The 63rd Street Rumble

CTA Sedans (Peter Witts) 3360 and 3347 are shown here at south Shops in 1952, having been converted to one-man with the removal of some center doors. There were 25 cars so modified, but as far as I know, none ran in regular service in this setup. (Robert W. Gibson Photo, John F. Bromley Collection)

CTA Sedans (Peter Witts) 3360 and 3347 are shown here at south Shops in 1952, having been converted to one-man with the removal of some center doors. There were 25 cars so modified, but as far as I know, none ran in regular service in this setup. (Robert W. Gibson Photo, John F. Bromley Collection)

Recent Correspondence

Anthony Waller writes:

Re: The possible role played by the Sedans in the termination of Chicago streetcar operations

I was only seven when the Chicago streetcars quit, but I still have memories of riding them. Best of all was a 1957 excursion with my mother to Lincoln Park Zoo from 81st & Halsted. We came home via the 151 bus and the Rock Island commuter train, however.

While looking through the numerous Trolley Dodger photo sets, I came across one with several recently rebuilt and repainted Chicago “Sedan” cars sitting, apparently, at South Shops. Years ago I came across material whose source I can’t recall. It seemed to show that there was a battle within CTA between pro and anti-streetcar forces. I don’t know if you will have any of this material, but I’ll tell you here what I recall of it. I was reminded of it when I saw that photo of the Sedans rebuilt for one-man operations and painted Everglade green and cream.

The first point was the fact that some of the original CTA bond money went for new equipment for CSL in lieu of cash. This was for the 600 PCC cars and the simultaneous order of new motor and trolley buses. The thought that was expressed in my long-forgotten source was that CSL personnel moving into positions at CTA (remember this was pre-McCarter) were convinced that there was a future for streetcars to such an extent that they were confident that the entire rapid transit system could be replaced by fast-accelerating PCCs. Hence, very little new equipment for the Chicago Rapid Transit company was purchased with the bond money (only the four experimental articulated trainsets). The pro-streetcar people were proposing the “Social Good” of getting rid of the noisy, unsightly, blight-inducing elevated structure. That view of elevated structure was commonly held at the time.

The second point is more indicative of a battle within the CTA bureaucracy between McCarter and the pro-streetcar personnel. The source had stated that in addition to pre-and post-war PCCs, the Peter Witt cars or ”Sedans” as they were called in Chicago, also would have remained in service at least somewhat longer than all the pre-1929 red streetcars. They were shifted from Clark-Wentworth and Madison to Cottage Grove-Pullman when the first batch of post-war PCCs arrived (In James Johnson’s CSL book, there is a photo of one on Cottage Grove/South Chicago.).

The Sedans had leather seats inside, and much faster acceleration than the older red streetcars. Their only difference from PCCs was their noisier operation. The caption for the map on page 38 of the CERA book is in error, as there was no plan to put PCCs on Cottage Grove at that time (1950). The Sedans were regarded by CTA at the time as modern streetcars, having two of the three characteristics of a modern streetcar.

This source stated that it was a battle over the Sedans that held the fate of of Chicago’s streetcars! The conversion of the pre-war PCCs (and a few post-war cars) to one-man operation was a step embraced by the pro-streetcar people to reduce operating costs. Eventually, all of the post-war PCCs would have been rebuilt, as part of the program proposed by the Deleuw Cather consultant study.

However, the Sedans were included in the program by the pro-streetcar elements. They were to be assigned to 63rd St., which was being operated by old red streetcars after the pre-war PCCs were taken off to be rebuilt for one-man service. Reportedly there were howls from the community, first by the return of the old red cars after several years of modern service, and then seeing their PCCs assigned to Cottage Grove.

The conversion work on the Sedans began after they were replaced on Cottage Grove by the pre-war PCCs in May 1952. The caption on the photo said that 25 were so completed. The rebuild program halted after 25 or so had been so altered (the hand of McCarter?). Meanwhile the howls from the community along 63rd St. continued. Finally, CTA proposed a meeting with the 63rd St. businessmen’s group where they could vote on alternatives. The meeting was held in October of 1952.

Two Sedans thoroughly rebuilt on the interior, set up for one man operation, with additional seats replacing the conductor’s position and two of the center doors, and painted in CTA’s new darker Everglade green and cream color scheme were used to gather up all the members of the businessmen’s group in a special charter move. One car started at the east end of the route (Stony Island Ave.) and one from the west (Narragansett Ave.); picking up the business owners and bringing them to a private banquet hall centrally located along 63rd St. (Western Ave. is the central point, but it may have been in the then-busy 63rd & Halsted shopping district.)

At the luncheon meeting, the businessmen were offered the alternative of rebuilt Sedans similar to what they had ridden, or buses. PCCs were off the table. The businessmen voted for buses. No doubt Walter McCarter trumpeted the vote as a victory for his point of view.

The result of that October 1952 meeting was felt within CTA immediately. Two post-war PCCs were sent to Pullman and St. Louis Car Co. respectively; to determine if they could be directly rebuilt into rapid transit cars. An internal staff study at CTA commenced about the future of Chicago streetcars. Released in January 1953, it stated that street congestion was hampering streetcar operations and that buses replace them all as fast as possible. The 1,000 bus order was placed with Flexible for propane buses, and the back-up plan to use parts salvaged from the post-war PCCs for building new rapid transit cars was developed.

As for the Sedans? The 25 rebuilt for one-man operation never ran a mile in revenue service. Amazingly, some of the non-rebuilt cars were taken out of their five-month storage and placed in service on 63rd St.; running alongside Red Pullmans and a few post-war PCCs diverted from Western Ave. after peak periods (with buses taking over on weekends and holidays). They were used there until full bus service on the route began in May, 1953.

Any thoughts?


Thank you for your very interesting and detailed query. I actually have a lot of thoughts, and will try to respond point-by-point. There are things you say that I agree with, some I disagree with, and others that cannot be proven definitively one way or the other.

The map you refer to in CERA B-146, in the “key,” states correctly that Cottage Grove did not get PCCs until 1952. We wanted to choose a date that would still show a lot of the red car lines, so we chose 1950 as being representative with that caveat. However, as it turns out, the map shown is accurate as of early December 1949 and not 1950. It is a color-coded version of one found in the 1949 CTA Annual Report.

A Note on Source Documents

I did some additional research to check the facts, in order to establish a timeline for events. I studied contemporary newspaper articles and Chicago Transit Board minutes, and then compared these to various photographs from the period.

Having been on some boards myself over the years, I realize that there is a lot that does not appear in such minutes. In general, board minutes cover resolutions, and, if there are dissenting voices, may or may not document some of the discussion.

In the case of the CTA, much went on behind the scenes. Boards, generally speaking, set the policy and direction that management puts into practice. Oftentimes, the board was considering motions in light of management recommendations that are not always detailed in these minutes.

In particular, there is a reference to a CTA Five Year Plan that most likely covered the years 1953 through 1957. It is implied that this was something developed by General Manager Walter J. McCarter. It would be very interesting and informative to read this document, but I have not found a source for it at the present time.

If there were disagreements, these were almost always worked out behind the scenes. Most votes by the Chicago Transit Board in this era were unanimous. Even the most contentious issues CTA dealt with at these board meetings were generally resolved by a unanimous vote, although some members offered reservations before doing so.

There are two such instances from the 1950s that come to mind. First, there was the very controversial and much criticized CTA purchase of the Chicago Motor Coach Company assets in October 1952. Then, there was the rather rushed decision to cut the Broadway-State streetcar line in half in 1955 and substitute buses for the southern portion.

Now, it may be that the change in Broadway-State was rushed through intentionally, in order to stifle potential opposition. Board Chairman Virgil Gunlock stated that the employee “pick” for the revised route had already been made. A City of Chicago spokesman said that they had not been given enough time to properly study the issue.

Since Gunlock estimated that as many as 5,000 riders would have to transfer daily as a result of the elimination of the through-route, some board members were uneasy about the change. In fact, some claimed not to know very much about the so-called “PCC Conversion Program” that made the change necessary.

In 1960, there was an even more contentious internal debate on the CTA board regarding the relative merits of propane buses versus diesel. This actually spilled out into the public, as board members took sides. Although the cost differences between these types of fuels were small, CTA ultimately decided to abandon propane, and began purchasing “New Look” GM diesel buses.

Purchase of Postwar Cars

The Chicago Transit Authority was created in 1945 by an act of the Illinois legislature, and passage of a referendum. Although the CTA did not purchase the Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago Rapid Transit Company until October 1, 1947, the fledgling Chicago Transit Board felt that it had been given a mandate to hit the ground running and make transit improvements immediately.

Therefore, the period from June 1945 through September 1947 can best be considered a transition period between private and public ownership. I have seen references to a CTA-CSL “joint operating committee,” and for all I know, there may have been one for CRT as well.

CSL management knew that a purchase was inevitable and thus cooperated with the CTA and the courts (they were under bankruptcy protection) to coordinate their efforts.

While the 600 postwar PCC streetcars were technically ordered by CSL, with judicial approval, it and other 1945-47 equipment purchases were “stage managed” by the CTA. Over the years, CSL had accumulated a large modernization fund, and the Chicago Transit Authority wanted to put it to use immediately. The CTA assured CSL that such purchases would have no effect on the buyout price ($75m) eventually paid. (In other words, the new cars were counted as assets for the purposes of the CTA buyout.)

In the mid-1950s, CTA board member Werner W, Schroeder, in his 12-chapter Metropolitan Transit Research Study, pointed out that the actual purchase price was far less than $75m, because it included $30m in cash (or the equivalent) that CSL had. It was some of this cash that was used to leverage the purchase of 600 postwar PCC streetcars that were delivered in 1946-48. (This cash amount had been reduced to about $25m by the October 1, 1947 takeover.)

Although the rapid transit system had needs of its own that were as great, or even greater than CSL’s, they were a financial basket case by 1945 and thus could not afford to buy large numbers of new all-steel rapid transit cars. As it was, four sets of articulated cars were ordered (the equivalent of about eight individual cars) at a cost of about $100,000.

While the PCC streetcar had been around for nearly a decade when the postwar order was made in November 1945, and specifications for the Chicago cars had been finalized in 1941 (and delayed by the defense buildup to WWII), the situation was different with regard to rapid transit cars.

