A History of Cincinnati & Lake Erie 640
By Frank Hicks
The true interurban era – the period during which almost the entirety of the Midwest was traversed by an interconnected network of electric railways – lasted some four decades starting at the beginning of the 20th century. During that period hundreds of cars carried millions of people over thousands of miles of track each year, connecting towns small and large with frequent, clean, speedy, and safe transportation. People rode in big wooden combines built by Niles, steel heavyweights built by Jewett, lightweight coaches built by Kuhlman or deluxe cars built by St. Louis. They took the interurbans everywhere.
But it wasn’t just people riding under the wires. At first the carriage of freight was incidental to the electric railways, an afterthought. But after the Great War, as more and more people bought Model Ts and fewer and fewer rode the rails, the transport of freight took on a new urgency for the interurbans. Within just a few short years the industry was hanging by a thread – and more often than not, that thread was a profitable freight business. Interurbans were able to provide personalized, even door-to-door service that steam railroads could not, and they did it despite being unable to interchange freight cars or even to run long freight trains during the day. Among large interurban systems, those that were the most successful at carrying freight – the Indiana Railroad, the Pacific Electric, the Illinois Terminal – invariably lasted the longest. And in Ohio, the birthplace of the interurban, the interurban system that lasted the longest was the Cincinnati & Lake Erie.
Title Photo: C&LE 640 looks sharp with a fresh coat of paint at Moraine Shops, nerve center of the railroad, on June 9, 1936. GWN photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
Thanks are due to Randy Hicks and Richard Schauer for assisting with writing and proofreading this article. Art Peterson's help with providing photos was invaluable, as was that of Richard Schauer, who scanned into the computer the museum's file of documentation on car 640. Bill Wulfert also provided photos for the article.
Freight Under Wires
Interurban lines weren’t designed to carry freight. With only a handful of exceptions, interurban railways – most of them built between 1900 and 1910 – were designed cheaply and with a specific size and type of car in mind. The standard Midwestern interurban passenger car of that era was between 50 and 62 feet long, about 8 to 9 feet wide, and was designed to ride over streetcar tracks with curves as tight as 35 foot radius. This was not only a relic of interurban cars’ origins as long-haul streetcars but, in most Midwestern cities, a requirement stemming from the routing of the rails down the center of the street through the towns along the way. Furthermore, to reduce construction costs, electric railways often followed the rolling landscape rather than spending money on expensive cuts and fills. After all, a lone interurban car had little trouble climbing a 3-4% grade.
But as interurban passenger traffic fell during the 1920s, the interurban lines turned to freight – long the source of most income for the steam railroads – to make up the gap in revenue. It was not an easy proposition. First, due to tight curves and narrow loading gauges, interchange of steam railroad freight cars was limited except for short stretches of track. This meant that the interurbans had to use freight cars specially designed for electric railway service. Second, train lengths were often severely limited, often not only by steep grades but by municipal restrictions placed on how many cars could be hauled down Main Street. Lima, Ohio, for instance, passed an ordinance in 1907 restricting train lengths to two cars during daylight hours. The result was that a standard three-man crew might be able to transport two or three carloads of freight on an interurban rather than dozens of carloads on a steam railroad.
Emblematic of Ohio Electric's freight power was motor 701, rebuilt from an 1897 passenger car in the company shops in 1909. It is shown at the NCR lumber yard in Dayton during the 1910s. Krambles-Peterson Archive.
But the interurban lines adapted nonetheless. Many used electric locomotives for hauling freight cars. General Electric and Baldwin-Westinghouse both offered steeplecab locomotives built to standardized designs, but more common were homebuilt, makeshift locomotives fashioned in interurban company shops. These often consisted of a flatcar, fitted with electric car trucks and motors, topped off with a small cab in the middle and known appropriately as a “cab-on-flat.” Other interurbans built their own steeplecabs out of wood or steel, typically using off-the-shelf motors and control equipment or components salvaged from retired passenger cars.
But just as common were freight motors (or box motors). These were motorized boxcars that could haul a couple of freight cars but could also carry a car’s worth of LCL (less-than-car-load) freight in their interior. LCL freight comprised the vast majority of freight carried by most interurbans, and freight motors allowed the function of the locomotive to be combined with an ability to haul freight on board. Many – in fact, most – interurban freight motors were constructed in the company shops or rebuilt from disused passenger cars. Several interurban lines ordered freight motors new, but even on lines that did, the purpose-built freight motors tended to be outnumbered by homebuilt examples.
Lake Shore Electric 42, rebuilt from a 1906 Niles interurban coach, was typical of many interurban lines' homebuilt or home-modified freight motors. It is shown at the Detroit terminal of the Eastern Michigan in the company of C&LE 646 in about 1931. RAP photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
And there were the freight trailers. Many were rebuilt from steam railroad freight cars or constructed in the company shops, but during the 1920s, a large number were purpose-built by car builders. Late in the decade the Central Electric Railway Association (CERA) developed a set of standard designs for interurban box trailers and over 100 cars were built to this general outline during the next few years. Along with flat cars, gondolas, and even piggyback flats – all designed or modified for tight curves and clearances – these interurban freight cars made possible the expanding freight business that was, increasingly, keeping the interurban industry just barely afloat.
