This real photo postcard image shows the four-track Metropolitan “L” bridge (actually two separate bridges, side by side), but it also shows a small experimental lifeboat moored at left. One author’s research into the history of this boat is featured in this post, and also sheds some further light on when this photo was taken.
From the start of the Trolley Dodger in 2015, I hoped this blog would become a resource for others, and I am pleased that this has happened. Sometimes these inquiries take strange and unexpected turns, and that is certainly the case regarding the early real photo postcard shown above. This interesting tangent of Chicago history is covered in detail further down in this post. Research can raise just as many questions as it answers, and that is definitely what happened here regarding the small experimental boat visible in the lower left-hand corner of this and other postcards of the Met bridge.
We also have a goodly number of excellent images for your perusal, from some of the great traction photographers.
We regret the passing on April 30th of Robert Heinlein, aged 84. He was one of the giants in his field, and our next post will be a tribute to him. Some of Mr. Heinlein’s photos are in my recent book The North Shore Line, and I am glad he was able to see the finished product. He spent his entire career sharing his knowledge and helping others, and he will be sorely missed. You can read his obituary here.
Our friend Kenneth Gear 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.
FYI, the Hoosier Traction Facebook Group celebrates electric transit in Indiana and the Midwest. It also supports the activities of the annual Hoosier Traction Meet (although not affiliated with the North American Transit Historical Society, which organizes that event).
I will be giving a program on my new North Shore Line book on 7:30 pm on Friday evening, May 19th, at Chicago Union Station for the Railroad & Shortlines Club of Chicago. There is no charge. Please do not arrive before 7:15 pm.
Chicago Union Station
500 W. Jackson Blvd.
Please enter at 500 W. Jackson Boulevard, between Clinton and Canal. Call 312 725-0432 during the meeting for assistance.
We gave two presentations in April that were well attended and received. First, we spoke at the Libertyville Historical Society on the 17th. You can view that presentation here. To date, there have been about 3500 views.
I’ve been lost on the site for a few weeks since finding it—it scratches an itch I also have—and I’m really grateful for the work that you’ve done in documenting a lot of pretty niche historical artifacts. I’m very curious about one in particular. It’s mentioned in this post here, above the text “I recently bought this real photo postcard, circa 1910.”
I’m pretty certain it comes from the summer of 1907. The boat docked in the lower left of that photo is an obscure lifeboat designed by Robert Brown, of Chicago; it was tied up to the Chicago Sanitary District dock in 1907 but Brown stopped paying docking fees in March, 1908 and it’s absent in another 1908 photo of the bridge. Debris on the loading dock to the northeast of the bridge matches debris visible in Detroit Publishing Co. photo 070152 (here at the LOC), which was taken at the same time as 070153 (LOC link); based on the SS Pueblo’s transit records that photo must’ve been taken on July 30th, 1907.
I’ve been working on writing up the history of Robert Brown’s boat, which features in some other Chicago lore a few years later, and for which the photographic so far consists of only three photos: the two Detroit Publishing Co. ones, and whoever took the picture used in the postcard you found. It was reused in numerous postcards (colorized with the title “Elevated R. R. Jackknife Bridge over Chicago River, Chicago”—you can find examples on eBay).
The one you posted, though, is by far the clearest. I was wondering if you could tell me anything about the postcard’s copyright or who might have printed it? I’ve never been able to find what the photographic source might’ve been. A clearer example, one which might make the text on the white sign north of the boat legible and make it easier to fix the exact date the photo was taken, would be invaluable but I’m not sure where to start looking.
(Also, the version you’ve found is evidently a different crop—the colorized version shows more of the western bank and the dock itself).
I appreciate your time—any pointers on anything more about that postcard or the photo that was responsible for it would be incredibly helpful. The work you did on restoring the one you found was already enough for me to conclude when the boat was actually tied up at Van Buren St., which I’d been despairing of finding possible.
Kind regards Sandy
Thanks for writing. It’s remarkable how small details in such photographs can be of so much use to researchers today.
In the meantime, what a remarkable piece of scholarship you have achieved!
As you can see, the reverse side of the postcard doesn’t identify the maker. But perhaps it can still be identified by comparison with other postcards with the same printing, whose manufacturers are known to experts.
Would it be alright for me to share your original note with the readers of my blog (and accompanying Facebook group)? You never know what useful information others might have to share.
Absolutely, you can share with whomever! The information I have is unfortunately pretty limited. From my boat-focused point of view, what’s known is:
1. Chicagoan carpenter Robert Brown designed and built an odd-shaped lifeboat in 1905, which was photographed for a magazine in ~1905/1906 2. His company, the International Automatic Lifeboat Company, paid the Chicago Sanitary District a $5/mo docking fee for the Van Buren St. dock between October, 1906 and March, 1908 3. Hans Behm took three photos of the Metropolitan West Side railroad bridge on July 30th, two of which depict the boat. 4. It’s gone by a September, 1908 photo of the bridge taken, I think, by the Chicago Sanitary District (because the MWRD has posted this picture a few times) 5. The only other photo is the one from the postcard, which must’ve been taken between October, 1906 and March, 1908. The overall bridge configuration seems to be the same between the postcard and the 1907 photos, as does the debris seen on the loading dock on the northeast side of the bridge:
After that the boat disappears for a few years, until it was found sunk in the north draw of the Wells Street Bridge (just south of the Chicago & North Western depot there. Then it was shown for a few months as “The Foolkiller,” putatively the world’s first submarine, after which it disappears again and is now only really relevant for weird Chicago lore.
