Central Electric 
Railfans' Association

  • Saturday, March 09, 2013 12:40 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    While half the 91-year-old Wells Street bridge over the Chicago River is being replaced this week, railfans have a rare opportunity to ride the CTA Brown Line (formerly Ravenswood) “L” trains in the State Street subway. This is the first time Brown Line trains have run in the 70-year-old subway on anything like a regular basis.CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle at Lake and LaSalle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line Loop shuttle at Lake and LaSalle, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train in the State Street Subway, March 8, 2013

    Subway-bound CTA Brown Line train, southbound at Fullerton, March 8, 2013

    Subway-bound CTA Brown Line train, southbound at Fullerton, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line subway trains passing each other at Armitage, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line subway trains passing each other at Armitage, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train turning back at Merchandise Mart, March 8, 2013

    CTA Brown Line train turning back at Merchandise Mart, March 8, 2013

    Wells St. bridge replacement work, March 8, 2013

    Wells St. bridge replacement work, March 8, 2013


    When I rode the trains earlier today, looking for some photo opportunities, everything seemed to be running smoothly, with riders taking things in stride. With the bridge out temporarily, one out of every three Brown Line trains terminates at the Merchandise Mart, while the other two run through the Red Line subway. Meanwhile, to help move people around on the Loop “L”, they’ve revived the old Loop Shuttle train. Brown Line riders in the subway can go as far south as Roosevelt Road, although the trains turn back further south of there.

    Brown Line trains are all back on the regular route by Fullerton and points north, but the subway trains have to skip Armitage, since it is past the crossover, and very close to the portal.

    The CTA dovetailed some track work north and south of the bridge to coincide with the project, making the Mart station a literal one-track operation. The other track has been removed and is in the midst of being replaced. A bumper post is there to keep trains from getting too close to the bridge.

    This rerouting also requires unusual signage. The Loop Shuttle has one of those old-fashioned metal hanging signs, the kind that used to say “Ball Game Today,” or “Last Stop River Road.”

    Southbound Brown Lines that go through the subway are signed for Roosevelt. The new 5000s are not being used for this service, in part because the electronic signage supposedly cannot be reprogrammed, but also because there are still operators who have not yet been trained to run these cars.

    Fears that the roof boards on some 3400s might have clearance problems turned out to be groundless. Those cars were the last to be equipped with overhead current “pan trolleys” in Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) service, but that line was completely converted to third-rail operation some years back.

    Yes, a train of the 1-50 PCC single car units had its trolley poles ripped off in 1994, because of clearance problems, but this had to do with work being done by a contractor, and not an issue with the subway itself. So far, it appears to be smooth sailing in the State Street subway, but those rails must be pretty warm, being used at a much higher capacity than is typical. But years ago, those trains ran on some very tight headways indeed, often one train every two minutes or less.

    The current diversion is merely Round 1, with Round 2 coming up in April when the other half of the Wells St. bridge gets the same treatment.

    Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, they have their own bridge problem, on the SEPTA Norristown High-Speed Line. The underwater supports for the Schuylkill River bridge leading to the Norristown terminal have deteriorated and need replacement. At present, funds are not available to do the work, and SEPTA announced last December that it would close the bridge, perhaps indefinitely, once warm weather returns.

    I hope to be in Philadelphia on May 5 for a Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys fantrip on the SEPTA Media and Sharon Hill trolley lines, celebrating 100 years of service. I’m hoping the bridge will still be in use then, in spite of global warming, for one last ride to Norristown.

    But I have a message for Philadelphia… take a look at what we can do in Chicago. Find the money somehow, and fix that bridge!