A Lake Shore Electric cab-on-flat locomotive is coupled to a standard interurban box trailer and a flatcar. The boxcar is 801; identical car 810 is at IRM and has been completely restored. Charley Sheets photo, Illinois Railway Museum Collection.
The types of freight being carried varied considerably from line to line. Even interurban lines without much dedicated freight infrastructure often carried newspapers, express packages, or milk on the front platform; many interurban lines had more combines than coaches on their rosters, the baggage compartment the better to carry a small amount of LCL freight and packages on each trip. As freight became more of a focus during the 1920s interurban lines built or expanded freight houses in large cities where companies could drop off small amounts of freight for transportation on the railway. The freight house would load packages into a freight motor or trailer spotted at the building, and freight could be picked up or dropped off at smaller stations as the train proceeded down the railway as well.
There was also carload freight, though without the ability to interchange cars with steam railroads, this was by necessity limited. But larger industries along the interurban might ship freight or commodities by the carload, even if it might have to be trans-loaded where the wires ended. And shipment of bulk commodities such as gravel or coal, while not common, was also occasionally done. A few interurban lines experimented during the 1920s and 1930s with newer forms of what would eventually be called intermodal freight transport. The Lake Shore Electric and North Shore Line ran trailer-on-flat-car (piggyback flat) freight service while the Milwaukee Electric and Cincinnati & Lake Erie experimented with carrying shipping containers. But on the whole these innovations, too far ahead of their time and too limited in scope, were unsuccessful. The bread and butter of interurban freight was always express and LCL cargo transportation.
From Erie to the Ohio by Interurban
Ohio was home to some of the most storied interurban lines in the country. Its fertile farmland, dotted with small cities that were regional centers of commerce and manufacturing, was prime territory for electric railway lines. Like Indiana (but unlike Illinois) these lines were built and operated by a large number of different companies. In western Ohio, it started in 1896 when Dayton Traction constructed a line from Dayton south some nine miles to Miamisburg. These early lines were barely interurbans – more suburban streetcar routes – but before long the electric railways expanded.
In 1900 the Dayton Springfield & Urbana built an interurban line from Dayton northeast to Springfield, extending north to Bellefontaine and east to the state capital in Columbus within two years. In 1902 the line to Miamisburg was extended south to Cumminsville, on the northern fringes of Cincinnati, where a connection with the Cincinnati Street Railway’s broad-gauge streetcar system was made.
It wasn’t until 1908 that the system that would eventually become the Cincinnati & Lake Erie was completed. By that time the Ohio Electric (OE) had been formed to unify the operations of several smaller interurban lines in western Ohio. The OE system ran north from Cumminsville to Bellefontaine, east to Columbus, west to Richmond and Union City in Indiana, and included a line from Lima to Fort Wayne, Indiana. The next year, 1908, the route north from Springfield was extended from Bellefontaine all the way to a terminus in downtown Toledo. There a connection was made with Lake Shore Electric interurban cars bound for Cleveland and Detroit United (later Eastern Michigan-Toledo) cars bound for Detroit. From Toledo to Cincinnati one could ride an Ohio Electric car for 220 miles, with another 45 miles on the branch to Columbus. It was a true interurban, but it wouldn’t last. In 1921 OE went bankrupt and the various interurban lines were once again made independent.
A freight motor on the Indianapolis Columbus & Eastern loads freight at Greenville. Krambles-Peterson Archive.
What emerged was a network of smaller, weaker interurbans that in some respects were only as strong as their weakest connecting line. Lines that would eventually make up the C&LE included the Cincinnati & Dayton, which ran between Dayton and Cumminsville and had separated from OE in 1918; the Indiana Columbus & Eastern (IC&E), which ran from Dayton to Springfield, Lima and Columbus; and the Lima-Toledo Railroad, which connected with the IC&E in Lima and ran to Toledo. The Columbus Newark & Zanesville, which ran east from Columbus, and the Dayton & Western, which connected the other lines with the Indiana interurban network in Richmond, Indiana, were also made independent.
And as separate companies these lines proceeded through five years of the Roaring Twenties. But times were not as good for the interurbans as for the country at large. Increased prosperity meant more automobiles and better roads, which meant fewer riders. The ex-OE lines were deteriorated, out-of-date, and hadn’t developed much freight business. In common with many smaller interurban lines across the country, the western Ohio lines were slowly dying.
Into this breach stepped Dr. Thomas Conway. Born in 1882, Conway had attended the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1908 with a doctorate. He had taught at Penn’s Wharton School of Finance until he started taking consulting positions during the Great War with some small interurban lines. In 1922 he joined forces with some financial backers to embark on an experiment to put some of his theories to the test. He and his associates purchased the Aurora Elgin & Chicago, a failing interurban line in Illinois, and went about rehabilitating the property. Over the span of just two or three years he brought it back from the brink of insolvency by improving the right-of-way, ordering new and modern rolling stock, and instituting high-speed operation. But the CA&E was a relatively short-haul line with limited potential. Conway was looking for something bigger.
He saw it in western Ohio. In 1926 he and his associates purchased the Cincinnati & Dayton, renaming it the Cincinnati Hamilton & Dayton (CH&D). The line was 54 miles long and was among the most run-down properties in the state. Virtually no equipment on the line had been built since 1908; power came from an uneconomical coal-fired power plant; freight business was poor and only contributed 20% of gross revenue; the company made no profit. Conway was sure he could do better.
