I have many memories of the "L." Most of them are about the old Howard line. One that none of your other writers have touched on is "Baseball Signs." The Addison station, of course, is adjacent to Wrigley Field, home of the beloved Cubs. Addison was a "B" station. On the days the Cubs were playing, the Howard-Englewood "A" trains would also stop there. In the late '50s and early '60s the North-South service was all 6000-series cars. (Everyone I knew called them "subway cars" to contrast with the 4000-series, which we called "L" cars. And we really believed that the pastel colors of the 6000-series were chosen to look good in the dimmer light of the subway.)
Anyway, on the days of baseball games, the Howard trains carried a dash sign on the end of the train under the left side window. It announced that the Cubs were playing that day, and that "A" trains would stop at Addison. At Howard St. on the southbound platform, there was a little kiosk at the south end of the platform. There was a chalkboard there, and on ball game days, a hand written sign that reminded the crews to "carry baseball signs to-day."
Since the 1-50s, 4000s, and 5000s had four marker lights, the north side suburban lines took advantage of them in the 1950s and 1960s. Evanston Express trains carried lunar white lights on top, red lights on the bottom. Evanston Shuttles carried four red lights (made changing ends easy), and Skokie Swifts carried two red over two amber. The Swifts frequently ended up with red over amber on the aft end as well. A Swift ride was a very short ride--only about seven minutes. With its high speeds, rapid accelerations, old unused stations, and roller-coaster approach to Howard Street, a seat in the railfan seat was exciting!
One Saturday morning in 1964, I was on a Swift that broke down, dramatically, within visual distance of Howard Street. There was a muffled explosion and a puff of orange smoke from under the car, then the emergency brakes clamped on and the car screeched to a halt. We waited about 30 minutes until a widowed 4000 car that had been downgraded into maintenance duty came and backed down the slope from Howard Street and towed us back up the hill to the station.
The first ten years of my life, my family and I lived around 2800W (California) and 1800N (Cortland). My recollection of those years were walking to the N.E. corner of Humboldt Park to get on the "L" at California or taking the red streetcars to Western and Armitage to catch the "L" on the Logan Square Line. Possessing videos of that era on the "L" brought back many memories.
Though too young to remember where or why we were going, I vividly remember being with my brothers (9 & 10 yrs older) standing on the outside platforms in between cars of the old Mets. Too, is the memory of cold and snow on those rides! Then I remember taking the street car east on Fullerton to the Howard Route. As many of you have already mentioned, for us as young boys there was no greater thrill than being able to stand in the doorway of the lead car of the 4000s and especially when leaving Armitage for the North portal of the State Street Subway and then having the sound and wind as you looked out the open window of the door. That was music to a young boys emotions! That's probably why so many like riding motorcycles!
Another recollection was pretending being the motorman on the old red streetcars as one stood on the rear platform where the controls were accessible for the reverse direction. Too, I used to pretend I was a conductor because we had a hole punch and always had plenty of old white transfers. I have a wonderful video that I recommend on the history of Chicago transportation entitled: "90 Years of Chicago Traction" distributed through Interurban Press or Pentrax for $20.00. I encourage any that are really into this web sight to obtain it.
For my early teen years, the family moved farther north to Crawford (Pulaski) and Lawrence. We lived on the second floor of a two story that had an open balcony facing right on Pulaski. I spent hours watching red streetcars, Green Hornets, and finally the removal of the tracks and watching and riding three different kinds of twin trolley buses. We had an attic where my brothers and I slept and I remember having made cardboard trolley buses and making electric lines out of string tied to all kinds of furniture.
These being the early fifties, we would board the "L" at the end of the line at Lawrence and Kimball and riding the 6000s to the Loop and elsewhere.
Then during my high school years we moved up to Glenview and Dad worked for Combined Ins. Co. in the city and in the summer of my Junior year I worked in the mail room. The way we got there was driving to Dempster and boarding the CNS&M all the way to Wilson. I loved those days on the North Shore! A few times during the summer we would change at Howard to board a 6000 for Addison and go to the Cubs game or catching a Lake transfer to Chicago Stadium to watch the BlackHawks.
