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?
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.
Artist’s rendering, from a 1940 Postcard, showing a BMT Bluebird rapid transit train running in Chicago’s subway, then under construction
Circa 1940 postcard: “Cut-away view of Chicago’s subway in the Central Business District. Shown are the main tubes; the downtown center platform, which is 3500 feet long; the two-way escalators to the mezzanines with store connections; and the State St. surface level. Features of the subway are ventilation, illumination, escalators, safety, comfort.” The Bluebird-type subway car is a “State St. Shopper’s Special.” (Author’s collection)
Ickes had overruled Chicago Mayor (and political rival) Ed Kelly’s 1937 plan for two east-west downtown streetcar subways for a revival of the Dearborn-Milwaukee plan, which dated back to the 1920s. Ickes solved the problem of what to connect this second subway with by routing it to the west in the median of the Congress expressway. You can trace the origins of that highway back to the 1909 Burnham Plan, but more as a boulevard, since there were no cars then capable of driving highway speeds. Kelly had wanted many of the west side “Ls” to be converted into New York-style elevated highways with buses running on them, except for the Garfield line, which would have been saved. Instead, the opposite happened. Garfield was transformed into the Congress line and the other “Ls” were kept.
The Illinois Commerce Commission ordered CRT to obtain 1000 new modern steel subway-L cars in 1939 by any means necessary, but the bankrupt private operator had no funds to do much more than to make a full-scale car mockup. As a backup plan, Ickes had the subways engineered so they could have been operated by bus. The newest L cars were the 4000-series, the last of which was built in the early 1920s by defunct Cincinnati Car Company. Where to get new inspiration from?
New York’s BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) had a new three-section articulated car under development- commonly called the “Bluebird” but officially “Compartment Cars,” the first PCC rapid transit cars. Top speed was only 42mph but with rapid acceleration. BMT expected to use them as fast locals that could keep up with older, slower cars used in express service. Chicago was certainly impressed, showing Bluebirds as they would look running in the subways once finished. Newsreel footage of the Bluebird prototype made it into the promotional film “Streamlining Chicago” (http://vimeo.com/30568829) and the Bluebirds were the obvious inspiration for the first 5000-series L/subway cars here, built in 1947-48. (Not to be confused with the current 5000-series cars with AC propulsion and transverse seats.)
But like the 5000s, New York’s Bluebirds had a somewhat disappointing career. BMT had ordered 50 Bluebirds from Clark Equipment Company, supplier of PCC parts, but the City of New York took over the BMT in 1940 and immediately tried to cancel the contract. (BMT had intended to use them on many elevated lines that the city decided to tear down anyway.) Clark had completed five sets and NY had to take these. This meant only six sets in all, if you include the prototype that never had couplers installed.
The Bluebirds, as oddball equipment, lived out their service lives on the BMT Canarsie Line and the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, before being scrapped in 1956. Chicago’s four experimental 5000s had a somewhat similar fate, being relegated to occasional use before finally being assigned to the Skokie Swift in the mid-1960s. Chicago did not open the Dearborn-Milwaukee subway until 1951, and then only after receiving the initial order of 6000s, which were very much more successful cars than the Bluebirds or the 5000s ever were.
Tribute to the BMT Bluebird
A 3-section “Bluebird” at left in 1956, just prior to scrapping, with a Budd 5-section prototype from 1934-5 awaiting a similar fate (R. E. Jackson photo)
Fresh Pond Yard, Queens, April 22, 1956 (Author’s collection)
A similar scene but in color.
Fresh Pond Yard, April 22, 1956. (Photographer unknown)
A fanciful 1944 view of Chicago’s new State Street subway, patterned after a famous 1943 photograph, but showing a BMT-style “Bluebird” in red.
BMT “Bluebird” prototype at the Clark factory, 1939
February 7, 1939 – Press release from Cal Byoir and Assoc.: “Trucking” in Rubber. Trucks which carry new BMT subway cars, work on which is being rushed at Battle Creek in preparation for New York debut in March, are result of six years scientific research. Rubber “sandwiches,” which support steel tires or wheels, and rubber springs were produced in B. F. Goodrich Company research laboratories. Other features of car, which telescopes full quarter-century in rapid transit industry, include streamlined aluminum body, green mohair seats, plate mirrors and air-conditioning. Workmen are shown making field inspection at preview. (Editor’s note: These cars did not have air conditioning, but they did have forced air ventilation. This picture (by an unknown photographer) was taken at the Clark Equipment Co. plant.)
CRT/CTA 5004, shown here in 63rd St. Lower Yard, on a 1963 CERA fantrip (Author’s collection)
The “other” Bluebird PCC rapid transit cars- Cleveland’s, built in the mid-1950s, are shown here in this photograph by the Author, just prior to their retirement in the early 1980s.
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