One of the modern interurban cars Conway purchased for the CH&D was this 100-series combine built by Kuhlman in 1927.
Conway’s plan was to modernize the property, improve passenger service, and develop a freight service in cooperation with adjoining lines to provide transshipment of LCL freight from Toledo on the Great Lakes to Cincinnati on the Ohio River – and all points in between. New Birney cars were bought for the streetcar lines in Hamilton, 40 new wooden freight trailers were procured, and 20 brand new interurban cars were purchased from Cincinnati Car Company: ten suburban lightweights and ten modern interurban combines and coaches. Power was now bought commercially and an empty factory in Moraine, just south of Dayton, was bought and rebuilt as a new shop complex.
Things started to turn around. But as they did, interurban lines around the CH&D were starting to fail. Conway saw that he needed to preserve the route from Toledo to Cincinnati, and the best way to do that was to take over the other lines with which he connected: the Indiana Columbus & Eastern (IC&E) between Dayton, Columbus, and Lima; and the Lima-Toledo Railroad (LTRR) north of Lima. At the end of 1928 the state of Ohio approved the merger of the CH&D, IC&E, and LTRR.
Anticipating approval by the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was still pending, Conway nonetheless unified operations and divided the operating territory into divisions: the Cincinnati Division (54 miles long) south of Dayton, the Columbus Division (71 miles long) from Dayton to Columbus; and the Toledo Division (138 miles long) from Springfield to Toledo. The new system was 323 miles long and owned 200 cars – a true behemoth in the interurban industry, and a company determined to be a pacesetter as well.
Through express trains started running while extensive work to rehabilitate the right-of-way and ease grades south of Dayton was undertaken. Studies were also begun in cooperation with Cincinnati Car Company to develop a revolutionary type of high-speed interurban car. In August 1929, Conway ordered 20 of the new high-speed cars and 15 new freight motors – both of them rare investments in an industry that was continuing to suffer from automobile and truck competition. In October, through express freight service between Cincinnati and Cleveland over Conway’s system and the Lake Shore Electric was inaugurated, with freight traveling 340 miles in 18 hours (reduced to 12 hours in 1931). And on the last day of the year, approval for the merger having been obtained from the ICC, the new line was officially christened the Cincinnati & Lake Erie.
A Modern Freight Motor
Conway saw that the success of his interurban line would rest in roughly equal measure on its two principal sources of revenue: passenger fares and freight traffic. And he believed that the key to success in both was speed. For passenger service, that meant high-speed cars. The 20 “Red Devil” cars delivered by Cincinnati Car Company in the summer of 1930 were designed for comfort and economy but especially for speed.
The "Red Devil" high-speed cars revolutionized interurban car design and were forerunners of the Indiana Railroad high-speeds and the Brill Bullet cars. Cincinnati Car Company builder's photo.
For freight service, speed meant a number of different moving parts working together. Freight terminals had to function efficiently to route incoming freight shipments. Interchange arrangements and through operations over other lines had to be coordinated effectively. Switching in yards had to be done quickly and safely. And freight trains had to make it over the road reliably and as rapidly as possible.
That last item would be difficult to accomplish using the rolling stock Conway inherited when he bought the CH&D. Like most traction lines, it had a hodgepodge of freight motors, some homebuilt or rebuilt from passenger cars. It also didn’t have nearly enough for the increase in freight traffic Conway foresaw. He could have tried to rebuild some of his old wooden interurban cars as makeshift freight motors; but his new shops in Moraine were already keeping busy retrofitting and modernizing passenger cars. So he did what was, in late 1929, unthinkable: he ordered a series of brand new freight motors.
The 15 motors ordered by Conway on August 21, 1929 would not actually be 100% new cars. The bodies would be completely new, constructed by Cincinnati Car Company. But the trucks, motors, and control equipment would come from old wooden IC&E passenger cars that were being scrapped. Late in the year dismantling of these cars began and the electrical and mechanical components started to make their way to Cincinnati.
But even with elderly innards, the new freight motors would be as top-of-the-line as anything hauling freight for an interurban anywhere in the country. The CH&D had ordered a single freight motor in 1927 from Kuhlman, numbering it 604, and initial plans for the 1929 order were for a similar design: double-ended with deeply curved ends, truss rods to support the body under a large baggage door, a shallow arched roof. But plans were changed; the new freight motors would be a new design that, perhaps coincidentally, shared a handsome and modern look with the new high-speed passenger cars on order.
Cincinnati Car Company builder's photos of car 639. The top photo is taken from the rear looking forward; the bottom photo is looking towards the rear of the car. Note the air tanks and walls reinforced with boiler tubes. IRM Collection courtesy Bill Fronczek.
The new motors, which would be numbered 635-649, were solid steel cars built in Cincinnati alongside the “Red Devils.” The design was for a single-ended car, but one that had a full set of controls and headlights at both ends for use in switching. The riveted steel bodies had a drop girder under a single centered baggage door on each side; a standard canvas-over-wood roof with “lobster trap” slats over the rear bonnet to protect the roof; end windows set directly in the posts, eschewing window frames for a cleaner and more modern appearance. The front cab had a door on the left side while the rear cab had a door set in the end of the car, rather than the side, but offset to the left to leave room for the headlight.