By 1945, the only rapid transit cars that used PCC technology were the six sets of “Bluebird” compartment cars for the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit), circa 1939-40. And while these were the “state of the art” for their time, once the BMT came under municipal ownership in 1940, the order was truncated and the cars were never utilized to their full potential on the New York system. They quickly became orphans.

Since there was no standardized PCC rapid transit car available, it is just as well that the Chicago order was limited to a small number of experimental cars. As it was, the CTA’s experience with these cars led to numerous improvements (including a change from articulated cars to “married pairs”) that were incorporated into the 6000s that were first ordered in 1948.

CTA Management

Various civic groups in Chicago had been pushing for a unified transit system since the World War I era. Although transit was provided by private companies, which by the 1920s included the Chicago Motor Coach Company, there was substantial involvement by the City of Chicago. The City and CSL jointly ran the Board of Supervising Engineers, Chicago Traction. During the 1930s the BoSE was very much involved in the development of the PCC streetcar.

The Chicago City Council passed a transit unification ordinance in 1930, and work nearly began on the State Street subway at this time, but this and other attempts to form a new private company (to be called the Chicago Local Transportation Co., and later the Chicago Transit Co.) were stillborn. Once it became clear that the Illinois Commerce Commission would not approve such an arrangement, since it did not make financial sense, the City decided that municipal ownership was the choice of last result in 1943.

Once the CTA became a reality in 1945, Philip Harrington, principal author of the 1937 “Green Book” plan to improve Chicago’s transportation system, became the first chairman. At first, the CTA was an offshoot of the city’s Department of Subways and Superhighways, and rented office space from them.

When the takeover finally did become a reality on October 1, 1947, the CTA had its own bureaucracy and management in place. It wasn’t simply a matter of using the existing CSL and CRT management.

As this was municipal ownership, the CTA’s interests were, in the beginning, pretty much the City of Chicago’s interests. The City Council was, for a time, micro-managing transit, voting on ordinances for things like converting a streetcar line to bus.

Things changed over time, with the CTA flexing its muscles and taking on more of an independent role. Eventually, local politicians found they could adopt a sort of “good cop, bad cop” stance towards the CTA, taking credit for themselves when things went right, and blaming the authority when things went wrong.

Mayor Martin H. Kennelly‘s response to the CTA’s impending purchase of the Chicago Motor Coach Company assets in 1952 is instructive. Privately, Kennelly is said to have supported the buyout. But he feared the GOP would try to use it against the Democrats in the upcoming elections, so he wrote a highly critical letter to the CTA just before the takeover became official, suggesting they were paying too much. Of course, the letter was widely reported in the newspapers, but came much too late to have any effect in stopping the sale.

The CTA hired Walter J. McCarter to be their first general manager on June 27, 1947, a few months prior to the operations takeover. He had been general manager of the Cleveland streetcar system when it became publicly owned in 1942. A 1947 Chicago Tribune article said he had been hired here because of his success in “rubberizing” the Cleveland system. In the same article. McCarter stated his opposition to any additional streetcar purchases.

This was at a time when only about 1/3rd of the 600-car order had been delivered.

Much of the CTA’s original Modernization Program originated years earlier. As far back as 1930, it anticipated buying 1000 new streetcars and 1000 new rapid transit cars. By the early 1940s, this amount was reduced to 800 streetcars, which is the number used in the 1947 CTA Modernization Plan. 600 cars were delivered in 1946-48 and an additional 200 were supposed to be purchased a few years later.

The same CTA 10-year plan, which covered the years 1946 through 1955, called for continual conversions of streetcar lines to bus, so that by 1955 only three PCC lines would still be operating. Presumably, even these were to be phased out eventually. For purposes of depreciation, the CTA assumed that streetcars had a 20-year useful life. Even without the PCC Conversion Program, this time would have been up by 1966-68.

The wholesale scrapping of PCCs speeded up the trolleys’ demise by about 8-10 years.  But many American cities have gotten way more than 20 years of life out of their PCCs, and some are still in daily use.

The CTA’s First Five Years

As I mentioned, the CTA’s Modernization Program had largely been developed some years before it was implemented. Meanwhile, due to the Great Depression and the war years, there was a lot of pent-up need for change in the system.

If not for these factors, it is likely that Chicago’s transition from streetcars to buses would have been more gradual than what did take place. But these types of changes were already occurring and had started as far back as 1930, when the Surface Lines established several successful new lines in Chicago’s northwest side using trolley buses.

At first, the CSL said these lines would eventually be converted to streetcars, but this never happened.

During the years 1947-52 the CTA attempted to put the Modernization Program into effect, and this included the 600 new PCC streetcars. However, with the end of the war, certain trends started to take place that would undermine their use here.

Surface system ridership declined as automakers began producing new cars in large quantities. The five-day workweek became standard, which reduced weekend ridership, as did increased automobile use.

The CTA was under a lot of pressure to increase wages, and fares doubled during the first five years, which further depressed ridership. One of the main ways that CTA tried to keep expenses down in this period was by reducing the number of employees.

This was largely done by replacing two-man streetcars with one-man buses. It is a process that was largely completed in 1954, when the last red streetcar ran. At that point, CTA estimated that there were no more such savings to be had– by then, some PCCs had already been converted to one-man, and the two-man cars were on the busiest lines, where they were still advantageous.

CTA estimated that it took 1.5 buses to replace each streetcar. The 600 postwar PCCs were eventually replaced by 900 buses, but as funds were tight, CTA ended up leasing 100 of these instead of outright purchase.

When a two-man streetcar was replaced by 1 1/2 buses, that was a labor savings, but when a one-man car was replaced by bus, that was a labor loss. In many cases, CTA could profitably replace streetcars with buses on the weekends, as they had surplus buses available then, and ridership was much reduced. The PCCs, with their higher capacity, were not needed as much.

The 1951 Consultant’s Report

In 1951, CTA retained the respected consulting firm of DeLeuw, Cather & Company to do a thorough review of the entire agency and its operations. Among their recommendations were the conversion of all PCC streetcars to one-man operation, and their indefinite retention.

On the other hand, the report argued against purchasing any additional electric vehicles, due to the high cost of electric power. According to documents associated with the 1952 CTA $23m bond sale, most of which went to purchase the Motor Coach, Commonwealth Edison had increased the cost of electricity by about 35% between 1948 and 1952.

During this same period, the CTA enthusiastically embraced propane as a very cheap fuel for buses. Many streetcar lines were replaced by propane buses, but their performance was poor and the buses were very much under-powered.

CTA ordered 349 trolley buses in 1951, the largest single order of its kind at the time, but those were the last such buses ordered. The trolley bus system began to be phased out starting in 1959 and the final such bus ran in 1973.

By October 1, 1951 CTA had purchased 551 propane buses, the largest fleet in the nation.

One-Man Conversions

In line with the 1951 consultant’s report, CTA began converting streetcars to one-man. The Chicago Transit Board authorized conversions of potentially all 683 PCCs and the 100 1929 Sedans in early 1952, although the actual numbers of cars converted was actually much less than this.

In early 1952, the CTA proposed converting both the Cottage Grove and 63rd Street car lines to one-man. The City of Chicago requested that public hearings be held. This is most likely due to the influence of 13th ward Alderman John E. Egan, whose territory covered a large part of route 63 (the entire portion west of Kedzie). He appears to have mobilized the business community against the conversion on the grounds that it would be ponderously slow and unsafe.

The Chicago Tribune reported on February 7 and 8 on community opposition to one-man PCCs on 63rd Street. In spite of this, CTA GM McCarter stated in the March 4th Trib that they still intended to convert both lines. He also said that about 110 cars would be needed, which works out to the 83 prewar PCCs and 25 of the 100 1929 Sedans. (Andre Kristopans has done some research, which you can read in the Comments section of this post, indicating this was the number of cars needed on Cottage Grove only.)

Similar opposition does not seem to have materialized along the Cottage Grove line. The public hearings were closed as of April 30, 1952, and the CTA board approved conversion of Cottage Grove the following day. No action was taken at the time regarding 63rd.

While I did not find any record of an October businessmen’s meeting with CTA, as described by Mr. Waller, there is nothing I found that would prevent such a meeting from having taken place. It’s very possible it did happen, as he described, and that local leaders were given the choice of one-man streetcars, or one-man buses. If so, they chose buses, perhaps Egan had feared that one operator would be hard pressed to handle fares, transfers, unruly passengers, and safely handle the very fast PCCs.

Another factor may have been the change in routing between Central and Narragansett that buses made possible.  The streetcars ran on private right-of-way for the westernmost mile of the route via 63rd Place, the next block south of 63rd Street.  The trolley line had been built at a time when the area was largely undeveloped, as numerous pictures show.

By 1952, development was underway, and once the bus began operating the following year, the route was shifted over to 63rd Street for this last mile, which would have been advantageous to local businesses.  63rd Place became a quiet residential street, which it remains today.

As it was, CTA took no further action until they had enough buses on hand to operate the replacement service. This was approved by the board on April 13, 1953 and went into effect on May 24th the same year.

By then it would seem that CTA was afraid of negative public reaction if the fast PCCs were replaced by slow propane buses. Therefore, it should perhaps be no surprise that PCCs were withdrawn months earlier and replaced by slower, much older red streetcars.

Although Mr. Waller says that some of these replacement cars were two-man Sedans, I was unable to find a picture showing any. All the pictures I have seen of this late trolley service show Pullmans. That does not mean, of course, that this did not happen.

In similar fashion, PCCs were later withdrawn from the busy Halsted line and replaced temporarily by older red cars before bus substitution went into effect on May 30, 1954. Likewise, red cars temporarily replaced PCCs on the Madison-Fifth portion of route 20 in December 1953 before that service was terminated the following year, a victim of expressway construction.

Effect of the Motor Coach Purchase

With the CTA’s controversial purchase of the Motor Coach lines, effective October 1, 1952, its first five years of operations came to an end. By then, the agency was awash in red ink and had to take drastic action to increase revenues and reduce expenses.

