In a system that changes as much the "L", memories are sometimes the most precious part of the experience. Everyone remembers a different part of the "L", from the old cars with windows that open to riding around the city in the railfans' seat for a under a dollar. Here, riders, crewman and "L" employees have shared their memories with us and asked us to share them with you.
If you have a fond memory of riding, working or seeing the "L", send it to us! Include it in an e-Mail, along with your name, current city of residence, contact information (optional) and express permission to publish it on the internet. See our Contact page for how to email us.
I spent the first six years of my life in Chicago, with our family moving to Cincinnati in late '54. The rest of our relatives were still in Chicago, though, and we made one or two trips back each year.
By the time I was ten or so, I was off riding the "L" by myself on many of those trips back to Chicago. Our neighborhood was on the north side, with my grandparents' house being a block south of Montrose on N. Mozart. I'd walk a couple blocks north and a block over to catch the "L" at Francisco. I seldom rode the coveted front seat, though, preferring to get a window seat. I loved the way the 6000-series cars widened at the window level, so if you put your head against the window and looked down, you saw no fencing, no roadbed, no structure at all, right down to ground level. Especially if the car swayed side-to-side a bit, it seemed like you were flying! I also loved the sharp S curves and switchwork as you approached downtown, or the descent into the subway, dropping between the outside tracks and into the dark. I love railroading of all kinds, but for sheer riding fun, there was nothing like the "L" or the subway!
My grandfather had been a motorman on the CSL, and by the time I was born ('48), he was picking up his pension at a CTA car barn somewhere not far from his N Mozart home, and once, probably around 5 or 6, I went with him. I think we took either a street car or bus to get there, but I don't remember it as being that far away. (Today, I look at the relative distances between my uncle's house and grandpartents house, or their house and Montrose Harbor for instance, and back then, it seemed these locations were many miles away from each other and took forever to get there. But in reality, all those places were probably less than five miles from each other. So why did the car barn seem so close?? Guess I'll never know!)
The barn made an impression, of course, for me to have remembered as much as I have of the trip, and I wish I knew where it had been. All the photos of car barns I've seen appeared to be huge, but for some reason I remember this one as being fairly small--a least, not very many tracks through the building. It seems to me there was a loop of track in front of the building, too (I think it was the front). Usually things seem overly large to a very young child, but I sure don't remember this car barn as being very large.
I was too young at the time to have enough interest to ask my Grandfather about his job, but I sure wish now that I had!
In the last years that we were visiting Chicago, my grandparents had sold their house and moved in with one of my uncles, and they were then near the North Western, so at that point, I was taking those yellow and green commuter trains downtown. A real let-down compared to the fun of riding the "L"!
But before I was forced to ride the North Western, there was a night on a Christmas season trip back to Chicago that really sticks in my mind. (And I'll warn you, this doesn't even involve the "L", but the IC.) We were coming home from somewhere with my aunt and uncle (he was a train nut himself, and gave me an American Flyer train set when I came home from Belmont after having my tonsils out at the age of 3!! What a guy!). We were on an expressway or something -- this was, I'm pretty sure the late '50s. It was pretty late at night, and it seemed we were about the only car on the road. The IC main was running right next to the road, and there was a fairly slow freight we were overtaking, with either an E (if the IC had any Es in freight service) or an F on the point. It was snowing lightly and just starting to stick, so things were getting pretty white all around us. The Mars light (it was this very moment that I first saw a Mars light in action, and had it explained to me by uncle Andy) on the head unit was picking out the falling snow as it cut its figure-8 pattern through the darkness. That was a beautiful sight ( I can still see it in my mind), and I was able to appreciate it even then, being probably around 8 or 9 at the time.
But my real appreciation of Chicago railroading is without a doubt the "L". Haven't been back there for probably close to 40 years, but I'm thinking I need to try and get back there soon--maybe this summer, in fact.
The first day of school I was a bit nervous as you might expect. I got off the bus, descended into the brand new station, and gave the attendant my transfer. From there, I descended again to the platform level. I had done my homework and was familiar with the "A" and "B" train stops and awaited the next "B" train. Belmont was a "B" only stop when it opened. I heard a rumbling coming from the southbound tunnel and suddenly a brand new 2200-series "B" train appeared. I had never seen anything quite like it, I was expecting a 6000-series train. I was very impressed, it was as smooth and quiet as a new car, and it had great pickup! I was to find out later that the 2200s would hit 70 mph when new if given enough room. This was great fun to me, it felt like you were going faster than that, I guess cause the train was so big. I was very disappointed the following day when my "B" train was a 6000-series.
My favorite would be when I'd get an aggressive train operator, we'd be flying through the old subway between Division/Ashland and Grand/Milwaukee with not even a letup at Chicago Ave. The speedometer would be buried at 70 mph and the ride was nice and smooth back then. There was this odd sort of "harmonic" noise in the old subway when a train was going fast, I guess it was something to do with the aerodynamics maybe? On a 6000 with the windows open, it could get pretty loud. I also remember when Clark/Lake was a southbound "time point". If the train was running early, it had to wait for the bell to ring and the green lights to go on before it could proceed.
This daily school trip formed a lifelong interest in the CTA, especially the "L", that is still present, more than 40 years now and counting. And, the 2200s are still my favorites, it will be a sad day for me when they're retired.
Tolo, Argolidas, Greece
My first experience with the Chicago L was in the summer of 1956 when I was nine years old. My father had undergone surgery at Hines Veterans' Hospital near Westchester and I made several trips to visit him with my mother who didn't drive, from the far south side of Chicago. Most of these trips were courtesy of friends or relatives, but on at least two occasions my mother and I rode the Rock Island downtown, and took the Garfield Park L to Forest Park.