During those days too, my Grandmother, Uncle, and Aunt lived in Oak Park and I remember two things about the Lake Route. Traveling at ground level along the viaduct towards the end of the line and when the expressway was being built having to ride the detour. All great memories for me.
Well, after 21 years in Chicago, I left there for where I am now in warm sunny California. I've been back three or four times and each time I took a day to ride the "L". The last time was '94 and I was able to cover the Yellow, Purple, Red, and Brown Line routes. My memories of that are all the graffiti everywhere on the Purple Line. I never expected that! That's something I thought was only on the South side and in the inner city. The other thing was riding a 2200 and being really turned off by what I consider tasteless design and comfort. I remember talking to the motorman as he left his door open as we traveled down the Dan Ryan he agreeing with me on the quality. Also he said the rock throwing off the overpasses was a real problem. I don't know what it is like now but I think I would feel a whole lot less secure riding the system today! Although I probably will not be able to turn down the rare opportunity to do it all over again.
During the late 40s and 50s, many Chicago area college students earned tuition monies working for the CTA Rapid Transit Division. I was employed as a Loop platform guard for the AM and PM rush hours. We attended classes between shifts weekdays and usually worked an eight hour shift on Saturday especially during the Christmas shopping season. From 1948 thru summer 1951, I was assigned to the elevated loop platforms at either State & Van Buren or Randolph & Wabash. Our responsibilities included answering riders questions about train destinations, announcing incoming trains, assisting conductors closing car doors, reporting personal injuries or unusual behavior to the Police, and generally assisting train riders reach their destinations in a safe and orderly way. We were members of the Amalgamated Street Railway Workers Union and paid approximately $2.50 per hour for eight hours on the job even though we actually worked six hours each day.
The Lake, Garfield, Douglas Park and Logan Square trains traveled the Inner Loop. The Evanston Express, Ravenswood and North Shore Line used the Outer Loop tracks. I recall looking across the tracks when the North Shore Electroliner would roll into Randolph & Wabash at dusk on its way to Milwaukee. I would watch passengers ordering dinner from their menus in the well appointed dining car. The PM rush hour crowded the platforms with riders hurrying home from work or shopping. The riders were friendly and most orderly. We met many attractive women our age who rode the elevated back and forth to work in the Loop. Our Supervisors were no nonsense veterans who wore dark blue uniforms and military style caps with the words "L" Lines stitched in white above the visor. We wore the standard Rapid Transit crown cap with the CTA flying wing badge above the visor.
Occasionally we worked the Loop subway platforms on the North-South Howard-Englewood line. The work was cooler down there in the summer. The Dearborn Subway opened in '51 as I recall and we were sometimes assigned to those Loop stations but the ridership was sparse in those days. I earned all college tuition and expenses working for the CTA. I graduated from Loyola University in June '51 and worked for the CTA until fall '51 when I was drafted into the US Navy. The CTA student employment program provided great experience for dealing with the public and then the military and business later in life. The Public was demanding but fair with Service Employees like us. If you were impartial and honest and communicated accurately the public was responsive and pleasant. We were taught to remain calm and think quickly according to procedures in emergency situations. All these experiences were gained while working as a CTA Loop platform guard. A never to be forgotten experience.
My earliest memories of the "L" date from when I was around 4 years old. At the time, we lived in Evanston on Sherman Avenue (near St. Francis Hospital), and on Saturdays we would board the "L" at South Blvd. to go shopping in downtown Chicago. I remember the stairwell to the platform, which was dark, damp, and had a strong urine smell. I remember the cemetery which the trains would pass shortly before descending underground. I remember riding "shotgun" in the single seat at the front of the train. And I remember the decals which were applied underneath the (openable!) windows, which originally said:
Being of that young and scatological age, I took particular delight in the handiwork of some clever individual(s) who had scratched away strategic portions of some of those decals, resulting in the admonition:
I also remember the gawdawful screeching of wheel upon rail as the cars rounded the curves, especially the big curve surrounding the Howard St. yard; that sound was piercing and could be heard for blocks. Just northwest of the Howard yard (on the other side of the "L" and C&NW tracks) was a park where I used to play. There I was often treated to the CTA Steel Symphony.