Buying out their only remaining competitor was seen as a necessary move, whatever the cost. Motor Coach was profitable, and its ridership was increasing, at a time when CTA’s was decreasing. It was natural that CTA would claim that CMC was siphoning off profits that should have been CTA’s. However, the privately owned Motor Coach balked at selling, and only agreed to it after getting CTA to substantially increase their offer.

As a result, the agency’s intended $20m bond issue was increased to $23m at the last minute.

The Motor Coach purchase was not popular with the general public, mainly because it meant an instant fare increase to CTA’s higher levels. That a public entity would put a profitable competitor out of business was also bothersome to many. Yet CTA had little choice, and previous transit unification plans had always anticipated including the Motor Coach along with CSL and CRT.

Perhaps because of this criticism, the CTA was very much in need of a public relations “coup,” one that would show the agency could achieve millions of dollars in future savings to atone for the CMC acquisition.

This is the climate in which the so-called PCC Conversion Program was hatched. In fact, the beginnings of this plan became the Chicago Transit Board’s first order of business after approving the Motor Coach purchase.

The February 1951 opening of the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway had been very successful in speeding up service and increasing ridership. Meanwhile, even with modern, fast PCC equipment on the streets, CTA operations were hampered by traffic congestion that it could not control.

This brought about a “sea change” in the agency’s priorities. From this point forward, with their last remaining competitor out of the way, CTA devoted 70% of their investments towards the rapid transit system, which had only represented about 15-20% of overall system ridership in 1947.

The agency became convinced that the best way for transit and traffic to coexist was via low-cost rapid transit lines in the medians of the new expressways that were then being planned. The Congress line was already under construction, and such lines were eventually opened in the south and northwest side expressways in 1969-70, once Federal funding became possible.

Once CTA had made this change in priorities, the surface system was downgraded, relatively speaking, in the overall scheme of things. After all, it no longer had any competitors, and the public would have no choice but to accept whatever type of service that CTA would offer. This had been upheld by the courts when activists had protested the CTA’s abandonment of the Humboldt Park “L” branch. If the CTA wanted riders to use trolley buses on North Avenue instead of the “L”, they were within their rights and the courts did not want to interfere. If transit problems were really a concern, the voters had remedies through their elected representatives and the legislature.

Once the cost of electricity increased, and propane became a cheap alternative, PCC cars were no more attractive to CTA than the old red streetcars were. Their days were numbered, since CTA did not have any taxing power and had to live out of the farebox.

A noted transit historian once pointed out to me that in the 1950s, the CTA did everything possible “on the cheap.”

This is the context in which CTA Chairman Virgil Gunlock’s 1959 statement should be viewed, when he remarked on a radio program that the PCCs were the finest transit vehicles ever to operate on the city streets, but they “cost too much to operate.”

Unintended Consequences

While these were the motivations that led to CTA’s decision, starting in October 1952, to abandon streetcar service as soon as possible, there were unintended negative consequences that undermined any advantages that might have been realized as a result.

From a labor standpoint, CTA knew that it would not realize any additional savings by eliminating PCCs, once the last of the two-man red cars was retired in 1954. In fact, if a one-man car was replaced by a one-man bus, that was a net loss in labor cost, since it took 1.5 buses to provide the same capacity.

I have analyzed the Conversion Program in great detail in my E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available through our Online Store. But whatever grandiose claims were originally made for the $20k or $25k in savings per car that was originally claimed, in all likelihood little if any money was ultimately saved.

Numerous problems came up almost immediately. Two PCCs were sent out for potential conversion to “L” cars in late 1952, but when only St. Louis Car Company wanted to continue with the project, it was no longer being done on a competitive bidding basis.

Soon, CTA found out that the bodies would have to be scrapped, since floor heights were different, and there would be costs of $3,000 per car to modify controller equipment. Over the life of the program, costs rose due to the need to refurbish parts that had received more use, so that by 1958, when the last such order was placed, CTA was receiving just about scrap value for each PCC turned in.

One of the main benefits of the program, from the CTA’s viewpoint, was to take the only partly depreciated cars off of the books, and this is spelled out in Chicago Transit Board documents of the period. Once it became obvious that this was no “magic bullet” with $20k or $25k in savings per car, the goal changed to selling each car to St. Louis Car Company for the estimated depreciated value, and allowing the additional costs of parts reuse and conversion to simply be added in turn to each new rapid transit car purchased.

Since the 570 cars involved were purchased on a non-competitive basis, with specifications written so that St. Louis Car Company would be the only bidder (each bidder on the new car order was required to also be the purchaser of used PCCs, whih only SLCC would do), there is no way to know just how much additional cost was buried in the price of each car, but it was substantial.

Another unintended consequence was that, by offering a lesser quality service on city streets, and paving over the streetcar tracks, CTA actually made the streets more inviting to cars and trucks, which created more traffic congestion in turn, thus reducing ridership even more.

In retrospect, CTA’s best bet might have been to continue using PCCs on the major lines, with all cars converted to one-man. Additional standard PCC cars were readily available in the 1950s in good condition from other cities.

This is the approach that Toronto took, and it has served them well. Meanwhile, Chicago’s non-standard PCCs, the largest and widest single-ended cars of their type, were prescient of the changes in streetcar technology since their 1958 demise.

They are now small in comparison to the Flexitys that are gradually being introduced to Toronto streets.

Meanwhile, in some ways Chicago’s surface system has never recovered from being downgraded in 1952 at the expense of the rapid transit system. “L” ridership continues to grow while bus ridership continues to shrink.

To this day, the years of greatest decline in Chicago’s surface transit system are from 1947 to 1958, when Chicago’s once mighty streetcar system was dismantled bit by bit.

If Chicago had kept its PCCs, proposals such as the “bus rapid transit”line planned for Ashland Avenue might not be necessary, as there would still be effective crosstown transit that does not operate in a hub and spoke pattern with the center city, but instead would have helped keep Chicago’s many neighborhoods strong and vibrant.

-David Sadowski

PS- To see more pictures of Chicago’s Peter Witts, see our previous post The CSL Sedans (December 24, 2015).

The entire 48-page prospectus for the CTA’s 1952 $23m bond issue, and much more, has been added to our E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available through our Online Store.


Correspondence

M. E. writes:

Observations about 63rd St. Rumble from someone who lived half a block from 63rd St.:

I don’t remember ever seeing a sedan car on 63rd St. The 63rd St. line migrated from red cars to the pre-war PCCs that came from Madison St. Although my memory isn’t precise, I believe there were still red cars during rush hour to augment the PCCs. All of this was two-man service. To my knowledge there were never any one-man cars on 63rd St. because it was a very busy line.

I do remember seeing lots of two-man sedans on the 4 Cottage Grove Ave. line. In 1952 the 63rd St. PCCs were moved to Cottage Grove as one-man cars. I’m unsure whether sedans augmented PCC rush-hour service on Cottage Grove. The CTA would not have mixed two-man and one-man cars on the same line, so any rush-hour sedans on Cottage Grove would have had to be one-man. Ergo, if one-man sedans were actually used someplace, it would have been on Cottage Grove.

When the pre-war PCCs moved from 63rd (two-man) to Cottage Grove (one-man), two-man red cars once again had to cover 63rd St. service. This lasted until 63rd was converted to a bus line in the spring of 1953. The one-man PCC service on Cottage Grove lasted until mid-1955, when the line was converted to bus.

I do not recall seeing post-war PCCs on 63rd St., although you have photos to prove it. Because the 69th and Ashland carbarn served both 63rd (pre-war PCCs) and Western (post-war PCCs), perhaps an occasional post-war PCC was sent to 63rd.


CTA Sedan 3377, showing the original door configuration, southbound on Cottage Grove at 95th Street on May 6, 1951. (John D. Koschwanez Photo, John F. Bromley Collection)

CTA Sedan 3377, showing the original door configuration, southbound on Cottage Grove at 95th Street on May 6, 1951. (John D. Koschwanez Photo, John F. Bromley Collection)

CTA 3381, now in CTA green, near the south end of route 4 - Cottage Grove, circa 1952. We cannot tell whether it had yet been converted to one man operation. (Earl Clark Photo)

CTA 3381, now in CTA green, near the south end of route 4 – Cottage Grove, circa 1952. We cannot tell whether it had yet been converted to one man operation. (Earl Clark Photo)

CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 111th, near the south end of route 4, on February 2, 1952. The landmark Hotel Florence is in the background, in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 111th, near the south end of route 4, on February 2, 1952. The landmark Hotel Florence is in the background, in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 115th, south end of route 4, on April 2, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

CTA 3381 at Cottage Grove and 115th, south end of route 4, on April 2, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

Prewar PCC 4016, circa 1951, may very well be the first of the one-man conversions. The rear door here is completely blocked off, but soon the City of Chicago insisted on the addition of a rear emergency exit door. This was only a year after the terrible accident where a PCC collided with a gas truck and 33 people were killed. Notice how the middle door (for exit only) has been narrowed to try and keep people from sneaking on without paying. The location is Kedzie Station (car house). (Chicago Transit Authority Photo)

Prewar PCC 4016, circa 1951, may very well be the first of the one-man conversions. The rear door here is completely blocked off, but soon the City of Chicago insisted on the addition of a rear emergency exit door. This was only a year after the terrible accident where a PCC collided with a gas truck and 33 people were killed. Notice how the middle door (for exit only) has been narrowed to try and keep people from sneaking on without paying. The location is Kedzie Station (car house). (Chicago Transit Authority Photo)

CTA 4029 lays over on 64th Street near Stony Island on March 10, 1952. This was the east end of route 63. The sign says "Enter at Font," but we don't know whether this prewar PCC had been converted to one-man operation yet. However, this picture was taken around the time CTA held public hearings about converting 63rd to one-man operation.

CTA 4029 lays over on 64th Street near Stony Island on March 10, 1952. This was the east end of route 63. The sign says “Enter at Font,” but we don’t know whether this prewar PCC had been converted to one-man operation yet. However, this picture was taken around the time CTA held public hearings about converting 63rd to one-man operation.

CTA 7012 at the Narragansett Loop on the west end of route 63. Tony Waller adds, "In image 257, the pre-war PCC must have been photographed in December 1951. All pre-war PCCs were removed from 63rd St. in Spring 1952 and rebuilt for one man operations (with elimination of one of the center doors). They were then assigned to Cottage Grove."