    -David Sadowski

    P&W "Bullet" car #200 on the Norristown High-Speed Line, in a picture probably taken in the late 1950s (Author's collection)

    P&W “Bullet” car #200 on the Norristown High-Speed Line, in a picture probably taken in the late 1950s (Author’s collection)


  • Friday, March 08, 2013 12:43 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    In a recent blog post (“Trolley Sparks” Revisited, Feb. 24), we discussed some of CERA’s earliest publications. Trolley Sparks was originally a newsletter (today we would call it a “fanzine”) started by the late Barney Neuberger in 1944. The following year, it came under the CERA umbrella, where it had its own numbering system for a time, and was eventually continued as part of the numbered bulletin system that continues today.

    Today, even the CERA completists don’t seem to be able to account for every issue of Trolley Sparks. Ray DeGroote, who joined the organization more than 60 years ago, doesn’t have copies of every issue. He wasn’t sure if all the supposed 11 pre-CERA issues were even published. Well, now we have evidence that suggests they were.

    A copy of Trolley Sparks #11 has turned up, dated June 1945. This would be the final issue Barney Neuberger put out himself, before it became an official CERA publication. The first CERA issue was T-12, from July 1945, just a month after this one. We have scanned the entire four-page publication, and you can read it for yourself, by downloading a 2mb PDF file you will find at the end of this article.

    As Ray explains it, Trolley Sparks had shorter articles in it than some of our early Bulletins. The Bulletins eventually grew like Topsy and evolved into our acclaimed series of books. Along the way, the Trolley Sparks banner fell by the wayside, but we are in the process of bringing it back.

    As part of our “Diamond Jubilee” celebration for this, our 75th anniversary year, we are working on Trolley Sparks Special #1. Not only will it pay tribute to CERA’s “founding fathers,” so to speak, it will include complete lists of all our publications and fantrips, plus much more. A “special,” in railroad parlance, is an extra train, and this Trolley Sparks special will be an extra book, not counted as part of our regular annual book entitlement for our members. I am sure it will be very reasonably priced.

    Trolley Sparks #11, although not an official CERA tome, does include information about the organization as it was in 1945. There is a nice review of the April 27, 1945 meeting, held only about two weeks after FDR died, and just before the end of WWII in Europe. The late lamented Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban was featured. There is a blurb about upcoming CERA publications.

    The history of the old Chicago Harvard & Geneva Lake interurban, which ran from 1899 to 1930, is covered. The heyday of the “Interurban Era” (as the late William D. Middleton called it) was brief and reached a peak right around WWI. It was the “high tech” of its day, and often a very speculative business.

    One interesting tidbit in the article is how some of the power for this line was generated by equipment originally used by the Intramural Railway at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This was an early predecessor of the sort of “L” system we have today, powered by third rail current. The original Chicago “L” system, which was not connected with the Intramural operation, used steam-powered locomotives.

    Finally, there are pictures of some O-scale models built by James H. Richards of Philadelphia. Today, you can see some of his handiwork on display at the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, PA.

    All in all, a very interesting slice of early railfan history!

    -David Sadowski
    TrolleySparks11

    Trolley Sparks #11, June 1945 (front cover)

    Trolley Sparks #11, June 1945 (front cover)



  • Thursday, March 07, 2013 12:47 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    From time to time, we come across old pictures that are hard to identify, and this is one of them. It’s obviously trolley freight, which has somewhat the look of just having been abandoned, possibly, although the wire is still up, and usually that’s the first to go.


    ???? (From Author's collection)

    ???? (From Author’s collection)


    So, what is it? If you have an idea, let us know, either by using the “comment” button, or contacting us directly at: cerablog1@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    -David Sadowski


  • Wednesday, March 06, 2013 12:52 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    Time was when you could look out the front window, or the back window, of the train you were riding on, and could often get a fantastic view such as we see here. But times changed. The fabled Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Electroliners were gone from these tracks less than five years after this photo was taken. They then ran for another dozen years or so on Philadelphia’s “Red Arrow” line to Norristown, but are now relegated to museums.

    Railfan seats are also a distant memory on CTA rapid transit cars, victims of full-width cabs and one-man operation. But we can still dream, thanks to yesterday’s railfans, who so faithfully and lovingly documented fleeting scenes like this one.