Fortunately a lot of the Chicago Sanitary District records are online, and I was able to get in touch with someone from Commonwealth Edison who also had some useful information, but I have to imagine a lot of the information from the L companies pre-merger is gone. It seems to me that there might have been some reason why people were taking pictures of the Met’s bridge around the same time, but I’m not sure what that might have been.
I know that there was pressure to have it removed because of how significantly it impacted the channel by ~1911 or so—tracing over old Sanborn maps from 1906 really drives home how dramatic that constriction was:
At the time the western span of the Jackson Blvd. bridge and the Metropolitan West Side crossed what Sanborn identifies as property belonging to the Pacific, Fort Wayne & Chicago, during its period when it was not part of the Penn, I think—I am not a train girl. The Met’s viaduct would’ve crossed over the PFW&C freight house, before that whole west bank became Chicago & North Western property again. In any case the bridge wasn’t actually torn down until 1961 (by that point, as I understand it, the CTA hadn’t been using it to carry rail traffic since 1958).
Thank you so much again for your time and for your help with this. How these photo postcards worked has been something of a mystery to me. Numerous different versions seem to have been made, and I just don’t know whether these were the same company, or different companies skirting copyright because Google Images wasn’t a thing at the time, or what. But the fact that there is such a high-quality photo, anywhere, is extremely heartening.
I suspect the postcard that I have was very short-lived in the marketplace, as this was a transition period between real photo postcards and printed ones. Even if some of the colorized versions may have used the same original negative as a starting point, the eventual results look more and more like drawings rather than photographs.
As to the sudden popularity of pictures of the Met “L” bridge, starting in 1907, this coincided with a major change in how people could write messages on postcards:
DIVIDED BACK PERIOD: 1907-1915
“In 1907, a major change on the address side of postcards occurred. This change was prompted by the Universal Postal Congress, the legislative body of the Universal Postal Union. The convention decreed that postal cards produced by governments of member nations could have messages on the left half of the address side, effective October 1, 1907. The Universal Postal Congress also decreed that after March 1, 1907, government-produced cards in the United States could bear messages on the address side.2 Congress passed an act on March 1, 1907, in compliance with the Union’s decree, allowing privately produced postcards to bear messages on the left half of the card’s back. The next day, the Postmaster-General issued Order No. 146, granting privileges to privately produced postcards that were already granted in international mail, including the allowance of message space. On June 13, 1907, the Postmaster-General issued Order No. 539, which allowed government-produced postcards to bear messages on the left half of the address side.3 These changes to the backs of postcards ushered in the Divided Back Period, which spans from 1907 until 1915. The Divided Back Period is also known as the “Golden Age of Postcards,” due to the vast popularity of postcards during this time period.”
“Another type of postcard that began to be produced and popularly used during the Divided Back period and through the White Border period is the “real photo” postcard. “Real photo” postcards were first produced using the Kodak “postcard camera.” The postcard camera could take a picture and then print a postcard-size negative of the picture, complete with a divided back and place for postage.”
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard “real photo post card” as a term before I read your blog, and then noticed “RPPC” everywhere on eBay.
There are, as far as I can tell, three versions of this postcard. The first two are the colorized ones, which are labeled on the back as no. 171 of the Franklin Post Card Co.—of Germany, although ironically the earliest example I can find, postmarked August 17th, 1909, says “Made in Germany.” There were two distinct crops of that. The first (type A) is the widest crop, and it’s the one where the “E” in “Elevated” is written more like a backwards 3.
The second (type B) is one that the UIC Library gives copyright to Copelin Commercial Photographers in a black-and-white photographic form. This seems to be more common; the earliest postmark so far I’ve found is from September 13, 1910. Both of these two show up with postmarks as late as 1915. They went through different print runs, though; the back variously says:
* Aug. 17 1909: “No. 171. Made in Germany” (Type A) * Sep. 13 1910: “No. 171.” (Type B) * Aug 16, 1911: “No. 171” (Type B) * Nov. 3 1911: “171” (Type B) (it’s possible the “No.” has been scratched off) * Oct. 14 1912: “No. 171. Publ. by Franklin Post Card Co., Chicago, Ill. Made in Germany” (Type A) * Aug. 13 1915: “No. 171. Publ. by Franklin Post Card Co., Chicago, Ill.” (Type B)
…As I write this up I realize this means that the widest version is rarer because it’s the German version. The design on the back, with the more ornate “Post Card” lettering, is identical to other postcards published by (for example) M. Weixelbaum, of Lima, and Provincetown Advocate and the Cardinell-Vincent Co. in addition to Franklin. I don’t understand why some postcards were made in Germany and some were not. Apparently the early 1900s was “postcard mania” in Germany, according to Deutsche Welle. I’d never heard of that before.
Anyway, the third one is the one you’ve found, which has different writing, and is also a much closer crop. Here are all three, superimposed:
What is a little puzzling to me is that the postcard you found is of such high quality that implies (to me) that a medium-format negative was accessible to whomever wound up creating all of the derivatives, which I wouldn’t have expected if it was being held in, say, the Franklin vault. But if it was a Franklin photo, the reverse doesn’t look like the reverse of any Franklin postcards. I tried image-searching for postcard backs looking for something similar, and turned up these from Vermont, which use the same language but a different font in “Post Card.”
Given your link, that creates the unfortunate possibility that what you have is, in fact, the only copy of that postcard, because it was created by someone who was interested in the bridge (or liked the composition), had access to the original, and printed it as a one-off postcard, which is why so far as I can tell it’s never appeared elsewhere. The title is odd—as you note, this isn’t the Northwestern, and the bridge seems to have been well-known as a Metropolitan West Side bridge to locals. Or perhaps it dates from the 20s or 30s, and whoever was writing it just guessed. I don’t know.