For illumination, the new motors would be positively decked out. Each end featured a dim headlight mounted low on the dash for street running as well as a larger, removable arc headlight mounted above it directly under the center window. The mounting bracket for this larger headlight had an unusual feature: it could be adjusted to “droop,” or point downward at an angle, using a mechanical linkage designed in the 1920s by IC&E Master Mechanic F.J. Foote. The reason was that motorists in cities had objected to the blinding arc headlights shining in their faces as freight trains proceeded down the street, yet the dim street running headlight had proven largely ineffective even if only used in street running sections. The front end of the car also featured additional illumination in the form of two number boxes protruding from the dash on either side of the headlight which featured black numbers on a frosted, backlit piece of glass. The rear end sported simply a painted-on number. Brackets for the usual kerosene-fired marker lanterns were provided at all corners.
The front motorman's position of car 639. Main cutout switch above and hand brake below the left window; motor cutout switch above and headlight tilting handle below the center window; controller and brake stand below the right window. The box in the ceiling may be headlight resistors. IRM Collection courtesy Bill Fronczek.
At both ends, the motorman was granted an austere wooden bench seat upon which he could sit to manipulate his Westinghouse controller and brake valve. At the front end, behind the wooden bench sat a stove and coal bin for warmth, with a barrier wall made of boiler tubes behind that to prevent freight from sliding forward in the event of a sudden stop; at the rear end the boiler tube barrier was mounted directly behind the bench seat. At both ends the boiler tube wall had a doorway to the motorman’s left for walking back into the car’s interior.
The rear motorman's position on car 639 was much simpler than the front operating position. IRM Collection courtesy Bill Fronczek.
While motors 635-649 were the most modern cars of their type anywhere from the floor up, below the floor the reuse of trucks, motors, control, and brake equipment made them decidedly outdated mechanically. All 15 members of the fleet had AMM brakes with M-2B triple valves, D2EG air compressors, S6 governors, and Westinghouse HL control. Cars 635-638 were fitted with four 90-horsepower Westinghouse 121 motors, ancient M-15 brake valves, and type 15-B2 master controllers, all salvaged from IC&E combines built in 1908. The remaining 11 cars numbered 639-649 were fitted with four 100-horsepower Westinghouse 303A motors, M-22 brake valves, and type 189-D2 master controllers, this equipment salvaged from a variety of combines built for Ohio Electric in 1911 and 1912. All of the motors were equipped with outdated Taylor MCB trucks with the exception of cars 642-644, which got Standard C80P trucks. The entire series was fitted with Van Dorn radial MCB couplers, boiler tube pilots at both ends, US trolley bases, curved air horns at the front, air whistles at both ends, and MU jumper sockets at both ends for multiple-unit operation.
The strikingly modern appearance of the new freight motors extended to their livery as well. The dark Duco 244-1675 red formerly used by the CH&D was retained by the C&LE. The new motors were dark red overall with tan roofs, black tack molding and underbody equipment, and gold lettering. As built the car number appeared in a painted-on box twice on each side of the car, low on the car side over each truck. The rectangular C&LE emblem appeared twice on each side of the car as well, over the trucks, high on the car side. To the right of the baggage door the C&LE name was painted along the belt rail while in the lower left corner of the car side was painted several lines of dimensional information in small lettering. A gold pin-stripe along the floor of the car, from end to end, completed the appearance of the new cars.
Cincinnati & Lake Erie Days
The Cincinnati Car Company was on hard times in 1929. It had been months since the car builder’s last order for electric cars, a series of curve-side suburban cars built for West Penn. When the freight motor order from the CH&D (renamed C&LE while the cars were being built) arrived in August, the firm got right to work. Late in the year the mechanical and electrical components arrived from Moraine, where the railway had disassembled many of its old wooden combines. Newly-built bodies were united with refurbished running gear and early in 1930 the cars started to roll out of the Cincinnati works. On February 19, 1930 the first six cars arrived at Moraine shops under their own power in two trains of three cars each. Car 640 was the last car of this initial group, but within the next two weeks the remaining nine cars of the order were completed and shipped out to Moraine. The “Red Devil” passenger cars wouldn’t start arriving for another three months but the first modern electric cars built for the C&LE were ready for service.
Although not of great quality, this photo does nevertheless show car 640 early in its career, still with its original lettering. Judging from the long shadows and the marker lantern it's being readied for overnight work. Author's collection.
They were immediately put to work. Conway’s ambitions of making the C&LE a major gateway for LCL freight and a serious competitor of the steam roads for local carload freight traffic were starting to be realized. The C&LE had followed up its freight motor order with orders for more box trailers and gravel cars and it had invested heavily in easing the grades on Symmes Hill and College Hill on the Cincinnati Divison. Freight agents were also active in several major cities along the line, soliciting for business from companies as yet unaware of the depths the nascent economic recession would reach.
The new freight motors, fast, powerful and reliable, took over the lion’s share of the freight haulage for the C&LE. In October 1929 daily through freight service on the LSE to Cleveland had been inaugurated. Freight traveled in both directions each night, one way handled by an LSE motor and the other by a C&LE one, departing at 6:00pm and arriving at their destinations 340 miles away by noon the next day. In 1931 the pace was quickened, with “first morning” arrival now at 6:00am. Also in 1931, through freight service was begun from Cincinnati to Detroit in coordination with the Eastern Michigan-Toledo (EMT). This line had already been an important feeder for the C&LE, carrying auto parts from Flint and Pontiac along with numerous products of Detroit’s factories to Ohio via the interurban.