CTA 7012 at the Narragansett Loop on the west end of route 63. Tony Waller adds, “In image 257, the pre-war PCC must have been photographed in December 1951. All pre-war PCCs were removed from 63rd St. in Spring 1952 and rebuilt for one man operations (with elimination of one of the center doors). They were then assigned to Cottage Grove.”

CTA 4022, with some obvious front end damage, eastbound on the 63rd Street line. There is an ad on the side of the car promoting Hawthorne Race Course, which opened in 1891. One of our readers writes, "I believe that this car is laying over on the wye at 63rd and Central Park waiting to head east to Stony Island. The car was still two man at the time, but being in Everglade Green, I would date it as mid 1952 before the cars were sent to Cottage Grove after being converted to one-man operation." (R. Alexander Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

CTA 4022, with some obvious front end damage, eastbound on the 63rd Street line. There is an ad on the side of the car promoting Hawthorne Race Course, which opened in 1891. One of our readers writes, “I believe that this car is laying over on the wye at 63rd and Central Park waiting to head east to Stony Island. The car was still two man at the time, but being in Everglade Green, I would date it as mid 1952 before the cars were sent to Cottage Grove after being converted to one-man operation.” (R. Alexander Photo, Krambles-Peterson Archive)

CTA 4031 on 63rd Street.

CTA 4031 on 63rd Street.

CTA 7016 on 63rd Place near Narragansett.

CTA 7016 on 63rd Place near Narragansett.

Postwar CTA 7269 at 63rd Place and Narragansett on November 23, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

Postwar CTA 7269 at 63rd Place and Narragansett on November 23, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

Prewar PCC 4027 at an unknown location. Likely possibilities are routes 4, 49, or 63. Tony Waller writes, "Image 243 is on 63rd St. Look at the pre-war PCC. It’s door arrangement is that of a two-man car. Cottage Grove and Western only had pre-war PCCs in one man operation."

Prewar PCC 4027 at an unknown location. Likely possibilities are routes 4, 49, or 63. Tony Waller writes, “Image 243 is on 63rd St. Look at the pre-war PCC. It’s door arrangement is that of a two-man car. Cottage Grove and Western only had pre-war PCCs in one man operation.”

CTA 248 at 63rd and Ashland in May 1953, shortly before the end of streetcar service on route 63. Note the safety island.

CTA 248 at 63rd and Ashland in May 1953, shortly before the end of streetcar service on route 63. Note the safety island.

CTA Sedan (aka "Peter Witt") 6310 appears to have been converted to one-man in this view circa 1952 view at South Shops. However, it may not have been used in service this way before being scrapped. (Roy W. Bruce Photo)

CTA Sedan (aka “Peter Witt”) 6310 appears to have been converted to one-man in this view circa 1952 view at South Shops. However, it may not have been used in service this way before being scrapped. (Roy W. Bruce Photo)

CTA prewar PCC 4021, last survivor of its type, in dead storage at South Shops in the late 1950s. This car is now preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

CTA prewar PCC 4021, last survivor of its type, in dead storage at South Shops in the late 1950s. This car is now preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Excerpts from Chicago Transit Board Meeting Minutes:

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Help Support The Trolley Dodger

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This is our 145th 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 175,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.

You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store.

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A Window to the World of Streetcars

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Ask Geoffrey: A Look Back at Chicago’s Streetcar Era

Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone will be “famous for 15 minutes.” Last night’s “Ask Geoffery” segment on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight news magazine program only lasted about 8 minutes, but I found it pretty memorable nonetheless.

After all, the segment was entirely devoted to Chicago streetcars, and a book I co-authored (Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, published by Central Electric Railfans’ Association as their 146th Bulletin) was prominently featured. At one point WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer held the book aloft and talked about all the great pictures that are in there, not only of Chicago streetcars, but the places they ran through.

If you want to know what Chicago really looked like back in the 1940s and 1950s, this book is a good place to start.

If you’re reading this message, there’s a chance you already have your copy of B-146. But if not, I think it is an excellent book and urge you to purchase one directly from CERA or their dealers.* Of course, as one of the authors, I am a bit prejudiced.

If that was my only connection to last night’s broadcast, I would be chuffed. However, while I played no part in the creation of this segment, my fingerprints were also there on other parts of it.

Some of the other pictures featured were things I posted to The Trolley Dodger, or to the CERA Members’ Blog. In particular, a few pictures were used from our post West Towns Streetcars in Color (February 10, 2015). Also in the West Towns segment of this piece, were several photos that I took in 2014 at the dedication of C&WT car 141 at the Illinois Railway Museum. These originally appeared in the post IRM Dedicates Chicago & West Towns Car 141 (CERA Members Blog, June 2, 2014). Those weren’t the only such photos that were used.

None of this should be too surprising. Whoever researched this piece likely did some Google searches, and this is what came up. When researching things myself, I frequently find my own posts coming up to the top of Internet searches on a variety of subjects. There were, of course, many other sources that WTTW used, including video of the last Chicago streetcar on June 21, 1958, posted by the Chicago Transit Authority.

My favorite picture from last night, that I was not connected with, is reproduced above. It shows Chicago streetcars and buses at Navy Pier, during the time when it was the temporary home of the University of Illinois.

It has always been my intention for create an accessible archive of information about transit history that people will find useful.  Last month, we had more than 12,000 page views on this blog, even though there were only three new posts.  So, a lot of people are actually looking at the older posts, which is quite gratifying.

As a short history lesson, the Chicago Tonight segment was excellent, but I do have a couple of minor caveats. They mentioned how streetcar ridership declined in the 1920s, leading to the development of the PCC car. However, streetcar ridership in Chicago actually went up in the ’20s, leading to use of trailers.

In this episode, the demise of Chicago streetcars was put on the shoulders of Walter J. McCarter, CTA’s first general manager, and dated to 1947. However, some streetcar lines were bussed before this (some as early as 1941) and the beginnings of their demise can be traced back even further than that.

The Surface Lines introduced several new routes on Chicago’s northwest side in 1930 using trolley buses, and within a short period of a few years, CSL had become a leading exponent of this form of transit. While it was stated at the time that eventually, CSL would convert these lines to streetcar as ridership increased, none were so changed.

In 1937, the City of Chicago produced a so-called “Green Book” plan for comprehensive transit improvements.** According to this plan, the City expected to replace half of Chicago’s streetcars with buses, and possibly all of them if bus technology would prove itself.

The leading author of this plan, Philip Harrington, later became the first chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority, and undoubtedly carried over these views to the CTA. While I am sure that Walter J. McCarter was an ardent foe of streetcars, a 1947 Chicago Tribune article indicated he was hired because of his success in “rubberizing” the Cleveland streetcar system.

Of course, there is no way to get into these sorts of nuances of history in an 8 minute segment.

You can read more about last night’s Ask Geoffrey segment here. You can also watch the video of the 8 minute segment there. The entire hour-long program can also be seen here.

Interestingly, last night they used a photo I took of Frank Sirinek piloting Chicago & West Towns car 141.  CERA B-146 also has a photo of Mr. Sirinek in it that I took, this time a picture from the 1980s showing him at the helm of CTA 4391, the last surviving postwar Chicago streetcar.

-David Sadowski

This photo of streetcars and buses at Navy Pier, which dates to the early CTA era, appeared on Chicago Tonight. It was sourced from the Internet. According to Andre Kristopans, the date this photo could have been taken is either April, May, or June 1951 (see Comments section).

This photo of streetcars and buses at Navy Pier, which dates to the early CTA era, appeared on Chicago Tonight. It was sourced from the Internet. According to Andre Kristopans, the date this photo could have been taken is either April, May, or June 1951 (see Comments section).

A CSL trolley coach, from a 1935 brochure.  This image, originally posted here, appeared in the Chicago Tonight segment.

A CSL trolley coach, from a 1935 brochure. This image, originally posted here, appeared in the Chicago Tonight segment.

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*Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with Central Electric Railfans’ Association.

**The Green Book plan is discussed in detail in my E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, available from our Online Store.


Recent Correspondence

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Regarding some “mystery” photographs in recent posts, Chuck Bencik from San Diego, life member of San Diego Electric Railway Association, writes:

These cars are definitely from Lucerne Valley, PA, as the caption below, and extract from material about Nanticoke history seem to prove. Also, as a 23 year resident of Chicago, (1938 to 1961), during which streetcars in Chicago operated, I can assure you that Chicago Surface Lines never had letters for their route designations, like “N”, and the colors of their livery following World War II were not the same as the one photograph which is in color says to me. Also, the 13th and 14th photos from the top are not Chicago Surface Lines streetcars.

These rails of the WB Traction Company survived the war and were in use when the last trolley car rolled into Nanticoke in 1950.” [Source: http://www.nanticokehistoryonline.org/site2/stories/2013/March/WWII.html ]

These rails of the WB Traction Company survived the war and were in use when the last trolley car rolled into Nanticoke in 1950.” [Source: http://www.nanticokehistoryonline.org/site2/stories/2013/March/WWII.html ]

“The Wilkes-Barre & Wyoming Valley Traction Company (W-B&WVT) was more fortunate than most properties. The fact that Luzerne County’s population was widely scattered in mine patches and supporting villages meant that there was a regular source of residential and business traffic along most of its lines. The main amusement park was Sans Souci, roughly midway on the line from Wilkes-Barre to Nanticoke.” [Source: http://harveyslake.org/text/story_lakeline_02.html ]

Following photo is from Dave’s New Rail pix, Wilkes Barre Railway:

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Nope; not Chicago’s. Has no numbers, and the railroad crossing sign uses a font style that was never seen on the grade crossing signs of Chicago, during the streetcar era. Similarly for the photo below. Nice Brill cars; but their livery is a dark color for window frames and doors, and something lighter in color for the large areas of flat sheet metal, like the dashers. The next photo after that, the streetcar crossing a street bascule bridge which seems to be only partly closed/opened? Not a Chicago streetcar photo, either.

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Thanks for writing. There were actually several other people who correctly identified the Wilkes-Barre trolleys in our post Spring Cleaning (May 16, 2016), and you can find their thoughts in the Comments section.