I’m also not sure if it’s significant (beyond “postcard mania”) that the early examples are German. There was a big German population in Chicago at the time, and the Germans apparently did like postcards. Germans also liked bridges; Scherzer was born in Illinois, but his parents were German immigrants. One of the earlier photos of the Met bridge (I think it might be the oldest) is from a German postcard:
Text says: “‘Folding’ Bridge over the Chicago River (bridge closed)”; handwriting says (I think): “Dear Dad: Sent you today (payday) $1.00 worth of 1 and 2-cent post stamps. Let me know if these arrived safely.”
It has occurred to me that I could poke around here in Berlin to see if there’s anything promising, but if memory serves most Chicagoan immigrants came from further north (Pomerania and such). Here in Berlin our train esoterica is only the “ghost stations” from the Cold War and that some of our subway stops are mildly radioactive because they used uranium oxide glazing in the tile.
Anyway! Thank you again for your time, and for the link to that Smithsonian article!
This is all very interesting to me, and should also interest my readers. Thanks very much for sharing these wonderful images.
In the early years of photography, negatives were usually large enough to be contact printed onto photo paper, without using an enlarger. The “chicken scratch” writing on my postcard could have been inked onto a glass plate, on top of the negative, or it may have been applied to the negative itself. The proportions of postcards are more rectangular than many of the standard film formats of the time, which may help explain the cropping.
While doing further research into this story, I came across a series of blog posts.
Is this something you wrote?
Yeah, that’s me 🙂
The “Foolkiller” was originally covered by Cecil Adams in the “Straight Dope” column of the Chicago alternative weekly Chicago Reader, and then later by podcaster Mark Chrisler of The Constant. It’s been stuck in my head for about fifteen years, so I’ve been trying to pull together as much as I can rather than leaving things on various email threads or chat discussions, in case any one else ever goes searching. It’s also been a good way to start organizing my thoughts on the matter (I don’t think many people read that blog).
That’s an interesting steer, re: the negatives. The UIC holding is described as a “photographic print” although I understand the MWRD (the Chicago water authority) apparently found a number of glass plates in their archives. The Library of Congress also (I think) has the original Hans Behm photos, which are described as glass 8×10 negatives (here’s one of them below). I need to read up on that era of photography, apparently.
(The Detroit Publishing Co. photos taken by Behm were also turned into colorized photo postcards, although they don’t seem to have been as popular, or at least most of the Met depictions are not those. There’s an early one that the Central Electric Railfans’ Association wrote up about ten years ago; that’s given a copyright date of 1907 but it must be earlier because the bridge doesn’t have the circular pilings that it would retain for most of its life and were in place by 1907; on the other hand, the Palmer Building is visible (leftmost skyscraper) and that was built sometime between 1903 and 1906).
FYI, I wrote that CERA blog post you refer to.
I’ve also seen your name on the Industrial History page about the bridge, come to think of it.
And this brings the story up to date. Ms. Cleary’s blog posts, linked above, shed additional light on the story of this experimental boat, which I can summarize as follows. This was one of several attempts at creating a safer lifeboat, to be carried on ships, and for rescues. A number of such ideas were patented in the late 1800s and early 1900s, all very speculative, of course.
The International Automatic Lifeboat Company prototype, designed by Robert Brown, was moored in the Chicago River for some period of time, and not always near the Metropolitan West Side “L” bridge. The US Navy studied the concept and decided it was not practical, as it would have been too difficult to get people into this boat during rescues. This most likely doomed its prospects.
At some point, the boat sank, and was later pulled out of the river, whereupon some enterprising persons displayed it as a supposed submarine, which it was not.
The postcard we have mistakenly identifies this as the Northwestern “L”. In actuality, it was the Metropolitan West side Elevated, but some of its trains did go to Chicago’s northwest side. The Northwestern “L” actually ran to the north side, despite the name.
I hope that further information may shed more light on this story in the future. In the meantime, here are some additional examples of postcards showing the Met “L” bridge.
Trackwork near the Met bridge was somewhat complex. Tracks to the right fanned out, leading to the Wells Street Terminal. The tracks at left connected to the Loop “L” via Van Buren Street. (Robert Heinlein Collection)
We are looking west from the Wells Street Terminal towards the dual bridges over the Chicago River. (Robert Heinlein Collection)
This is the only photo I have seen that shows the interior of the Met bridge interlocking tower. (Robert Heinlein Collection)
A 1906 postcard, made at a time when messages could only go on the front of the card.
The back of the 1906 card. Only the address was permitted here.
A 1908 postcard.
By 1908, messages were allowed on the left side of the card back.
A 1909 postcard, based on the 1907 photo.
The rear of the 1909 postcard.
A 1911 postcard, based on the 1907 photo.
The back of a 1911 postcard.
A 1912 postcard.
The back side of a 1912 postcard.
A 1915 postcard, clearly based on the 1907 photo.
The back side of a 1915 postcard.
A 1919 postcard.
The back side of a 1919 postcard.
A 1920 postcard.
And here are some later views of the bridge, from various angles:
A view of the Metropolitan “L” crossing the Chicago River on July 10, 1949. We are looking to the northwest.
Over the years, I have seen many poor quality duplicate slides with this view, looking to the northwest, with a Garfield Park “L” train crossing the Met bridge over the Chicago River, with Union Station in the background. However, this was scanned from an original red border Kodachrome slide, circa 1955-58. The name of the photographer is not known. This must be a Garfield train, and the results are stunning. Douglas cars were re-routed over the Lake Street “L” in 1954. Logan Square trains began running via the Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway in 1951.