Car 636 in Lima around 1933. Note that the car has already received a second, slightly modified paint job. V.L. Smith photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
But signs of economic decline were already appearing. By the end of 1930, gross revenue had declined from $3,081,600 in 1929 to $2,532,700 – a drop of some 15%. Net income was just $20,900. The economic outlook was increasingly bleak as companies continued to furlough and lay off employees. The effect on the C&LE was obvious, as fewer workers rode the cars to their jobs, fewer salesmen (an important constituency) could make a go of continuing on their rounds, and companies with reduced workforces shipped fewer products by rail. During 1931 the struggling EMT abandoned its lines to Pontiac and Flint, cutting off important sources of freight traffic. In July the C&LE took over management of the faltering Dayton & Western, its primary link to the Indiana Railroad, which was a major contributor of freight traffic as well.
Conway was doing what he could to cut costs and keep the C&LE profitable. Moraine Shops rebuilt interurban cars for one-man crews and sped up suburban cars to better compete with the automobile. And in August 1931, the C&LE reached a new agreement with its unions that reduced the number of required crewmen on long-haul freights from three to two. Previous to this, all freight trains had required a motorman, conductor, and brakeman. While locals – which did a lot of switching – would continue to have three-man crews, long-haul road freights would see a reduction in crew size.
Of all of the freight trains run by the C&LE, some 60% were long-haul freights. These trains, including hotshot through runs to Cleveland and Detroit, dropped or added freight cars at major cities and freight houses, but didn’t stop at small towns, nor did they pick up or drop off LCL freight. Freight trains weren’t scheduled; all ran as extras, and while there were departure times that were effectively recommendations, leeway was given to accommodate a shipment that might arrive slightly late or to allow an early departure if everything was loaded. The railway’s network of freight terminals fed the freights: they accepted deliveries until 5:00pm, after which loading and switching of cars (done by the road crew – Conway had eliminated dedicated switching crews) commenced. Sometime between 6:00pm and 1:00am or so, depending on the run, the train would be ready and would depart, with scheduled arrival in the morning before passenger traffic picked up. Train lengths varied widely; hotshot freights typically had 3-4 trailers but lengthier trains of as many as 8-12 freight trailers were sometimes run. Trains to Columbus averaged about three trailers but Springfield-Lima trains were typically longer, with four or five trailers being more typical. Freight trains on the Toledo Division bound for interchange with other lines often had 8-10 trailers. The freight motors typically hauled their trains solo; although capable of MU operation, that capability was mostly used for deadheading equipment.
Motor 642 is at the head of a four-car train in Springfield on August 10, 1936. Note the white flags; all freight trains ran as extras on the C&LE. J.P. Shuman photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
The local runs, which comprised the remainder of freight trains, picked up what was left over. Unlike the long-haul freights, locals could operate during either day or nighttime hours. They were slower and made stops at small towns along the C&LE, sometimes for LCL shipments and sometimes for delivery of carload freight to individual businesses. There were numerous carload customers along the C&LE including Champion Paper in Hamilton, National Cash Register in Dayton, and Metal Casket Company in Springfield. The line also shipped bulk materials like cement and stone. But about 90% of the interurban’s freight business came from LCL freight, most of it accepted and loaded at the freight terminals.
As the Great Depression deepened, the fortunes of the C&LE fell. The end of 1931 brought the company’s first year of financial loss. On January 16, 1932 the state ruled that all C&LE freight trains must have three-man crews; the two-man crew was a dead issue. Some two weeks later, on the 28th, the C&LE went into receivership. It didn’t have the cash to pay the interest on debt related to the grading projects of 1929 and 1930. Conway was appointed receiver and operations continued.
On June 30, 1932, the Fort Wayne-Lima quit, severing the direct connection between those cities and one of the C&LE’s interchange points with the Indiana Railroad. But more significant for the C&LE itself was the wreck that occurred that same day: a C&LE lightweight collided head-on at speed with a hotshot freight headed by an LSE freight motor. Nine people were killed. A month later, a Dayton & Troy freight train fell through that line’s bridge over the Miami River. The line was formally abandoned days later. And the worst blow yet to the interurban’s freight business fell on October 4th when the Eastern Michigan-Toledo abandoned its Detroit-Toledo line. The C&LE’s second most important interchange connection was gone.
C&LE 640 in storage late in its C&LE service life. This later, simplified paint scheme omitted striping and some lettering. Note that it seems to have lost most of its stovepipe. IRM Collection.
The company’s finances were in a freefall. Net operating losses for 1932 totaled some $387,000 and gross revenue was down 25% from 1931. The operating ratio was 123.8: the railroad was running too many trains, both freight and passenger, and those trains were running far short of capacity. During 1933 steps were taken to cut costs; redundant and little-used passenger runs were abandoned while freight train departures were rationalized. By the end of 1933 the operating ratio was down to 104 and operating losses were some $45,000, both figures that held steady through 1934.
By the mid-1930s it seemed as though the C&LE might be able to survive the Depression. Although it was still losing money, the operating loss was reduced to $33,000 in 1935. And investment in the physical plant was also being made. Cars were being repainted, including the freight motor fleet. The 635-649 series cars were repainted in a slightly simplified livery. The car numbers no longer had boxes painted around them; there was only one herald, on the upper car side to the left of the baggage door, while the company name was painted higher on the car side to the right of the baggage door; the stripe at the floor line was omitted; and the dimensional information was painted in the lower right corner instead of the lower left. Other changes were minimal except that the entire fleet lost the pilots at the rear ends of the cars.