    -David Sadowski

    A train of CTA 6000s, as seen from a CNS&M Electroliner, looking north at Howard St., in a photograph by Lawrence H. Boehning, taken on May 8, 1958 (Author's collection).

    A train of CTA 6000s, as seen from a CNS&M Electroliner, looking north at Howard St., in a photograph by Lawrence H. Boehning, taken on May 8, 1958 (Author’s collection).



  • Sunday, March 03, 2013 12:55 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    With this, we inaugurate a new feature, a “photo of the day.” To get things started, here is a shot of brand-new Philadelphia Suburban “Brilliner” #1 at the end of the Sharon Hill line on August 24, 1941. (Photo from the Author’s Collection.)

    Brilliner1941

    The Brilliner was the “last gasp” of venerated Philadelphia railcar builder J. G. Brill, once the largest producer of streetcars and interurbans in the US. It was an attempt to produce a modern streetcar much like the PCC, but without paying any royalties for the use of its patents. The effort was not very successful, as only a few orders came in. Besides the 10 built for Red Arrow, there were 24 Brilliners sold to Atlantic City, three to Philadelphia, and one each to Cincinnati and Baltimore- nothing like the success of the PCC.

    Unable to compete in the railcar business any longer, Brill merged with American Car and Foundry (ACF) in 1944 to create ACF-Brill, and continued to manufacture both motor and trolley buses for another decade. They ceased using the Brill name in 1956.

    This is an interesting photo, since it was taken by the official photographer for Lehigh Valley Transit Co., which used the Red Arrow’s Norristown line for 14 miles of its 56 mile Liberty Bell Limited route between Philadelphia and Allentown. LVT was not in a position to buy new railcars in 1941 and their last used purchase (made that same year) was car #55 from the nearly defunct Indiana Railroad. With some assistance from Brill employees (either working as consultants or possibly moonlighting) LVT reconfigured car #55 into the venerable #1030, which is preserved today at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine.

    So, while LVT was not going to buy any Brilliners, there was a business relationship with Brill, at least to some extent, and they naturally would have been interested in seeing the new Brill product.

    The Brilliners were fairly successful in Red Arrow service and continued in use until 1982. Some have been saved in museums.

    You can read more about the Red Arrow in CERA Bulletin 140. Pig & Whistle: The Story of the Philadelphia & Western Railway by Ronald DeGraw can be purchased through our web site here.b140_p&w

    -David Sadowski

    Brilliner #8, now in SEPTA colors, nears the end of service in this August 16, 1981 view on the Media trolley line by Elwood C. McEllroy (Author's collection)

    Brilliner #8, now in SEPTA colors, nears the end of service in this August 16, 1981 view on the Media trolley line by Elwood C. McEllroy (Author’s collection)



  • Friday, March 01, 2013 1:01 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    As CERA celebrates its 75th anniversary, we can look back on a long, rich history of inspection trips on electric railways all over the United States, and even some in foreign lands.

    Years ago, people liked putting things into scrapbooks, and I recently purchased a railfan’s old scrapbook from the early 1960s on eBay. Just about everything and anything comes up for sale eventually, and chances are the original scrapbook owner is no longer with us, but his mementos fortunately remain

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    scan347                                scan349


    Among them, I found a CERA fantrip brochure and ticket from 1964, nearly 50 years old. This was a trip on the South Shore Line using freight equipment. I did not find photos from the trip in the scrapbook, but I do have other South shore pictures from that general time period (1963-65), and I have included a few at the end of this post.

    The fantrip took place a year after the North Shore Line quit, and about two years after what remained of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin was finally scrapped. So railfans naturally turned their attention in 1964 to the South Shore, Chicago’s last remaining interurban.

    There has been an ongoing debate for a long time whether it is America’s last interurban. Some people would put the Red Arrow lines, currently operated by SEPTA, into that category. These include the Media and Sharon Hill trolleys and the Norristown High-Speed Line. None of these approach the 90 mile length of the South Shore, however.

