would be nice to make a little of my money back and put it towards digitizing tapes. For the record, here is a list of the 12″ remasters. They are all still sealed and, for the most part, in mint condition. A few may have a bend or crease in the jackets and a few copies of RRC 20 have brown water stains in the lower right corner.
12″ remaster LPs:
41 copies of RRC 3, EBT/D&RGW 18 copies of RRC 5, D7rgw 36 copies of RRC 8 CN 29 copies of RRC 3 15, CB&Q 34 copies of RRC 16, Westside Lumber 25 copies of RRC 20, NYC/C&IM (6 copies have water damage) 15 copies of RRC 26, CNS&M Freight 22 copies of RRC 29, NKP 779
Included with the unsold record stock were several mint copies of the original 10″ LPs:
Twenty-four RCA test pressing were included in the sale, ten 12″ pressings and fourteen 10″. All these pressings are stamped on one side only and on the paper sleeve of two of the 12″ pressings there is a hand-written note: “Masters will be 12 inch”. This is the one rather disheartening part of the story. All but three of these test pressings are in very poor condition. The accrete has flaked off in large chips. When I removed the disc from the paper sleeve to determine its condition, a black snowfall often resulted. I’m not sure what to do with these, they are really just trash now. I will photograph the label of each one for my archive but after that, I just don’t know. The three good discs are two 12″ pressings for both sides of RRC 15, CB&Q. It’s lucky that the only undamaged 12″ RCA test pressings are for the two sides of the same record. The one good 10″ disc is for side 2 of RRC 25, Illinois Terminal.
The metal stamping plates vary in condition. I was able to inspect these plates while at the dealer’s property last July, so I knew what to expect. I turned them down last year to save my money for what I considered the good stuff, the artwork and 78rpm records. All the original RCA stamp plates were lost in 1973, necessitating the 12″ remaster program. These plates are the Nashville-made stamps made in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. As I remember it, all 17 master plates were in the dealer’s warehouse. I only looked at them briefly but the top few were scratched and dented. Now, if I wanted the tapes, I had to buy them. Here I did a little dealing. Since these plates were a bit heavier than the records and I was paying for shipment by the pound, I convinced the dealer to choose a few of the stamps that were in the best condition. Those in poor condition he would not charge me for and he could discard them. The archivist in me wanted to save them all, but compromises must occasionally be made.
In all I got twelve of these stamps, five are 14″ and 7 are 12″.
I ended up with a bunch of returned records as well. Numbering somewhere around fifteen or twenty, these records were returned by buyers dissatisfied with them. Most of them have a note attached with the buyer’s name and his complaint. Things such as scratches, surface noise, and various clicks and pops were the most often cited reasons for the return.
An interesting find was various copies of the records that comprise the three-record set of SP-4. I was able to put together a set of each of the three pressings this set had. A surprise was a set of these records not in the display box that they came in, but in three separate record jackets. Each jacket had the same drawing of CSS&SB MU #108 that appeared on the box lid. Perhaps this was some sort of test printing or the original idea for the jackets. I may never know but I’m sure it is a unique set.
NP 4-8-4 2686
CA&E Elgin train on street in Aurora IL 1931
Capital Transit PCC and bus Catholic University
D&RGW 476 locomotive featured on SP-1
Des Moines & Central Iowa car 1710
EBT 15 on a rainy day very likely while record 3 was being recorded
Evansville & Ohio Valley car 134
Ill Terminal car 285
Ill Terminal local on Caldwell Hill East Pearia about 1936
Indiana box car 550
Indiana RR 752 waiting for loads at mine scale
Indiana RR car 64
Indiana RR car 93 at Anderson IN September 4 1938
Indiana RR Vigo with rails ripped out.
Interstate car 711 ex-IPSC 427 September 3 1939
Interstate car 711 on shop siding west of Greencastle June 3 1939
Interurban car 44 and REA truck Rosslyn VA
MC&CL RR car 34
MC&CL Steeple cab 52
Nice right of way photo but no info other than date March 31 1936