One Sunday, when I was about 9, I somehow got separated from my parents during a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (probably due to a refusal on my part to come when called ;-). After searching for them for a while, I gave up and started back towards home on my own. Having no real concept of the distance involved (some 22 miles), my first bright idea was to walk; I knew that all I needed to do was follow Lake Shore Drive and I would eventually get back to Evanston. Simple, right? It wasn't long before I had a better idea. I managed to find an "L" station (don't ask me which one!), paid the fare, and took the train home. I don't remember if my parents were angry at me or not...
In January, 1975, halfway through my 5th grade year, our home was damaged by fire and was subsequently torn down. This naturally forced us to move, and I began commuting to Miller School on the "L", initially between Dempster and Foster, and the following year (after another move) between Central and Main. I seem to recall the fare being around 35 cents; there may have been a student discount. I remember the spiffy new "bicentennial" cars - those were my favorites.
My most memorable experience happened a couple years later. As my friend and I were riding a northbound "L" train in Chicago, we had the misfortune to be stuck - alone - in the last car with a couple of members of the Gaylords street gang. They were busily drawing some graffiti inside the motorman's cab with magic markers when they noticed us. A few tense moments ensued: they demanded to know "what you lookin' at?" and generally tried to provoke a fight. Cream-puff suburban boys that we were, we didn't try to duke it out with them; when the train stopped at Howard, we ran out of the still-opening blinker doors and disappeared down the stairs like bats outta hell. I don't think they tried to follow us; perhaps they were laughing too hard to give effective chase.
It has been some 15 years since I lived in Evanston and rode an "L" train, but I still have (mostly ;-) fond memories.
As a kid growing up on both the West and South sides, I did a lot of riding on the "L". When we lived on 61st and Kenwood, my Dad and Grandfather would take my brother and I to pick up Momma from the old Dorchester station on 63rd street, a stop notorious for its holdups. Walking under the structure while the train passed over us was loud, yet fun. And my Grandfather would pick up my brother and me over the turnstiles whenever we rode that Jackson Park "L". From the West side, it was always Central Avenue, whether it was on the Lake-Dan Ryan or the Congress. When the '77 accident occurred, we were watching TV when the story broke, and Momma wasn't home from work yet. Five minutes later, she rushed through the front door and we all hugged her for the longest time. She told us that if she hadn't gotten off early, that would have been her regular train home.
In my freshman year in high school, I'd walk from Whitney Young HS to Ashland/Lake, watch a "B" train pass by me before taking the "L" west to Austin/Lake, where I'd exit from the Mason Street entrance and be home before long. After moving back to the South side during that year, it was either the #9 Ashland-Beverly/103rd all the way to Young, or the Lake-Dan Ryan to Clark/Lake, where a ticket agent issued free transfers (good for 20 minutes) to go down into the West-Northwest (now Blue line) subway.
Sometimes, my classmates and I would alight at Adams/Wabash, then walk over to the Jackson/Dearborn station and ride to Racine/Loomis, where the train would become like a ghost-town when we got off. In fact, one of my most embarrassing moments came on the outer loop platform at Adams/Wabash, when two friends and I were standing there waiting for a Lake-Dan Ryan to go to Clinton (so our lazy butts could get seats). A 6000-series (don't ask me how I remember this) Ravenswood train came first, and my friends started throwing coins at the train and shooting spit-balls at passengers. I just laughed at them, not getting involved, hoping for the train to come soon. When it came, an undercover policewoman threw handcuffs on us, two more cops came, and we were arrested! Passengers who saw the whole thing tried to tell them I wasn't involved, but we were put into the station's bathroom on the mezzanine level anyway. To this day, I shudder whenever I pass Adams/Wabash...