    Is BART, which runs between San Francisco, Oakland, and many other places, an interurban? The PATCO line between Philadelphia and Lindenwold, NJ also has some characteristics of an “interurban,” which is a somewhat fuzzy concept to begin with, and no precise definition has been forthcoming. But the bulk of ridership on all such lines today is made up of commuters, and this includes the South Shore. But the line, under the operation of NICTD, still runs service between Michigan City and the outskirts of South Bend, along a single track right-of-way that still reflects its long interurban heritage. And a small amount of street running remains in Michigan City.

    Gone are the days when you could flag down a South Shore train by holding up a burning newspaper. The classic 1920s South Shore railcars are long gone as well, replaced by more modern equipment in 1983. But for those of a certain age, the memories linger… along with the memorabilia, movies, and photographs of times now past. Many of the old South Shore trains are preserved in various railway museums around the country. They may not run as fast as they once did between Chicago and South Bend, but they are still worth a ride.

    -David Sadowski

    The Old South Shore (America's Last Classic Interurban Railway)

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  • Monday, February 25, 2013 1:11 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    Long-time CERA member and author Bruce Moffat will present a PowerPoint slide program about the history of what is known today as the southern half of CTA’s Green Line. Originally opened in 1892 by the Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit Railroad Company, and commonly referred to as the Alley “L”, Chicago’s first elevated railway soon was expanded to a system having 5 branches that went through many changes over the years, including through routing of trains with the North Side lines in 1913 and the opening of the State Street Subway in 1943.

    Bruce Moffat

    Bruce Moffat

    Mr. Moffat is the author of Forty Feet Below – The Story of Chicago’s Freight TunnelsThe Chicago Tunnel Story: Exploring the Railroad “Forty Feet Below” (CERA B-135), and The “L”: The Development of Chicago’s Rapid Transit System, 1888-1932 (CERA B-131).

    Friday, March 22, 2013
    1900 hrs / 7:00pm
    University Center
    525 S State St, Chicago, IL 60605
    Admission is free.


  • Sunday, February 24, 2013 1:14 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    I bought a clock a few years ago that supposedly came from a New York elevated station, and although there is no way to tell other than a resemblance to old photos, it pleases me to think this is so.

    $T2eC16FHJGYE9nooiKhuBRGu7QDcug~~60_57$(KGrHqR,!i4FE!iGcSRJBRGtqyyJY!~~60_57

    In a similar vein, last week, two pieces of stained glass that may be remnants of Manhattan’s old Third Avenue El sold for about $200 on eBay. Naturally, it’s hard to say for sure that’s where they came from, but they look exactly like stained glass shown in color photos of Third Avenue El stations. The seller says they came from a New York City resale shop. All this brought many things to mind.

    Looking rather Marilyn Monroe-ish, a young woman checks her hair at a Third Avenue El station in the 1950s. (Photograph by Lothar Stelter)

    Looking rather Marilyn Monroe-ish, a young woman checks her hair at a Third Avenue El station in the 1950s. (Photograph by Lothar Stelter)

    These beautiful artifacts are at odds with the popular notion that the El “blighted” areas it ran in such as the Bowery. In the 1930s, popular New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia campaigned against the three Manhattan Els, which ran on 3rd, 6th, and 9th Avenues. The Third Avenue line, which had begun operation in 1878, was the last to go and the final runs in Manhattan took place on May 12, 1955.

    Shortly before service was discontinued, Joseph Cornell, a famous surrealist artist best known for his “shadow boxes” commissioned experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage to shoot some 16mm color footage of the El, which was edited into The Wonder Ring. Cornell was not satisfied with the result, and so re-edited and “improved” it by reversing the film from left-to-right, and this version is called Gnir Rednow, which you can see here:

    Joseph Cornell - Gnir. Rednow. 1955

    There are fleeting glimpses of just the same kind of stained glass as sold on eBay. The surrealistic effect you see while looking out the window is caused by the old, wavy glass. Cornell was, if anything, nostalgic. Watching the film, we view the past through wavy glass that both enhances and distorts our view. My Dad used to say he wanted to “look at the world through rose-colored glasses.” Perhaps I would like to see it through Third Avenue el stained glass instead.