CTA 2256 is part of a four-car Met train, turning from Market Street onto the double bridge over the Chicago River in March 1951. (Truman Hefner Photo)
This picture of the old Met bridge over the Chicago River is undated, but probably dates to circa 1952-55 based on the type of red border Kodachrome mount it is in. But it is certainly after the the other picture in this post, taken at much the same location, since the building at rear, or part of it, was in the process of being torn down. This was not related to expressway construction, since the “L” at this point was north of there. Once the Congress rapid transit line opened in 1958, this section of “L” was taken out of service and by the early 1960s it had been torn down.
Stylish Coit Tower sits atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, and has afforded an unparalleled view since its completion in 1933. In April 1987, when this picture was taken, the view included Muni streetcar 578, built in 1896. Although it resembles a cable car, it uses overhead wire. It is occasionally operated for special events and is the oldest streetcar in use in the country. In recent years wheelchair access was added.
A Milwaukee Road push-pull commuter train is at Rondout (an unincorporated area in Lake County, IL) on September 2, 1963. Bi-levels were introduced to the Milwaukee Road around 1961 and ridership was much lower than it is today, so often one car sufficed instead of seven or eight as you see today on Metra. The station here was removed around 1965 on what is now the Metra Milwaukee District North Line. I believe we are looking to the northwest, and that the overpass may be the former North Shore Line Mundelein branch, which had been abandoned on January 21, 1963. There was a tower located kitty-corner to the station, to the right and behind the photographer, which was last used in 2015. (William D. Volkmer Photo)
Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “410 was built as a trailer observation car by Cincinnati Car in June 1923, #2640. It was out of service in 1932. It was rebuilt on December 31, 1942, as a two motor coach by closing in the open platform and changing the seating.” Here is how it looked in December 1958 at the Mundelein Terminal. (Russell D. Porter Photo)
North Shore Line Electroliner 801-802 is on the CTA “L” in August 1962.
This is a nice overhead view of a four-car train of North Shore Line Silverliners on Chicago’s “L” in August 1962.
North Shore Line cars 157, 169, and 175 are heading southbound on the Sixth Street Viaduct in Milwaukee on April 19, 1959.
There are not many color photos showing this prewar paint scheme, seen here on North Shore Line coach 739 at the Milwaukee Terminal on June 25, 1942.
North Shore Line coach 173 is at the Mundelein Terminal in November 1962, just two months before the end of service. Car 160, now at the Illinois Railway Museum, is at right on a storage track. (Walter Schopp Photo)
After the North Shore Line abandonment, car 727 went to the Southern Iowa Railway. Here it is shown on June 14, 1964, next to Waterloo, Cedar Falls, and Northern car 100. Within a few years, both cars ended up on the Iowa Terminal Railroad (now the Iowa Traction Railway), but unfortunately, car 100 was destroyed in a 1967 fire. 727 is still operable.
Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee #607 is at North Chicago Junction on November 16, 1941. “The ‘Big Hook’ operating as a loco, hauling a 12 car drag and caboose.” The color is described as orange and black. (Vic Wagner Photo)
North Shore Line city streetcar 359, a 1920s product of the St. Louis Car Company, is shown at North Chicago Junction on March 2, 1941. This was the south end of the line for Waukegan streetcars. (Vic Wagner Photo)
North Shore Line Silverliner 771 at the Milwaukee Terinal.
A three car Chicago and Milwaukee Electric (predecessor of the North shore Line) express train, made up of woods including car 401, from an early colorized postcard. The location here may be Lake Forest. Dons Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “401 was built by Jewett Car in 1909 as parlor-buffet car. In 1917 it was converted to straight coach and retired in 1935. It was leased to Chicago Aurora & Elgin and renumbered 142 in 1936. It came back for a short time with the CA&E number in 1945 and sold to CA&E in 1946. It was retired in 1953.”
As the song goes, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot at the former site of the North shore Line’s Milwaukee Terminal, seen here on August 24, 1966. The former switchman’s shanty was the only thing carried over. (Richard H. Young Photo)
On June 6, 1954, the National Railway Historical Society held a farewell fantrip on the Red Arrow interurban line to West Chester, PA. Here, the fantrip cars are stopped at the West Chester Water Works. Car 66 was built by Brill in 1926 and was declared surplus in 1970, after Red Arrow was taken over by SEPTA. It is now at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.
Fairmount Park Transit car 10, built by Brill in 1896, as it appeared on April 6, 1946, not long before the line was abandoned. There are not many color photos of this operation. (David H. Cope Photo)
Fairmount Park Transit was an interesting streetcar operation that ran from 1896 to 1946, all on the grounds of a public park in Philadelphia, completely separate from the rest of the local streetcar system. Here we see car #1.
This picture was taken on July 26, 1961 at the Red Arrow Lines (Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company) 69th Street Terminal. Amazingly, the sign still mentions the Lehigh Valley Transit interurban, which stopped operating in 1951, and which hadn’t operated to this station since 1949.
A Lehigh Valley Transit Liberty Bell Limited interurban car is heading northbound at West Point in Pennsylvania on September 18, 1948. Rail service ended three years later. (James P. Shuman Photo)
CTA PCC 4382 appears to be turning east from Clark Street onto Division Street. Close examination of the slide shows the streetcar is signed for Route 36 – Broadway-Downtown. As Steve De Rose notes, the south portion of Broadway-State was “bustituted ” on December 5, 1955, and the Blatz ad campaign on the side of the car dates this picture to 1956.
Chicago Surface Lines PCC 4125 and red car 1403 are at 73rd Street and Vincennes Avenue in March 1947, as the newest and oldest streetcars in the CSL fleet. (Vic Wagner Photo)
The Union Stock Yards, as seen from the “L”, probably circa 1908 when this branch line opened. From a real photo postcard.