The additional two photos from The “Other” Penn Central (May 29, 2016) have already been identified as the Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago. Although this was an Indiana operation, some of these cars actually did operate into Chicago, offering through service to 63rd and Stony Island in conjunction with the South Chicago City Railway. The HW&EC frequently leased streetcars from Chicago.

I apologize for the lo-res images (we will soon have better versions of these) but the cars actually did have numbers on the front, just not very visible here. Not sure if that is due to these pictures possibly having been taken with Orthochromiatic film, or if there simply wasn’t sufficient contrast in black-and-white to make them out.

Apparently for most of their life these cars were painted green, and in fact locals knew it as the “Green Line,” but from 1932-40, their final years, they were painted yellow as they were operated by the Chicago and Calumet District Transit Company.

That these cars would so closely resemble those of the Chicago Surface Lines should not be a surprise, as this operator was jointly owned at one time by one of the CSL constituent companies and there was some shuffling of equipment.

The story of the Hammond, Whiting and East Chicago Railway was told in Electric Railway Historical Society Bulletin #8 by James J. Buckley, published in 1953. This, and the other 48 ERHS publications, are contained in The Complete ERHS Collection, an E-book I edited for Central Electric Railfans’ Association, available through them and their dealers.

Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.

-David Sadowski


Help Support The Trolley Dodger

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This is our 139th 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 165,000 page views, for which we are very grateful.

You can help us continue our original transit research by checking out the fine products in our Online Store.

As we have said before, “If you buy here, we will be here.”

We thank you for your support.

Chicago PCC Updates

CTA 7261 is southbound on Halsted, at the intersection with Grand and Milwaukee Avenues. This car is incorrectly signed for route 42 (should be 8).

CTA 7261 is southbound on Halsted, at the intersection with Grand and Milwaukee Avenues. This car is incorrectly signed for route 42 (should be 8).

One of the advantages of an electronic book is that it can be updated and improved as new information becomes available. Today’s post features the latest updates to our E-book Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story, which is available in our Online Store.

First off, we have acquired another rare supervisor’s track map from December 1946. Now, our E-book includes the CSL maps from 1941, 1946, and the CTA versions from 1948, 1952, and 1954.

These maps are much more detailed than the usual route maps and show the locations of crossovers, wyes, loops, stations (car barns), etc. etc. in great detail. They include the trolley coach and motor bus routes as well as streetcars.

Our E-book now includes five supervisor's track maps, from 1941, 1946, 1948, 1952, and 1954.

Our E-book now includes five supervisor’s track maps, from 1941, 1946, 1948, 1952, and 1954.

Detail from the Chicago Surface Lines supervisor's map from 1941, as featured in our E-book.

Detail from the Chicago Surface Lines supervisor’s map from 1941, as featured in our E-book.

We have also added more photos, some of which are reproduced here. Over the last few months, we have added at least 30 new photos to the book.

E-book Update Service

If you purchase a copy today, you will receive most current version of the book. If you already bought one, we can provide you with an updated version at little or no cost. We can set you up to download the new files via Dropbox, a free file sharing service, at no additional charge.

If you would prefer an updated disc, we can send you one for just $5 to addresses within the United States. Contact us at thetrolleydodger@gmail.com for further details.

We want you to be able to buy the E-book with confidence that you will not miss out on any future improvements.

PCC Correspondence

Frank Weed writes:

I enjoyed the DVD Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story. I especially like the track maps of the system. My question — Is there any diagrams of the shops and barns? I am interested in the track arrangement of the yards.

The Surface Lines had numerous “stations,” as the car barns were called. If we can get hold of the information, we will add it to the E-book, thanks.

George Trapp writes:

The revised disc arrived the day after you mailed it, which was quite surprising. The list of scrapping dates for each individual car was very interesting, hopefully the inservice dates for each individual car can be found and published in the future.

Regarding the Pullman built cars, Lot 6749 for series 4062-4171, car 4062 was photographed at Pullman’s former Osgood-Bradley plant on 9-3-46, while car 4067 was photographed over a month later on 10-8-46, leaving me to believe that 4062 was shipped over a month before the rest of the cars started delivery.

The Lot 6786 cars series 4172-4371, car 4172 was photographed by Pullman’s studio the E. B. Luce Company on 9-16-47 and car 4306 hoisted up by the plant crane has a photo date of 11-20-47. In the series cars 4172-4196 were delivered first, then deliveries jumped to 4272-4371 with 4197-4271 being the last. This may have been done because of the CTA trying to cancel the order.

On your disc, Post War PCC’s #1, on Page 12 lower, page 15 upper and page 28 both views have photos dates of Oct. 1, 1949. I think they were taken later, probably 1951 or 1952. Per the Aug. 1950 issue of MASS TRANSPORTATION outside advertising on the CTA wasn’t authorized by city ordinance until 4-13-1950. Also, I doubt if any cars were painted dark green before the arrival of the propane Twin Coach 5000 series buses in late 1950.

On page 13, believe location is Clark and Roosevelt.

On page 26, lower view is of car 4055 not 4065.

On PostWar PCC’s #2, Page 2, upper photo of car being towed, it’s probably headed to West Shops for repair, I have this print as well from the late Joe Diaz and it looks like there’s some body damage on the PCC.

Pages 38 bottom view and page 46 upper view are 81st street looking east from Halsted.

Thanks… we will make corrections to the captions you cite. Sometimes the information written on a print or slide turns out to be wrong.

We know that the Chicago Transit Authority did try to cancel the PCC order, since this was reported in the press (see page 39 of Chicago Streetcar Pictorial: The PCC Car Era, 1936-1958, Bulletin 146 of the Central Electric Railfans’ Association*), but I believe this happened in 1947, not 1946.

The newly-formed CTA, you may recall, was instrumental in getting the 600 Postwar PCC cars ordered in 1945. This was part of a long-range plan to modernize all of Chicago’s transportation systems, first published in 1937 (and detailed in our E-book). Philip Harringon, the main author of what was commonly called the “Green Book,” became the first chairman of the Chicago Transit Board. It should therefore be no surprise that the City of Chicago’s plans were carried over into the early days of the CTA.

Chicago Surface Lines believed in the superiority of the streetcar for use on the busiest routes. Following national trends, the Green Book plan of 1937 envisioned replacing about half of Chicago’s streetcars with buses. By the time CTA took over in 1947, this “busstitution” plan had increased to 75 or 80%.

In 1945, CTA was all in favor of ordering 800 modern streetcars– 600 to start, and 200 more within a few years. Along with the 83 Prewar PCCs and the 100 Peter Witt “Sedans,” this would have given CTA a fleet of nearly 1000 modern cars. The City of Chicago had been very much involved in determining the specifications for the new postwar cars, which were finalized in 1941.

Since CSL had a modernization fund available, the CTA had no difficulty persuading the bankruptcy courts, which were in control of CSL, to approve orders for new equipment. And even though CTA did not take official control until October 1, 1947, they were very much involved in deciding not only what was ordered, but where and when it would run once delivered. CTA felt it had been given a “mandate” by the State and the voters to make transit improvements as soon as possible.

If not for World War II, there might have been a slower and more orderly transition to rubber tired vehicles. But with wartime shortages, orders for new buses were put on hold for four years. War’s end coincided with the creation of the CTA, and there was a pent-up need for change. But the winds of change in local transit circles changed very quickly.

Even as the first of 600 Postwar PCC cars were delivered in 1946, you can sense a certain ambivalence in such things as Chicago Tribune editorials, as this example from November 20, 1946 shows:

The street car is dead. With the exception of a few long haul, heavy traffic routes, street cars, which came in before paved streets, are obsolete. They should be replaced by buses.

You can read the rest of this editorial in our post Chicago’s Postwar PCCs (June 9th).

A year later, Walter J. McCarter, new General Manager of the CTA, reported that CTA had tried to cancel the remainder of the PCC order, but had been unsuccessful. Chances are this action could not have been taken prior to October 1, 1947. Until then, CTA would have needed to work through the courts and the Surface Lines.

These issues, and many more, are covered in detail in our E-book, which can be read on any computer with Adobe Acrobat Reader installed.

We will continue to improve Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story as new information becomes available. We are committed to making this the best book possible and a real (albeit unofficial) companion piece to Bulletin 146, which is itself a must-have for any railfan who is seriously interested in Chicago streetcars.

-David Sadowski

*Bulletin 146 is available directly from CERA. Trolley Dodger Press is not affiliated with Central Electric Railfans’ Association.

PS- We thank our readers for their continued support as The Trolley Dodger has reached another milestone, with more than 65,000 page views (from nearly 20,000 individuals) since our first post in January.

CTA 4282, a Pullman, passes the Congress expressway construction site on Halsted in 1952. In general, bridges were built first, and areas around them dug out afterwards. This section of highway opened in late 1955, by which time the streetcars had been replaced by buses.

CTA 4282, a Pullman, passes the Congress expressway construction site on Halsted in 1952. In general, bridges were built first, and areas around them dug out afterwards. This section of highway opened in late 1955, by which time the streetcars had been replaced by buses.

CTA Prewar PCC 4032 being shipped out from South Shops for scrapping. According to the list compiled by Andre Kristopans, the date is around August 13, 1956, about two months after streetcar service ended on route 49 Western.

CTA Prewar PCC 4032 being shipped out from South Shops for scrapping. According to the list compiled by Andre Kristopans, the date is around August 13, 1956, about two months after streetcar service ended on route 49 Western.

CTA 4346, built by Pullman-Standard, on route 36 Broadway-State.

CTA 4346, built by Pullman-Standard, on route 36 Broadway-State.

CTA 4406, a product of St. Louis Car Company, in charter service on Clark Street north of Cermak Road, October 21, 1956.

CTA 4406, a product of St. Louis Car Company, in charter service on Clark Street north of Cermak Road, October 21, 1956.

A two-car train of “flat door” 6000-series cars at the ground-level Oak Park Avenue station on the Garfield Park “L” in the 1950s. These used PCC technology and were built with all new parts, unlike the later curved door cars that were partly built with parts salvaged from PCC streetcars. The building at rear, located at approximately 814 Harrison Street, is still standing in Oak Park.

The approximate location of the last picture as it looks today. The Forest Park branch of the CTA Blue Line is in the foreground. The old Garfield Park alignment, at ground level, would be about where the truck is in this picture.