    History abounds in ironies. The beauty of the glass and the images that remain ask us to reconsider whether the El was really as ugly and blighted as history would like us to think. I’m sure there was a lot of truth to the popular notion of The Bowery as the ultimate “Skid Row,” but somehow I have to wonder if tearing down the El was truly necessary to revitalize the neighborhood, especially when that made it much harder to get around.

    There are other ironies. Most people today probably do not realize that New York still has more elevated trackage than Chicago does- it’s just that none of it is in Manhattan. Likewise, it’s also not commonly known that parts of the Third Avenue El continued in use until 1973, only in the Bronx.

    Meanwhile, I’ll bet there are many people who live and work in Manhattan who wish there still was a Third Avenue El to take. They’ve been waiting for the promised Second Avenue subway to materialize for about 80 years now. I’m sure it will get finished one of these decades.

    We lived through some of this in Chicago. For 40 years, from 1939 to 1979, it was the City’s official policy to seek the eradication of the Loop elevated. Fortunately, it was saved from the wrecking ball and is still a Chicago icon. There doesn’t seem to be much blight underneath it in the Loop these days, despite how many people used to say that the darkness underneath the L would breed crime. And you can still take it to get from point A to point B, unlike New York’s Third Avenue El.

    -David Sadowski

    Read more here: http://urbanomnibus.net/2012/03/by-the-el-3rd-avenue-and-its-el-at-mid-century/

    Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945)

    Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945)


    The Bowery At Night, by William Sonntag (1895)

    The Bowery At Night, by William Sonntag (1895)


    The last run of the Third Avenue El in the Bronx, April 28, 1973 (author's collection)

    The last run of the Third Avenue El in the Bronx, April 28, 1973 (author’s collection)

    Charles L. Goeller: Third Avenue, 1934 (Photo credit: cliff1066™ / Foter.com / CC BY)

    Charles L. Goeller: Third Avenue, 1934 (Photo credit: cliff1066™ / Foter.com / CC BY)



  • Sunday, February 24, 2013 11:27 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    The question sometimes comes up of whether anyone has a complete collection of CERA bulletins. Yes, Virginia, there are at least two that we know of. The organization has a complete set, kept in a safe deposit box, and one of older members has another.

    But here’s where things get a bit more complicated. What constitutes a complete set? To date, we have published 145 bulletins, the latest being Transit In the Triangle volume 1. But there were also publications under the heading of “Trolley Sparks,” that did not get counted as bulletins.

    Trolley Sparks from June 1947, aka CERA bulletin #71, with a cover shot of a Dallas double-end PCC car. Eventually these cars wound up in Boston.

    Trolley Sparks from June 1947, aka CERA bulletin #71, with a cover shot of a Dallas double-end PCC car. Eventually these cars wound up in Boston.


    One of our members asks, “I am trying to complete a collection of CERA/Troley Sparks publications and I was wonder if issues: 1944 Aug #1, Dec #5, 1945-Jan #6, Feb #7, and Mar #8 were ever published?”

    Here is the reply from longtime member Ray DeGroote:

    There has always been confusion over the term “Trolley Sparks” in conjunction with CERA Bulletins. It is my understanding that Barney Neuberger, as his own publication, issued news sheets titled “Trolley Sparks” starting around 1944. Then he must have joined with George Krambles, a good friend of his, to publish items under the CERA name but still calling some issues “Trolley Sparks” until the name drops out and “Bulletins” is used exclusively.