CTA 4409 is at the head of a two-car fantrip train at Francisco on the Ravenswood “L” on November 25, 1973. This was at the end of regular service for the 4000-series cars, built in the early 1920s. (Arthur H. Peterson Photo)
A view looking north at the CTA Linden Avenue “L” yard in Wilmette in June 1966 shows where the North Shore Line’s Shore Line Route tracks branched off at right and continued north. After service ended in 1955, the CTA incorporated some of this trackage into its storage yard, which has since been reconfigured.
This duplicate slide was described as showing the CTA Douglas Park “L” at Kenton Avenue in May 1952. That may be the correct date, but I believe it actually shows an eastbound Garfield Park train between Laramie and Central Avenue. West of here, the “L” turned to run parallel to the B&OCT. The area at left is where the Eisenhower expressway runs today, and this is approximately the location of the Lotus tunnel.
CTA 2102 is at the tail end of a Lake-Dan Ryan train in April 1975, turning the sharp corner from Wabash to Lake. After the horrific crash here two years later, where some “L” cars fell off the structure, additional steel was added to help prevent a future reoccurrence.
Passengers are boarding an eastbound South Shore Line train, headed by car 107, at Michigan City, IN in May 1959. Now, the line is being double-tracked at this location, and the street turned into a private right-of-way. The facade of the old station is going to become part of a new redevelopment here. From left to right, the several cars visible include an early 50s Chevy, a ’59 Chevy, a ’55 Oldsmobile, a late ’50s Cadillac, a 1956 Buick, and a 1959 Ford.
A South Shore Line train, with car 101 at the helm, is at the East Chicago station on February 8, 1953. In 1956 the street trackage here was replaced by a new bypass route, running parallel to the Indiana Toll Road. (James P. Shuman Photo)
Chicago Aurora and Elgin 404 at Forest Park, circa 1955-57. We are looking north. After interurban service was cut back to here in 1953, the CA&E had a track for midday car storage, seen at left.
The final fantrip on the Chicago Aurora and Elgin took place on a wintry December 7, 1958, about six months prior to the complete abandonment of the interurban, which had stopped operating passenger service on July 3, 1957. I am not sure of this location in Chicago’s western suburbs, although the sign at right would suggest it is at one of several Main Streets in the area. Wood cars 319 and 320 were used. By this time, automatic gates had been removed, and the train had to be flagged at each such crossing. Jason Learakos: “Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The photo is facing east across Main Street from the station there.” Mike Franklin says we are “looking SE at Main St., Glen Ellyn.”
Chicago Aurora and Elgin wood car #20, built in 1902, ran for 55 years on that interurban before heading to the Fox River Trolley Museum, where it remains. Here it is in October 1970, when this operation was still known as “RELIC.” These are former tracks of the Aurora, Elgin, and Fox River Electric, which was affiliated with the CA&E.
Chicago Aurora and Elgin car 409, the only Pullman saved from the fleet, is shown operating at “Trolleyville USA” in Olmstead Falls, OH on August 28, 1965. It is now at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Chicago Aurora and Elgin car 20 at “RELIC” in South Elgin in August 1968.
Chicago’s Central Station opened in 1893 to serve trains to the World’s Columbian Exposition site. Trains of the Illinois Central and the “Big Four” (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, which after 1906 was affiliated with the New York Central) used this station, which was adjacent to the tracks (electrified in 1926) now used by the Metra Electric and South Shore Line. After Amtrak took over intercity passenger train operations in 1971, they consolidated service to Union Station the following year, and Central Station closed. Demolition began on June 3, 1974, which is right around when this photo was taken.
Another photo of the soon to be demolished Central Station in June 1974.
Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “65 was built by Cincinnati Car in August 1928, #2985, as I&SE 230. In 1933 it was sold to ICRT as 230 and in 1941 it was sold to SHRT as 65. In 1949 it was sold to Ed Tennyson and leased as Speedrail 65 where it originally operated with a modified Shaker Heights paint scheme. When repainted, the Speedrail logo was omitted. It was scrapped in 1952.” Based on that, my best guess is this picture may date to near the end of service in 1951. The location is at Sixth and Michigan in Milwaukee, by the North Shore Line Terminal. Transport Company bus 930 is also visible.
Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “66 was built by Cincinnati Car in August 1929, #3025, as Dayton & Troy Ry 203. It was returned to Cincinnati Car in 1932, and in 1938 it was sold to Lehigh Valley Transit as 1102. In 1949 it was sold to Speedrail, but was not rehabilitated until March 1951. But it only ran for 3 months before the line was abandoned and then scrapped in 1952.” Here it is seen during that brief period of operation in Waukesha. Larry Sakar: “aae249 is a photo I also have. The 66 is indeed laying over at the Waukesha loop/ Two questions remain to this day. 1. Was there any specific spot where the cars were supposed to stop? Seems to me I see photos of TM cars laying over parked in a variety of places on the loop. For instance that great single leading duplex shot which was the common lash-up during the WWII era is parked in a different spot than the 66. 2. I have never seen a photo of cars laying over on the Waukesha loop with passengers either boarding or waiting to board. I am inclined to think that passengers could not be carried the two blocks between the Waukesha station at Clinton Street & Broadway and the loop because when the line was cut back to Waukesha loop on 12-30-45 passenger service had been abandoned beyond downtown Waukesha. This is speculative on my part. I don’t really know. Jay Maeder and the city of Waukesha tangled over the sale of the Waukesha loop. The city wanted to buy it from Speedrail to accommodate more cars. Maeder was willing to sell. Initially he asked something like $1100 until he saw the appraisal and quickly raised the asking price to $2500. The city accused him of trying to gouge him and refused to budge beyond $1500. Maeder said they were trying to cheat him and they were. When Hyman-Michaels had the property appraised the appraisal came in at $2200! Just where he planned to turn the cars around if he sold the loop I don’t know. He publicly said there were “lots of places where Speedrail could turn the cars but I can’t think of any!” In the end the city got it anyway and it became a parking lot until the 1980s. It is now the site of a very big Walgreens Drug Store. The Motor Transport Co. freight building was torn down shortly after Speedrail came to an end.”
Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “62 was built by Cincinnati Car in August 1928, #2985, as I&SE 245. In 1933 it was sold to ICRT as 245 and in 1941 it was sold to SHRT as 62. In 1949 it was sold to Ed Tennyson and leased as Speedrail 62 and was scrapped in 1952.” This photo may have been taken in Waukesha and could date to just prior to the 1951 abandonment. Larry Sakar: “This is NOT toward the end of Speedrail. The lack of front stripes on the curved sider indicates that this is pre Summer 1950 when the two black stripes began to appear on the curved side cars. O’Brien photos took some great photos of the Waukesha loop including an aerial shot of it before it became the loop. They were located about a block or so east of the Waukesha station.” Mike Franklin says we are “looking SE on Broadway from Clinton St, Waukesha, WI.”
Milwaukee Electric M15 at an undetermined location. Stephen Karlson writes, “M15 is under the train shed at East Troy that was later removed. That stretch of the right of way remains off limits to boarding passengers at the preservation railway as the ground is on the same plot of land as the house that was once the station. Thus the loading platform for the electric cars is by the substation.”
Milwaukee Electric 1112 at Waukesha, WI on March 15, 1947. (Vic Wagner Photo) Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “1112 was built by Kuhlman Car in February 1909, #405. It was rebuilt in 1926. It was one of three sold for scrap in January 1952, before the rest of the cars.” Larry Sakar: “Fantastic shot of the typical Waukesha train during WWII. When first tried TM discovered that placing the single 1100 series car behind the duplex did not work. Because the door on a single 1100 was at the rear of the car and in the center of a duplex they quickly found that the door on the single 1100 did not reach the station platforms or designated loading zone. Thus, two stops had to be made. The solution was to place the single 1100 series car first. Trial and error I guess you’d say.”
Milwaukee Electric interurban car 1106 is at Mukwonago, Wisconsin, on the line going out to East Troy. Passenger service was abandoned here in 1939, although freight service continued for decades. This is currently where the East Troy Railroad Museum operates. I’ve been told that this station was located near an interchange north of where the Elegant Farmer is now, and that the station itself was moved and turned into a residence, which still exists, although additions have been made to it.
Milwaukee Electric 1105. Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “The Milwaukee Northern Ry came under TM control in 1923 and was officially merged on April 30, 1928. Under TM management 4 of their cars were rebuilt in a fashion similar to the other TM rebuilt interurbans. After 1928, most of the cars were further rebuilt and renumbered to replace the original 1100s which had been renumbered when they were rebuilt. 1101 was to have been rebuilt from MN 20, but it became 1105 instead. Thus there was no 1101.” It may originally have been built in 1907.
Milwaukee Electric streetcar 641 on route 19. Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “641 was built at Cold Springs in 1913. It was reconditioned as a two man car in 1928.”
Milwaukee Rapid Transit and Speedrail car 61 is at an undetermined location (Waukesha?) and looks rather worse for the wear, with unrepaired collision damage, probably just prior to the 1951 abandonment. Larry Sakar adds: “This is at the Waukesha station. Wilbur Lumber was directly across the street from the station. Note the cement safety island to the left of the car. It was there to facilitate loading so that passengers didn’t have to stand in the street. All traffic passed to the photo left of that island. Today a bank occupies the site of Wilbur Lumber Co. I guess the Wilburs were a prominent Waukesha family from what my friend John Schoenknecht who is the editor of Landmark, the official publication of the Waukesha County Historical Society, told me. Oh, by the way what you see in the background of that shot of the car at Wilbur Lumber is the Madison Street hill which is still there. There was a Milwaukee Road crossing that isn’t visible in the photo and once across it Broadway becomes Madison.” Mike Franklin says this “is indeed Waukesha. Looking NW across Madison St from Clinton St.”
Milwaukee Rapid Transit and Speedrail car 60. Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “60 was built by Cincinnati Car in August 1929, #3030, as Indianapolis & Southeastern Traction 260. It replaced the heavy-weight cars which became TMER&L 1180 series. In 1933 it was sold to Inter-City Rapid Transit as 260 and in 1941 it was sold to Shaker Heights Rapid Transit as 60. In 1949 it was sold to Ed Tennyson and leased as Speedrail 60 and was scrapped in 1952.” Larry Sakar: “Car 60 is on the bridge over Brookdale Drive on the Hales Corners line on 10-16-49. This is the inaugural fan trip using car 60 that traveled over both lines. Both the bridge and embankment are gone. This is the location where the construction train used to take workers building the suburb of Greendale to and from cut off and went in a southeasterly direction thru what is now Root River Parkway. One of the dumbest things Jay Maeder ever said was that he “intended to restore passenger service to Greendale.” There never was passenger service to Greendale. I’m about a mile or so north of Greendale. MCTS has a bus line (Rt. 76-76th St.) that serves Greendale. I’ve yet to see a single passenger on that part of the line. Greendale is wealth personified! By the way car 65 was supposed to have been used on the inaugural fan trip but it was on the “sick list”. Another thing of interest regarding the 10-16-49 fan trip. Car 60 developed mechanical problems as soon as the car descended the “slide” onto the Rapid Transit line at 8th Street. At the Gravel Pit they put in to the siding. A fan with a vast knowledge of interurban cars opened the hatches in the floor and disconnected the motor leads on motors 3 and 4. Car 60 ran on two motors for the rest of that fan trip. The name of the knowledgeable railfan was George Krambles!! The late Lew Martin recalled that while stopped there a fan remarked, “The line has been in business for a little over a month and they have a car in the scrap line already!” Two other well known railfans were on that car. Barney Neuberger wearing his classic pork pie hat and one Mr. Albert C. Kalmbach, head of the publishing company that bore his name. Kalmbach was seated in the 4th row on the right side of car 60.”
