Tuesday, April 2, 2013

History of Car 306

AURORA ELGIN AND FOX RIVER ELECTRIC
CAR 306
AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY


The Aurora Elgin and Fox River Electric was assembled from various predecessor companies, some of which were among the earliest interurban lines to be built.  Most of the route between Elgin and Aurora was in operation by 1896, but it was not until 1900 that the final segment between Batavia and Geneva was completed.  In 1901 these companies were consolidated into the Elgin Aurora and Southern, with interurban lines running along the Fox River between Yorkville and Carpentersville, a total of about 40 miles, plus the city lines in Aurora and Elgin.  In 1906 this company was merged with the third rail lines, and became the Fox River division of the Aurora Elgin and Chicago.

Due to its early date of construction, the line was built to what would later be considered low standards.  Much of the line was either in the center of the street or along the side of the road.  There were a few stretches of private ROW that allowed for higher speeds, but most of the route was of a rural trolley nature.  Interchange freight was handled only on one three-mile segment in South Elgin.  In Batavia, for instance, and probably elsewhere, the Fox River division was popularly referred to as "the streetcar", whereas the third-rail line on the Chicago Division was "the interurban".

The Fox River line had an astounding number of named or numbered stopping places.  A complete list indicates about 150 such "stations" between Aurora and Elgin, or an average of almost eight per mile.  In cities and towns the cars would stop at any street crossing, and in the rural areas numbered stops were never more than 1/4 mile apart, even if there was apparently no one living nearby.  Schedule times for the Aurora to Elgin trip were between 75 and 90 minutes in the early years; this was later slightly reduced to typically about 70 minutes, or a schedule speed of about 20 MPH.


Interurban equipment during this period consisted of a variety of wooden cars designed for single-car operation at relatively low speeds.  They were, of course, built as two-man cars but some were later rebuilt for one-man operation. None were equipped for MU operation; some were second-hand and some were used in both city and interurban service.

The AE&C fell on hard times during the WWI period and went bankrupt in 1919.  In 1922 the court ordered that the company be broken up into separate entities; the Chicago Division became the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad.  The weaker Fox River division was not reorganized until 1924, and became the Aurora Elgin and Fox River Electric Company.


As part of the reorganization, new equipment was purchased to operate the interurban lines.  Seven modern one-man cars were ordered from St. Louis, numbered 300-306.  These were double-ended lightweight cars with deadman control and more modern seats and lighting.  When delivered, they took over most of the regular runs on the interurban lines, and some of the older cars were kept for protection and tripper service.

The cars were delivered with St. Louis arch-bar trucks with 26" wheels and 64" wheelbase, but these were soon replaced with the newer 64 EIB (Elliptical Integral Bolster) design.

Given the frequent service on the line, even until the end, all seven St. Louis cars must have been running most of the time, sometimes nearly 24 hours a day, allowing downtime for maintenance, inspection, and repairs.  Slight accidents were common, of course.  And car 303 became famous for being heavily damaged in a collision with a circus elephant.

The cars continued to give good service, but ridership fell off due to the secular decline in interurban use as roads were paved and automobiles became a normal part of everyday life.  The outer ends of the lines were abandoned first, then the city lines, and on March 31, 1935, all electric passenger service ended.  (The only parts of the AE&FR to survive were the section between Geneva and St. Charles, which was operated by the CA&E until 1937, and the freight operation in South Elgin.)



The seven St. Louis cars were still in good condition, and were sold to the Cleveland Interurban Railway, a suburban trolley line running east from downtown Cleveland to Shaker Heights.  All of the other equipment of the AE&FR was scrapped, except for two cab-on-flat locomotives used for the South Elgin freight operation.  And they were scrapped in 1946 when that portion was Dieselized. 

The St. Louis cars were loaded onto flatcars at the Aurora carhouse and sent to Cleveland. Several modifications were made to equip them for Shaker service, as follows:
1) The manual door mechanisms were replaced with air-powered treadle doors.
2) The light fixtures were changed, with bulls-eye lighting installed.
3) The controllers and brake stands were relocated.
4) The toilet compartment was removed.
However, the original seats were retained, along with the arched frosted glass windows.  The cars then operated on the Shaker Heights line in regular service for almost 20 years.  (In 1944, the Cleveland Interurban was acquired by the city of Shaker Heights and renamed Shaker Heights Rapid Transit.)


The 306 in operation on the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit.  (Two pictures from the Volkmer collection, via Dave Mewhinney.)




In 1950, cars 300 and 301 were sold by Shaker Heights to Speedrail, a new company which took over the operation of the remaining TM lines out of Milwaukee.  They were used briefly in Milwaukee, but Speedrail did not last long, and after it failed in 1951, these two cars were scrapped along with most of the remaining TM equipment in 1952.

Car 305 was scrapped by Shaker at some unknown time.


Sale to Brookins 
 
The 306 about 1954.  Photo by George Snyder, from the David Sadowski collection.