Car 642, shown at Toledo with a variety of freight trailers in the yard, sports an unusual variation of the simplified freight motor livery. It has lost one herald and the boxes around the numbers but retains its sill stripe and lower company name. Author's collection.
But then in 1936 the C&LE’s fortunes began to really slide. In August of the previous year there had been another wreck that had killed six people. In April 1936 two C&LE cars collided head-on, killing two, and just a month later in late May a “Red Devil” hit a freight motor, resulting in the death of the freight train’s motorman. Riders began deserting the interurban in droves due to fears over safety. Revenue plummeted.
As 1937 began the outlook was bleak. The economy was sinking again; the tepid recovery of the previous couple of years seemed over. On May 9 the Dayton & Western was abandoned, as was the Indiana Railroad’s line to Richmond. The connection between the Indiana and Ohio interurban networks was severed and the C&LE had lost another major contributor of freight traffic.
A varied lineup of freight power is on display at Detroit Avenue in Cleveland c1936. From left to right, C&LE 632, an earlier wooden freight motor; an LSE homebuilt steel motor; C&LE 637; and an LSE freight motor rebuilt from an ancient Barney & Smith interurban coach. Krambles-Peterson Archive.
But the axe truly fell a week later when, on May 15, the Lake Shore Electric’s freight handlers and clerks went on strike. The LSE, hanging by a thread and unable to meet their demands, immediately abandoned all freight service. The effect on the C&LE was immediate: freight traffic on the Toledo Division fell some 50%. Without a way to replace that revenue – and there was none, with passenger traffic down and no freight traffic to be had – the operating ratio shot impossibly high. Permission to abandon the Toledo Division in its entirety was granted for November 19, 1937.
With abandonment of the line to Toledo, Conway’s great gateway between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River was closed, and with that closure most through freight traffic on the C&LE was curtailed. But freight service between Cincinnati, Dayton, Springfield, and Columbus was still key to the survival of the reduced C&LE. However in 1938 the state courts ruled that Stordor Freight, a C&LE subsidiary and the source of much of the interurban’s LCL traffic, had to close. Stordor was a freight forwarder, a company that would assemble quantities of small LCL freight and ship them by the carload for reduced haulage rates, pocketing the difference. But unlike most freight forwarders, which shipped by the cheapest way, Stordor always shipped on the C&LE even if the forwarder lost money on the deal – a practice ruled discriminatory. At around the same time, Hamilton County won a court case that required the C&LE to relocate its tracks along a stretch of the Cincinnati Division for a road widening project. The interurban couldn’t afford this project, particularly with its freight business in shambles following the closure of Stordor, and requested permission to abandon its freight operations. On June 3, 1938, the last freight shipments were accepted on the C&LE. The last train left Cumminsville for Columbus, arriving early the next morning. All of the freight motors were put into storage. The era of interurban freight in Ohio was over.
What was left of the C&LE main line lasted about another year, though the Dayton-Columbus line was abandoned in October, leaving only the stretch from Dayton to Hamilton. That route, as well as a short freight line in Cumminsville, was abandoned in May 1939, leaving only the Dayton city operation and the line to Moraine. Those were abandoned on September 27, 1941: the true end of the C&LE.
Rebuilding and Retirement
As freight service declined in early 1938, the 635-649 series freight motors were put into storage at Moraine Shops. Conway hoped that the modern freight motors would find buyers among other interurban lines, much as the “Red Devil” high-speeds had been sold to Lehigh Valley Transit in Pennsylvania. The 635-649 series freight motors were put up for auction in 1937 but none sold. In May 1938 all 15 freight motors were moved to Cincinnati and around the same time ownership reverted to the equipment trust holder, Railway Accessories Company. Another auction in June didn’t result in any sales. But the cars were kept in storage.
A rare color photo of motor 641 shows it in March 1940 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma after having been sold to the Tulsa-Sapulpa. Frank E. Butts photo from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
In 1939 three of the modern freight motors were sold. The buyer was the Illinois Terminal, which rebuilt them for use as unpowered freight trailers and numbered them 601-603. Later that same year another three of the C&LE motors were purchased by American Aggregates Corporation, a large gravel mining corporation with several quarries around the Midwest. Cars 639, 640, and 649 were bought by AAC and sent to the company’s headquarters in Greenville, Ohio to be rebuilt as diesel-electrics. AAC would eventually purchase a total of seven of the C&LE motors, rebuilding all of them into diesel-electric locomotives. Of this first group of three, cars 639 and 649 were heavily rebuilt with shorter carbodies and one Cummins L1600 diesel.
Car 640 saw fewer changes: it retained its original lines and received two Cummins L1600 power plants. The car had all of its electrical equipment removed save its traction motors; it also kept its original Taylor MCB trucks. Besides the two Cummins diesel engines, the interior of the body acquired a 300-kW generator, small auxiliary generator, belt-driven air compressor, fuel tanks, and other new equipment. Heavy steel channels were welded onto the car’s underframe to strengthen it, mostly to help support the heavy diesel equipment. The roof walks were removed and a thin sheet metal roof was installed directly over the original wood-and-canvas roof, which was left in place. Much of the idiosyncratic interior appointments such as the coal stove, boiler tube cargo barriers, and headlight drooping levers were removed. The handsome dark red livery with gold striping gave way to an overall white color with dark blue stripes at the floor and belt rail.