Milwaukee Electric freight motor and utility car M15. Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “M15 was built at Cold Spring Shops in 1920 as a trailer, but it was motorized almost immediately. It was transferred to the isolated East Troy operation in 1939, and sold to the Municipality of East Troy in 1949. It is sold to WERHS in 1982 and (is) now preserved at the IRM (since) 1989.”
Don’s Rail Photos (via Archive.org): “61 was built by Cincinnati Car in August 1928, #2985, as I&SE 235. In 1933 it was sold to ICRT as 235 and in 1941 it was sold to SHRT as 61. In 1949 it was sold to Ed Tennyson and leased as Speedrail 61 and was scrapped in 1952.” Here 61 is at an undetermined location. Since it is still signed for Milwaukee Rapid Transit and Speedrail, this may be circa 1949-50. Larry Sakar: “The car is westbound on West Michigan Street at North 5th Street. The building in the background (whitish and prominent) was the Boston Store, a department store that at one time was owned by the same company that owned Carson’s in Chicago- P.A. Bergner. The building is still there but the Boston Store is not. I believe it is now housing for seniors. Note the traffic policeman standing in the middle of the intersection. Believe it or not there were no stop and go lights on Michigan Street until Speedrail was gone. Every intersection had a traffic policeman. The late Doug Traxler said the one place you did not want to get stopped was at the top of the hill at 6th and Michigan because half of your car was hanging downhill and making that turn by the NSL station was no picnic. Motorman Don Leistikow concurred and offered this tale: “Yes, I remember that traffic officer. I was one of several motormen who discovered that he had a good day when he had cigars so I, like some of the other motormen, always made sure he had a box of cigars. Things always seemed to go better for him when he had a box of cigars!” Traxler remembered him shouting at him, “Pull it Up. Pull it way up,” when he got stopped there one time.” Mike Franklin says we are “looking east on Michigan St. from 5th St. in Milwaukee.”
Gary Railways car #1 at an undetermined location. William Shapotkin: “We are in downtown Valparaiso, IN. The car is laying over in Franklin St north of Main (now Lincolnway) taking its layover at the east end-of-line. View looks south. Building at right (N/W corner of intersection) is still standing today.”
Gary Railways cars 16 and 19 on the May 1, 1938 fantrip which is considered the beginnings of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association.
Gary Railways line car #11 at the Garyton Loop. (Edward Frank, Jr. Photo)
A view of the right of way along the Gary Railways Indiana Harbor Division near Gary, IN by Edward Frank, Jr.
A view of the right-of-way along the Gary Railways Hammond Division, near Hammond IN, by Edward Frank, Jr.
A view of the Gary Railways right-of-way on the Indiana Harbor Division near Gary, IN by Edward Frank, Jr. Presumably that is his bicycle by the telephone pole. Rail service on the Indiana Harbor Division was abandoned in March 1939.
Our Latest Book, Now Available:
The North Shore Line
FYI, my new Arcadia Publishing book The North Shore Line is now available for immediate shipment. My publisher decided to expand it to 160 pages, instead of the usual 128. That’s a 25% increase, without any change to the $23.99 price. I am quite pleased with how this turned out.
From the back cover:
As late as 1963, it was possible to board high-speed electric trains on Chicago’s famous Loop “L” that ran 90 miles north to Milwaukee. This was the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad, commonly known as the North Shore Line. It rose from humble origins in the 1890s as a local streetcar line in Waukegan to eventually become America’s fastest interurban under the visionary management of Midwest utilities tycoon Samuel Insull. The North Shore Line, under Insull, became a worthy competitor to the established steam railroads. Hobbled by the Great Depression, the road fought back in 1941 with two streamlined, air-conditioned, articulated trains called Electroliners, which included dining service. It regained its popularity during World War II, when gasoline and tires were rationed, but eventually, it fell victim to highways and the automobile. The North Shore Line had intercity rail, commuter rail, electric freight, city streetcars, and even buses. It has been gone for nearly 60 years, but it will always remain the Road of Service.
Each copy purchased here will be signed by the author, and you will also receive a bonus North Shore Line map. Books will ship by USPS Media Mail.
Chapters: 01. Beginnings 02. The Milwaukee Division 03. The Shore Line Route 04. The Skokie Valley Route 05. The Mundelein Branch 06. On the “L” 07. City Streetcars 08. Trolley Freight 09. The Long Goodbye 10. The Legacy
Title The North Shore Line
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2023
ISBN 1467108960, 978-1467108966
Length 160 pages
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
For Shipping to US Addresses:
New Compact Disc, Now Available:
The Last Chicago Streetcars 1958
# of Discs – 1
Until now, it seemed as though audio recordings of Chicago streetcars were practically non-existent. For whatever reason, the late William A. Steventon does not appear to have made any for his Railroad Record Club, even though he did make other recordings in the Chicago area in 1956.
Now, audio recordings of the last runs of Chicago streetcars have been found, in the collections of the late Jeffrey L. Wien (who was one of the riders on that last car). We do not know who made these recordings, but this must have been done using a portable reel-to-reel machine.