Until the early 1950s the Garfield Park, Douglas Park, and Milwaukee Avenue/Humboldt Park L lines all circled the loop and exited the Loop at Van Buren and Wells Streets. The CA&E Interurban line (Chicago, Aurora, & Elgin Railroad) also usedGarfield Park trackage to access downtown and had a four-track stub terminal between Van Buren and Jackson with a direct connection to the Quincy & Wells station. The L curved over Wacker Drive to join this trackage and continue west.
In those days, there was a direct connection between the upper level of LaSalle Street Station and the Loop L. While waiting for the train I can remember putting a penny or two into the peanut machines that were a fixture at practically all L stations. When you turned a knob, a little handful of peanuts came down a chute. At the time I wasn't bothered by the thought of countless strangers reaching their fingers up that chute to get their last few peanuts, but it's not surprising these machines have disappeared.
The Loop totally fascinated me. Until the late 1960s, all trains in the Loop ran counter-clockwise. This meant that if you were making a round trip you eventually passed all four corners of the Loop. As the train screeched around each corner, I was reminded of my Lionel layout and its sharp curves.
In 1956 the Congress St. Expressway, now known as the Eisenhower, was under construction as was the L which presently runs down the median and runs under the loop in the Dearborn Street subway. The new routing is never more than a few blocks from the old line, and at several points the old L structure had to be dismantled in order to build the expressway. About a year before my rides on the Garfield Park, the Van Buren and Wells junction was dismantled and removed because of the construction of lower Wacker Drive and its connection to the expressway. A new junction was created at the site of the now abandoned CA&E station and Garfield Park trains used this junction until the new route was completed in 1958. Incidentally, that junction with the old station platforms and a short stub of track remained in existence until at least the late 1960s and was used to store maintenance cars.
The Garfield Park L line crossed the Chicago River, had a station stop at Canal Street and a direct connection with Union Station (far better than the present Clinton & Congress subway stop) and continued west to an S-curve just east of Halsted Street. There the L curved south, crossed Van Buren Street, and then curved due west for a station stop at Halsted. This was one of the most photographed sites on the L lines in those days. Any book with pictures of the Chicago L lines from the first half of the 20th century or of the CA&E is bound to have at least one picture of the Halsted Street s-curve. Now this area is occupied by the tangle of expressways lovingly known as "the spaghetti bowl".
Beginning at Halsted Street and extending several miles west, I could see the expressway construction and the new -- although rusty -- tracks in the median. I remember my mother telling me that this was where the Garfield L would be running in the future. A few blocks west of Halsted was the part of theGarfield Park that most appealed to my nine-year-old mind but was universally hated by practically everyone else. For the next few miles was another stretch where the L structure had to be dismantled to build the expressway. Temporary trackage was built in a fenced-off area on the south side of Van Buren Street. There were no stations in the three miles between Halsted and Kedzie, but there were also no crossing gates. Instead, at each major street crossing the L stopped for traffic lights. It was this stretch of unusual trackage that caused the CA&E to cut their service back to Forest Park and the ridership losses that ensued caused the abandonment of passenger service in 1957. One argument for this unusual arrangement was that the construction would take just a few years – in practice, it lasted nearly five years.
Marshfield station was located just west of Ashland Avenue and was gone by the time I was riding in the temporary trackage in Van Buren Street. Until 1951, this station was located at the only three-way junction on the Chicago L with the Garfield Park and Aurora & Elgin trains continuing west, the Douglas Park trains turning south, and the Milwaukee Avenue/Humboldt Park trains turning north. When the subway was opened under Dearborn Street and Milwaukee Avenue, the trackage heading north was out of service but continues to exist as far north as Lake Street and is known as the Paulina Connector. During the period of expressway construction, the Douglas Park L was rerouted to leave the loop on the Lake Street line, then was routed south on the Connector across the expressway to connect with its old routing south of Marshfield. The site of the Chicago L's only three-way junction is familiar to anyone who rides the Eisenhower Expressway: at the end of the long ramp where the Douglas Park L line rises out the depressed right-of-way, crosses above Ashland Avenue and curves south to join thePaulina Connector trackage. The temporary routing of the Douglas Park line was resurrected a few years ago to become the "Pink Line" -- the trains once again leave the Loop over Lake Street and use the Connector to get to 54th Avenue.
The temporary street-level trackage used by the Garfield Park L did use third-rail in a busy area of the city, which didn't seem to be much of a concern back then. I remember the right-of-way was fenced, with signs warning "Danger -- Electric Current" and "Electrocution Risk". At the time, I though it meant the fence was electrified and that was the CTA's way of keeping people off the tracks, by frying them. At any rate, the gamble apparently paid off: As far as I know, there were no serious accidents or deaths during the five years of the use of this temporary trackage.
I remember sitting in the front seat on one trip, which means that 6000-series cars were used at that time on the Garfield. I also remember older cars with sliding doors and no front seat, which must have been 4000-series cars as well.
The temporary trackage ended with a long ramp up to the elevated structure near Sacramento Blvd. There the line curved straight south to just south of Harrison Street and then straight west. The line dropped to grade level again just before Laramie Avenue where there was a large yard and a station.
The Garfield Park line ended at Des Plaines Avenue, at the same location the Blue Line trains use now. At one time L service continued west of Des Plaines on the CA&E to Bellwood and then south on two branches to Westchester and to some cemeteries along Roosevelt Road, but these services had been replaced by busses years before.
Until 1954, the trackage between Laramie Avenue and Des Plaines Avenue belonged to the CA&E and ran at grade level. But unlike the temporary trackage in Van Buren Street, crossings all had gates or flashing lights. I also remember sitting in the front seat of a 6000-series car waiting for a Soo Line freight train to clear a crossing in front of us near the end of the line.
