Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at June 12, 1962

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune on June 12 of 1962. . .

(Google image)
This is kind of a sad, nostalgic piece of news for me because back in the early 1960’s, when my father was stationed at Fort Sheridan on Chicago’s North Shore, I could, at the age of ten or eleven, see and hear the trains of the Chicago, Milwaukee and North Shore Line scurrying up and down the tracks just to the west of the Army base.  I never rode one.

I’ve often wished that I had.

Anyway, on this date in 1962 The Tribune reported that the Illinois Commerce Commission and the North Shore Commuters Association had joined together in a suit in Federal District Court to stop abandonment of the North Shore line, scheduled for June 22.

As the line rapidly approached the end of its days, it still carried 12,000 riders each week between Chicago and Milwaukee.  But it was losing a thousand dollars a day, and the Interstate Commerce Commission had authorized the discontinuation of service unless a buyer with $6,235,000, the cost of the property and salvageable material on the line, could be found.

The Attorney General of Illinois, William G. Clark, filed the suit contesting the abandonment of the line, arguing that the North Shore Line was an interurban railway that did not come under the abandonment powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

North Shore Line's Roosevelt Road Shops, 1930's (Google image)
The railway’s history is one that is intimately entwined with Chicago.  It began as the Bluff City Electric Street Railway Company when its charter was approved by the Waukegan City Council.  In the charter it was made clear, as the name of the line clearly states, that the line was to be propelled by electricity.  The language of the agreement with Waukegan was quite specific, even specifying that the poles carrying the electric wires “shall not in any way interfere with any shade tree upon any street, or lot, in said city, and no shade tree shall be cut or injured in the erection of said poles or wires . . .”

By 1897 trackage ran between Waukegan and Lake Bluff and on May 12, 1898 the line was renamed The Chiago and Milwaukee Electric Line.  In that same year the line was extended another 13 miles and reached Highland Park.  Although the railway only had four cars, there was good money behind its operation . . . one of the owners was George Ball, the guy who lent 200 bucks to his nephews, Frank C. and Edmund B., who used the dough to start the Ball Glass Works, producer of the Ball Jar.

North Shore Line Station at Adams & Wabash (Heindlen)
By 1899 ten the line ran all the way to Evanston, and as the new century began the line had 43 miles of track, 54 cars and carried two million passenger a year.  Five years later a branch of the line was extended all the way to what is the town of Mundelein today.  That same year the railway crossed the Wisconsin state line with service to Kenosha.  Travel between Evanston and Kenosha took about five hours and cost the rider $1.25.

Finally, on October 31, 1908 service all the way to Milwaukee was instituted.  The 73-mile route handled hourly trains, travelling one way between Evanston and Milwaukee in two hours and 45 minutes. 

Inevitably, when you’re thinking about electricity in the early days, Samuel Insull comes aboard.  In a complicated business transaction Mr. Insull combined a Milwaukee interurban with the North Shore line and created the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad.  The deal wa completed in May  of 1916 at a cost to Mr. Insull of $4,550,000.

In the next year Mr. Insull spent over a million dollars on improvements to the road.  All of the road crossings from Evanston to Waukegan were equipped with some type of protection.  The money was well spent . . . within a year business doubled with 1.7 million riders using the line in 1917 with a gross revenue of 2.9 million dollars in 1918.

North Shore Line Electroliner at the Illinois Railroad Museum (Google image)
In 1919 the North Shore Line entered into an agreement with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway as well as the Northwestern elevated line to run trains over the Milwaukee line from Wilmette to Irving Park Boulevard in Chicago.  On August 6, 1919 the North Shore became a true interurban, running trains as far south in Chicago as Roosevelt Road.

By the mid-1920’s the line was operating 160 daily trains, including 44 daily limited trains between Chicago and Milwaukee.  By 1923 ridership had reached almost seven million passengers per year, and the line generated 16 million dollars per year.  In 1925 dining cars on the line served 79,000 meals.

That same year the new Skokie Valley cut-off was begun.  Fifteen hundred workers labored on the new right of way, which ran 23 miles from Dempster Street to Libertyville.  Although it was over two miles longer than the eastern main line, faster speeds made it the quicker route.  In a year’s time 18 miles of double-tracked railway were built at a cost of $6,400,000.  As a result, the line carried 19.5 million passengers.

With the 1930’s the troubles began.  In 1931 the line lost $750,000 despite the fact that the American Electric Railway Association named in the fastest electric interurban in the country.  In September of 1931 8020 trains on the line arrived on schedule, a 99.26% on-time average.

North Shore Line on Loop trackage, 1958 (Google image)
In 1932 losses approached $1.7 million for the year and Samuel Insull, himself under tremendous financial strain, resigned his board membership.  The line went into receivership as things went from bad to worse.  A strike idled the line for 51 days in 1938.  As a direct result of the work stoppage many workers transferred their membership from the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway, and Motor Coach Employees’ Union to other railroad unions with dire consequences.

On the first of February of 1942, because of the different union affiliations of employees on the North Shore,  members of the Amalgamated announced that they would no longer permit North Shore Line trains to run over Chicago’s elevated tracks.  Trains headed south on the eastern route were stopped at Lincoln Avenue in Wilmette, and Skokie Valley route trains were stopped at Howard Street in Evanston.  It wasn’t until 1953 that trains on the line were allowed to enter Chicago, but, of course, the damage had been done.

Also in 1953 the North Shore Line was acquired by the Susquehanna Corporation, a holding company incorporated in Delaware.  Almost immediately a petition to abandon the line was filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission.   In June of 1958, February of 1961 and January of 1962 the North Shore asked the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Illinois Commerce Commission and local Wisconsin authorities for total abandonment, citing the fact that the line had lost over four million dollars during the previous decade.

On May 18, 1962 the Interstate Commerce Commission granted the request.  The Chicago Transit Authority purchased five miles of track, from Dempster to Howard.  And that was it.  At 2:50 a.m. on January 21, 1963 the last southbound train pulled into Chicago’s Roosevelt Road station.  Five minutes later the last North Shore train pulled into the Milwaukee terminal.

North Shore Line Highwood Administration Offices (J. J. Sendlemaier)
Sometime in 1967 as a high school sophomore I watched from my bedroom window in my family’s home on the far north end of Highland Park as the night sky was lit up with the flames of part of the Highwood property of the old North Shore burning to the ground.  Five years later my new bride and I had our wedding reception in the brand new hotel that was built on part of that property.  And time moved on.

The history of the North Shore Line used herein is taken from the beautifully researched history of the interurban railroad in Laura Hedien’s comprehensive website, http://www.northshoreline.com.


Billthebrown said...

Jim, I have very distant memories of riding on the line. But my time exploring the rail yard with abandoned cars and engines on the corner of Sheridan and Washington in Highwood is much clearer. Thank you for the scholarship and memories.

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