The remaining four cars, 302, 303, 304, and 306, were withdrawn from service in 1954.  They were sold to Gerald E. Brookins, a Cleveland businessman who was building a new housing and shopping development in the suburb of North Olmsted.  The four cars were put on display on a short section of track next to the shopping center.  Here they remained for several years, until a complete trolley line with storage barns and work facilities was constructed, and many more cars were acquired.  Known at first as the Columbia Park and Southwestern, the line was later renamed "Trolleyville USA".
Car 304 on the display track (from Dave Mewhinney)


Cars 303, 304, and 306 were put into operation and used in service at North Olmsted at various times over the years.  I'm not sure whether the 302  was ever made operational.  Cars 303 and 306 were repainted and lettered for the Columbia Park and Southwestern.

 (Photo from the Don Ross collection)


  After Gerald Brookins died about 1983, the 306 was sold to IRM in late 1984 and shipped to Union.  Car 302 was scrapped at North Olmsted at about the same time.  The 303 and 304 remained with the rest of the Trolleyville collection until 2009, when the collection was sold off to other museums.  Car 304 went to the Fox River Trolley Museum at South Elgin, where it has been operated along the one remaining section of the original line, and the 303 went to the Northern Ohio Railway Museum, where it is being preserved in its Columbia Park and Southwestern paint scheme. 

Arrival at IRM

(Photo by Pete Schmidt)

Car 306 was shipped from Ohio to IRM and arrived in mid-December, 1984.  The car was repainted in its AE&FR paint scheme.  It was checked out and operated for a few trips, but was soon removed from operation and partly disassembled for a thorough restoration.  The car required a thorough reconstruction to repair the deteriorated structure.  This work started but has not been completed, for various reasons.  Since that time the 306 has been stored at the southeast corner of Barn 4.


Length over bumpers:     45' 8"
Truck centers:                 21' 2"  
Wheel base:                      5' 4"
Wheel diameter:                  26"

Seats:                48  (44 as built)
Total weight:     37,250 lbs

Motors:       4 GE-265    (35 HP each)
Gear ratio:           62/21
Control:             GE K-35



 The only freight service on the Fox River line was between the interchange with the Illinois Central at Coleman, south of South Elgin, and the state mental hospital on the south side of Elgin, a distance of about three miles.  Coal was delivered by the electric line to the hospital's power plant.  The interchange appears to have been built to aid in construction of the line in 1896, and interchange service started almost immediately.  There was also a spur to the Kerber company, about half a mile south of the hospital, and they would receive carload freight.

The Fox River never had any real locomotives, and the interchange cars were moved by a succession of home-built equipment.  In later years, there were two cab-on-flat locomotives, #23 and #49, which kept this profitable service going.  The interchange track between the IC mainline and the small yard at Coleman alongside the electric line was not electrified, and presumably the IC locals would negotiate this steep and sharply-curved segment to deliver the loaded coal cars.  Going up the hill, the cars would be empty.

When passenger service ended in 1935, this segment remained profitable and was not scrapped.  The two locomotives were retained and continued to switch coal to the hospital.  The AE&FR in its greatly reduced state was sold to private owner(s).  The rest of the main line was removed up to a point several hundred feet south of the south switch at the Coleman yard, and a few hundred feet north of the switch into the hospital.  The main line at this point was in the middle of the street, but most of the rest of the line was at the side of the road.

In 1946 the operation was Dieselized with a 45 tonner, the locomotives were scrapped, and the trolley wire was removed.  The Diesel was kept in a small shed on the hospital grounds, near the power plant.  For much of this time, it was basically a one-man operation.  The owner, Bob DeYoung in latter days, ran the locomotive and made any essential repairs to the track.  About 1954, the few hundred feet of trackage still in the middle of Route 31 alongside the hospital grounds were relocated to the west side of the road. 

In 1962 the newly-formed RELIC trolley group arranged to locate at South Elgin along this branch.  Freight service was still going, but the group could operate trolley cars on weekends when there were no freight trains.  They purchased land and started to build storage tracks at the point where the line left the road on the south side of South Elgin, which was christened :"Castlemuir".  From there to the south end of the main line, slightly over a mile, trolley wire was reinstalled.  At the south end, past the yard, the rail bonds had been removed when the railroad was being torn up in 1935, and for many years during the Relic era the conductor would explain why the lights grew dim and the car would barely move when we got to the south end of the line.  There was also at least one excursion trip where the locomotive was used to pull the North Shore cars up to the north end of the line.

In 1973, however, the state hospital elected to stop burning coal, partly for environmental reasons, and convert to gas.  The line thus lost its last customer and reason for existence.  (Kerber had earlier stopped shipping by rail, and had donated the rails from its spur to IRM.)  The remaining main line was sold to Relic, and they needed to remove the rails north of Castlemuir to pay for the purchase.  This took place during 1975.  Route 31 was later widened, and today there is little evidence of the remaining ROW north of Castlemuir.  A few improvements have been made since then, and the north half of the interchange track was removed about 1995, but the trolley museum (reorganized in 1984 as the Fox River Trolley Museum) continues to operate over the section between Castlemuir and Coleman yard, which is basically unchanged.

In 1984, a new bicycle path was being constructed by the county along the interurban's ROW.  As the construction forces moved north, they came upon the track south of Coleman yard, which appeared to be unused, so they started to tear it up and replace it with asphalt until they got to the first switch.  For about ten years the county had a stretch of bicycle path with 600V overhead wire.  FRTM came to an agreement so that in 1995 the rails were replaced on a slightly different alignment to the west.  Since the construction of the extension into the forest preserve, however, this few hundred feet of track has been little used.

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