The Des Plaines Avenue terminal was very different in those days. The Garfield Park trains went through a loop, stopped at one platform to unload, and then stopped at another platform to load for the return trip to the loop. The CA&E trains had their own loop and shared the same platforms with the L. When we exited or boarded a train, there was usually a CA&E train across the platform. I wanted to ride one, but never got the chance. At the terminal, we boarded a bus that took us the hospital.
In the winter of 1959, I began riding Chicago Ls on my own for fun -- I could ride all over the city for 10 cents. One time I took a friend with me and told him he had to see the line where the L stops for traffic lights. Unfortunately for us -- but fortunately for the rest of the L riding public -- we had to board in the subway and found that the expressway trackage was open. Oddly enough, the CTA advertised that line as a "subway" since the expressway was below grade level.
Although the line was now known as the Congress Line ("A" trains on the West-Northwest Line), it was finished only until Laramie Avenue. At that point the expressway ended and the L entered a tunnel portal (it still does). Upon leaving the tunnel it operated at grade level on what I later learned to be more temporary trackage. The L and the B&O / Soo Line railroad which it paralleled to Des Plaines were moved north in order to dig the hole for the expressway and for the two railroads which now run on its south side. I rode to Austin Avenue several times during 1959 and watched the progress of the construction. The tracks were done and a temporary station built before any work was done on the expressway.
My reason for riding to Austin Avenue was to transfer to a bus to take to the Lake Street L. None of the stations west of Cicero had station agents and fares were collected on the trains. I was a cheap kid and didn't want to pay again. My cheapness did pay off in one respect however – I still have a faded transfer from 1959 for the West-Northwest Line with a time stamp reading "Austin Avenue – Garfield Pk".
I went to Des Plaines Avenue a few times in 1959. By that time the CA&E was no longer running passenger trains and their freight trains ran no farther east than Maywood. Around this time the line was severed by the expressway construction at the Des Plaines River bridge.
I rode to Des Plaines Avenue one more time in what I think was the early spring of 1960. The trackage was now below grade level where it is today although the expressway right-of-way next to it was just a muddy hole. The Des Plaines terminal had been reworked with a single platform with a ticket agent. So a cheap / frugal teenager could finally ride for a single fare.
There is one more thing I remember from my rides in 1959. Just west of the tunnel portal, there was a connection with the old Garfield Park trackage and I remember seeing trains sitting on that track. Since that time I learned that the Garfield Park line was still being used to connect to its old Laramie Avenue yard. While the western portion of the Congress Line was under construction and with major construction at Des Plaines Avenue, there was a shortage of storage space at Des Plaines Avenue and trains were sent back to Laramie Avenue. After the terminal was completed, the yard was demolished.
While riding an L through the loop in what was probably the 1970s or 80s, I saw that the junction at the site of the old CA&E station, the stub of track, and station platforms were all gone. These were, I believe, the last vestiges of the Garfield Park L.
I am currently (July 2010) a bus operator for the C.T.A. and I have always had an infatuation with its history. I grew up in the Woodlawn neighborhood and I remember when the King Dr. station was still wooden. I used to stand on the platform with my grandma and you used to be able to feel the train from blocks away as it approached. At that time (early '80s) what is now referred to as the Green Line was known as the A and B trains. The B train went east into Woodlawn and the A into Englewood. As I've grown up I've seen our rail system go through many a change for the good and the bad. But I'll never forget standing on the platform and wondering where we were gonna be taken next (at that time 8yrs old). Wow what memories!
I remember when I was little my family and I would go out for dinner every Sunday night, and we would always take the "L". We lived up in Ravenswood at the time, and so each excursion would start with a trip on the Ravenswood Shuttle from Montrose to Belmont. Then would be the Red Line, which would take us north, south, or to the Blue Line (which we'd sometimes have to take to get to a restaurant).
I remember the last of the 2400s in the old paint scheme, and I remember being confused about why they "took the black paint off the curvy cars." I remember how disappointed I was when the operators started blocking off the cab section/railfan seats with police tape. I very distinctly remember hoping that our Red Line train would be led by a 2400-series married pair because they (for a reason that now escapes me - maybe seating arrangements?) were better for looking out the front of the train.
I remember the 3200-series cars (or the "Ravenswood cars" as I used to call them) being new when I started taking the "L". I remember seeing the brown roller curtains every morning on my way to school, and the words "Ravenswood B" emblazoned in a bright white.
My very first memory of being on the "L" was the first time I was ever on the Green Line -- and, interestingly enough, the only time I every rode 2000-series cars in revenue service.
While I certainly don't remember it (because I was a baby at the time), I apparently was on the 6000s' Last Day with my dad. I do, however, remember very vividly seeing 6000s at O'Hare in 1997 and 1-50s on Skokie.
Chicago (North Side), Illinois
I first visited Chicago in June 1973 during summer vacation from junior high school. My father worked for the Penn Central as a station employee at New York Penn Station. He got our family tickets to ride train #41 The Broadway Limited from NYP to CHI. We were going to visit my aunt and uncle in SW Chicago who lived near 78th Street and S. Kedzie Avenue.
My uncle worked for the CTA as a motorman -- his name was Frank Klekovich #23182 based out of Ashland Terminal. I was a wide-eyed youngster of 14 that was already a train buff as well as interested in exploring Chicago -- I was born with a good sense of direction and wanted to do things like go to work with my uncle -- his reaction was "NO WAY NO HOW" was I allowed to ride with him on his night shift. I recall he saw the seedy night-side of Chicago on his night runs.