American Aggregates 640 is pictured in its short-lived silver paint scheme on August 17, 1941. It is in service at the Oxford gravel pit. Donald S. Moore photo from IRM Collection.
Thus rebuilt, car 640 – still keeping its C&LE number – was sent to the AAC gravel pit in Oxford, Michigan, some 35 miles north of Detroit along the New York Central’s Bay City Branch. The other six C&LE motors rebuilt to diesel-electrics were distributed to various AAC operations. Car 637 had its height (but not length) reduced and went to Urbana, Ohio. Car 639 had its length (but not height) reduced and, fitted with only one Cummins diesel, went to New Miami, Ohio. Cars 645 and 646 both went to Green Oaks, Michigan; 647 went all the way to Port Washington, New York; and 649 went to Columbus, Ohio. This left five of the modern freight motors remaining, and all of those went to other traction operations: three went to the west coast and were rebuilt with Brill 27MCB3X trucks and GE Type M control equipment for 1200-volt operation on the Central California Traction line out of Stockton, while the last two went to the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway in Oklahoma and operated essentially unmodified there until 1955.
Two photos of American Aggregates 640 in service at the Oxford gravel pit on July 17, 1948. By this time it had already been painted in a simplified blue and white livery with a silver roof. Both photos by James J. Buckley, from the Krambles-Peterson Archive.
The AAC diesel-electrics soldiered on for many more years than their sisters, all of which were retired from service in the 1940s and 1950s. They led a rather obscure existence, switching gravel and sand cars around various industrial mining operations. Largely operating in areas off-limits to the public, they were rarely photographed and good records are difficult to come by. For car (now locomotive) 640, it remained at the gravel pit in Oxford until 1984, by which time it was nearly 55 years old. That year it was sold to the Waterfront Electric Railway in downtown Toledo. The WER was a small tourist line owned by Charley Sheets. Operation consisted of a GE 25-tonner towing a Chicago 4000-series “L” car through an industrial area along the Maumee River. AAC 640 was moved to the WER site, only a few blocks from the site of the old C&LE Toledo freight terminal, and its diesel engines were removed.
This photo showing 640's front cab was taken in 1994 after removal of the prime movers, one of which was located in the left foreground. The control position underwent significant changes and the interior walls were removed. IRM Collection.
By the 1980s several of the C&LE freight motors had been acquired by museums and railfans, joining a quartet of C&LE “Red Devil” high-speed cars that had been saved to represent the interurban in preservation. Car 648, which had gone to Oklahoma, was acquired by the Seashore Trolley Museum in poor but complete condition. The other preserved freight motors were all AAC rebuilds: 646 went to the Indiana Railway Museum (and later to the Texas State Railroad) while 637 and 639 were acquired by a private collector in Ohio. But 640 was the least modified of the ex-AAC motors and stood the best chance of ultimately being restored to original condition. In the mid-1990s, WER sold its land in downtown Toledo and transported its collection to a new site in Grand Rapids, Ohio. But car 640 didn’t join in the move: instead it was sold to the Illinois Railway Museum. It was moved to Union by flatbed truck and was unloaded at the throat of Yard 10 by C&NW 6363 on November 6, 1994. Acquired at the same time were spare parts appropriate for car 640 including motors, switch group, reverser and air compressor.
At top, car 640 is loaded onto a flatbed truck in Toledo in 1994 for transportation to IRM. It still wears its later American Aggregates livery. Above, the remaining main generator is removed from the car in January 1995 behind Barn 4. Both photos, IRM Collection.
At the time, IRM had just constructed two new car barns, barns number 6 and 8, and space in these buildings was mostly allocated to the Electric Car Department. And so car 640 was put indoors immediately. It spent a few months in Barn 4, where most of its remaining diesel-electric equipment (including the main generator installed by AAC) was removed. Bob Bruneau and Carl Illwitzer also performed some welding repairs to the car, replacing some steel along the floor line where it had rusted out. Then the car was moved into Barn 8 (which until 2000 was a “dead barn” not wired for 600 volt operation) and placed on display.
The C&LE freight motor remained on display, largely unaltered and still in latter-day AAC dark blue and silver, for five years. In the fall of 2000 IRM acquired Lake Shore Electric 150 – which would have encountered C&LE 640 many times during the latter’s use in through freight service to Cleveland – from the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum near Pittsburgh. Since the LSE car was a wooden interurban it was a priority to put it into indoor storage, and car 640 – with its sheet metal roof and metal construction – was judged the candidate best able to withstand being put outside. And so car 640 was tarped and moved outside, first stored in Yard 5 and then later in the museum’s south yards.
Car 640 is shown following unloading at IRM in November 1994. The car's appearance has remained essentially unchanged since. Photo by Bill Wulfert.