The approximate location of the last picture as it looks today. The Forest Park branch of the CTA Blue Line is in the foreground. The old Garfield Park alignment, at ground level, would be about where the truck is in this picture.

The building at 814 Harrison as it looks today.

The building at 814 Harrison as it looks today.

Chicago’s Postwar PCCs

CSL 4062 in "Pre-View" service, westbound on Harrison at Holden Court on September 17, 1946. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CSL 4062 in “Pre-View” service, westbound on Harrison at Holden Court on September 17, 1946. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

Following up on our previous post about Chicago’s prewar PCC streetcars, here are some classic views of the 600 postwar PCCs delivered to Chicago Surface Lines and the Chicago Transit Authority between 1946 and 1948.

The design of these cars was derived from, and improved upon, those of the 83 prewar PCCs Chicago put into service in 1936-37. CSL experimented with various door arrangements on car 4051, which was tested in service on route 56 – Milwaukee Avenue in 1941.

The City of Chicago developed a transit modernization plan in the late 1930s, calling for the purchase of 1000 modern streetcars to replace CSL’s aging fleet. However, these plans would have to wait until the end of World War II to become a reality. Construction of new streetcars was put off “for the duration” as materials were needed for the war effort.

The Chicago Transit Authority was created by act of the Illinois legislature and approved by voters in Cook County in 1945. CTA took over both CSL and the Chicago Rapid Transit Company on October 1, 1947. However, the Chicago Transit Board, the CTA’s governing body, felt it had a mandate to make improvements even before the takeover.

CSL had a substantial fund set aside for equipment purchases that had been building up for years. The Surface Lines had been under the control of the courts for many years, as it was technically bankrupt. The fledgling CTA had no difficulty in persuading the CSL and the courts to order 600 new PCC streetcars for Chicago in 1945. Due to the size of this order, it was split between Pullman (310 cars) and St. Louis Car Company (290).

The September 12, 1946 Chicago Tribune reported:

First of 600 New Street Cars Arrives in City

The first of the city’s new green and cream colored 1946 streamlined streetcars, which will be in use by the end of the month on the Clark-Wentworth line, was inspected yesterday by management officers of the Chicago Surface lines.

The management group of four trustees and Federal Judge Michael L. Igoe, who has jurisdiction over the reorganization proceedings of the Surface lines company, were taken for a ride in the streamliner, the first of 600 cars on order.

Several new features captured the fancy of the inspectors. Coming in for the most praise were the crank operated windows. For tall persons, windows have been placed above the regular side windows.

Aisles are three inches wider. Another innovation is a no glare windshield which eliminates need for the curtain behind the motorman.

In addition to the Clark-Wentworth line, the cars will also be in use on Broadway-State, Western av. and 63d street lines.

Eventually, the postwar PCCs also ran on the Cottage Grove, Halsted, and Madison lines. Prior to being introduced on Clark-Wentworth, car 4062, the first one delivered, was run in “Pre-View” service in a downtown loop.

The September 16, 1946 Tribune reported:

NEWEST STREET CAR WILL BE IN SERVICE IN LOOP FOR 2 DAYS

Loop visitors will have an opportunity today and tomorrow to inspect Chicago’s first post-war street car which the Chicago Surface Lines has received out of 600 ordered. The new car will operate during the two days in an area bounded by Wabash av. and State, Lake, and Harrison sts.

The public has been invited by surface lines officials to make short trips free of charge to get firsthand information on the new car. It will operate from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.

The new car, which will be placed on the Madison st. run soon, seats 58 persons and operation is all-electric. The heating system uses only the high temperatures generated by braking.

While the new PCCS were very popular with the public, a “sea change” in management philosophy was already in the offing, even before the Chicago Transit Authority took over the Surface Lines on October 1, 1947, as this Tribune editorial from November 20, 1946 shows:

THE STREET CAR IS DEAD

About all that has happened to the straphangers of this city in the last year is that the Chicago Motor Coach drivers went out on a strike nearly two months ago and are still out. The bus riders, who are a small minority of local transportation passengers, seem to be getting to and from work, tho not without greater inconvenience than they suffered on the buses. Instead of sardining themselves into buses, they sardine themselves into street cars or the “L.”

If the latter systems were offering anything like acceptable service to the public, the strike might prove fatal to the bus company. Its patrons would learn that they could get to work for 8 cents on the street car instead of a dime on the bus. As it is, they undoubtedly will be back on their old corners the first morning they read that the bus strike has been settled.

There isn’t a single form of local transportation in Chicago whose service today isn’t disgraceful. The street car service is the worst altho some elevated patrons might dispute this. The surface lines are, insofar as service to the public is concerned, leaderless. They remain in their second decade of federal court receivership. The court evidently thinks the management is running the company, and the management seems to think the court is. The physical properties are run down, and, still worse, are obsolete.

The street car is dead. With the exception of a few long haul, heavy traffic routes, street cars, which came in before paved streets, are obsolete. They should be replaced by buses. The surface lines themselves recognize this in their extensions of lines. They put in buses because property owners will no longer consent to have street cars run past their doors.

Street cars depreciate property values on every street on which they run. Buses improve them. That has been the almost universal experience in New York, where the street car has virtually disappeared from Manhattan. The deteriorating effect of the street car has been demonstrated in Chicago. The beneficial effect of buses has not been so well proved here for lack of substitution.

street cars, experts assert, can carry more people over a given route than can buses. Very well, then, keep the street cars on perhaps a half dozen heavily traveled routes. The new, high speed, relatively quiet cars that the company is now buying can serve those routes and the thousands of old rattletraps that it is using elsewhere can be junked and replaced with buses. Trolley buses can be justified if they are cheaper than gasoline buses. Their use on certain streets might be permitted, but they, too, are a detriment to adjoining property, altho not as great a one as the rail cars.

This is a good summation of the prevailing philosophy that both CSL and CTA had in 1946. Soon, however, the Chicago Transit Board hired Walter J. McCarter as the first CTA general manager, and even before the 1947 takeover, he had made public his anti-streetcar sentiments.

The last Chicago streetcar ran in the early hours of June 21, 1958. Today, the last surviving postwar Chicago streetcar, #4391, survives in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum.

As streetcars undergo a renaissance in many cities throughout the country, there is much more that can be said about Chicago’s PCCs. Please consider purchasing a copy of our new publication Chicago’s PCC Streetcars: The Rest of the Story from our Trolley Dodger Online Store.

This new electronic book will be released on June 21, 2015, the 57th anniversary of when the last Chicago streetcar ran.

-David Sadowski

CTA 4087 at Madison and Franklin on October 1, 1949. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4087 at Madison and Franklin on October 1, 1949. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4380 at Harrison and Dearborn on June 3, 1958. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 4380 at Harrison and Dearborn on June 3, 1958. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 7073 eastbound at 115th and Cottage Grove on June 6, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 7073 eastbound at 115th and Cottage Grove on June 6, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 4106 at Madison and Franklin on October 1, 1949.

CTA 4106 at Madison and Franklin on October 1, 1949.

CSL 7065 at South Shops in 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 7065 at South Shops in 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 7196 in Wentworth service, circa 1957-58.

CTA 7196 in Wentworth service, circa 1957-58.

CTA 4076 at Madison and Franklin in July 1953. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 4076 at Madison and Franklin in July 1953. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CSL 4062 in "Pre-View" service, northbound on State near Monroe in September 1946. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4062 in “Pre-View” service, northbound on State near Monroe in September 1946. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4083 at Clark and Roosevelt on May 11, 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4083 at Clark and Roosevelt on May 11, 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4137 at Clark and Roosevelt on May 11, 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CSL 4137 at Clark and Roosevelt on May 11, 1947. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4363 on Schreiber at Paulina in July, 1948. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4363 on Schreiber at Paulina in July, 1948. (M. D. McCarter Collection)

CTA 4345 on August 1, 1953.

CTA 4345 on August 1, 1953.

CTA 4073 at the Madison and Austin loop in July 1951.

CTA 4073 at the Madison and Austin loop in July 1951.

CTA 7258 passes an older car on the State Street bridge. The Chicago Sun-Times building had not yet been built.

CTA 7258 passes an older car on the State Street bridge. The Chicago Sun-Times building had not yet been built.

CTA 7269 at 63rd Place and Narragansett on November 23, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 7269 at 63rd Place and Narragansett on November 23, 1952. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 7225 on Clark at Polk on August 26, 1954. (Harold A. Smith Photo)

CTA 7225 on Clark at Polk on August 26, 1954. (Harold A. Smith Photo)

CTA 4159 on Schreiber near Clark on August 1, 1953.

CTA 4159 on Schreiber near Clark on August 1, 1953.

CTA 4066 at Madison and Franklin on October 24, 1948.

CTA 4066 at Madison and Franklin on October 24, 1948.

CTA 7106 at State and Roosevelt on August 6, 1954. (Harold A. Smith Photo)

CTA 7106 at State and Roosevelt on August 6, 1954. (Harold A. Smith Photo)

CTA 4374 on Dearborn at Congress on June 10, 1958. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CTA 4374 on Dearborn at Congress on June 10, 1958. (Thomas H. Desnoyers Photo)

CSL 4062 eastbound on Madison near Central Park. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4062 eastbound on Madison near Central Park. (CSL Photo)

CSL 4120 eastbound on 5th Avenue at Independence Boulevard. (Edward Frank Jr. Photo)

CSL 4120 eastbound on 5th Avenue at Independence Boulevard. (Edward Frank Jr. Photo)

CSL 4065 eastbound on Harrison at 5th. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CSL 4065 eastbound on Harrison at 5th. (Joe L. Diaz Photo)

CTA 4065 southbound on route 36 Broadway-State, then the longest streetcar line in North America.

CTA 4065 southbound on route 36 Broadway-State, then the longest streetcar line in North America.

CTA 7171 passes the Devon Station (car house) on its way to 81st and Halsted. This picture was taken circa 1955-57.

CTA 7171 passes the Devon Station (car house) on its way to 81st and Halsted. This picture was taken circa 1955-57.

The CTA, the CA&E, and “Political Influence”

CA&E 453 in a winter scene on the old Met “L” main line. Here, we are looking east from Halsted. (Truman Hefner Photo)

Always on the lookout for new sources of information about electric railway history, I recently stumbled on one in an unlikely place- a book about politics.