I naturally wanted to explore Chicago so without permission I learned how to ride the CTA. I got city and CTA maps and studied them and I began to travel by CTA. One thing I learned to do was to go out and ride on a single fare -- I was very interested in the CTA center-median lines such as the Dan Ryan line so I would use the 79th Street bus to ride 4 miles east from 79th and Kedzie to access the Rapid Transit there. I would ride around for a time not leaving the paid area of stations and return to the 79th Station to ride west on the bus back. I remember the transfer stamp machines and I would make sure I validated my transfer. I recall that the bus drivers would look at it funny sometimes but always accepted it -- except once where I made the mistake of spindling the transfer to the point which it would not work in the machine. I informed a sympathetic agent at 79th station and she punched the top with her square punch -- circles were bus punches -- to help me. The westbound 79th bus driver did not accept this transfer -- I recall him saying that the transfer was no good and saying "45 cents please". In those days I was living on allowance money and it was a good thing I had a buck or two on me. I probably would have been grounded big time had my aunt found out I was taking trips like this especially among other things.
I was interested in the CTA rail system big time and I explored all the lines over time with the exception of the Jackson Park line from the point where the Englewood line turns west to Jackson Park. People knew right away I was not from Chicago -- I then spoke with my then strong Long Island accent as an example. It seemed to end so fast in '73 -- before I knew it is seemed it was time to go back east to return to school.
I visited Chicago on a regular basis from that point until 1988 and over time as I got older my relatives realized that I was getting to know Chicago well enough to actually allow me to travel around and explore by CTA. I recall that in 1975 after the CTA began selling the Sunday Supertransfer (was that the first day pass used on transit anyplace?) and I began to explore that great collection of neighborhoods that make up Chicago. I learned where to go and where to stay clear of -- I especially learned the unwritten rules of Chicago's racial dividing lines which one needed to adhere to for personal safety. I remember a comment made early on by my uncle "Downtown's a wonderful place -- it is what you have to go though to get there that worries me" that comes to mind. I realized that certain lines went through tough neighborhoods and I learned to be on my guard yet I never had a problem anyplace other than a few looks or stares. I more than once was the only white person on a bus or rail car but I did not let that bother me as I was not out looking for any trouble with anyone.
Thanks to my uncle I learned a lot about the CTA rail system. I recall he worked for some years on a work train assignment and I liked to talk "shop" with him -- he would tell me what and where they were working. As an example, I will mention the 2200-series Budd cars -- they were the newest cars back in '73 but by far the oldest cars now. In the '80s he was working a day run out of Ashland Terminal on the North-South service to Howard. My uncle showed me how to fill out a "Run Card". The Run Card showed my uncle's run number as well as when he was scheduled at strategic stations en route. I carried it with me when I would go out and about in Chicago so I knew where his train was so we could meet up if we could. I knew my uncle did not mind me riding his train -- he was proud that I was seeing him doing his job.
He retired in 1986 and then died suddenly of lung failure in January 1988. My aunt died later that year of heart failure, making 1988 a sad year for me where Chicago is concerned. I visited Chicago briefly in 1990 to visit friends there and not again until September 2000 when I returned again to visit friends I was able to purchase a Day Pass and explore Chicago for a long day. I went back to the old neighborhood via the Metra SouthWest Service. Then, after looking at much change in the old neighborhood, I then rode the #52a bus to the Midway Line to ride it for the first time. I covered CTA well on that day, riding the Skokie Swift for the first time also. As I mentioned, the only CTA line I have not been on is the Jackson Park spur, today a fraction of what it used to be. I never got used to the color names -- I personally dislike them -- and I can't help wonder what my uncle would have thought of names like the Pink Line, with his old-school way of thinking. In closing, I realize things do change but you never forget memories like these from your younger days.
I would like to dedicate my CTA memories written in memory of Mr.& Mrs. Frank & Rose Klekovich and also to their son Frank Jr. (1949-2006) who passed away suddenly in November 2006. Frank Jr. was a 20-year+ employee at the EMD LaGrange locomotive plant.
I was on the SEPTA fan trip Wednesday December 27, 2006 (see www.subchat.com for details). As the Rte. 100 train pulled out of 69th St. heading for Norristown, we passed the yards on the left of the train. There they were, sitting on a siding, a pair of 6000-series cars that the CTA sold to SEPTA probably in the early 80's. I don't know their original numbers, but they had to have been below 6200 because they had straight doors.
The cars weren't in bad shape, but obviously long out of revenue service. It was a nice surprise for a former Chicagoan, now living in NY, visiting Philadelphia!
Growing up near 59th & State (19 East 60th Street) on the Englewood side in the late 70's (State had been demolished by the time I was old enough to remember a stop there), I would always look out my front window and see the L zipping past, and I would always wonder what happened to it once it was out out of window sight: my 5-year old mind would imagine it falling over just beyond the edge of the window.
I also liked boarding the Englewood at 59th & Wentworth when my grandmother moved to 58th & Princeton (5764) in the mid 80's. I would be walking east down 59th on my way to the platform, and with the Dan Ryan Expressway right there, I had an uninterrupted view of the L (Englewood, not Dan Ryan, by the way) all the way down to 63rd Street where it turned to the Harvard stop (I had no idea there was once a stop between the two at 61st & Princeton 'til my uncle told me a while back, which was verified through this site). The second I would see the Englewood L (some were still the green & whites) make the turn heading toward Wentworth, I would break into a mad dash like my butt was on fire and run all the way across the 59th overpass, across Wentworth, dodging traffic coming off the Ryan while watching the L getting ever so close at the same time. Just as I would reach the Wentworth lobby, the L would be just about at the curve above the expressway. With one motion, I would pay the ticket agent (yeah, they still had 'em), race through the turnstile, and up the stairs, hearing the L pulling up to the platform. Just as the doors would open, I would race in (Carl Lewis wins again!!!). Most of the time, I made, a handful, not. I would usually head to the rear car after catching my breath of course, and enjoy the ride, usually downtown or up north (where the Englewood used to go), or even switching over to Jackson Park at Garfield (58th after rush hours) for a quick ride to University.