In January of 1989, I was hired as a part-time temporary conductor with the CTA. After becoming full-time, I also qualified as a ticket agent, motorman, flagman, towerman, rapid transit operator (RTO -- one-man operation), and customer assistant. A few times, my folks rode with me while I worked conductor or motorman/RTO, or came to my station when I worked ticket agent or C/A. It amazes me now to think I used to take these same trains to school and my other jobs. When I worked on the Congress or Douglas lines, and I'd pass by my alma mater, I could still picture all of us football players coming from practice and crowding the Loomis station. Even worked the Loomis station as a ticket agent, and brought my old school jacket and hung it in the booth's window for the "Youngsters" to see.
When the Blizzard of '79 hit Chicago, I was a freshman at Whitney Young HS, and they let us out of school early because of the storm. We packed the Racine/Loomis station (again, but this time worse than usual) and watched several Loop-bound trains pass us by before we stuffed ourselves into those 6000s and 2000s. By the time we got downtown, and made our connections to the Lake-Dan Ryan at Clark/Lake, the snow was getting worse by the minute, as was the trip home. It was a good thing I rode to the end of the line at 95th Street, because the train I was on ran express twice: first, from Adams to 69th, then 69th to 95th. And getting to school was also an adventure, running express from 95th to 35th, then to Clark/Lake (I think). Took me forever to get to and from school, but I got close to some girls from school, so...
The Blizzard of '99 was a different story, since I was working the day the snow fell. Originally, I was scheduled to work at 61st Street tower, but the supervisor sent me to 59th Street junction tower, where the Englewood and Jackson Park branches merged into the main line northbound. I stayed there for 16 hours, and found that my car was snowed in under the structure near the 61st tower, so I spent the night in the tower until the AM towerman came in. After calling my father to pull me out of the snow and plow a path out from under the structure, I rushed home, thawed out for an hour and a half, and made it to 17th Street tower by 12:00 noon the next day. For about a month, we worked 12 hours apiece at these towers and kept service going through these junctions, in hopes that someone in charge notices that the towers need to have someone operating them AT ALL TIMES, not only in cases of emergencies.
Now that I work on the Green Line, the new stations make me think about what they looked like before the two-year reconstruction. And how the trains crept from station to station. And how some stations I used to work at are gone now. And how Dorchester was going to be a terminal until others chose to do something different, like tear down the tracks from Cottage Grove to Dorchester and end the line right there. Those same tracks that I walked under as a child may be gone, but my memories are not.
My memories of the Chicago "L" are new and as such I neither pretend nor expect them to carry the same weight as those written here. These memories came through the twelve magical days I spent in Chicago in August of 2000 for the purpose of doing research for my work in progress, "Windy Rails: The Elevated Railroad and the Transformation of Chicago". Though I covered all of the "ancient" trackage of the "L" (and some not so ancient), none so captured my imagination as the Douglas "L" for here was history come to life.
A native New Yorker now living in Baltimore, I was born too late too witness the famed Els of Manhattan and was but a toddler when the equally renowned Myrtle Avenue El was reduced to scrap. Only the Brooklyn Broadway El dates back to the Nineteenth Century and its original stations are but a fading memory for the last of them disappeared more than twenty years ago. But at Hoyne, Western, and California Avenues, I saw stations from a time when memories of the Great Chicago Fire were still fresh and when Brooklyn was a city in its own right. At the Garfield station on the South Side line my mind envisioned a time when steam locomotives still hauled passengers through the air and the waters of Lake Michigan were still. Though I was joyous that due to its recent reconstruction that the South Side "L" would rumble on for many years, I was equally saddened through my realization that the dilapidated, dangerous state of the Douglas "L" doomed it to destruction either through outright demolition or a reconstruction so extensive as to make it unrecognizable. The tree lined alleys and the slow moving trains evoked in me a sense of impending loss for it (the "L") was in effect it saying farewell. Over seventy pounds of which had fallen into the alleys and streets now rest on a mantelpiece in Baltimore. More than mere memories, they are a piece of the past, to be held and cherished for generations to come. Though I am not, nor ever shall be, a resident of the land from which they've come, they will nevertheless remain the symbol of a city for whom I hold the deepest affection, and to which someday I hope to return.