It was 15 years later, in the spring of 2016, that car 640 was again moved into indoor storage – this time, hopefully, for good. The condition of the artifact is generally good. The body is solid, with relatively little rust damage except for some along the floor line at the ends of the car. Most of the steel work that would need to be done involves grab irons and doors. The car’s original wooden roof is evident from inside the car and, while much would need to be replaced, most of the carlines are solid. The car’s interior is a shambles; large sections of the floor were chopped out or sheeted over with heavy steel plate when it was made into a diesel-electric and there are signs of its makeshift rebuilding everywhere. But as a freight motor, not much would really need to be re-created in order to put it back to original configuration. Most, if not all, of the appropriate electrical control and brake equipment is on hand. The biggest modification that would need to be undone – if possible – would be to try to remove the heavy steel reinforcement that was added to the car’s frame.
It would be a big project. But of the preserved C&LE freight motors, car 640 is arguably in the best condition. With enough time, money, and determination, C&LE 640 could once again grace the rails as a rolling symbol of Dr. Conway’s revolutionary interurban railway.
APPENDIX A: MECHANICAL INFORMATION
Exterior Length: 50’4” over anticlimbers
Exterior Width: 8’8”
Exterior Height: 13’3” over roof boards
Interior (Freight Compartment) Length: 33’6”
Interior Width: 8’1”
Interior Height: 7’0”
Weight: 85300 lbs
Capacity: 80000 lbs
Trucks: Taylor MCB (635-641 and 645-649) or Standard C80P (642-644)
Motors: 4 x Westinghouse 121 (635-638) or 4 x Westinghouse 303A (639-649)
Control: Westinghouse HL
Master Controller: Westinghouse 15-B2 (635-638) or Westinghouse 189-D2 (639-649)
Switch Group: Westinghouse 264B
Contactor: Westinghouse 264B (635-638) or Westinghouse 140993B (639-649)
Line Switch: Westinghouse 264A
Reverser: Westinghouse 279C4
Air Brake Schedule: AMM
Motorman’s Brake Valve: M-15 (635-638) or M-22 (639-649)
Triple Valve: M-2B
Air Compressor: D2-EG
Couplers: Van Dorn #3040
Trolley Base: US (front), Bayonet (rear)
Elevation drawing by Jack Deschenes.
A closeup of one of 640's trucks reveals interesting clues to the car's history. The journal box covers have IC&E cast into them, a holdover from the interurban car for which the trucks were built. The circular plate is for the trustee, though it's not clear whether this plate dates to the the construction of the original IC&E car or the reuse of the trucks under car 640. IRM Collection.
APPENDIX B: AFTER THE C&LE
635 – sold 1940 to Central California Traction 9 (fitted with Brill 27MCB3X trucks, GE 205 motors, GE Type M control); sold to Pacific Electric 1947, damaged in transit, scrapped at Torrance, CA
636 – sold 1940 to Central California Traction 8 (fitted with Brill 27MCB3X trucks, GE 205 motors, GE Type M control); sold to Pacific Electric 1947, damaged in transit, scrapped at Torrance, CA
637 – sold 1942 to American Aggregates 637 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 2 x Cummins engines, height reduced), assigned to Urbana, OH; sold to private owner 1982, moved to Buckeye Lake, OH
638 – sold 1940 to Central California Traction 10 (fitted with Brill 27MCB3X trucks, GE 205 motors, GE Type M control); sold to Pacific Electric 1947, damaged in transit, scrapped at Torrance, CA
639 – sold 1940 to American Aggregates 639 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 1 x Cummins engine, length reduced); assigned to New Miami, OH; sold to private owner (year?), moved to Buckeye Lake, OH
640 – sold 1940 to American Aggregates 640 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 2 x Cummins engines), assigned to New Oxford, MI; sold to Waterfront Electric Railway 1984, moved to Toledo, OH; sold to Illinois Railway Museum 1994, moved to Union, IL
641 – sold 1941 to Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway 203; retired 1955 and sold to scrapper; stored at scrapyard until dismantled for parts in 1974
642 – sold 1939 to Illinois Terminal 601 (rebuilt to freight trailer with Baldwin MCB trucks); retired 1956 and scrapped
643 – sold 1939 to Illinois Terminal 602 (rebuilt to freight trailer with Baldwin MCB trucks); retired 1956 and scrapped
644 – sold 1939 to Illinois Terminal 603 (rebuilt to freight trailer with Baldwin MCB trucks); retired 1956 and scrapped
645 – sold 1940 to American Aggregates 645 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 2 x Cummins engines); assigned to Green Oaks, MI; retired and scrapped (year?)
646 – sold 1940 to American Aggregates 646 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 2 x Cummins engines); assigned to Green Oaks, MI; sold to Indiana Railway Museum (year?), moved to French Lick, IN; sold to Fort Worth Transportation Authority 1999, moved to Fort Worth, TX and stripped of trucks; body sold to Texas State Railroad (year?), moved to Palestine, TX
647 – sold 1942 to American Aggregates 647 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 2 x Cummins engines); assigned to Port Washington, NY; retired and scrapped (year?)
648 – sold 1941 to Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway 202; retired 1955 and sold to scrapper; stored at scrapyard until sold to Seashore Trolley Museum in 1976 and moved to Kennebunkport, ME
649 – sold 1940 to American Aggregates 649 (rebuilt to diesel-electric with 1 x Cummins engine, length reduced); assigned to Columbus, OH; retired and scrapped (year?)
Car 648 is pictured at the Seashore Trolley Museum c1994. Although more complete and original than car 640, its condition deteriorated considerably following retirement, while in storage both in Oklahoma and in Maine. IRM Collection.