Wentworth (and a lot of my other favorite stops, like Harvard and 61st) are since long gone, a victim of cutbacks, although from my own eyes, quite a few people got on & off at Wentworth, especially during rush hour to catch the 59th Street bus (maybe it wasn't enough).
I grew up on the South Side, in Englewood (6612 S. Aberdeen); the Racine station was an essential fixture for as far back as I can remember.
I used to LOVE the railfan seat on the 6000s, and usually GOT it as a kid... since the train had just pulled out of the Loomis terminal, there wasn't a whole lot of competition for it ahead of me.
I well remember the trains blasting through the closed Parnell station platform at full throttle it seemed; for a lot of years the platform was used as a storage point for track hardware, crossties, etc. For some reason you could ALWAYS tell when you went thru Parnell, even without looking out of the windows; the track at the station seemed SMOOTHER than the rest of the line, and the train sort of hummed as it went past the station.
There was another closed station on that stretch; just north of Harvard was the platform of the old Princeton station, just before the curve that went to the Wentworth stop.
Occasionally, I rode 4000s on the Englewood line... that whining grinding when they pulled out of a station was COOL! That sound and vibration was what STILL says "subway" to me, loud and clear! I mourned the loss of that sound when they retired the 4000s.
The last time I saw a 4000 was years later when I had a 2nd shift job that put me in the subway at 2am every morning. A yellow painted 4000 work motor, hauling a flat car & 4000 trailer, came grumbling thru the tunnel northbound.
The tower where Englewood joined the main line along with the Jackson Park line was a big treat... sometimes, I could get the tower operator to wave back at me! :o)
Indiana Avenue was interesting... back then there was a pedestrian bridge over the tracks, and the Stockyard Line was still in operation. I was aware of the Kenwood line tracks and structure, but I'm not sure if it was still in operation.
Speaking of abandoned lines... riding in cars down Marquette Road (67th street) I was always fascinated by the "L" tracks that spanned the street. I don't remember EVER seeing a train on it; I guess the line was a goner by that time. I must have been 7 or 8 when it was torn down. I'd never ridden it, but I was sorry to see that little spur line go. I always wondered WHY the CTA never extended it to the south beyond 69th street.
The BEST part of the ride was the descent into the subway portal... slowly sinking between the outer two tracks, always filled with parked North Shore Lines trains, and passing an odd little switch tower that extended over them. North Shore was ANOTHER line that I wanted to ride, but was never able to.
Then... the sudden plunge into the darkness of the tunnel, rushing along at high speed... and the thunder of slamming over the switches of a crossover maybe a quarter mile inside!
That crossover always piqued my curiosity. If you looked out into the tunnel, at the crossover you could see a THIRD track that appeared between the two main line tracks, which went south into ANOTHER tunnel, which angled downward! To this day I wonder exactly where that tunnel went!
In high school, I hung with a bunch of electronics nuts and ham radio operators. One day a small bunch of us went down to Newark Electronics on West Madison, so one of us could buy a Simpson 260 multimeter. I shudder to think of it now, but when we went into the subway one of us mentioned that he'd heard that the third rail was carrying 600 volts DC. With the new meter, we decided to PROVE it! Three of us hopped off of the platform, one holding the meter, and one each holding the meter probes, and measured the voltage between the third rail and a running rail!
Yep, it's 600 VDC all right! It's a wonder we weren't ALL electrocuted, or incinerated by a huge flash! I suppose the Almighty looks after fools and stupid teenagers!
Much later... after high school, I had a part time job in Evanston. I got exposed for the first time to the North side division. It was a completely different animal than the south side that I knew so well. I used to LOVE standing on the Howard platform in rainy weather, waiting for the Evanston train... when it was wet, it was a hoot to watch trains coming up from the yards, because there was one particular switch where the trains ALL struck a spark as the shoe left it. There was a LOUD hum as a bright blue arc, sometimes 2 or 3 feet long, snaked between the shoe and the end of the third rail!
The Evanston line was fun! At the time I rode it, only part of the line had a 3rd rail. I remember at one point (Linden Street?) the conductor would open the back door and raise the trolley pole so we could continue our trip.
The CTA often had it's own floor shows for the edification of bored riders. Quite often in the stretch between Indiana Avenue and 51st Street, rush hour commuters were treated to the exhortations of a wannabe preacher, wandering up and down the length of the car, waiving his Bible as he preached!
My father used to ride the line daily when I was a kid, headed to and from work up on Rush Street. One night, Dad was later than usual getting home. When he came in, he had a HUGE bandage on the side of his head! It seems that just before the Wentworth stop, somebody threw a HALF BRICK at the train, and it happened to catch HIS window as he was reading his Sun-Times! The conductor held the train at Wentworth until the cops showed up (backing up the rest of the line for 30 - 45 minutes; Chicago cops in the 1950s took their own sweet time getting there), they took a statement and hauled Dad to the hospital. It took about a half dozen stitches to close the wound in his scalp, and though the process stretched out for almost a year CTA refused to pay his medical costs.
I haven't been on the El in maybe 20 years now... next time I get to Chicago I think I need to take a ride on the subway, just for old time's sake.
I spent my first 21 years in the 50s and 60s in Logan Square. The Logan Square "L" terminal was always the hub of neighborhood activity.
When you walked to catch a train to the "loop" you never had to wait out in the cold because a train was always waiting for you. It didn't matter if it was an "A" or "B" train, because you were almost always going to Washington, Monroe or Jackson, AB stations.