My "L" recollections go back to the late forties and until the day I finally left for the warmer climes of California, over the forty-four years I lived in Chicago I rode every part of the CTA Rapid Transit system at one time or another. I've had relatives and friends who worked both on the surface system as bus drivers and as station attendants-most notably at the Belmont stop and as maintenance workers in the shops. I rode both the red wooden cars and later the newer 6000-series. I can still hear the brake air compressor motors tick-tick-ticking away on the red trains when they would stop at stations and the car doors sliding open and shut at both ends. I especially liked the wicker style bench seats and the hand straps that hung down from overhead but at that time was never quite big enough to reach. Always froze on all types of trains in the winter and learned to do the "Chicago Shuffle" on the platforms at an early age to keep warm.
But of all my experiences riding the "L", two stand out most vividly. I was born and lived for the first seven years of my life less on the South Side just two blocks form the Harvard St. station on the Englewood Line where it turned from Wentworth Ave., ran diagonally briefly before heading west to the terminal (at that time) Loomis Ave. I still remember being taken to see William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard" in the little neighborhood movie house (Harvard Theater) right underneath the tracks and right next to the station. Must have been circa 1950. I can't recall hearing trains going by overhead inside the theater, though. For nearly fifty years I had memories of a line joining the Englewood tracks at the Harvard station coming out of the southwest. I can still see a train pulling into the station and almost getting on by accident and having my mother tell me that it didn't go downtown. Thinking I had dreamt it I never pursued it further. This had to be around 1949 when I was five. Later, I asked people I knew but they didn't know what I was talking about so I pushed this cold day to the back of my mind-we four kids were wearing coats. Recently, I found out I wasn't making up this memory out of whole cloth because by surfing into old CTA train map sites and asking around I found out that there was indeed a line, albeit short, that ran from the Englewood Line at Harvard St. to Normal Park one mile away but was closed down in 1950. Nice to know I have at lease one foot in reality.
My second experience had to with the snow storm of 1967. At the time I worked at Lake St. and Racine Ave. and would catch the Lake "L" at Halsted riding to Laramie Ave. as I lived in the Austin District at the time. My company let us go home early due to the suddenness of the blizzard and I trudged to Halsted and was shocked to find the platform full of riders who had to leave their cars at work. Train after train came full to where no one could get on except one or two at a time at each car. I think it took me a full hour before I could get on board and at least two hours from the time I left work to the time I reached home. I lived four blocks from the Laramie station at Lake St. and was thoroughly frozen by the time I stumbled into my front door. The wind drove snow and ice into one's face and exposed skin areas and literally took your breath away. Only the el trains ran with any form of consistency for the next week or so with the occasional surface route coming into service. The rapid transit probably saved many lives that night and Chicago would have come to a grinding halt had it not been for the el service as well as other rail services.
There two things I miss the most since moving to California: alleys and the "L". We have neither here, BART not withstanding.
Well, I have very fond and emotional memories of the "L" riding experience. I grew up in Chicago took a great interest in trains by admiring the "L". My first ride was on the 6000 series trains, and I loved those trains. The summer heat was a nuisance with the windows open but the cool breeze I would feel while riding in the subway made up the slack, even though when we got off you couldn't hear a thing!! The "L" was a part of every trip we took when I was a child and continued until I grew up.