These important recordings will finally fill a gap in transit history. The last Chicago Transit Authority streetcar finished its run in the early hours of June 21, 1958. Now you can experience these events just as Chicagoans did.
As a bonus, we have included Keeping Pace, a 1939 Chicago Surface Lines employee training program. This was digitally transferred from an original 16” transcription disc. These recordings were unheard for 80 years.
Total time – 74:38
Help Support The Trolley Dodger
This is our 298th 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 980,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.
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Here is a photo taken by the late William C. Hoffman on July 1, 1957, from the 7th floor of the Builder’s Building in downtown Chicago. A southbound NSL train, led by car 178, crosses the Chicago River as it approaches the Loop, having just passed by the Merchandise Mart. This is one of those early Ektachromes that turned out to have unstable dyes– a problem that Kodak corrected by about 1964. I had to do a lot of restoration work to make it look like this. I will post the original as well for comparison.
As the song says, “What a difference a day makes… 24 little hours.” For fans of the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, aka the North Shore Line, January 21, 1963 is a date that will live in infamy, as that was the time of the final abandonment.
January 21 is also the eighth anniversary of the Trolley Dodger blog. I thought it was important to have new beginnings associated with that date as well as endings. We are now starting our ninth year.
Over the years, this date has also become a celebration the North Shore Line, especially at the Illinois Railway Museum, which has by far the most extensive collection of NSL equipment anywhere. This year, the museum (normally closed in the winter) held a special event, and brought out nearly everything they could muster to let visitors ride, or see.
We were glad to take part, and our photo essay follows a few classic images of this legendary interurban. As the years go by, IRM just gets better and better and is already the largest railway museum in the entire country. You could not ask for more dedicated stewards for much of the North Shore Line’s legacy.
January is traditionally the month when we ask our readers for donations to keep this site going. If you enjoy what you see here, we hope you will consider making a contribution via the link at the end of this post. The expenses we incur, in order to bring you the finest and most interesting traction pictures, are considerable and ongoing. Our research costs a lot, but you see the results here and in our four Arcadia Publishing books, which we hope make a modest contribution to society. If you have contributed to our efforts, we are most appreciative, and if you have not, we hope you will consider it.
To date, we have received $215 in contributions via our fundraiser.
We are pleased to report that our latest book The North Shore Line is now 100% complete and has gone to press. The publication date is February 20, 2023, and we are now taking pre-orders. You will find more information about that at the end of this post (and our Online Store). To date, we have received orders for 114 copies.
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.
FYI, the Hoosier Traction Facebook Group celebrates electric transit in Indiana and the Midwest. It also supports the activities of the annual Hoosier Traction Meet in Dayton, OH (although not affiliated with the North American Transit Historical Society, which organizes that event).
A very early Leica M3.
Charles Fretzin sent me these amazing North Shore Line pictures he took 60 years ago. Some are from the final night. I spoke with him on the phone the other day.
While working on my book, I had been trying to find out who took the picture of the sailor and his girlfriend at the terminal without success. Imagine my surprise when the photographer contacted me, asking if I could post it to my blog!
He says that picture was taken with a Leica M3 and a 35mm f/2 lens, and he has another picture showing the same couple embracing in front of a juke box. It was his impression that he had just given her an engagement ring.
These pictures were shot on Kodak Tri-X film that was push-developed to 1200 ISO using either Acufine or Diafine developer.
One of the two Electroliners prepares to leave Milwaukee on the final trip to Chicago. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
The North Shore Line’s Milwaukee Terminal on the final night. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
The lunch counter at the Milwaukee Terminal on the final night. Note the Electroliner image stenciled on the mirror. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
An NSL conductor punches a ticket. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
An Electroliner motorman in the cab of the 802 end. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
One of the Electroliners at the Highwood Shops after the abandonment in 1963. (Charles Fretzin Photo)
A northbound North Shore Line Electroliner has just left Howard Street on June 10, 1956, descending into an open cut now used by CTA Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) trains. (William C. Hoffman Photo)
This looks red because the other dye layers have faded so badly… a process that will unfortunately continue as the years go by. But thanks to modern tools such as Photoshop, it was still possible to bring the colors back to normal.
North Shore Line Day 2023 at the Illinois Railway Museum
The Electroliner was the first thing visitors saw upon arriving at the museum.
Electroliner 801-802 was on display at the 50th Avenue “L” station, which was moved here from the Douglas Park branch in the late 1970s. The Liner has been undergoing a complete restoration that will ultimately cost more than a million dollars. Part of the interior is not finished, but there is still much work to be done. Visitors to the museum had an opportunity to see the remarkable progress that has been made.
The way these seats have been reupholstered is truly beautiful.
The cab at the 802 end of the Electroliner. Compare this to the picture of the same cab taken in 1963 by Charles Fretzin, found elsewhere in this post.
There are still a few vestiges left of the Electroliner’s second career as a Liberty Liner on the Red Arrow’s Norristown High-Speed Line.
The interior of 354.
The interior of 354. Note the sign lit indicating riders can exit at both ends of the car.
City streetcar 354 first ran in Waukegan, and later Milwaukee. It was once operated frequently at IRM, but this was my first chance to ride it in many years. Note the sign lit on the car, indicating that riders should board via the front entrance.
Line car 604.
IRM has by far the largest and most extensive collection of North Shore Line coaches, and these were operated in various combinations on the museum’s main line.
Numerically speaking car 160 has the lowest number of any that have survived, but car 162, now undergoing restoration in East Troy, WI was actually delivered slightly earlier in 1915. 154 managed to survive the 1963 abandonment, but eventually fell victim to many years of outdoor storage and neglect at another railway museum that has struggled over the years.
It was a chilly day, but fortunately there was plenty of heat available in the cars that were running.