The "terminal" was like the "gateway" to the Northwest side because several bus lines stopped outside the station, I usually took the Lawndale bus to go south on Kimball.
The Terminal restaurant was always a good place to find a "cop" if you needed one. You could buy a Sun Times "hot off the press" at 2:00am with last night's baseball or hockey scores at the news stand. My parents used to love to get ribs from Eddies Open Pit Bar BQ restaurant across Linden Place from the "Terminal."
During afternoon "rush hour", it was fun to watch the pretty Chicago girls coming down the stairs on their way home from their "downtown" jobs. I knew I could always meet my high school sweetheart there, no cell phones, coming home from her after school job.
It was, of course, never the same again when the Logan Square "L" went subterranean on its way to Jefferson Park and the "Terminal" disappeared forever.
In the 1940's, I grew up with the Westchester Branch of the L, and its 17th Avenue Station. My father at that time took it down to the Loop each day to work. And I would ride it on occasion when my aunt and I went downtown. I remember the station with its coal stove and it had a small paper stand that sold newspapers and candy, etc. The station also had a light board that would light up and ring when an eastbound train would approach. The westbound platform did not have a station building. Also remember the Chicago Aurora and Elgin RR. ran trains thru this station but did not stop, recall they may have stopped at the 5th Avenue station.
Another thought, that at this period of time the CA&E ran freight service to be transferred to the railway at Desplaines Ave., and when the freight trains could come thru, the locomotive and freight cars were wider than the standard L or CA&E cars and this required a trainman, riding at the front of the locomotive and with a bailing hook, to hook and turn back a 2x12 which was hinged to the station platform to allow clearance for the wider following cars , and also another trainman at the rear end of the caboose had the job to hook and pulled back the hinged platform boards into their down position.
My final memory of the Westchester Branch was the money car. On each day in early evening, a single L car would come to 17th Avenue, probably starting out at 22nd Street terminal and then stop at each station, then two men would get out of the car, enter the station and return with the days receipts from the station agent, then the car would continue up the line finally ending at a small platform at the Insurance Exchange across from the Well Street Station of the CA&E. I may be wornt with the discharge point, but that has been quite a few years ago.
Later, still in the early 40's, we moved to Cicero and then used the Douglas Park Line which at that time operated the open ended cars, and between each pair of cars required a conductor between the first pair and an additional gateman between the remaining pairs in order to operate the manual gates. Starting and stopping of the train originated by the rear gate man pulling the bell cord twice and the next gateman would repeat, up the line until the signal reached the motorman by bell. Twice for start and one for stop, sometimes the green gateman would foul up by only signally once that would delay the start until the problem was straightened out. One pull as the train started up would result in the train come to an emergency stop.
Last thought, that at the stations at Central and Loomis and guess also at others there were small lunch rooms that sold bulk candy in large jars, just to tempt the kids!!
I ride the Orange Line everyday and I know I will never forget the view of all of the downtown buildings. You see this wonderful sight when you are leaving from Roosevelt to Halsted, and it also during the time when the Orange Line goes on its separate track. During the day or at nighttime the buildings perfectly lined up that, it looks so great.
Quite some time ago I wrote about riding just about every L in the city of Chicago on one Sunday using a supertransfer and accomplishing the feat in six hours. I also mentioned a sandwich shop in San Diego that sells Chicago style hot dogs (regular, jumbo, fire), Maxwell St. Polish Dogs and Italian Beef (Chicago on a Bun). The owner of the shop lived in the same apartment complex as the late Fahey Flynn.
I was born in Evanston in 1957. One thing I do remember about the 4000-series cars on the Evanston line is that the drive motors were much more audible than those on the 6000-series cars. I also rode the 6000/1-50 series cars in their green and cream color scheme with the orange stripe and the dark green and white scheme. Before Evanston went to third rail power, one night I was at the Main St station and this one teenage kid (who did not want to bother going downstairs), after exclaiming "Here comes the L" and waiting for it to pass, jumped down the platform and crossed the tracks to the other platform. One could see the sparks at night on the overhead wire at South Blvd when the train transitioned from third rail power to overhead wires. During spring break in 1975, there was a freak snowstorm. My mom and I got caught in Techny and had to wait about 45 minutes for a Nortran bus. Then when we got to Davis St station, we spent about what seemed like an hour on the L platform because the snow on the tracks was about 8 inches thick. In 1976, when I was riding downtown on the Evanston Express, I noticed something I thought odd at the time (but is not so uncommon now since a lot of the Sixties hippies are old men) and that was an old man in a business suit wearing a ponytail.
I also remember going to a Cubs game one fine Sunday afternoon in 1975 with my mom and my two brothers. You would think it was people going to a rock concert the way people were cramming into them. Then, because the Sunday trains had only four cars, we were packed in like sardines all the way to Howard St.
Also, at that time, Evanston was still dry, so one would have to jump on the L down to Howard St. to buy beer and the like.
My fondest memory actually involves the incident on February 21, 1993, when a newly reconfigured Howard-Dan Ryan Red Line southbound train collided with a stalled southbound train in the connector tunnel just south of 14th Street between Roosevelt and Chinatown. As fate would have it, I was on the train that rammed the stalled train, even though I haven't told anyone 'til now. I wasn't hurt, though, because I was positioned in the last car; it was a six-car train, if I'm not mistaken. That's an accident I'll never forget.
I grew up in Chicago and lived on the north side until I left for college in 1986.
I remember the old folding-door cars, and how you could tell the folks who weren't thinking by their habit of leaning up against the inward-opening doors, even as the train stopped at a station. During rush-hour congestion, you learned the politeness of getting off the train to let out people before getting on again.