Political Influence by Edward C. Banfield, originally published in 1961 by the Free Press of Glencoe, “examines the structures and dynamics of influence in determining who actually makes the decisions on vital issues in a large metropolitan area.”  The book takes an in-depth look at how political influence was applied in the Chicagoland area during the 1950s.

In his introduction to the 2003 edition, James Q. Wilson writes:

Banfield wanted to know how concrete issues were really decided, and so he studied six major controversies in Chicago and drew his conclusions about influence from his detailed account of who did what for (or to) whom.

Civic disputes in Chicago, he concluded, did not result from struggles for votes, competing ideologies, or the work of a shadowy power elite; they rose instead from the maintenance and enhancement needs of large organizations.  One organization (say, a hospital) wanted something, another organization (say, a rival hospital) opposed it.  The resulting conflict had to be managed by an outside authority if it were to be settled at all, and in Chicago, politicians did most of the managing.  But that management was hardly dictatorial.  Though Chicago politics was organized around a powerful political machine, the machine did not simply impose its will.  Instead, the mayor let every interest get its say, postponed decisions until some common ground could be found, and then nudged the contestants in the right direction.

Banfield devotes chapter 4 (pages 91-125) to the Chicago Transit Authority and attempts to convince the state legislature to subsidize it circa 1956-57.  According the the author, these efforts were intertwined with trying to save the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin interurban.

The CA&E lost both riders and money due to construction of the Congress (now Eisenhower) expressway, starting in 1953.  The project was expected to take five years, and CTA service in the expressway median opened on June 22, 1958.  But by 1956, the railroad’s management wanted out, and the choices were either to sell or abandon service and liquidate.

At the time, the only public agency that could have operated “The Great Third Rail” was the Chicago Transit Authority, itself only about a decade old.  Formed by combining the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the Chicago Surface Lines, the CTA had started out with high hopes that an aggressive program of modernization would yield cost savings that would eventually make it possible to lower fares for their so-called “OWNERiders.”

Unfortunately, things did not turn out that way.  The new CTA bus routes in outlying areas lost money, and over its first decade, ridership declined by nearly 50%.  There were various reasons for the decline, including the rise in automobile ownership, fewer people working on Saturdays, the effects of several fare increases, and service reductions.

Unlike the New York transit system, which received a government subsidy of $100m per year during the 1950s, Chicago got none, and had to sink or swim out of the farebox.

CTA fares had increased gradually, but this also brought ridership losses.  The main way CTA saved money was through reductions in personnel, mainly by replacing two-man streetcars with buses.  But the last of the old red cars ran on May 30, 1954, and the governing Chicago Transit Board did not expect to see any additional savings from the elimination of PCC streetcars.

Banfield noted:

The heads of CTA’s operating divisions reported to a general manager, who in turn reported to Gunlock.  Gunlock and the general manager (Walter J. McCarter) together prepared the agenda for board meetings.  Although the board played an active role in the determination of general policy, it was Gunlock and the manager who ran the organization.

CTA Chairman Virgil E. Gunlock realized that government subsidies were needed, or CTA would risk going into an irreversible decline.  His opinions are summarized in Chicago’s Mass Transportation Dilemma, a presentation he gave to the Illinois Road Builders Association at the Palmer House in December 1957.

The CTA rapid transit system had contracted about 25% by the mid-1950s, and wanted to extend service through the medians of the planned Northwest (Kennedy) and South (Dan Ryan) expressways.  Shortly after Mayor Richard J. Daley took office in 1955, he asked Gunlock to prepare a “wish list” of potential new projects, so they could be prioritized, in the hope that new ways could be found to pay for them.

Chicago’s four major daily newspapers were in favor of subsidies, and so were most civic leaders.  But the CTA was not universally liked by the public, especially by those who used it, which tended to undermine prospects for government aid, since opinions were divided.

It was into this mix that CA&E threw in the towel and offered to put the entire railroad up for sale.

Daley and Gunlock hoped to use this to their advantage.  If the CTA could take over CA&E service, it was thought, this could win over crucial suburban support, resulting in government funding that could help transit in both the city and suburbs.

As we now know, things did not work out this way.

Mayor Daley had a good working relationship with Republican Governor William Stratton.  They tried to help each other out politically by supporting each others projects in their respective “spheres of influence.”

However, while Stratton supported state funding to purchase the CA&E (reported price: $6m), and was willing to exempt the CTA from paying certain taxes and fees, he backed off on additional tax revenues for CTA once it became clear that DuPage and Kane County officials did not support it.

So while Daley, Gunlock, Stratton and even County Board President Dan Ryan Jr. were all on friendly terms in their discussions on this issue, and generally agreed on what to do, in the political climate of 1957, nothing could be done.

Banfield cites four main reasons for this failure to act in time to save the “Roarin’ Elgin,” which I will list in brief:

1. The “country towns”– that part of Cook County which lay outside of Chicago proper– opposed being taxed to support a transportation system which did not serve them directly.

2. Organized highway users were another important class of opponents.  They had been trying for years to establish the principle that gasoline tax receipts should never be used for other than highway purposes.

3. The commuters of Kane and DuPage counites, although favoring measures to keep CA&E running, were very much opposed to paying a tax for that purpose.  Politicians from those counties met with Governor Stratton one evening in the Executive Mansion to tell him that their constituents “just won’t sit still for a tax increase of any kind.”  The state, they said, would be responsible for any suspension of passenger service and, therefore, it should provide any subsidy that might be needed.

The Governor expressed surprise.  He had supposed that continuing CA&E service was a matter of great importance to Kane and DuPage counties.  If it were so important, he said, surely the local people would be willing to contribute one cent a gallon toward it.

CTA supporters had hoped that Kane and DuPage counties’ interest in CA&E would lead them to support a plan for the general improvement of CTA.  It was clear now that this was not the case and that, in fact, if it cost them a few dollars, the western suburbs would not support even that part of the plan which would serve only them.

Some observers believed that the Governor had interested himself in CTA only because he wanted to help the CA&E commuters.  If this was so, his interest would probably now cease since it was apparent that the commuters were not really vitally concerned.

4. Many weekly newspapers in the more than eighty communities into which Chicago was divided opposed any kind of subsidy for CTA.

As a result, these legislative efforts failed.  As a result, the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin was allowed to “temporarily” suspend passenger service at midday on July 3, 1957, stranding thousands of riders downtown, without a way to get home.

This served the short-term purposes of the railroad, the state, and the county, since it allowed quick removal of the CA&E tracks in the vicinity of the DesPlaines river, which was necessary for construction of a vital link in the Congress expressway connecting the city and suburban sections.

Within a short period of weeks, Cook County gave CA&E a check for $1.2m just for this short section of right-of-way between DesPlaines and First Avenues.  Most probably, this amount was inflated to account for the $700k in losses from 1953 to 1957 that CA&E wanted to be reimbursed for.

Legislative efforts resumed in 1959, and again it seemed that CA&E was close to being saved.  The railroad had been kept largely intact, and freight service continued.  CTA anticipated a takeover, and even went so far as to put in a new track connection at the DesPlaines avenue terminal, where CA&E trains would exchange passengers with Congress “A” trains.  You can see pictures of that unused connection here.

The 1961 CTA Annual Report includes an aerial view of the DesPlaines yard, and the completed track connection to what could have been a restored CA&E service is clearly visible– but never used.  With the final abandonment of the railroad in 1961, all this was scrapped and removed, except for a short stretch of right-of-way that now serves CTA as a “tail track” for storing “L” cars.

All reminders of “what might have been.”

Mr. Banfield sums things up on page 271:

In the Transit Authority case, the Mayor, the Governor and the President of the County Board acted as agents of the affected interests in arranging the compromise; they did not try to impose a solution of their own upon these interests, and when the Governor found out that the compromise was not popular with his suburban supporters, he immediately dropped it.

In other words, even these notables could not muster enough “political influence” to save the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin.  Much of the CA&E right-of-way west of Maywood has been preserved as the Illinois Prairie Path.

Fortunately, the lessons learned from its demise helped pave the way for saving the transit system we have today, which would not be possible without your tax dollars and mine.

-David Sadowski

PS- You will also find a very thorough and informative discussion of how McCormick Place came to be in this book.  I recommend it.

Brand-new "flat door" cars 6003-6004 are shown to good advantage at the North Water Terminal in 1950. (Clark Equipment Co. Photo)

Brand-new “flat door” cars 6003-6004 are shown to good advantage at the North Water Terminal in 1950. (Clark Equipment Co. Photo)

In this view, from the 1961 CTA annual Report, we see the western end of the DesPlaines terminal, and the relocated, never used CA&E tracks behind it.

In this view, from the 1961 CTA annual Report, we see the western end of the DesPlaines terminal, and the relocated, never used CA&E tracks behind it.

Looking west from Halsted, CA&E 458 heads up a four car train of postwar units.

Looking west from Halsted, CA&E 458 heads up a four car train of postwar units.

CA&E 318 at Glen Oak on a fantrip. According to Don's Rail Photos, "318 was built by Jewett Car Co in 1914. It had steel sheating and was modernized in 1944. It was sold to Wisconsin Electric Raiway Historical Society in 1962. It was wrecked in transit and the parts were sold to IRM to restore 321."

CA&E 318 at Glen Oak on a fantrip. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “318 was built by Jewett Car Co in 1914. It had steel sheating and was modernized in 1944. It was sold to Wisconsin Electric Raiway Historical Society in 1962. It was wrecked in transit and the parts were sold to IRM to restore 321.”

141 at Batavia Junction. CA&E purchased this car from the North Shore Line in 1946. According to Don's Rail Photos, "141 was built by American Car Co in March 1910, #844, as Chicago &Milwaukee Electric 141. It was rebuilt in 1914 and retired in 1954.

141 at Batavia Junction. CA&E purchased this car from the North Shore Line in 1946. According to Don’s Rail Photos, “141 was built by American Car Co in March 1910, #844, as Chicago &Milwaukee Electric 141. It was rebuilt in 1914 and retired in 1954.”

CA&E 418 in Batavia on March 15, 1952.

CA&E 418 in Batavia on March 15, 1952.

