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  • 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


  • Friday, February 22, 2013 1:32 PM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)
    Artist's rendering, from a 1940 Postcard, showing a BMT Bluebird rapid transit train running in Chicago's subway, then under construction

    Artist’s rendering, from a 1940 Postcard, showing a BMT Bluebird rapid transit train running in Chicago’s subway, then under construction

    In 1938, when FDR’s public works czar Harold Ickes (head of the New Deal agency PWA) decided Chicago would have two subways instead of just one, this presented a bit of a problem. After all, the Chicago Rapid Transit Co. only had 455 (or, depending how you count them, 456) all-steel rapid transit cars- enough to get the State Street tube started, but not enough for Dearborn-Milwaukee as well.

    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 Street. Shopper's Special." (Author's collection)

    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.

    -David Sadowski

    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)

    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)

    Fresh Pond Yard, Queens, April 22, 1956 (Author’s collection)

    A similar scene but in color.

    A similar scene but in color.

    Fresh Pond Yard, April 22, 1956. (Photographer unknown)

    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.

    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

    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.)

    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)

    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 David Sadowski, just prior to their retirement in the early 1980s.

    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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