Of course, my favorite seat was the single one at the front of the train. Even in standing-room only conditions, you could almost always get to stand by the door in front. And the biggest lesson was that a crowded, eight-car train was usually only crowded in the middle; waiting at the ends of the platform so you could board the first or last car always meant elbow room, and often meant a seat.
This worked against me one evening when I was heading home from high school (I attended the Latin School of Chicago, using the Clark & Division subway station, but lived only a block away from the Loyola L stop in Rogers Park). As I was in the act of stepping onto the car, two police officers accosted me and wanted to ask me a few questions. As my train left, I stood on the platform and submitted to an interview -- evidently someone had reported "a man in a black coat" urinating on the tracks! I would never have considered such an activity to be safe; in any case, the police left me alone after a bit. Unfortunately, the next train took over half-an-hour to arrive, so I was quite late by the time I got home.
Delayed trains were always a possibility. Most regular riders probably remember announcements that their train would go express to a particular station, and if you know the route you could get quite a time savings.
One Saturday, a classmate of mine and I were due for a Saturday rehearsal at school. We both took the L, and in this case decided to take the same one. But around Wilson, we were informed that this train would go express to a stop beyond our subway stop; we figured we could easily catch the next train back.
Upon arrival at the subway stop, the next train northbound did arrive...only to announce that it was going express to a station back in the daylight! It took a while for the next train to arrive, so we called our teacher and informed her of the situation.
The daily trips on the L for high school exposed me to a lot. I learned the color codes for the A and B trains from the front lights. I learned the signal colors that indicated stop, go, and which route a turnout was set for. And one memorable occasion, approaching the Wilson station over that long stretch, the operator was chatting with me through his open door (I'm sure that violated a couple of rules) and explained how the control worked, demonstrating the coasting if he released the handle, and showing how it accelerated at different rates based on the setting. He also had me hold the handle down for a few second to see how much effort it took (definitely against some rule!).
I remember the transfer system in place somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s: You bought it, and it was good anywhere on the system for a set period of time (three hours, maybe?). This changed to a zone-based system that was more confusing, but by then I'd purchased a monthly pass and didn't have to worry about it. In fact, I didn't learn to drive until I was in college, because I was able to get wherever I needed to go using the L and the buses.
(Related note: I recall the electrically-powered buses with their own catenary cables over the streets, with the double-trolley-poles. But that's more of a childhood memory, from sometime in the early 1970s.)
I have a vague recollection of taking an older train with sliding doors -- in fact, the windows over the pockets for the doors could not be opened -- sometime when I was a child. There's a reference to this on your site, looks like a special history train in July, 1975. I wish you had more information on this.
On my way to school, I'd often wonder about the strange platform arrangement at Wilson, especially that one track off on the west, which looked like it used to go down to grade level there by the cemetary and Harry S Truman college. Thanks to your site, I was able to get more information about this location.
I remember the Evanston trains needing to raise a trolley pole in order to continue north of Howard. This always made the cars feel like a trolley, especially with the special layout for the fare collection.
The tunnel transitions were always memorable -- going from the L to below ground, and exiting again later. The newer subways had more interesting areas, I think.
Thanks for this wonderful site, and keep it going!
I'm 27. I was born in Chicago, and we lived in Forest Park until I was 9 years old. We moved to California in the summer of 1987. Even though I was very young when we moved, the El or "L" trains were a big part of my life. I lived at 7508 West Madison Avenue, just a short walk from the station on Des Plaines Blvd. My mom was a teacher (and is still teaching here in California), so we often took trips to downtown Chicago for meetings, to go shopping, etc.
I've always been a major railroad buff as far back as I can remember. When my mom picked me up from school, I'd always want to stop and watch the freight trains on the tracks near a candy factory. We used to take Amtrak to visit relatives in St. Louis. I was always around trains, one way or another. So I was always excited anytime I knew we would be taking a trip on the El train. I would even tell all my friends at school that I was going to get to ride on the El that afternoon! As a 7, 8, and 9 year-old, it really was the highlight of my day. I can't tell you anything about the type of cars we were on, other than they had those red and blue stripes that I will never forget. I didn't know what a third-rail was, but I knew that the El was a train, and that was enough to make me happy. I couldn't tell you the names or history of the lines, but to this day I remember the stops...Cicero, Austin-Lombard, Kedzie. I remember how fast the trains were, that it seemed like the ride was over and we were in Chicago just a little too soon. I remember on the way home how they would annouce "Forest Park...end of the line, end of the line." I remember when we got back home at the Forest Park Desplaines station, seeing all the El trains parked near a large building at the end of the track. I had no concept of what a "yard" was at that time...but I just knew I always saw those trains parked there. When I walked back home with my parents, I would always just look back up at the platform and ask them "When can we go again?" There was no bus terminal at the Forest Park station when I left in 1987. I never saw any buses there. It was only those really cool electric silver, red, and blue trains.
I've been back to visit Chicago on a couple of very brief trips a few years ago...but unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to ride any El trains. I haven't been on the L in over 18 years. I miss Chicago...I miss the snow and the El.