    An official list of CERA publications dated 1951 shows Trolley Sparks listed with T numbers. The first one is T-12 of July 1945, followed by T-13 in August, T-14 in September, T-15 in October, and T-16 in November. B-62 is issued in November and B-63 in December.

    Then for December, 1945 there is T-2-1 followed by T-2-3 through T-2-8 each month through July, 1946. Then comes B-64 in August, followed by T-2-9,10 Aug-Sep. (one combined issue). Numbering resumes with T-2-11 for October and T-2-12 for November which also has B-65.

    T-3-1 shows for Dec. 1946 and T-3-2 for Jan. 1947. After that there are no more issues showing a T, just B for Bulletins, the first being 66 and continuing up to today’s B-145.

    There is no short answer to the gentleman’s question. My guess is that Barney Neuberger did issue something with numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (maybe also 9 and 10) but I have never seen any of them. Unfortunately most of the older members who might know the answer are gone.

    So, there are issues of Trolley Sparks that were not put out by CERA, and there are others that were put out by CERA, with more than one numbering system. Finally, there were issues of Trolley Sparks that were numbered as bulletins. Trolley Sparks included shorter bits of news, rather than the more in-depth approach of our usual bulletins.

    With our 75th anniversary this year, CERA will put out a special publication to commemorate this. This book, which will not count as the yearly membership entitlement, will go out under the heading of Trolley Sparks #1, in tribute to the rich history of our early publications. More information will follow as details become available.

    -David Sadowski

    The July 1947 issue of Trolley Sparks, aka CERA Bulletin #72, shows Illinois Terminal car #103 in limited service between Alton and St. Louis.

    The July 1947 issue of Trolley Sparks, aka CERA Bulletin #72, shows Illinois Terminal car #103 in limited service between Alton and St. Louis.


  • Friday, February 22, 2013 1:37 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

    CERA celebrated the North Shore Line at our January program, 50 years after the last trains ran between Chicago and Milwaukee on that fateful frigid day. An overflow crowd was treated to a special professionally done feature-length video presentation prepared just for us by CERA Director Jeff Wien, with the assistance of Bradley Criss. This amazing video took us from Milwaukee to Chicago along the Skokie Valley Route, with side trips along the Mundelein Branch and Shore Line. As the North Shore Line ran into Chicago over the “L” system, there was a lot of CTA equipment in the mix too.

    As an added bonus, we even got to see substantial footage of the Electroliners in their “second life,” reincarnated as Liberty Liners from 1964-76 on the “Red Arrow” Norristown High-Speed Line in Philadelphia’s suburbs. (The idea may have been to bring back a bit of the deluxe service formerly operated in these parts by the fabled Lehigh Valley Transit’s “Liberty Bell Limited,” which had quit in 1951.) The Liners were a bit hamstrung on the 14-mile-long P&W and could not really open up to 90 mph as they were once free to on CNS&M, but at least the two sets were eventually saved in museums- and they can both now run.

    The presentation included 20 minutes of vintage North Shore audio, taken from a 1961 LP, painstakingly synchronized to film footage by Bradley Criss, who explained to me that this was a week’s work all by itself. Too often we fail to realize how much hard work goes into some of these programs. Many people said this was one of the finest railfan programs they have ever seen.

    While there are no plans to make this video available commercially, it was an experience that we will long remember as a just and fitting tribute to a fondly remembered high-speed, high-class electric interurban railroad. The phrase that comes to mind is, “you had to be there,” if you were lucky enough to actually ride the North Shore Line, or were here in Chicago for the January CERA program. An excellent time was had by all.

    The only thing that could have improved the evening would have been a juicy Electroburger, fried by 600 volts DC… but what do you want, egg in your beer?

    liner1942

    Our picture* shows one of the two Electroliners on the “L” in 1942. Fellow CERA Director John Marton has pointed out that this early view (the Liners were only one year old at the time) shows the original nameplate, which was a decal, and not the raised metal lettering that soon replaced it.

    -David Sadowski

    *Author’s collection


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