CA&E 318 near Whaton on a Central Electric Railfans' Association fantrip, October 24, 1940.

CA&E 318 near Whaton on a Central Electric Railfans’ Association fantrip, October 24, 1940.

CA&E 425 at Glen Oak on a September 2, 1940 CERA fantrip.

CA&E 425 at Glen Oak on a September 2, 1940 CERA fantrip.

A pass from an early CERA fantrip.

A pass from an early CERA fantrip.

CA&E 460 in Elgin on May 14, 1953. This car is preserved in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum.

CA&E 460 in Elgin on May 14, 1953. This car is preserved in operating condition at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Skokie Swift: The “True Gen”

A Yellow Line train turns back south of Howard, with Red Line trains in the background.

A Yellow Line train turns back south of Howard, with Red Line trains in the background.

The “True Gen,” in military parlance, means genuine, accurate, useful information, the kind you can stake your life on in wartime.  (It’s also the title of my favorite book about Ernest Hemingway.)

Today, we’ll apply that phrase to the Chicago Transit Authority‘s Yellow Line, aka the Skokie Swift.  More than 50 years after service begin in April 1964, there seems to be a bit of confusion about its origins.  Even the Wikipedia page had some misinformation on it, which we corrected.  (That is both the blessing and the curse of the Wikipedia; but if anyone can come up with a better system, I’d like to know what it is.)

We like our history fresh from the source.  So, here are a couple of newspaper articles with the “true gen” on how the Swift came to be.  They set straight a couple of “factoids” that have made the rounds– that CTA supposedly already owned the right-of-way to Skokie Shops (it didn’t) and that the Swift was dependent on receiving federal aid (it wasn’t).

Not that you can take all newspaper reports as gospel, of course.  You always have to consider the source.  But I think that as far as these articles, go, however, we’re on pretty safe ground.  As one of the original riders that first week, I can assure you that the high-speed “spam cans” did make much of the five mile journey at 60 mph, a thrilling ride indeed.

I’ve supplemented this post with some pictures I took last April 26, when the CTA celebrated a half-century of the Swift, none of which have been published before.  I’ve written about the Skokie Swift before on the CERA Members Blog, and you can find some of those posts here and here.  If you like what you see here, you might want to check those out too.

And that’s the True Gen.

-David Sadowski

Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1963, page 12:

HIGH-SPEED CTA SKOKIE TRANSIT ROUTE PLANNED

Use North Shore Strip to Dempster St.

By Thomas Buck

The Chicago transit authority expects to establish a new high speed, nonstop rapid transit service this fall over a five mile stretch of the abandoned North Shore railroad right of way between the Howard street terminal and Dempster street, Skokie.

Plans for the new rapid transit service were announced by George DeMent, chairman of the CTA, and Walter J. McCarter, the transit authority’s general manager.

“We are still negotiating for the purchase of this five mile section of the North Shore right-of-way, and we are hopeful that these negotiations can be completed in time to create this new service this fall,” said DeMent.

May Seek U.S. Grant

In addition to the North Shore railroad, DeMent said, the negotiations also are being carried on with Commonwealth Edison company, which for many years has owned part of the right of way for power line use.

DeMent also indicated the CTA may seek a grant from the federal government for paying two-thirds of the cost of establishing the new route as a “demonstration project.”

McCarter described the proposed new service to Dempster street, Skokie, as an “excellent opportunity to extend rapid transit into suburban areas where large parking facilities also would be provided for ‘park-and-ride’ patrons of the CTA.”

“We would use high speed cars as single car shuttle trains which could operate for much of the nonstop five mile trip at 60 miles an hour,” said McCarter.  “Our plans call for providing at least 600 parking spaces at the Dempster street station.”

The high speed, one-car trains, McCarter estimated, would cover the five mile trip in eight to 10 minutes, compared with 24 to 25 minutes required for the CTA’s present buses between Dempster street and the Howard terminal.  He also explained that the rapid transit service would be operated only in periods of heavy demand and that the buses would continue operating “around the clock.”

Skokie Votes $17,000

DeMent pointed out that Myron Greisdorf, president of Skokie, and other Skokie village board members have “shown their definite interest by voting $17,000 to help establish the new service.”  No estimate was given on the cost of providing the new rapid transit shuttle service…

Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1963, page 4:

CTA APPROVES PURCHASING OF SKOKIE ROUTE

Total Cost Would Be Two Million

By Thomas Buck

The acquisitions of a five mile stretch of the North Shore railroad right-of-way for a new rapid transit train service between the Howard street terminal and Dempster street, Skokie was authorized yesterday by the board of the Chicago transit authority.

The board acted on a recommendation by Walter J. McCarter, CTA general manager, who reported that a price of 2 million dollars had been negotiated with the North Shore railroad.

Would Pay 1.7 Million

Under a purchase agreement, McCarter said, the CTA would pay 1.7 million dollars of the cost.  The remaining $300,000, he said, is to be paid by Commonwealth Edison company in return for converting its easements into perpetual rights for power transmission lines along the property.

In addition, Commonwealth Edison is to pay the CTA a monthly rental of $700 on the easements for an initial period of two years.  The rental payments, McCarter said, would be used to help cover any operating losses that migth be incurred during a two-year experimental period.

Village Must Agree

“We expect to have this new service in operation within two to three months,” said George DeMent, CTA chairman.  “The plan also is contingent upon a pending agreement with the village of Skokie whereby it would provide parking spaces for at least 400 cars at the Dempster street station.”

DeMent said the CTA also expects to file a request for federal government financial assistance to help pay any operating deficit for the first two years as a “demonstration project.”  Under this plan, the federal government would pay two-thirds of operating losses and the CTA one-third.

Meanwhile, McCarter said the CTA will continue to operate its Skokie bus route which makes local stops in the same general area.

DeMent indicated, however, that the CTA would undertake the project on its own in the event the operation is not accepted by the federal government as an experiment.

McCarter explained that single-car trains, without any intermediate stops, would make the five mile trip in 6 1/2 to 7 minutes.  He said the single cars would be operated at 10 minute intervals from early morning until late evening, but that no late night service would be provided.

The CTA already must acquire half of the five-mile stretch, McCarter explained, because of the necessity to maintain tracks to its shops at 3701 W. Oakton st., Skokie.

DeMent also said that the CTA is studying the costs of using the North Shore right-of-way still further north, possibly to Glenview or Northfield.  However, DeMent said that for any further extensions, the suburbs involved would be asked to pay for right-of-way acquisition and necessary equipment, as well as to guarantee the CTA against operating losses.

Joe Stupar writes:

That is interesting but not surprising about Edison paying a portion. At the time of abandonment, Edison had a non-exclusive lease with the North Shore for the tower line there, dated March 8, 1957. Interestingly enough, that lease was not due to expire until December 31, 2008.

Early abandonment forecasts from the North Shore from 1961 were uncertain whether the CTA would purchase any line at all. They mention construction of a new shop facility at Forest Park. However, by 1963 it appears certain they would purchase the line. Three proposals were prepared, purchase from Howard -> East Prairie Rd (2.75 Miles), Howard -> Dempster St (5 Miles), and Howard -> Glenview Rd (7 Miles). The most expensive section of track was from Howard -> East Prairie Rd, with a book value of $3,896,784, and a suggested selling price of $1,500,000. The scrap value of the North Shore was related to book value, replacement cost, and value of physical infrastructure as scrap. As such, with the many bridges (including channel bridge), this was one of the most expensive sections of track. From East Prairie to Dempster had a book value of $776,334 and a suggested asking price of $500,000; from Dempster to Glenview Rd $548,032, and a suggested asking price of $350,000.

I thought I remembered reading somewhere that part of the reason to operate to Dempster St instead of Glenview Rd was due to car miles, and availability of equipment to operate the service. A 1963 estimate lists annual car miles of 127,500 to Dempster St, and 250,000 to Glenayre.

Another interesting fact is an April 1963 fare comparison. CTA was proposing a 55 cent fare Loop to Dempster, or a 70 cent fare Loop to Glenview. This 55/70 compares to 62/75 on the Milw, 69/81 on the CNW, and 78/86 actual North Shore. The CTA did not propose to sell monthly tickets, but it also lists equivalent monthly fares of 45/51 on Milw, 40/47 on CNW, and 52/56 on North Shore.

There is one other advantage to constructing the line to Dempster St vs East Prairie Rd or Glenview Rd as well. Available land for a parking lot. According to Chicago Tribune articles of the time, the village of Skokie paid to construct a large parking lot at Skokie. Even in 1963, there were a lot of houses near the Glenview station and I don’t know if there would have been room for a parking lot. Same with East Prairie Rd.

Interestingly enough, at one point the North Shore seriously considered selling the right of way from Oakton to Lake Bluff to the CNW. They even went so far as to suggest that the CNW may want to purchase the stations and resume passenger service. I thought this seemed kind of far fetched, but I recently stumbled across a Chicago Tribune article from December 63 / January 64 about a proposed CNW restart of service to Skokie, and possibly Glenview / Northbrook.

There is one other factor that hasn’t been mentioned for going to Dempster St. This is a minor detail, but by going to there, they pick up another substation on the line. If they had only purchased up to East Prairie, the whole line would be fed by the Howard end. I’m not sure if the Skokie substation figures into the value of that portion or not.

I also read another letter written to the editor in December of 63. It was a suggestion that the CTA re-open the stations on the line, since otherwise the trains would just be passing all of the potential riders in the dense areas.

The "fantrip" train at the Dempster terminal.

The “fantrip” train at the Dempster terminal.

The 4000s at Dempster.

The 4000s at Dempster.

The special train at Asbury in Evanston.

The special train at Asbury in Evanston.

An eastbound train of 5000s at the Oakton curve.

An eastbound train of 5000s at the Oakton curve.

The 4000s at East Prairie Road.

The 4000s at East Prairie Road.

Southbound at Oakton.

Southbound at Oakton.

Northbound at Oakton.

Northbound at Oakton.

The 4000s pair southbound at Oakton.

The 4000s pair southbound at Oakton.

Southbound at Main.

Southbound at Main.

Northbound at Main.

Northbound at Main.

Westbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Westbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Eastbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Eastbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Eastbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Eastbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Westbound at Ridge in Evanston.

Westbound at Ridge in Evanston.