I grew up in Englewood at 63rd and Stewart (just west of the Dan Ryan). I remember the 4000s running past my house in the early 1960s, but they had been taken off the North South line by the time I started riding. Our apartment was at the second story level about 150 feet north of the tracks. So on warm evenings we could easily watch trains from our back porch. While attending the brand new Walter Reed Elementary school on South Stewart, most of my classrooms where on the second and third floors of the building, 75 to 100 feet south of the tracks. As a result, I learned to identify cars by the profile of their trucks and car bodies. The configuration of rooftop air vents, conductor positions, headlight placement and underfloor equipment placement allowed me to easily identify cars 6271-72, 6471-72, 6721-22 and of course 6059-60 and 6101-02. (A skill I never used on my resume)
Many were the days I'd ask to go outside and play, only to go straight to the Harvard station and ride the trains. I loved riding after school during rush hours when all the cars were in service. I'd ride west to Loomis Terminal where I could get the coveted "railfan" seat opposite the motorman's cab. I quickly learned the car numbers by line assignment, station names, switch and section break locations, signal aspects and even some technical details about car operation. Each Fall the North-South line would borrow 10 cars from the West-Northwest line, easily identified by their trucks and window guards. They would return to the West-Northwest line in late December or early January. I remember the removal of safety springs and their eyelets from every car in the fleet. (Which car series never had safety springs?). I remember the first North-South 6000s to receive the alpine white/mint green paint scheme and the first of the 6200-series cars to be converted from "paddle" to "toboggan" shoes. And I also remember the testing of the 2200-series cars on the line prior to the Lake Dan Ryan's opening.
One hot summer day, I rode to the Ashland terminal at about 4pm. I changed trains heading for the "railfan" seat and happened to look back into the car to see all the way through the train to the last car. Every train door except the front and rear doors were open. I went instead to the last car where I sat in the last seat against the motorman's cab and watched the 8-car train snake one car at a time through the route from Ashland to Jackson, where of course the rush-hour crowd boarded and began closing doors. There were many evenings of riding with the windows open, enjoying the cool breezes flowing through the car. When the 2400-series cars were put in service, the difference in acceleration over the 6000s was like night and day. The 6000s would gradually accelerate as they cleared Harvard station and passed my house heading West. The 2400s cleared Harvard and took off in sustained acceleration. What a show of power.
I rode the Lake-Dan Ryan on its opening day in 1969, where we received first-day rider trinkets and maps. The trains rode smooth and fast; 15 to 20 minutes, 95th to Downtown! The 2000s in there green and white livery shone like new money and the new 2200-series cars had their quiet doors, shiny fluted sides and roofs and roomy interior. During the blizzard of '79, it was surreal to see and ride 6000s on the Dan Ryan. They looked so out of place as I'd always thought of the Dan Ryan as a high speed line. The North-South had high speed cars in the 2400s but the 2200 looked odd in service, having never been assigned.
Also, I remember:
As a railfan, I never rode the PCC High Performance cars 1 through 4 and 6127 through 6130. The latter not only were High Performance cars but also had fluorescent lighting. I'd always wanted to see first hand how fluorescent lights look inside a PCC car.
During the so-called Blizzard of 1979, "L" service had finally been restored and service was sporadic from Evanston, where I was living, to Lincoln Park, where I had a client. I got on a Howard - Jackson Park and had no problems going southbound towards Fullerton until we got to the eastern curve going into Sheridan and Irving Park. The train stopped right at the curve, awaiting a switching problem at the Clark Street junction to be resolved. I gazed out the window and saw a bunch of pigeons at the small park at the "L" curve in front of the cemetery wall and remarked how well they survived the subzero weather that followed the snowstorm. I went back to my book and about 20 minutes later the conductor made an announcement saying the train would be back in service in a few minutes. I looked up and out the window and saw those pigeons once again.
Then I realized they hadn't moved in 20 minutes. They were frozen solid, rooted to the spot.
A couple hours later I was back on the "L" headed up towards Evanston and I made a point of getting a window seat that would allow a view of that spot. Yep, the birds were still there. As they were the following day.
I grew up in the 1950s in Albany Park, at the corner of Sunnyside and Kimball. For me, the Kimball/Lawrence Ravenswood terminal was my own personal set of electric trains and that instilled within me a lifelong love for the "L" system. That neighborhood, of course, has changed considerably in the past half-century -- the Cooper and Cooper greasy spoon is long gone, as is the Terminal movie theater, the Purity Deli, and the notorious traffic cop who would completely lose it whenever somebody made an illegal turn from Kimball to the "L" terminal, which seemed to happen about every 10 minutes. But the line is stronger than ever today, as it nears its 100th birthday. I was there for the 90th birthday celebration, and I hope to be there in 2007. I just might even forgive the CTA® for tearing down that wonderful Arthur U. Gerber terminal!
During the 1970's "Great Snow" I was living in Evanston and teaching in a school at Madison and State Street in Chicago.
At the time of the snow it was announced that most CTA "L" lines were out of service, especially those that ran on the solid elevated and surface tracks that ran from Linden on the Evanston line to Wilson on the "Main Line".
I called the school to confirm that classes were to be held and then called CTA who advised that "...irregular service to downtown Chicago ..." was offered from Howard Street.
Since I then lived at Mulford and Asbury in Evanston, I hiked to Howard Street, optimistically paid my fare and climbed the stairs to the southbound platform. Sitting there was a four car train of 6000-series cars with the doors open. After a while there was an announcement that the train was leaving and would make all stops.
The doors finally closed and we slowly moved out of the station and switched to the inner, local tracks. The train made a station stop at Jarvis and then pulled out heading for the Loop. Suddenly we ground to a halt.
I was sitting at the window at the east side of the train, looking at an apartment complex that adjoined the elevated right of way. After a few minutes a young lady came to her window in one of the apartments. She gazed at the train and then disappeared, reappearing shortly at her window, carrying a large puppet. She then proceeded to put on a silent, puppet show for the stranded passengers. A few moments later she was joined by two young men, each carrying a puppet. The trio then played to their captive audience until a whistle from the train announced our imminent departure. The young woman then ran from the window, shortly reappearing carrying a hand lettered sign that read "GOODBYE!".
That was a real Chicago moment and I certainly won't forget it. I wonder to this day who those wonderful people were and also how many people on that stranded train that day shared the experience.
PS-When I got down to the school, they had canceled my class.