In my adolescent years, we would hang in groups (not gangs) to ride the "L" trains from end to end which was the Englewood line to Howard Street. We would even pack lunches!! I know we gave a few CTA employees the flux by our teenage ways from asking the conductor to let us open the doors to hanging out in the front of the train on that special front seat (the one seat facing the motorman) and pretending we were driving the train. We even were shocked to bits when we rode the Douglas route to the end of the line and found that the trains run on ground level. So you can just imagine how we felt when we rode the Skokie Swift with just that one car with motorman cabs on both ends of it and the trolley car environment along the line... How fun that was!!!
And when I grew up, I was surprised to see how many people would just ride the "L" to just clear their minds or just for the scenery, which made it so sad when the Green Line was shut down for those 2 years for the rehabilitation. Of course, I made a way to have my dose of "L" riding. I just didn't like to ride the bus. I even saw the first cars for the Orange Line being delivered. I worked at Midway Airport and saw the truck delivering the cars to the Midway yard. How they mated each single car is a most intriguing question. Those "L" cars had an effect on me. When you get off the train and watch it depart the station, look at those 3 chains on the rear car, it kinda looks like the train is smiling at you. Well that's just what I got from riding the "L". I live in Houston now and come back every year for a family visit. I took my kids on the "L" last year and they enjoyed the rides I used to take just about every Sunday. My son even noticed the smiling rear car. Makes me want to move back home.
In 1995 on one of my visits to The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, I was surprised to see that they had acquired a married pair of PCC based 6000-series cars. 6599-6600 most likely ran past my house more than a few times, as I lived in Cicero, IL in the late '60's and early '70's close to the Douglas Park Branch (now the blue line) of the CTA el system. Most likely, I may have even ridden in one or both of them. During my high school years, I took the "L' from the the Cicero station to the 54th St. terminal. From there the CTA ran buses further west, nearer my destination of Morton East High School on Austin Blvd.
When I made that visit to STM in 1995 I was thrilled to see these cars standing right at the front entrance. Their condition was very good. They looked as though they had been running within the past year or so. The alpine white and mint green paint scheme was intact ant the interior was clean. I knew that they had a few pieces of Chicago area equipment in the museum roster; Chicago Surface Lines 225, Chicago Aurora & elgin 434, Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee and the SOAC experimental cars that ran on the Skokie Swift for 13 days in 1975, but I didn't expect to see examples of one of my favorite CTA car series. I learned that these Chicago natives were acquired by Seashore in 1994.
On my 1997 visit to STM the cars had migrated to a central storage yard but were still easily visible to the public.
On June 26, 2000 I made my most recent visit there. Now 6599-6600 are located in a remote storage yard inaccessible to the public. A member of the Museum staff escorted me to the location where they rest. Some of the cars stored in this area are nothing more than rusting empty hulks in MUCH worse condition than the beloved sons of the St. Louis Car Company. In 6 years there has been noticeable but not unexpected deterioration in the general appearance of the cars. The exterior paint is now peeling in various locations revealing the shining aluminum underneath. Interestingly, the band where the original swamp holly orange belt was located seems to be made of steel as evidenced by rust at that location. The interior of 6599 is dusty and the paint is peeling everywhere some stray parts litter the floor but it's generally empty. Car 6600 is filled with spare parts for various other museum pieces. It is not a pretty sight, but it is necessary since the STM does not have enough barn or shed space to do so. Many pieces of transit equipment from all over the country are used in this way at Seashore.
I have to admit I find it's a bit surreal to see metropolitan Chicago el cars sitting in the rural Maine countryside.
The Seashore Trolley Museum is the oldest operating transit museum. There are hundreds of trolley cars and rapid transit rolling stock from all over the world, in various states of restoration or in storage. They run with an entirely volunteer staff, as is the case with all such museums, so I realize that restoration is slow and methodical. 6599-6600 is not a rare piece of history so I would venture a guess it is not on the priority fix-up list . I would hope that at some point, trolley poles could be installed on them and operated on their main line trackage. When that happens, I'm there!